Friday, 28 October 2011

review: divine favor - the druid

Metric: Acorns.  Mistletoe berries has a rather more innuendo-laden connotation.  In addition, if you squash them, the resulting pulp makes a real mess.  Stick with the humble acorn.
DISCLAIMER: Review is based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 acorns (quality content expands the druid's horizons).
This Divine Favor is a pleasure.  Fans of druids will rub their hands at the expanded options here and GMs will consider dusting off that druidic campaign they've been thinking of.  The layout is the usual Open Design quality and the price is very reasonable.

Content: 5 acorns (balanced, elegant and versatile options galore).
The introduction mentions the signature abilities of Pathfinder druids.  Wildshape is given it's due and advice on spells and feats are offered.  Then it's straight into the new stuff.  Wildshape options draw from a common idea but execute it differently.  Nature's multitude lets you become your very own rat pack or murder of crows.  At higher levels you become your own herd of dire boar.  Swarm shape lets you become an army ant column or mass of scorpions.  Included is a variant for animal companion flocks; druids with this option get scary quickly but fans of George R.R. Martin will approve. Druidic archetypes allow players to tailor a druid to fit a campaign instead of belonging to a generic cookie-cutter lineage.   Each group of archetypes (moon druids, greenmen, elemental shamans) have their own distinct sub-specialisms.  While the over-critical may wonder why not play a cleric, changes are smooth enough that the druid isn't lost in translation.  Next some new domains and subdomains, allowing a stronger flavour and some unexpected options for druids.  A GM will need to give some of these a bit of thought to see if they fit.  The domains are balanced and jaded players may be surprised by the options available.  New animal companions goes esoteric with oozes, plants and worms as well as lizards and slugs; these are distinctive companions brimming with options and memorable encounter hooks.  Finally new feats offer options balancing combat utility (totem aspect), lore (primeval counsel) and metamagic.  Even animal companions can get in on the action (healing tongue).

Art & Layout: 4.5 acorns (a layered layout and well-formed with it).
Divine Favor - The Druid combines the usual mix of Christophe Swal cover (an excellent piece with a druid waiting to pounce) and woodcut interior artwork.  The layout is textured yet clean.  The lack of interior colour is a minor niggle though the quality of the interior art is consistently good.  I was a bit surprised to see a lack of Ogham script but the hidden message in roleplaying game supplements trope has been somewhat done to death.

In conclusion, druids are a class popular with certain players.  The wealth of options and diversity here makes this one of the stronger entries in the Divine Favor range.  Players of druids will love some of the options and GMs will appreciate how these can be combined to create memorable, distinctive encounters.  The idea of a dwarven druid with nature's multitude and a wildshape of brain ooze would make s scary encounter.  That's just one example of how versatile this book is.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

orctober - tusks of blood

Orctober rumbles on. Over at Aeons & Auguries, there's an excellent look at orcish architecture just begging for geomorphs.  Siskoid ponders how orcish refugees face the fall of an evil empire.  And at Meatshield.Net, an unexpected approach to orcish diplomacy.

Beefing up orcs is a typical response if a referee underestimates party firepower.  Orcish wereboars are an unexpected escalation but as Hallowe'en approaches it seems apt.  Plus, why let the hill giants have all the fun?  Orcs hulking out under the full moon and with boar friends sounds fun - I pity any shieldwall facing that.  Orcish boar riders are a staple of fantasy wargaming.  Orc-wereboar hoplites with boars fighting cheek by jowl feels right.  Perhaps not so unexpected after all.

Their culture may be less extremist than traditional orc culture but every inch as selfish.  I peg them as Neutral Evil, might-justified and nasty-tempered, too selfish for obsessive hate or psychosis.  With their  resistance to ordinary weapons, their savagery makes them natural skirmishers.  Lunar rages and extreme selfishness makes them poor mercenaries.  This is a group placated or avoided rather than allied with.  Their hatred for elves comes from competing in a shared environment - the latter know how effective silver arrows are.  Their attitude to regular orcs is usually contemptuous and foreign tribes are offered a chance to swear a painful blood oath.  Sharing blood with lycanthropes is often a changing experience...

Monday, 24 October 2011


No. Enc.: 1d4 (2d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Fly: 240' (80')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1d8+2
Attacks: 1 (beak)
Damage: 1d4
Save: M1
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: None

The jiskavi is a cadaverous vulture tainted by sinister magics and made eternally hungry.  Each round a jiskavi feasts on a corpse, it regains 1 hit point up to it's maximum and there is a 10% chance the corpse is spoiled and cannot be raised by a raise dead spell.  If a Chaotic wizard feeds it their own blood once a day for a week (doing at least 1 point of damage to the wizard) the jiskavi heals the wizard 1 hit point per round it feasts after it is fully restored until the corpse is spoiled (after 10 rounds or 10 hit points are healed).  Jiskavi cannot harm or touch anyone under a protection from evil spell.

Friday, 21 October 2011

review: divine favor - the oracle

Metrics: Cards. Let me guess, you saw that one coming?  With your talents...
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF review copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 cards (oracular spectacular)
Strong enough to stand in it's own right and excellent compliment to Advanced Feats: Visions of the Oracle or Complete Advanced Feats.  This sourcebook adds new curses, mysteries and feats to the oracle, adding versatility and fun to a focussed class.  GMs in particular will appreciate the expanded mysteries and curses, while players might want to try something a little bit different.  Steampunk, Lovecraft and Conan aficionados will find things in here of particular interest. The sheer exuberance of the mysteries and curses makes up for the minor deviations from the approach used in other books in this series. Art and layout are excellent balancing complicated backgrounds with clear, concise text.

Content: 4.5 cards (awesome curses and mysteries forgive a lack of overview)
Unlike other Divine Favors, there's not much overview, straight into the new stuff.  The curses an oracle must bear are expanded with drunkenness, soullessness and cowardice, among others.  One of the best adaptions of a bokor's curse is included under unstable form.  Oracular mysteries follow, ranging from clockwork to the old gods, the moon, plague, snakes and wine.  In these, Stefan Styrsky shows that he understands the oracle's essential difference from other divine casters - that they are divine sorcerors and taps into what makes them a breed apart.  Some obvious combinations suggest themselves but the real draw are more obscure mixes of curse and mystery.  Finally there's a half-dozen feats - summon avatar adds flavour to summoned monsters while other feats focus on empowering mysteries or providing access to spells ordinarily not within the oracle's remit.  All oracle-specific, unsurprising given the book's subject though slightly at odds with others in this series

Art & Layout: 5 cards (excellent layout using colour and ink to high standard)
Christophe Swal's cover shows an oracle in full proclamatory mode.  The interior art is a blend of colour and monochrome on a patterned background.  The text is clear despite intricate design work in the background.  This marriage of elements makes Divine Favor - The Oracle stand out.  Nothing is cluttered, everything is used well and as usual, the PDF bookmarks just work.  The assembly of this book is another example of how other PDF publishers need to up their game if they want to be in the lead.

In conclusion, this adds fun options to the oracle.  The lack of overview appears to be a deliberate choice, having done a good job in Advanced Feats: Visions of the Oracle, why rehash?  It's omission is only unusual in context of other Divine Favors. While other companies may shamelessly recycle, this is not the case here.  What is here though is several shades of fun.  Oracles get a significant boost and this sourcebook wears it's influences openly and knowingly.  Again, the price is insanely reasonable and once you've read it, orders of  soulless clockwork oracles or mutating oracles of the old gods will march into your game.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

upright men, honoured society and our thing

Maybe not Chaotic Good...
Over at Stuffer Shack, Tourq laments the presence of omniscent Thieves Guilds and their near-magical ability to demand a 'cut' from new arrivals in town.  While I was mildly skeptical about how the guild would work in his arguments, he has a point.  Thieves guilds get handwaved rather than being shown as a power. Also, there is a trend to romanticised, even Bowdlerised views of the Thieves' Guild.  While some games prefer a more low-fantasy view many guilds appear to exist as peripheral entities, taking money, sometimes dispensing missions or being a target.  They are anemic ciphers compared with, say, the Yakuza or Mafia.

Fictional guilds take a leaf from Fritz Leiber's 'Ill-Met in Lankhmar' and 'Thieves' House'.  Other trade guilds (locksmiths, masons, tailors) had stringent rules and protectionism - the model for Cervantes' Riconente and Cortadillo - a satire on guild stratification and nobility.  Dickens reveals the darker side of a gang in Oliver Twist.   When the truth outs about his unwitting involvement with pickpockets, Oliver barely enjoys liberty before being beaten and dragged back to Fagin's kitchen.  Ali Baba fears the Forty Thieves who object to his own theft by trying to kill him.  None of these behaviours are benign.

Medieval thieves' guilds weren't plentiful in reality.  Extended slum gangs like Cour des Miracles (inspiration for Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables) were unusual with formal cant disseminated by student malcontents.  Dekker's compilation of roguish cant skates the latter edge of most fantasy game timeframes.  An informal language evolved over time out of necessity.  Gangs and syndicates, as Tourq notes, are more interesting than the generic thieves guilds.  They provide some inspiration in defending turf (consider most street gangs) and dues paid into a hierarchy (like the 'Ndrangheta) that grants permission to operate. A guild may have it's own character, identifiers and safe houses.  Here is an opportunity to add encounters, plot hooks, NPCs.  Handwaving to a 10% cut and access to thieves' tools is missing an opportunity.

One particular cheesy trope are the romanticised 'do-good' guilds.  Figures like Autolycus or Robin Hood are meant to be at odds with the norm, not forming fantasy Rotarian clubs. It may be a conceit of working where gods have local franchises, paladins detect evil and weak wizards use ESP.  Other factors include literary tropes like friendly spies inspired by David Eddings et al.  Sadly, a profit-making organisation based on illegal activities and stealing made up of career criminals will not attract nice people.  Consider the morals of people like Al Capone or The Krays.  Nor do they blithely accept newcomers without some test of worth.

Guilds are organisations worthy of respect, particularly if they're badass specialists like assassins.  You might be looking at local groups like the Sons of Anarchy or the Sopranos with ties to other organisations.  If there's a big enough membership or influence, the guild may resemble one of the Mafia families.  Any fantasy game will need to consider how magic affects their operation, taking a leaf out of Ill-Met in Lankhmar may mean a 'tame' spellcaster.  There are limits of course - asking and answering these questions is relatively quick and offers interesting material.  There are also plenty of good sourcebooks featuring criminal guilds. Either option beats just having a generic guild!

Monday, 17 October 2011


No. Enc.: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 4d8+2
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 2d6, see below
Save: F2
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: None

The estarabat is a 5' long beetle with rocky carapace and brilliant-green compound eyes.  It appears after a meteor shower and is sometimes found in craters from fallen stars.  When first encountered, it emits a blazing red light that combusts all non-magical ranged weapons and does 10 points of fire damage to anything in melee.  This lasts for 4 turns or until the estarabat is slain.  Estarabat are immune to their heat auras but not to normal fire or other heat-based attacks.  The estarabat is seen as unlucky and the falling stars that bring them as heralds of misfortune.

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

Saturday, 15 October 2011

inns & taverns: the pot helm

The Pot Helm is a noisy, cheerful inn at the corner of a smith's row.  It's famous locally for generous fare, hard-drinking clientele and display of decorative metal tankards.  The local forges are often working late and the smiths here work and play hard.  Occasional brawls in the courtyard are known.  The watch often arrive fashionably late - most smiths are strong and used to pounding on things. The Pot Helm is good-natured and forgives it's clientele who keep it well-paid.  The sign is an over-sized pot helm, burnished to silver-brightness and set atop iron scrollwork.

A sprawling single-storey structure with it's own courtyard, this was a smithy.  The forge is now an oven and firepit.  The small bar sees money exchanged over an anvil.  Behind the bar is a rack filled with decorated tankards.  Dwarven war-visors, gods of brewing and love, dragons, helmed warriors, fair maidens and jolly halflings stare down from the sides of tankards polished with obsessive care.  There are nearly a hundred tankards on the rack and each is distinct.  Woe betide whoever drinks from the wrong tankard.

The house ale and regular's drink is a light, creamy ale called forgewife. It is a perfect brew for soot-throated smiths.  Dwarven rust ale is occasionally sold, this murky brown ale with metallic aftertaste is potent and popular.  A tart pear cider is regularly sold to women who visit the Helm.  Hardened drinkers choose a distilled spirit flavoured with aniseed called 'forgewine' made cloudy with water.  Food here is elaborate and plentiful.  A stew of pig offal, turnips and onions is sold to the poor.  The house speciality is the pot helm pie, half filled with meat and onion gravy, half filled with fruit. 

The Pot Helm is managed by Nieve. This slender, unassuming woman with greying favours durable men's clothing.  Her wiry frame has a smith's strength and her bearing commands respect.  Her talent for managing the Pot Helm is evident.  It's said the Helm has other owners.  Nieve doesn't speak of them, no matter how much forgewine she's plied with.  The staff are failed apprentices or girls hunting husbands.  Nieve believes in second chances and hard knocks.  Those who squander the first earn the second.  Local thugs avoid the Pot Helm.  Nieve with a sledgehammer backed by a dozen off-duty smiths is enough to dissuade them.

Accommodation is not offered yet a stable is available for a handful of coppers each day.  Nieve knows a dozen reliable local families and tenements with rooms to rent.  The only people who sleep in the Pot Helm are Nieve, the stableboy and a couple of desperate staff.  The noise from neighbouring smithies wakes even deep sleepers.  Sleeping drunks learn to avoid anvils and horses.  This arrangement pleases the families and Nieve, who usually spots troublemakers.

The Pot Helm is a home from home for many local smiths.  Those wanting to learn the trade or wishing to commission work do well to drink here.  While a persistent rumour says Nieve sleeps on a bed of gold coin, this is laughed off by staff.  Nieve doesn't mind the rumour.  What she objects to is naive adventurers trying to find out if she's a dragon.   She jokes that her bed lacks room for a pseudodragon, let alone a real one. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

review: divine favor - the cleric

Metrics: Censers.  Clerics need some kind of accompaniment and a censer full of incense suits the style of this sourcebook down to the ground.
DISCLAIMER: Review is based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design
Overall: 5 censers (looks good and plenty of tasty content).
Divine Flavor - The Cleric provides some great options for the workhorse of the party.  Archetypes expand role-playing opportunities and new domains and subdomains offer further options for a GM.  An emphasis on cleric as more than party healer harkens back to the hobby's roots while providing Pathfinder GMs and players with plenty of inspiration for their games.

Content: 5 censers (a divine smorgasbord with substantial crunch)
First an examination of the cleric class, considering it's strengths in spellcasting, channelling and looking at how the cleric plays in combat.  Next, new domains and subdomains provide even more options for your cleric and their gods.  A GM looking for something specific missing from Pathfinder's Advanced Players Guide subdomains might find it here.  Archetypes offer variations on the cleric theme, along with crunch to support them.  The ascetic makes a great multiclass option for cleric/monks, the theosophist is a great choice for future mystic theurges. The more combat-minded may peruse the exorcist, flagellant or weapon-sworn (imagine a clerical magus with more hit points).  Variant channelling provides new uses for turn undead more in line with stated domains.  This is reminiscent of 2nd edition with it's variant abilities for priests instead of turn undead, Finally some new spells to manipulate luck and magic, as well as a couple of spells available to bards, sorcerors and wizards.   The absolute kicker is wind down, which makes any prolonged magical battle shorter. 

Art & Layout: 5 censers (most illuminating and thematically appropriate)

The cover by Christophe Swal features a female cleric wielding two swords amid a throng of foes.  Not the typical image of a cleric but appropriate given the content.  The internal links work and the layout is effective and uncluttered.  Where this really shines are the little touches like the page number and Stefan Styrsky's name at the foot of the page in burgundy ink giving an impression of illuminated text.

In conclusion, the first of the Divine Flavor series offers a format familiar to the Advanced Feats series.  Where they differ is the broader perspective on the class, additional abilities/spells and consideration of core classes established since the beginning of the hobby.  This provides a good introduction to the class for those unfamiliar with Pathfinder.  Excellent value as always and terrric content makes this one a must-buy.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

orctober - three more flavours of orc

Blame Atom Kid who gave me the Orctober bug.  I then found Chris Shipton's Orctober Calendar 2010 and that was it.  Three more orc variants to prevent outbreaks of YADO (yet another damn orc) syndrome since there's been some problems with certain monsters becoming trite - how unexpected!

These orcs are unusually tall (7') but lack a head, instead their face is in their belly.  Their increased body mass makes them stronger than normal orcs.  Headless favour bladed weapons or spears and skillfully use shields.  They wear hide breastplates with boar-like belly visors protecting their faces (treat as great helms).  Inveterate cannibals, they take heads for trophies.  Brains are considered a delicacy.  Elven heads are highly sought after.  They are fiercely hierarchical and headless tribes will serve tyrants as soldiers.  
(AC 5/3 on stomach, Strength 16 (+1 damage))

These mis-shapen orcs stand 5' tall due to deformities.  Hunched backs and bulging heads hide a vicious yet cunning intellect.  Their twisted frames are surprisingly agile and athletic, which compensates for ill-fitting armour.  Normal orcs are hated with a passion, kijitu gain a +1 to hit and damage against them. Extremely sensitive to light, kijutu are -2 to hit and they must save vs. Poison or take 1d2 point subdual damage each turn they spend in sunlight, suffering lesions and lupus-like symptoms. 
(AC:7, Int: 10 - 12, sunlight sensitivity, AL: Neutral Evil)

Tattooed Skullfaces
These psychotic orcs venerate demon lords like Juiblex and Orcus, removing their faces with fire, knives and worse until bare bone is revealed.  The rest of their bodies are pierced, scarred and tattooed with lurid greens, ochres, yellows, brown and black designs.  They starve themselves to appear gaunt and skeletal.  In battle, a tattooed skullface's psychosis manifests in ferocious skill at arms.  Evil beings find their wickedness admirable if they are only trusted with murder, mayhem and torture.
(1d6 hit points, +2 to hit with weapons, +4 to reaction rolls with evil-aligned; AL: Chaotic Evil)

Monday, 10 October 2011

rock ape

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d6+1)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 8d8
Attacks: 2 (claw, claw)
Damage: 1d8/1d8
Save: F4
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: See below

Rock apes dwell amid deep crevasses where magic infuses their bodies with elemental power.  They appear as apes made of rock with jagged stones where tufts of hair would stick out.  Their eyes are glittering gems (base value of 100gp each) shining with lambent green light.  These can only be removed by the death of the rock ape.  Understandably, the rock apes are hostile at harvesting attempts.  Rock apes emit a grinding noise and become aggressive if approached and may attack.  If facing superior numbers, they will throw large rocks for 2d6 damage.  Rock apes are rarely kept as pets by eccentric magic-users or worshipped by Neanderthals as natural powers.

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

Friday, 7 October 2011

review: divine favor - the paladin

The Divine Favor series provides a compact insight into the divine classes.  It gives additional options, expands domains and provides feats for them.  I'm starting with Paladin first as this has bearing on a game setting I'm working up.  Serendipity is cool like that.
Metric: Grails.  Spurs were already taken... and the paladin has archetypes like Sir Lancelot and Sir Percival.

DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF review copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 grails (a call to action? where's my horse??)
Divine Favor The Paladin engages player interest, providing a how-to for new players.  Options for experienced players and GMs wanting to create paladin orders with a difference are provided.  Crunch is balanced complimenting Pathfinder core.  Stefan Styrsky's writing encourages play, which is the point.

Content: 5 grails (effective gateway for new players and options for experienced hands)
The Paladin starts out with an introduction to the class and it's features.  This is Paladin 101 study notes - detect evil before smiting, using spells to buff rather than heal.  Useful for those unfamiliar with the paladin class or in a hurry to play a paladin well.
Alternate Class Abilities shows a greater willingness to hack the class.  The Divine Aspect provides a potent yet balanced alternate build for would-be avatars of a god.  The stigmata rules provide options for punishing errant paladins without simple removal of spells or imposed quest.
Archetypes offer roleplaying hooks and crunch - the heavenly beacon and metropolitan offer some different takes while the templar, questing knight and holy sword are orthodox paladins.  I'm impressed by the templar and metropolitan archetypes.  These go beyond the typical 'smiting knight' image.  Heavenly beacon is a paladin with bardic inspiration instead of smite evil and aura of justice.  I could easily see an NPC lieutenant with this archetype.
Codes of Conduct explain how a paladin behaves.  The option to take vows that enforce these behaviours to extremes is offered with a little crunch to sweeten the deal.   An attractive option if your roleplaying is good - your party may praise and curse you equally.
Feats round off the additonal options.  Many tap into codes of conduct or alternate class abilities though a couple are open to divine spellcasters.  Personal favourites include purity of body (a vow of abstinence to protect you from poisons, drugs and alcohol) and paragon of virtue.

Art & Layout: 5 grails (clean layout, interior colour panels)
The cover by Christophe Swal shows the paladin surrounded by monstrous foes.  Lighting gives the paladin's face an otherworldly appearance. The layout and typeface is clear and consistent. Inside, a mixture of woodcuts and colour panels provides appearance distinctive to Open Design.  The PDF is indexed sensibly and links are addressed correctly.

In conclusion, those looking at Divine Favor will notice parallels with Open Design's Advanced Feats series.  Introduction to a class, expanding player and GM options and making it all very playable.  The additional options are balanced and inspiring.  At this price, this is inspiring value.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

all that glitters...

...isn't gold.  There's other stuff too.  This month's RPG Blog Carnival is hosted by Campaign Mastery and considers how to make the treasure part of the adventure.  Putting hooks on your loot is one approach, though it risks drowning players in minutiae.  When it all matters, nothing matters.  So how do you make the treasure something that players want to follow up on?
  1. Deeds of Property
    Giving your party deeds to property doesn't necessarily tie them to a location - a ship may be the springboard for a wavecrawl or visits to far-off islands.  Some properties may need maintenance or repair - a cure for excess wealth or drive for further adventures.  Some deeds may provide revenue and a place to park followers busy while dealing with really deadly stuff.  The deeds themselves can be contested by acquisitive rivals, provoke attacks by enemies or be stolen by thieves.  What's not to love?
  2. Dungeon-In-An-Item
    This involves extra-dimensional or magical shenanigans.  Fans of Roger Zelazny (the Jewel of Judgement in Amber) and Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Weaveworld) may have their own ideas on how this works.  Mythic or surreal elements are easy to introduce as the normal rules don't always apply.  Finding their way in is only the beginning... and getting out may need some very specific things.  It might even be a whole new sandbox - or just a temporary change of pace.
  3. Keys
    Give them a key and they'll find the lock - even if it's half a world away.  If the key is made of precious materials, it may be a status symbol (keys to the city) or have more prosaic properties (a gold key unlocks a lock made of acidic crystal).  The lock may be time-specific (think The Hobbit), already opened or worse, opening it could be a Really Bad Idea.  A guest key to R'lyeh is a mixed blessing.  And some keys may not even be keys but tactile maps.
  4. Map
    Maps are a staple of pirate adventures but a good map is worth fortunes to both scholars and navigators.  Maps not only have value in their inherent physicality (precious materials) but also in their content.  A map to a treasure hoard is good.  One showing where traps are or an exit may also have merit.  Recall 'the map is not the territory' and most maps don't automatically update over time without help. 
  5. Monster
    Sometimes your treasure is living.  Bringing back something alive for a gladiatorial arena or wizard's menagerie; working out what to do with that dragon egg - all are worthwhile puzzles.  Besides issues of feeding and transportation, there may be other issues.  Taking an elven prisoner through hobgoblin lands may be a problem.  Also what happens when that egg hatches and the baby imprints on the first creature it sees?  Roleplaying opportunities abound.
  6. Puzzle Piece
    It may be a Macguffin for a quest.  It may be part of a collectible set.  It may be the last part of a mechanism.  Every puzzle has pieces - recognising the item as part of a greater picture may be a challenge in itself.  The setup on this needs more work though the payoff may be iconic, recall the medallion and staff in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Consider workarounds and opportunities for props at the game table.
Treasure has value, not only in physical makeup or it's information but also in context.  Align the context with character motives and goals.  People justify all manner of actions or behaviour if the context is consistent with their character.  From such acorns do mighty campaigns grow.

Monday, 3 October 2011


No. Enc.: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 10' (3')
Swim: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 2d8 + 1
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d4
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

This amphibious fish resembles a mudskipper the size of a wolfhound and weighs up to 300lbs.  They can shift colour to hide in turbid water or muddy shores of swamps or underground rivers.  This lets them surprise victims on 1-3 on a 1d6 surprise check. On the first round of combat, they belch forth a 20'x 20'x 20' cloud of noxious vapours.  Those breathing the fumes must save vs. Poison or be -4 to hit and AC, and at half movement until they leave the cloud.  Their jaws can unhinge so that victims no larger than a halfling are swallowed on an attack roll of 20.  Any creature swallowed suffers 1d8 damage per round as the fish digests it.  The foulroarer is immune to it's noxious cloud.  It can only belch forth the cloud three times a day.

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

Saturday, 1 October 2011

inns & taverns: the footman's boast

The Footman's Boast is a triangular three-storey cornerhouse on a ghetto crossroads.  Flower girls and tinker handcarts linger as patrons enter and leave.  The ghetto is busy most hours except from midnight to dawn when drunks and beggars reel.  Geese from a nearby river alight on the flat rooftops nearby and are sometimes disturbed by vagrants.  The sign shows a soldier flourishing a golden sword.  This shines brightly on autumn and winter nights.  The Boast is the jewel of the ghetto's crown. 

The exterior is dark stone smutted and stained with woodsmoke and damp.  The window shutters and door are iron-bound oak in peeling black paint.  Inside is immaculate panelled wood, painted tiles and woven rugs.  The smell of wax polish and pipeweed masks ale, sweat and when it rains, wet dog.  The taproom is trapezoidal, the front door opens into the narrow end.  Cushioned benches and stools cluster around oblong tables, backlit by brown clay oil lamps.  The taproom is busy with labourers and goodwives.  A doorway leads to a stairwell and through into a narrow lounge dominated by a long table.  This lounge is sometimes rented out for private parties between eight and twenty people.

Drinks include small beer (the main drink) and a rich black pearl stout favoured by weavers.  Steel-wine (a fortified red wine used to temper blades) is sold to uniformed watch, known soldiers and nobody else.  A smoke-wood genever (dark, whiskey-harsh yet juniper-scented) and sweet briar wine is sold by the glass to goodwives and flower girls alike.  In winter, red wine spiced with cardamom, cloves and pomace to fortify it is pressed into hands.  Food is limited to salted pork pastry, pickled cabbage and saltfish.

The landlord, Milesh and his wife Gloriona are small, wiry people.  Milesh is an ex-infantryman, hard-bitten yet genial.  His skill in the cellar keeps the Boast profitable.  Gossips say his skill with hatchet and knife keep local gangs in check.  Gloriona is houseproud, frugal and dislikes gossip.  There are occasional girls brought in to help during busy times.  Some are flower girls done good, others are daughters of soldiers from Milesh's old regiment.  They learn courtesy, the inn trade and get to live in the city.

The top floor of the Boast has three small garrets available for rent.  Each occupies a corner of the triangle and affords a singular view of the tenement roofs.  The rooms are small and cold but the beds are stuffed with goosedown.  Bedpans for warming are available for an extra silver each night.  The quality of sleep varies with geese and occasional thieves.  Access to rooftops from the barred and shuttered windows makes these rooms popular with certain trades.

Milesh is rumoured to have links with the local gangs as well as his old regiment.  The night-time rooftop traffic of thieves is regular.  Those seeking acceptance into the local underworld sometimes take one of the corner rooms in the Boast.  If they are accepted, they periodically return to drink in the Boast and take a room.  If they don't, would-be rogues have fallen from the rooftops to a sudden death.  And the backroom parties have many and varied guests...
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