Monday 26 December 2011


No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60' (20')
Swim: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 3d8+3
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d6+1, see below.
Save: F2
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

This smooth-skinned newt, with mottled black and grey skin is 4' long.  It's mouth contains rows of needle-like teeth.  It's colouring can change  so it can surprise a victim on 1-3 on 1d6.  Ell-efts carry disease on their teeth, each bite has a 5% cumulative chance of infecting a victim. A save vs. poison is allowed.  If failed, disease kills the victim 1d6 days later.  If successful, the victim becomes bedridden for 15 days, at the end of this, there is a 1 in 8 chance the disease is fatal.  Ell-efts can breathe water as easily as air and move between sewers, cisterns and marshes with equal ease.

Saturday 24 December 2011


This week has seen Nevermet Press collaborate with artist Steve Austin seeks to reinstate the Krampus to his proper place by the side of St. Nicholas.  The Krampus adds more fear to the hope and fears of all the years... a laudable goal.  In honour of this noble endeavour and as a hat tip to the Merry Krampus carneval, we are entering Krampusfest!

ICONS Christmas Bonus (ICONS Compatibility Licence).

Height: 7'6"  Weight: 300lbs
First Appearance: Angel City Xmas Special #1
Origin: Transmutation
Prowess: 7
Co-ordination: 4
Strength: 7
Intellect: 5
Awareness: 6
Willpower: 7

Stamina: 14

Powers: Emotion Control (Fear) 5, Resistance (Cold) 4, Strike 5 (claws, slashing),
Specialities: Investigation, Stealth, Weapons (Bludgeons), Wrestling

Qualities: Friend of Saint Nicholas, Punisher of Wicked Children,
Challenges: Social (demonic appearance), Personal (polite houseguest if given fresh fruit).

Krampus was once Ruprecht, a medieval knight transformed by ancient magics into demonic form but tamed by Saint Nicholas to punish wicked children.  Krampus appears as a horned, wingless demon with midnight-blue fur carrying a length of rope and a bag with a number of sticks (switches), lumps of coal and sacks.  The switches and coal are left for wicked children in their Christmas stockings.  Particularly vile kids are abducted and taken for a terrifying journey.  While the word on the street is that Krampus eats these abductees, this isn't true.  Some end up tied up outside churches or police stations after a harrowing journey in a sack.  Krampus is partial to fresh fruit and will, if offered it, act like the perfect gentleman.  His demonic appearance and child-abducting ways have caused more than one rooftop battle which Saint Nicholas has had to break up.

inns & taverns: the golden cinquefoil

Befitting a busy river-town tavern in the ice-fell, the Golden Cinquefoil has a reputation.  Quips about 'reputable taverns' aside, it is sought out by those who enjoy drinks and victuals.  A few 'regrettable' incidents involving sell-swords preclude it from courtly favour.  Those wanting disreputable activities are best somewhere else.   It's sign, a gold tormentil on black, indicates the sponsorship of a local knightly order. Their ongoing vigillance usually means trouble is distant.

From the outside, the Cinquefoil is a quadrangle of solid stone and mortar.  Horses are stabled in a municipal stable in the town centre.  Dwarven stonemasonry is evident in it's construction.  The black slate tiles are often rimed with ice.  A rarity, the downstairs windows are glazed with green and clear glass set in lead to resemble fish-scales.  These windows are shuttered in barred casements that make a racket when opened.  These are closed at sundown without exception.  There are no upstairs windows, bitter winds preclude it.  Inside pale lemon plaster walls with black-stained timber are hung with scrimshaw icons and iron horseshoes.  An open hearth spills heat into the taproom and cooks a profusion of food.  Doors to a backroom, privy and kitchen see occasional traffic.  An open stairwell ascends to common and guest rooms, while the bar runs the length of the north wall.  A trapdoor leads down to a voluminous cellar and brewery.

The ice-fell allows unique brewing techniques.  The typical drink is spruce beer, sweetened with black molasses, crowberry and rowan berry.  Less discerning palates prefer fireweed ale, a straw-coloured bitter with sharp aftertaste.  The house speciality is Blood-Head, a potent ruby-tinted eisbock with plum and chocolate aftertaste.  Bloodroot, a bitter brown liquor is drunk from small glasses, warming and soothing, popular in winter.  The hungry are equally well-catered for.  A creamy saltfish stew with rye bread is surprisingly good. Blood sausage, goose confit and piragi (dumplings filled with ground beef, pickled cabbage and egg) are sold to artisans.  Knights and the wealthy are treated to jugged hare and fattened goose stuffed with rye, herbs and crowberry.

The current landlord, Merus Merusson, is newly-appointed. Though a quintessential ice-fell landlord (portly, porcine, balding and bewhiskered) he knows his proper place.  Namely following the lead of senior barmaid Alietta River. Fair of hair and skin, sagas once sang of her beauty, now satires sing of her spite.  Skilled in sword and spear, her tongue is sharpest.  The remaining staff, three barmaids, two chambermaids and a chef work to keep things lively.  Their outfits are simple white linen and fur where appropriate.  Alietta and Merus between them run a tight ship.  Merus is an expansive host, generous with measures. Alietta tolerates this as it 'keeps things sweet'.

The Golden Cinquefoil has a common room capable of sleeping nine. Chambermaids roust sleepers shortly after sunrise to clean it.  Five expensive double-guest rooms, with lockable doors, fur-lined blankets, iron chamberpots and bedpans are surprisingly comfortable.  Merus gives newlyweds a bottle of bloodroot as wedding-gift. He recommends it 'to steady the nerves'.  Alietta is obsessively protective of anyone newly married.  The chambermaids are especially careful.  Guests pay in advance to Merus who provides keys (and who keeps spares).  Unusually again, the keys are different for each room.

Once a month, when the moon is dark, the Cinquefoil hosts it's sponsors.  Nine knights bearing the golden tormentil on black will arrive and take up the common-room.  During the day, they occupy the backroom.  Matters of state, peril and religion are discussed over ale and food.  Those hoping to eavesdrop incur Alietta's wrath if caught.  At harvest-time, the inn brews bid-ale.  Locals chip in to making batches of ale, profit from which is donated to just causes  These are decided by the knights, individually or collectively.  Their decision is often sound and always final.

Friday 23 December 2011

review: future lovecraft by innsmouth free press

Metric: Stars.  Why?  Because they're right.  Really, what else do you propose for an anthology of Lovecraftian short stories set in the future?
DISCLAIMER: Based on a review copy from Innsmouth Free Press.
Overall: 4 stars (greater than it's parts, some cracking stuff here)
Future Lovecraft runs the gamut of Lovecraft's genre and it's settings reflects the myriad lenses in which we see the future.  From Prisoner-esque dystopias to post-apocalyptics where humanity seek mutation, and alien worlds where nanotech runs riot, the settings support the essential bleakness of Lovecraft's vision.  Some stories and poems sing, others crawl from the foamy brine.  All of them convey the horrors of an entity-filled, uncaring universe.

Stories: 4 stars  (varied in scope and execution, all of them interesting.)
The stories are a mix.  The opening stories are eye-opening aperitifs and not your typical eldritch horror.  From the virtual insanity of Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Nyarlathotep to Tri-TV's channel-surfing antics and the kitchen-sink catharsis of In the Hall of the Yellow King, this triptych serves as a timely reminder you're not in New England anymore Toto.  What follows next is a diverse smorgasbord of horrific sci-fi with distinctly Mythos slant. Rubedo, an Alchemy of Madness is as potent as the morphia dulling Eliana's senses.  Harmony Amid The Stars puts you in the head of a microbiologist diving into madness on a long-distance voyage to Barnard's Star.  The Comet Called Ithaqua reveals what happens when ghouls take to the stars.  PostFlesh reveals the fate of shipwrecks on a nano-ravaged world.  Go, Go, Go Said The Byakhee is post-apocalyptic, mutating, time-travelling tragedy.  Venice Burning is a deliciously dark take on a broken reality.  Myristica fragrans details shadowy horrors on a space station, giving hints of LeGuin or Tanith Lee.  Concerning The Last Days of the Colony of New Roanoke provides an archaeological point of view on ancient catastrophe, relived by those who didn't learn.  The Kadath Angle returns to Innsmouth for a space before going beyond.  Deep Blue Dreams reveals what happens when Mythos horrors become designer drugs.  Other stories in this volume are just as good, the above have particular interest for me.

Poetry: 4 stars (powerful stuff, may not be everyone's cuppa).
Lovecraft was an exponent of poetry and it's apposite that this collection includes Do Not Imagine, a powerful piece from the perspective of the aliens.  The Old 44th considers history and the Hounds of Tindalos. This Song Is Not For You reveals the charm of the piping from Azathoth's court. Transmigration laments the inevitable fate of the cultist, A Welcome Sestina from Cruise Director Isabelle Molyneux reveals the Mythos take on the adage 'you are what you eat'. The Deep Ones echoes the subject, I can imagine this chanted by Polynesian natives.  Finally Big Bro rounds off the volume with visions of the Crawling Chaos.  Again, there are other poems, these ones were of especial interest to me.

Admiration for the inclusion of strands of poetry in an anthology aside, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles are to be commended for picking complementary stories and poems in distinct themes.  The diversity of authors and settings is a delight for those jaded with dreary New England shores and dissections of Lovecraft's racism.  This anthology shows the bleak universe that HPL and his peers advocated finds roots in all soils.  Which is as it should be.  The cosmic horrors dwelling beyond our apprehension care little about such pettiness.  This is a quality anthology and worthy of your attention if you're a fan of this genre.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

damned city: bacino

Bacino sits surrounded by swamps and the Fiumorte. The destination of the southern Black Road is guarded by a red palisade of petrified wood. The swamps discourage centaurs and raiders. Entry is barred by two fortified gates with catapult, portcullis and many scorpions firing lead bolts. The first barbican sits on the Black Road. Known as the Black Gate, it is manned by the imbonitore. Clad in leaden jackal-helm and scalemail, bearing trident, gladius and shield, they dress for business. Immediate compliance is expected, resistance meets lethal force. A toll of two silver is paid for each body entering Bacino from the Black Gate or Traitor's Gate in Parvapelve.  This morbid toll keeps with ancient traditions of burying the dead here. .

By water, access from Carnefossa, Perlanero and the Avernine converge on the shallow bay of Parvapelve. This crescent-shaped bay lies beyond the red palisade, travelling past Parvapelve's horns gets you to Bacino proper. Residents dredge for amber and lootable bodies. Parvapelve is a crumbling slum built on mass graves escaped either by wealth or death. By land, the westernmost point of Parvapelve connects to Bacino via Traitor's Gate, the other barbican. The toll is two silver per body.

Bacino proper is split into four quarters. Beyond Traitor's Gate is Banchine, a fishbone of quays backed by narrow streets shaded by warehouses and towers. Skiffs can be readily chartered from the quays, barques are rarely available for transport of goods. By contrast, skiffs travel light and fast, gliding across the Fiumorte with hooded ferrymen at the stern. Bacino ferrymen are a close community. Unlike their Avernine peers, payment means passage attacks drawing bloody reprisals from several irate persons. The harbourmaster, Jerion, understands the ferrymen. This doesn't stop him executing smugglers or being a master slaver. Links with imbonitore as a former captain help salve his poor relations with Bacino's magistrates and lord. Banchine's towers hold various patricians who built their dynasties.  Some of these now wait for death.  Others court it more liberally.

Caligregis houses the western quays. These handle shipping for the city. The central quay houses the Chantákia ferry, crossing the Fiumorte at sunrise and again at sunset. Barques for Perlanero, Carnefossa and Chantákia sail hourly. Sleek liburnas patrol for river pirates. The westernmost quays support six dromonds, privateers with Oroguidan and Avernine marines and spinati shock troops. The land around these quays is slowly sinking. Warehouses pump out water with convict-manned Riccoferran waterwheels to store goods and chattel. Quayside inns offer cheap wine and fermented fish vinegar. Alleys in Caligregis sink into the swamp. Imbonitore patrols avoid certain alleys, sometimes paid handsomely to do so by gangs working for magistrates. The heart of the sunken alleys is The Court. This decrepit plaza houses all Bacino's leprous magistrates and pale lotus beds, a potent narcotic. Their smoking staves burn lotus dust hiding their smell. Heralded by tiny bells on severe black robes, faces under leather hoods, crowds part before them. The magistrates serve to arbitrate legal disputes. Judgements are swift, cruel or expensive. Appeals are moved to the Court, petitioners risk leprosy. Most magistrates defer to Mefitico, eldest and the most venomous of a nest of treacherous vipers. The city's tradition of funeral barques for dead patricians sailing east is honoured from Caligregis. Slaves earn their freedom by crewing the barques. These have some grave-goods and usually fall foul of thieves from Parvapelve or the Avernine.

The Black Gate opens into Vallapis. Famed for it's cosmopolitan market, this district holds the House of Hounds, where imbonitore are trained. Their chief officer is Amon. Standing seven feet tall, his voice booms across the plazas. Prodigiously strong and equally skilled wielding scourge and gladius as both weapons and symbols of office. Brutal in battle and leadership, his honesty is proverbial. His leaden jackal-helm is unique, with ruby eyes, bared teeth and braided red horsehair crest. The imbonitore live Spartan existences bound by military discipline. Vallapis market sells many things, from Animardente honeyed persimmons to Oroguidan alchemical goods and Riccoferran steel. Slaves from outside the city can be bought. Imbonitore patrols in Vallapis are almost incorruptible. Magistrates are rarely summoned but when they are, flocks of them descend like rapacious legal vultures. The rest of Vallapis is residential. Merchants live in gated villas while their staff linger in damp tenements and haunt busy market taverns. Dogs are valued in Vallapis. Ratters and rat-catchers never want for work.

East of Vallapis and north of Branchine is Carcaule. This maze of shadowy alleys holds workhouses for orphans, warehouses for goods and madhouses for lunatics. Talk of lycanthropy is hushed fearfully. Imbonitore finding any incinerate them in their homes. This order comes from the lord of Bacino. Levist was crippled by rats, his tendons and muscles chewed through, his rakish good looks consumed. Wearing a stylised iron mask he crouches in a sedan chair seething with spite and malice. His tongue is rapier-quick and sharp. His bleak manse is famed for it's coliseum, where Levist indulges his love for swordplay. Gladiatorial duels happen every season. Levist owns a nearby pig farm, the swine eat the dead growing massive and vicious on them. His emblem is a rampant black boar.

Monday 19 December 2011


No. Enc.: 0 (1d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2d8
Attacks: Charm
Damage: 0
Save: F4
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: VI

Brazen, fickle and easily distracted by anything of value, limaxiads appear as pallid human women slicked in oil with damp, dark hair.  A limaxiad is tied by spirit to a giant slug, they may not  move further than 240' from it or they die after 1 turn.  Limaxiads can charm person when they remember to do so, if threatened or if they take a particular like to someone.  Their victim must save vs. spells or go to the giant slug and stand helpless before it as it consumes him (this usually means they are lost forever).  Limaxiads wear their treasure from past victims and rarely carry more than that.

Saturday 17 December 2011

review: weird adventures by armchair planet

Metric: Maltese Falcons.  Was going with dimes but this needs better
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy. I'm credited for doing some proofreading.
Overall: 4.5 Maltese Falcons (excellent & original setting for games)
Those familiar with From The Sorcerer's Skull will know of the pulp/noir adventure setting of the City and the Strange New World.  One of the most original and engaging settings I've read for some time. A magical New York in a mythic America with ancient Old World roots woven from Great War horror, gaslight mysticism and Age of Exploration folklore hung from a framework of classic D&D, pulp adventure stories and monochrome movies. 

Contents: 5 Maltese Falcons (innovative re-imaging of classic concepts)
An introduction to the setting is offered along with pointers to From The Sorceror's Skull and Strange Trails, a free companion PDF.  Like all good introductions it's brief and to the point.  What follows next is a flavourful guide to the Strange New World.
Information Please offers potted history, calendar and cosmology.  Text is interspersed with comic/Ripley's-esque pages.  From the downfall of Meropis to the Hell Syndicate, the setting is accessible.  Ethnicity is not dodged but part of the setting.  The treatment of magic and divine elements is interesting with organised magic and religion counterpointed by wild cards. 
A Strange New World takes you on a whistlestop tour of Septentrion (this world's America) and points North and South.  Zingara (their Mexico) gets some love and The Ten Ways to Die in Asciana sidebar is a great example how setting can be concise and flavourful.
On A Weird Road zooms in on how Septentrion is divided yet united.  Political tensions and divisions are presented as adventure hooks.  From the Union to New Lludd and the South, then across the Smaragdine Mountains west to Freedonia, Hesperia and San Tiburon.  Each area has distinctive identities and the smaller cities and other locations offer road-trip opportunities.
City Confidential zooms in on the City of Empire and its' four duchies, includes a whistle-stop tour of Empire Island neighbourhoods from Aldwood to Yiantown.  The city's infrastructure has opportunities for the enterprising.  Monster-hunting, mixing it up with criminal gangs and uncovering mysteries are just some of the diversions the city has to offer.  Maps of Empire Island and parts of the City make this easy to visualise.
Weird Menaces offers monsters ranging from re-skinned classics like the brain invader, goon and rust beetle to original twists like the hobogoblin, living house, lounge lizard and skunk ape.  Monsters are loosely grouped by type.  Minimalist statblocks cater for ascending and descending armour-class systems while providing enough detail for a GM to customise as needed.

Art & Layout: 4 Maltese Falcons (stunning cover, owes plenty to it's dime-novel roots)
If you recognise Doug Stambaugh's homage to the Trampier Players Handbook cover, you're in for a treat.  There are adverts redolent of Moore/O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.  The layout hearkens to newsprint-era/dime-novel roots with callouts to it's comic-book roots.  While I like the Ripley's-style pages, the classic newsprint approach isn't quite to my taste.  The artwork is excellent, pieces by Rene Manoquis, Stefan Poag and Adam Moore as well as Chris Huth and Jonathan Bingham among others compliment the text wonderfully.

In conclusion, Weird Adventures is worth your consideration.  The blend of pulp, noir and horror makes this a must for fans of those genres.  System considerations are kept to a minimum and for those wondering if using public domain media can inspire games, Trey Causey provides a pioneering glimpse into how this works.  While ostensibly for d20/d20 Modern, I could easily envisage Weird Adventures using a Lamentations of The Flame Princess chassis with minimal difficulty.  And yes, playing spot the shout-out/in-joke is it's own game.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

damned city: animardente

The Bridge of Smoke crosses the Bruciatura south-east of the Avernine at the foot of Animardente's northern slope.  Here the Black Road runs northwest past Lacunero's tar pits to Oroguida and southwest to the southern slopes and Bacino.  The Black Road is miles of bitumen-mortared flagstones.  The slopes rise to Riccoferro's walls.  The Spike casts a shadow at sunset on the Spine Road leaving Riccoferro's famed Centaur Gate.  Merchants travel this jagged road atop the slopes, fearing ambush by gangs of drunken centaur reavers. Animardente centaurs are hard-working, hard-drinking and violent.  They dye their manes black with walnut oil to accentuate paleness, which for them is a status symbol.  Indentured to the lords of Animardente centuries ago, rebellion surfaces in their cups on feverish summers.  Drunken centaur gangs are hunted by the lords' troops.

On the northern ridge, the keep of Arcemalba guards the first crossroads of the Spine Road.  This keep defends against centaurs and Riccoferran exiles.  Pale granite walls hold a garrison of malicious soldiers clad in spiked splint mail and helm, wielding halberd, longspear and bow. Their prisoners endure sadistic brutality. Running across caltrop beds, gauntlets of spiked fists and living archery targets are some examples.  Their cruel behaviour fuels their martial reputation.  These spinati are drilled in anti-cavalry tactics by the bellicose, brilliant and overweight general Gazar.  Gazar holds Arcemalba for Animardente. Spinati enjoy some notoriety outside the city walls, enemies of the city dread their presence in battle.

The northern slope is split into two neighbourhoods.  Balineum has bitumen, salt and sulphur mines.  The oily Bruciatura spills from a cistern high on the northern slope stained maroon with aromatic naphtha.  It's bitter waters causes dizziness and burning rashes, with prolonged exposure resulting in fainting.  It carves a lifeless course to the Black Road. There it sinks into a morass of tar pits, the Black Road and it's branches providing safe passage.  Balineum's mines has a mix of indentured centaurs and humans using slaves to toil in mine and refinery.  Centaur overseers drown troublemakers in refinery baths. 

The other, Ossarogis, sits on the north-east slope, behind the tar pits of the Bruciatura.  Centaurs avoid Ossarogis though some gangs launch destructive raids.  Smoke from conical stone kilns provide charcoal, pottery and smelt metal while disposing of dead bodies.  Locals are patient souls as likely to use nearby white oak as corpses to fuel kilns.  Where Balineum residents are passionate, they have cooler heads.  Animardente's lords are watching them, they argue, so actions remain circumspect and words civil lest someone awakens.

The second crossroads sits on the edge of a crater housing a smelter and a busy market.  The Spine Market trades in hematite, metal ingots and food.  Traders often cough, smoke from the smelter is distracting.  It processes Riccoferran ore with local rocks to make carbon steel sold exclusively at the Spine Market. Whispers persist that meteoric iron is smelted for the lords of the city on certain nights. Such rumours would alarm factions in the city.  As a result they are played down by all hearing them lest the lords get involved.

The southern slope is taken up by one community.  Palepratis is agrarian, growing persimmon, black walnut, inkberry, juniper, sweet magnolia and white oak. Beehives prosper amid the trees.  Yew and white poplar stands offer shade.  Slaves and centaurs here serve the farms, who work to feed both themselves and the lords.  Farms keep goats and swine for meat.  Yet not all is idyllic here.  Centaurs are abused, foreign slaves get better treatment.  All toil under the sun.  Farmers bloom early and perish in their prime, this land is difficult to keep maintained.  The Black Road terminates halfway around feeding into Bacino.  Beyond the Black Road, the Fiumorte widens out.

Petranera, a smoke-wreathed citadel of black stone guards the Spine Road's final crossroad where easternmost roads converge.  This is home to Lord Belias, attorney for the city and his beguiling, libertine daughter Fiammera.  Belias tolerates the dissolutes she collects, Fiammera makes an efficient chatelaine during his duty-driven absences. When he does return, the halls empty of sybarites. Belias is a serial widower, though dark whispers insinuate unwholesome liaisons with Fiammera in Petronera.  Guarded by a spinati garrison, the lords scheme and plot. 

The Black Road girds Animardente, with traffic from the crossroads, Oroguida and Bacino. Where the Bridge of Smoke arrives is the halfway point.  The kilns of Ossarogis and pig-pens of Palepratis meet in a permanent market where people buy district goods to bear to their allies.  The craft is excellent, not prolific as Oroguida or Riccoferro yet skilled in construction and presentation.  Notable is a post where a greataxe is buried in it's head.  This post announces local executions and mercenaries for hire.

Monday 12 December 2011


No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d8)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 6d8
Attacks: 3 (claw/claw/bite)
Damage: 1d4/1d4/2d4+2, trample (2d6).
Save: F4
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: VI

The laniar is a wooly, fanged creature like a maned bear with a lustrous grey pelt.  It's jaws hold two rows of serrated fangs. If both claws strike, the laniar will trample their opponent if they are man-sized or smaller doing 2d6 damage.  Creatures trampled may (1-3 on a d4) be trampled on following  at +4 to hit.  If an opponent flees, there is a 50% chance a laniar will chase.  A laniar can track creatures if they have spilled their blood and can be cruel predators. 

Friday 9 December 2011

review: vornheim the complete city kit

Metric: Snakes.  For reasons that become apparent, snakes are associated with the erudite in Vornheim.
DISCLAIMER: Based on a PDF copy.  This book was designed as a physical product and may have  lost some elements in translation.  That said, printing some pages out got around that pretty quickly so...
Overall: 4.5 snakes (a setting and a workbook with some killer apps)
Those who want to speed up prep for their games need this.  Urban games will also benefit mightily from this book, though it's inspirations are applicable to megadungeons as well.  A willingness to play fast & loose with rules as written is assumed.  While the layout and text could be less cluttered, the design principles, cartography and volume of quality content is tough to argue with.  Vornheim deserves it's status as one of the best RPG products currently out.

Content:  5 snakes (brilliant cover charts and tables, strong flavourful setting and encounters)
Vornheim is original.  The first section mentions things off-hand because they may be relevant to your game. The oddities are odd and the presence of spells like vile hound, locations like the Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng and monsters like the flailceratops and plasmic ghoul make Vornheim atypical.  Superstitions and bizarre holidays are reminiscent of Gormenghast.  What makes this setting effective is how economic Zak is with the presence of the gods -  Vorn alone spawns a number of ceremonies and rituals, something that other campaigns may do well to emulate.  The baroque structures of Vornheim provide a good template for other cities and can be tweaked and modified by other GMs to fit their worlds.  Urbancrawl rules are a wonderful method for speedy generation of city streets and the floorplan shortcuts are quick ways to keep the game turning.  There are fistfuls of ideas in this book - some of which have been explored in Zak's blog. There are other sources credited as well, which is a nice touch.

Art & Layout: 4 snakes (awesome cartography, very clever cover charts, text chaotic useful)
Text layout is crabbed and claustrophobic, evocative but a bugger to speed-read, mercifully bolded text helps pick out the essentials.  The design elements and layout in other respects are very strong and Jim & Zak are to be commended.  Borders hold valuable chapter and page information which easily lets you move between sections.  PDF bookmarks work a treat and help navigation.  Artwork is rendered in Zak's style.  Some pieces have definition, the cover, the full page for House of the Medusa (p14) and flailceratops (p23) are cool.  The cartography is strong and Zak's style is intuitive, working in flat plane but arranged by floor (House of the Medusa), in orthographic perspective (Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng) reminiscent of a video game or vertical perspective (Library of Zorlac).  It's good stuff, using visual cues to ease dependence on keys.  Those used to pre-made floorplans may find this an issue.  That may not be the typical audience though...

In conclusion, this product stands alongside other excellent city sourcebooks.  Chaotic Useful is a relevant description.  Vornheim has fantastical elements that suit some campaigns perfectly.  New players may feel a bit intimidated but for those GMs who need a little fizz, this is a good present.  The support for 4th edition D&D was an unexpected bonus as well.  There are some bold ideas in here that have been excellently executed.  While some people may find it unpolished, the same argument could be made about prog rock vs. punk rock.  I may not know art, but I know what I like and I like this.  As a first album, it's good - the second one is the real test I hear...

Wednesday 7 December 2011

damned city: oroguida

Oroguida is isolated from the Avernine by tar pits and quicksand banks fed by the Fiumorte.  The safest routes to Oroguida are by Occidua in Riccoferro and The Black Road in Animardente.  Boardwalks and stone piers keep Oroguida from sinking into brackish wetland that floods every autumn and winter.  Mud and water seeps through corrugated roads and boardwalks.  Dykes to limit flooding form canals by the boardwalks allowing barques and skiffs to move chattel.  The clink of coins and chains is ever-present.  Gold is the lifeblood of Oroguida.  It flows from a brisk slave trade as well as transfer of goods and individuals.  Status is conferred by visible gold or slaves.  Ostentatious wealth is preferred, vulgarity is expected.  Mercenaries in coin-riveted brigandine guard sedan chairs bearing bejewelled merchants with golden smiles.  By contrast, slaves bearing the sedan wear loincloths, manacles, whip scars and owner's brands.  Labourers may own a nose ring or gold medallion.  Artisans wear two or more rings with medallions or bangles.  A guard usually has half a dozen arm-bangles.  Some unwed women wear gold coins in head-dresses with charm bracelets. 

Near Occidua, a ghetto called Catenae grows around imported waterwheels.  Chainmakers forge chains using Riccoferran iron and scrap metal for anchors, shackles and weapons.  Mercenaries skilled in flails and spiked chains work out of Catenae, these _catenisti_ are the nearest thing to elite troops found in Oroguida.  There is a sizable drydock in Catenae that services the skiffs and barques plying canals transporting goods and people.  Tumulurbem stands between Catenae and the House of Hands.  Founded from an old village built on ancient ruins, explored by those seeking easy gold.  Flooding, unstable walls and degenerate mutants make this difficult.  There is gold but it's far from easy.  Pre-human gold idols found underneath are quickly smelted into gold ingots to avoid bloody reprisals.  Tumulurbem markets sell assorted supplies to explorers.  They also warn explorers balliffs will seize loot unless they are affiliated to a licensed business.

At Oroguida's heart is the House of Hands, a ten-towered structure resembling two grasping hands.  Here, the Aliquamante, a council of thirteen oligarchs preside.  Clad in hooded samite robes with gold masks of angry medusae, they are part syndicate, part priesthood.  They provide judgements and license trade in Oroguida for 10% of assets or income, whichever yields more.  The leader is The Wolf, a corpulent captain clad in gold-coin brigandine whose word is law.  Mercenary bailiffs enforce this by seizing goods and chattel.  The House of Hands watches over three great boardwalks with their attendant canals.  Slaves toil on windlasses to pump water out of the cellars.

Carnefossa deals in pigs, slaves and vice.  The branching southern canal links to the Fiumorte and sees traffic from Bacino and Perlanero.   The Wolf's bailliffs are particularly active in Carnefossa.  Nearer the House of Hands, the stink of swine, canal water and unwashed bodies fades under perfume.  Yet the stink never truly dies.  Further to the south, it grows to fill the nostrils.  Pig pens and cesspits are dug under boardwalks, sometimes used as prisons or slave holding pens.  Biting flies attract a variety of frogs, some poisonous.  Brothels, drug dens and wine houses riddle Carnefossa.  Streetwalkers work from the canal edge to alleyways within the shadow of the House of Hands.  Some use parasites and poisons to enhance their appearance, trading health and longevity for potential wealth.

Lacunero, a slum with a pall of brown smoke reaches east to tar pits bordering Animardente.  Near the House of Hands is the Black Alley where alchemists sell alchemist's fire, pigments and exotic metals.  Other streets near Black Alley Further along the great canal, smiths forge shining blades of stainless steel and potters sell enamelled clay.  Clay and stone is quarried  from flooding pits.  Furthest away, and close to the tar pits, residents mine bitumen for mortar, sealant and adhesive.  Watch towers keep vigil for caravans from Animardente.

Monday 5 December 2011


No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d6)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2d8+2
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d4
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: VI

These 4' long squat marsupials resemble brindle-furred dog-faced rats with short tails.  The dilany is a fierce beast, when it successfully bites it locks it jaws and gnaws on it's victim doing 1d4 damage each round, clinging until either it or the victim dies.  They can be removed by the presence of open flame.  Their sense of smell is exceptional and they can track prey with it.  Dilany dig for worms and grubs but eat any meat they encounter.  A dilany nest is often foul-smelling and decorated with the gnawed bones of their prey. 

Saturday 3 December 2011

inns & taverns: the rouge and glass

Gnomes enjoy beer in cellars. The Rouge and Glass is celebrated among gnomes, halflings and certain taller folk in the know.  Noise usually comes from it's doors and there is almost continuous activity.  Though some dislike it's gaudiness, it's popularity is evident.  The Rouge and Glass is tucked in a hill beneath a fortified tower manned by a platoon of crack gnomish crossbowmen.  Trouble is almost never a problem.  This has led to speculation that whoever owns the tower owns the inn.  Gnomes, dwarves, halflings and the wise know it's the other way round.  The sign is a steel mirror with gilt scrollwork and "The Rouge and Glass" painted in red.  This glows with foxfire as light fades.

From the outside, the inn is built within a hill with a tower atop it and a mirror affixed above a double door.  Through the double doors, an antechamber ends in a door between two crystal-studded pillars.  Light brought into this space causes the pillars to shimmer.  A lectern and stool are positioned to the right of the door.  During daylight, an old, extremely wizened gnome maid in somber fabrics and leathers alternates between pipe and hipflask to grant admission.  After sundown, the usual occupant is a gnome in spiked leather with steel wire woven into his beard.  He grants admissions but hassles those he dislikes.  Beyond this door is a long chamber, almost airy and spacious.  The layout is not unlike that of a ship, there are raised seating areas to the right and left of the door.  Pillars are roughly positioned where masts would be.  At the far end is a semi-circular ampitheatre with four tiers of gnome-sized seating.  The bar is on the left wall and decorated by various painted mirrors and crystal tiles.  Light flickers from an ostentatious candelabra of red and orange glowing crystals and copper wire.  This softens features as good firelight does.  Three closed doors to the left (cellar, landlord's office and a store room) and two to the right lead to privies.

A number of drinks can be purchased.  A brown ale, of wet sand colour and average taste is the safest bet. Many regulars prefer a hard pale cider or a dark ruby beetroot beer (dry with hints of earth and malt) to drink.  Connoissieurs may wish to take a glass of pomace (apple liqueur) or a slightly jaundiced genever.  Jugs of wine are also sold, red or white.  Neither are particularly appealing to any but drunks or those who cannot countenance ever drinking beer.  Food is not sold though on some cold nights hot meat pastries are offered to clients by staff.  These are greasy, yet substantial.  The meat defies simple identification and is of mixed origin smothered in thick onion gravy.

The staff here are mostly gnomes.  The landlord, Amlyn Hyssop, is rakishly handsome.  Twinking sapphire eyes and white-gold hair are sometimes complimented with a courtly suit, or flouted with a labourer's outfit and leather boots.  Comfortable and confident, Hyssop prefers to advance without drawing undue attention. His wolfhound, Reaver, is slavishly loyal.  The other staff are itinerant gnomes, equally balanced between male and female, all with ready smiles.  Practical jokes are regular occurences, resulting in beetroot beer fountains, inexplicable noises and coins attached to invisible thread.  The other staff are a troupe of dancers and musicians of various races.  These range from convivial line dancers to more exotic performances with veils and gaudily feathered fans.  One part Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, one part Moulin Rouge.

There is no accommodation.   Those seeking it are chased off.  Some patrons drag feet to tease favourite staff.  The invective unleashed often shows the height of gnomish creativity.  Those who don't take the hint will find themselves chased with brooms. Yet when Reaver growls all but the stupid drunks know that it's time to leave.  Reaver has been trained to take someone's hand between his jaws and gently lead them out.  Amlyn usually handles high-status troublemakers who inevitably visit, laden down with gold coin and disrespect.  They usually leave lighter of both.

Some humourless locals claim pickpockets work the Rouge.  This leads to 'raids' supported by staid clerics.  Amlyn and the bar staff tone down their ribaldry.  The regular clientele don't resulting in a brawl.  Needless to say, this provokes a crackdown.  The Rouge cloaks their more scandalous activities but word gets out - as it always does.  A large watch raid may meet stiff opposition from the crossbowmen and what appears to be a siege might attract attention...
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