Wednesday, 22 February 2012

ten unlikely treasures

Roll 1d10 for unlikely loot.
  1. Fingerbone skeleton key with jet inlaid handle.  The key opens any non-magical lock on 1 in 6 (d6).  If used by a thief to pick locks it adds +2 to the attempt.  Magical, puzzle or combination locks foil it.
  2. Velvet pouch (worth 1gp) holding irregular one-inch pieces of carved cedar wood - the pieces of a puzzle box.  Assembly takes a minute and a successful Intelligence check.  The box has a sliding lid and is 6 inch by 2 inch by 1 inch. It holds up to 120 stacked coins or a scribe's quills and vial of ink.
  3. A gold-plated human-sized ceremonial pauldron (plate mail shoulder-piece) etched with reclining nudes.  Three thumb-width gold chains form an epaulet.  Useless armour, excellent gaudy bling.
  4. A scabbard of black ash and bronze decorated with a sneering bearded face with tourmaline eyes.  Suitable for longsword or similar straight blade.  Of sufficient quality to be enchanted.
  5. Well-worn ivory drinking horn etched with indigo leaf patterns and silver cap attached by slim yet robust chain.
  6. Brass pocket tin painted with dragons.  Inside lurks 3 twists of resinous pipeweed.  Each twist causes the smoker to be passive (-4 to Will and to hit rolls) yet relaxed and reasonable (+2 to Charisma for reaction rolls) for the next 2 hours. 
  7. Cream-coloured meerschaum pipe with bowl carved as a reclining dragon's head.  Smoke billows from the dragon's mouth.  This delightful pipe gives a +2 reaction bonus with pipe-smokers.
  8. Ivory bracer used for archery, can be adjusted to fit any medium-sized character.  This well-worn accoutrement has a runic inscription which is 30% legible.  Those who can make it out will read 'Sure hands and swift arrows'.
  9. Silver snuff box decorated with raised lion emblem.  If opened it holds 5 gold pieces and no snuff.
  10. An embroidered purple velvet bag with violet drawstring (worth 1gp).  Inside are 1d20 dead beetles, commonly believed to be an aphrodisiac, in actuality a mild ingested poison (consuming more than one beetle forces a save or take 1 Strength damage, feel fever-warm for 30 minutes per beetle).

Monday, 20 February 2012


No. Enc.: 1d6 (4d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1d8+1
Attacks: 1 (by weapon)
Damage: 1d6 or by weapon
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: XXI

These primitive humanoids have heads covered in uniformly dense masses of violet foot-long eyestalks and cilia.  They favour armour of hides (equal to leather) and crude wood and leather shields.  Their senses allow them only to be surprised on a 1 in 1d6 and give them a 50% chance of detect invisibility to a range of 60'.  Ynimone keep simple weapons in good repair.  They prefer to live underground away from strong light.  A lair of ynimone have a leader with 2d8+2 hit dice and doing +2 damage on it's attacks.  If their leader is alive and present, the morale of all ymimone in the lair is 9.  They have no discernable spoken language, though at least one sage suspects they use a form of sign language involving their cilia.

Monday, 13 February 2012


No. Enc.: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 30' (10')
Fly: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 4d8
Attacks: 1 (withering stare)
Damage: 1d4 + curse (see below)
Save: M8
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: None

A jectatura appears as a jaundiced cat's eye the size of a human head with a ribbon of pulsing purplish tissue the length of a body behind it.   They are an arcane manifestation of the eye of evil sorcerous giants trapped beyond by magic.  A jectatura seems to swim through the air.  It will seek to control those around it.  It may attack by a withering stare causing 1d4 damage and forces a save vs. paralysation or be cursed (-1 to AC and to hit) for 4 rounds.  Undead take no damage and are not cursed.  Once a round, the jectatura may use one of the following abilities as an 8th-level magic-user.
  • Charm Monster
  • Hold Person
  • Sleep
Jectatura communicate with each other by continuous two-way ESP within 90'.  They have 60' infravision.   Jectatura work through their servants to free the sorcerous giants from their extraplanar prison.  They seek out those able to communicate with them via ESP or magic.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

review: zobeck gazetteer by open design

Metric: Gears.  While kobolds would be a logical choice, Rava is patron of the city after all... 
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design
Overall: 5 gears (huge content, a city done right)
Zobeck Gazetteer has contemporary focus for a city sourcebook with the sweeping scope of early-era Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk (in a good way) sourcebooks.  Thumbnail sketches contrast glittering wealth with the gritty underbelly of the city and the horrors of the Kobold Ghetto.  With things to buy, enemies to defy and plenty more to see and do besides, the Free City is a jumpstart for many adventures.  There's plenty of life in the city, something just about for everyone.

Contents: 5 gears (an abundance of stuff).
Chapter 1 deals with history.  From the rule of the fey to the fall of House Stross and the rise of the Free City with hints of relations with Zobeck's neighbours. 
Chapter 2 takes you on a whistlestop tour from the Cartways to Upper Zobeck. It then introduces typical life among humans, dwarves, gearforged (clockwork people) and kobolds who live here. Trade with the Ironcrags, Magdar, Morgau & Doresh, sinister shadow fey and flying cities as well as river barges are detailed.  Festivals like the River Fair, Winter Festival of Khors Holiday and the kobolds' We No Work Day provide seasonal markers and encounter vignettes.  Details on nobility, civic officers, gangs, guilds and orders as well as crime & punishment show the distinct flavour of Zobeck.  The chapter rounds off with Zobeck's neighbours - a mix of threat and opportunity.
Chapter 3 zooms in on the Kobold Ghetto, where the ghetto improves the lives of many kobolds. Traps, personalities (among them many lesser kings engaged in a razored dance of intrigues and assassinations) and locations from The Dock and Ferry to The Royal Workshops and Cartways. Minor magic items at reasonable rates, markets for smugglers, exquisite clockworks and much more keeps discerning adventurers coming back.
Chapter 4 considers the districts of the city, including price lists for rental and ownership of property, locations, typical expenses and adventure hooks for each district.  Among the locations are numerous taverns and temples to the city's gods as well as businesses dealing in essentials.  The inclusion of a city map showing the districts helps orient a GM.  Details on places in the immediate vicinity of Zobeck let a GM take things outside for a change of pace.
Chapter 5 looks at the street gangs, guilds and courtly societies.  From the corruption of the Cloven Nine and the Mouse Kingdom's intrigues to the courtesans and salons frequented by nobles and the Shadow fey ambassador, there are plenty of affiliations, rivals and enemies to be found.  This compliments the materials found in Streets of Zobeck and Alleys of Zobeck.
Chapter 6 considers the religions, cults and religious mysteries of the city.  As well as the legal religions, there are forbidden cults like the Red Goddess.  The possibility of pacts with shadow fey and devils are discussed.  One of the standout bits is the section on crab diviners and their rituals.  A collection of holy relics rounds off this section and gives a strong taste of the city.
Chapter 7 contains a number of NPCs, key players in the intrigues of the city.  A colourful bunch of NPCs for a GM to introduce, focused mainly on the gangs and street-level, though some leaders are present (the current Mouse King, Myzi I and Mama Rye).  Some appear in Streets of Zobeck and Alleys of Zobeck or previewed on the KQ blog. 
Chapter 8 contains assorted magics; spells for both Pathfinder and Advanced Player's Guide base classes and two new schools of magic.  Clockwork magics relate to constructs and transformations of the body into a machine.  Illumination magic is related to astrology and shadow, drawing equally on star and shadow.  A nice touch is the  animated constructs table referring to other 3rd-party books like Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary and Frog God Games' Tome of Horrors 1.

Artwork/Layout: 5 gears (excellent art; clear layout)
Pat Loboyko's cover is understated, yet makes effective use of colour.  The rooftop hauling of loot shows the ingenuity of Zobeck rogues.   Colour is sparingly used, providing contrast to quality monochrome art from Jonathan Roberts, Corey Trego-Erdner, Rick Hershey and others.  Layout is logical and orderly with easy-to-read statblocks and sidebars.  The cartography provides a crow's-eye view of the districts and city walls and of the Kobold Ghetto.

In conclusion, Zobeck Gazetteer shows how to do a city right, offering an alternative to typical Middle Ages Europe generica even though some of it's inspirations are European.  The Teutonic and Slavic roots of Zobeck show there is more to Europe than Vikings, Charlemagne and Rome.  It will be a very specific game that can't find something of value here and as a springboard for adventures elsewhere, the Free City of Zobeck has much to recommend it.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

inns & taverns: the bag of nails

This green-stained two-storey tavern stands out amid stucco and thatch terraces in a quiet inland village. Reports of the place vary Certain pilgrims recall it fondly, merchants find it 'adequate if uninteresting', wealthy travellers think it sparse.  Locals visit the Bag on special occasions.  The hanging sign of six over-sized iron nails points outward forms a rose or snowflake pattern.
The Bag's sloping roof covers the second floor, creating covered terraces at the front and back.  A neighbouring stable allows accommodation for steeds.  Behind the Bag is a yard where singers and musicians entertain patrons on warm summer nights.  In winter, the yard is usually empty.
Inside is decorated in varnished wooden panels, a profusion of natural colours and interlocking symmetrical patterns.  The front door enters into a snug bar.  Oval oak tables carved with hop flowers and laden grapevines serve simple chairs.  A U-shaped bar is opposite the door and has one behind it.  In the right corner is a stairwell leading up.  The left wall is occupied by a firepit over which a wooden spit and irons hang.  Near the firepit, a door leads into a long kitchen.  The Bag is usually empty but for one table.  A polite knot of people seemingly dwell there, sharing a common mystery religion despite disparate backgrounds.  Even on busy nights they form an enclosed group.  Their hushed conversation involves ceremonies and how to recruit more followers, plans for the latter are usually flawed.  Upstairs is divided into five rooms.  The largest is a common room with doors leading to a privy and three guest rooms.  All are furnished in ornately carved wood.  

A warm brown ale is always sold, though locals prefer an agreeable red wine drunk in volume. Brin keeps casks of the wine in reserve.  Food is simple yet plentiful - saltfish, flatbread, olives and figs accompany roast mutton and lamb stew.  A pudding of stewed figs is the house speciality.  All is served in fine-carved wood bowls and goblets.

Birn, the landlord, is affable and forgettable.  A man of middling years, his only distinctive features are his protruding nose and skill at carpentry.  A capable landlord, his passion is shaping wood.  The genius of the Bag of Nails is his mother, Mayra who cooks and keeps the keys.  Her 'friendships' with local soldiers keep The Bag protected.  Brin disapproves but is seeing local girls himself.  Mayra disapproves of this and the pair needle each other good-naturedly while they serve others.  The two barmaids keep out of the way.  Brin's luck in love is either awful or rotten - it is rumoured he is cursed.  For their part, they prefer honest, gullible labourers.

Accommodation can be hired, the common room can hold up to 12 people comfortably.  The privy is popular some nights.  The three guest rooms are functional yet warm, positioned over the firepit downstairs.  Prices are reasonable - baths are not provided though.  Instead a wooden bowl with warmed rose water and coarse flannel is drawn and brought up.  The custom of the area prevents excessive use of water.  Stabling is available but horses will be thirsty the next day until they are properly watered.

Brin is said to tolerate the mystery cultists as they helped him escape death from undead.  Mayra is close-lipped if asked about this.  Rumour is Brin once defaced an evil temple and was cursed in revenge by it's priests.  This draws rude laughter from Mayra and the barmaids.  There are mercenaries looking for Brin to avenge the temple's slighted honour and sacrifice him.  The mystery cult is dedicated to light and good.  Most locals prefer to pragmatically obey a lord whose moral flexibility makes him a hard taskmaster.  There are underlying tensions among the locals.  As the village is strategically important, the nobility overlook some excesses but potential rebels may spark oppression.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Friday, 3 February 2012

review: kobold quarterly 20

Metric: Kobolds.  They've proven their worth even in these straitened times.  One of nature's survivors and what's this - next issue they can go into a tavern?  Must be doing something right.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 4.5 kobolds (the Kobold goes from strength to strength)
This issue shows the Kobold entering it's sixth year.  Next issue it gets to drink and given it's performance, I suspect that champagne may be the order of the day.  In this time it's managed to carve a niche out and surpass it's predecessors through quality and by moving with the times.  As a new edition of D&D hoves into view, the future is looking rosy for this small but fierce predator who appears large and in charge compared to other RPG-zines out there.

Contents: 4.5 kobolds (a mix of excellent and complimentary themed content)
After last issue's challenging content, this issue has things much more to my taste.  A mixture of archers, fun things to do with ooze, planar allies, nightmarish monsters and... fish supper too?  The advent of 5th edition has elicited a flurry of 4E articles it seems.  AGE support is still going strong and as KQ enters it's sixth year, it seems the quality of articles aren't slowing down and neither are the quantity!

Now, it's time for detail.

The Elven Archer by John E. Ling, Jr. (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - This class is very well-designed, distinctive from a ranger and doesn't obviate the arcane archer prestige class.  The article is also well-written, concise yet expressive. Ideas to hack the class are well-thought out.  Elf-loving players will be rubbing their hands in glee, GMs won't find this class game-breaking.  Much to like.
Arrows of the Arbonesse by Jarrod Camiré (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - This collection of magical and non-magical arrows offers a variety of options; from silent fletching through razor wire and acid tips to battlefield options needing multiple archers.  GMs will find plenty of new ideas for arrow traps or assassins.  Something for everyone here.
Derro Ooze Magic by Nicholas L. Milasich (4.5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - For those with Juiblex-cultists, degenerate drow or derro savants, this is terrific.  While billed as alchemist options, the spells cover numerous classes including witch and sorceror/wizard.  The miniature ooze familiars are wonderful.  While it's a bit niche, the content is excellent. 
Servants from Beyond by Mario Podeschi (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - Four possible allies for those casting lesser planar ally.  This article offers allies players can call upon - providing individualised motifs and roleplaying guides as well as stats.  There's a real need for articles that can speed up play like this.  More would be a good thing..
Night Terrors by Jack Graham (4 kobolds, Pathfinder) - This quartet of monsters are distinctive.  The changeling moth offers a Ravenloft-esque horror, the giant naked mole rat will be useful for fans of BBC's Merlin.  The cephalic parasite is classic B-movie and the pishtaco is Stephen King-style horror.  Some tweaks may be needed to suit certain games, they're good stuff.
The Power of the Game Master by Monte Cook (4 kobolds, system neutral) - Monte considers the role of the GM and various points on the continuum of authority in a game.  This may seem obvious but there is nothing wrong with stating the obvious if it's a) true and b) relevant.
Captured in the Cartways by Christina Stiles (4 kobolds, Pathfinder, Midgard) - A subterranean adventure set in Zobeck's Cartways.  Your party needs to do a favour. It's not complex but it's fun and the end-level villain is excellent.  You don't need the Zobeck sourcebooks (though they are excellent) mentioned.
Putting the Band Back Together by Stefen Styrsky (4.5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - Re-uniting former legends back for one last gig is a recurring theme in action movies, now these feats let you wheel out your heroes for an epic showdown.  These may be better suited to traits than feats yet are a nice touch.
Fey Hunters & Shadow Hounds by Christopher Bodan (5 kobolds, Pathfinder, Midgard) - A look at the shadow fey hunts and their hounds.  Those with Tales of The Old Margreve and Court of the Shadow Fey will definitely want this.  The fey hunting hounds are a disturbing twist on the Wild Hunt.  Lycanthropy may almost be preferable.
AGE of Specialization by Randall K. Hurlburt (5 kobolds, AGE) - Some additional options for AGE RPG characters, the battle captain plays well with others, the elementalist channels primal forces but the rogues steal the show with marksman, master thief and skirmisher.  Well-balanced, worth your attention.
Kobold Diplomacy: Bardic Charisma Meets Crunch and Chickens by Jeremy L. C. Jones (4 kobolds) is an in-depth interview with Christine Stiles, whose resume is already impressive.  This interview has good advice if you want to get into the industry.  Also perhaps the silliest title I've seen in a while.
The Bardic Arts by Aaron Infante-Levy (4 kobolds, 4E) - A hack for bards in 4E, some additional options making the bard a social skeleton key.  While useful for courtly games and gathering information, the DM may need to create some situations.
Ask the Kobold by Skip Williams (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - A breakdown on the effects of poisons and disease - essential reading for GMs.
Small Spirits by Matthew J. Hanson (5 kobolds, 4E/Pathfinder) - A collection of primal nature spirits, magic items and creatures.  Good stuff for those running games with shamanic or druidic influences.
Unearthed Ancestry by Jerry LeNeave (4 kobolds, 4E) - Race-based powers for gnomes, minotaurs and tieflings.  Combat crunch with some subterfuge for the gnomes; balanced and archetypal.
Make Haste! by Ron Lundeen (4.5 kobolds, 4E/AGE/Pathfinder) - Proposing a new mechanic (haste points) to vary the difficulty of encounters where speed is of the essence.  The slow get a harder time of things.  Nice if you've got a party that dawdles horribly.
Fish of Legend by Crystal Frasier (4 kobolds, Pathfinder) - A whimsical take on magical food, with a couple of classic legends and folklore thrown in.  Fishing may become a new preferred past-time.
Book Reviews by William Banks, Ben McFarland, Wade Rockett, and Pierce Watters (4 kobolds) - Fantasy light and dark, a history of roleplaying games and steampunk adventure get analysis.
Free City of Zobeck:The Ruins of Arbonesse by Jeff Grubb (4 kobolds, Midgard) - A look at the ancient kingdoms of the elves in Zobeck and how they have fallen.
Cartoons (4 stars) - Bolt & Quiver celebrates size differences, d20 Monkey wants fun with performance-enhanced snakes and 10x10 Toon cuts the cheese with a groan-inducing pun.  How else can I review them?

Artwork/Layout: 4.5 kobolds (excellent cover, strong interior art enhances articles)
The cover by Richard Clark shows The Snow Queen bringing seasonal chill to the proceedings.  Rick Hershey and Blake Henrikson provide excellent interior art, the elven archer firing sprays of magical arrows, the fey hunting hounds look horribly unnatural.  Jason Rainville, Storn Cook and Michael Jaecks provide excellent colour pieces.  Black & white pieces are good quality and less woodcuts or classic art appear.  Adverts haven't become too obtrusive yet though the smaller blocks make some articles page-turners - this is a minor gripe at best.  Overall, the magazine is a great example of how to do this right.

In conclusion, KQ20 shows no sign of slowing down.  It's bringing quality content, supporting 4E, AGE RPG and Pathfinder with equal facility.  Six years is a long time in the industry and to see a magazine supporting multiple systems without being a house organ for any of them is testament to it's quality.  If you haven't yet succumbed to the lure of the kobold, you can grab a free copy of KQ 14 (reviewed here) until 14 February 2012 by visiting the Kobold Quarterly store and using the voucher Kobold Welcome.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

damned city: lagelido

Lagelido's hills are reached from Chantákia's south road or Scissaxa's east road from Hag Gate. Both enter the Mezzaluna Pass winding west and north. Beyond these is chill Lake Abbagiaco, cradled between three hills that make up the rest of Lagelido. Foriris is the north hill of Mezzaluna Pass. Vignicolle, a poor suburb of hard-faced toilers and grafters at small trades on it's north face. To the south, Domile, an estate of walled villas. Each is home to an extended family group of professional soldiers (formiles) and their chattel slaves. Formiles are elite troops, disciplined and fierce. Clad in insectile breastplate and helm, bearing spear, shield, falchion and crossbow they drill constantly. Viquilonis, a tower fortified by formiles watches over Foriris. Bristling with scorpios and topped with a mangonel any attack from Mezzaluna Pass must take it.

Dusty winds scour Mezzaluna Pass from the south. The heights of Montaspis, the southern hill of Mezzaluna Pass is the source of this dust. On it's lower slopes, green allotments and narrow streets. The citizens are freed slaves-born, valued by the formiles for their farming, aided by qanat tunnels. The upper slopes are barren, tombs chequering stony inclines. At the peak is Angueviden, a stout keep held by sibilant veiled oracles in concealing habits. They keep asps about their person as pets. Their knowledge is sought by the wealthy and powerful as well as formiles going into battle. The farmers on the lower slopes fear them. At equinoxes, a dozen handsome male slaves are delivered to Angueviden never to be seen again. The southern slope forms the north coast of Lake Abbagiaco. Worn fragments of statues are found on the coast and treacherous rocks make boating difficult around here.

Across the lake is Monturrem. It's shoreline runs south and east, packed with quays, shacks and tenements to the Foroscuro Plaza. Here four towers compass an ancient marketplace. Wares have an unsavoury edge - barbed daggers, love potions and zombies bound to lead amulets. Each tower has it's own legends. The north tower is home to the Matres Notisque, bejewelled coven of vile sorceresses. Necromancers, dream stalkers and illusionists, they enslave their victims. The east tower is home to Lord Mephis, Praetector of Lagelido, saturnine aristocrat, ex-formile and intriguer. The southern tower is sealed by magic and lead mortar, it's wizard owner believed now deceased. Daring thieves attempt entry, usually dying horrific deaths. The western tower is a municipal building with access to qanat tunnels under Lake Abbagacio. Monturrem's south face mines for magnetite and magnesia, lodestone deposits trick compasses and fool certain animals. Monturrem miners are hardy yet obedient.

Lake Abbagiaco is placid by day, perilous by night. Fishing boats bring trout and whitefish to Monturrem's muddy south shore in the day only. After dark it's chill water is haunted by spectres. The unquiet spirits of the drowned and murdered whose bodies are hidden here hunt the living. It feeds the ancient qanat network that irrigates Montaspis and Monturrem. This was built before Lagelido formed. Ancient runes suggest certain tombs in Montaspis may have been around longer than any historian suspects.

The western hill, Hircornuta is untamed land, named for it's spiralling rocks, reminiscent of goat horns. Formiles hunt satyr bands amid ragged rocks. Lagelidans think satyrs drunken maniacs, rapists and vandals while satyrs view Lagelidans as tyrannical, violent slave-mongers. Mephis, the Praetector grants license to hunt here. Yet amid Hircornuta's rocks, a crevasse forms a waterfall fed by Lake Abbagiaco runs through the hill. Behind this torrent is an unexpected passage. The waterfall hides a stair best called perilous which descends into the chasms of Malicoram, in the realm of Manescor.
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