Thursday, 30 January 2014

unlikely treasures 2: why wait for a sequel?

Roll d12 for the loot!
  1. Eyepatch with tiger's eye gemstone (14gp).
    Weighs 0.1 lb. Eyepatch of black leather with tiger's eye in pewter claw clasp.  Looks quite intimidating.
  2. Heavy mace (12gp).
    Weighs 8 lb. Does 1d8 damage (x2).  No ornamentation, appears to be army or temple issue. 
  3. Medium-sized chest with six clay jugs inside (11gp). 
    Weighs 56 lb.  Jugs hold maple syrup (weigh 1 lb; worth 1 gp each).  Chest is 50lbs if emptied.
  4. Bottle of good red wine (10gp).
    Weighs 1 lb. Well-preserved despite dungeon storage.
  5. Caul of woven black silk (10gp).
    Weighs almost nothing.  Favoured by aristocratic women as hair net, worn as subtle wealth.
  6. Journal with bloodstained blue cover (10gp).
    Weighs 1 lb. Bloodstains are elven in origin; the book has 50 blank pages in it.
  7. Light steel shield engraved with coiled dragon (10gp).
    Weighs 6 lbs. Dragon is winged but not painted.
  8. Small tent (10gp).
    Weighs 20 lbs. Holds one Medium-sized creature.  All ropes & pegs are present.  Takes 20 minutes to put up and 10 minutes to take down. 
  9. Two copper ingots (10gp).
    Weighs 20lb. Unmarked ingots, each worth 5gp and weighing 10 lbs.
  10. Wooden puzzle box (10gp).
    Weighs 2 lb. Requires an Intelligence check (DC15) and 1 round manipulation to open.  Empty but can store up to 60 stacked coins or four vials. 
  11. Three fox pelts (9gp).
    Weighs 1 lb. Good condition, bound by leather thong.
  12. Square of white cloth (8gp).
    Weighs l lb. One square yard of unmarked plain cream cotton suitable for trade.

Monday, 27 January 2014

return to the city built with wand and scroll

The city of we built this city with wand and scroll was built around co-existence.  Diverse spellcasters lived harmoniously for the civic good. Those without didn't object too strenuously.  Of course, real cities aren't like that.  Yet every spellcaster against the other means urban unrest. Anyone who's reined in uppity wizards knows you subcontract such work, preferably to expendable mid-level adventurers.

Once the dust settles, consider survivors.  Cities with notable spellcasters are predominantly one or two base classes with niches filled by others. Their magic is either welcomed or clandestine, few people are indifferent about fireballs in built-up areas. With like attracting like, in a city of 10,000 there’s discrete groups.   

Spellcasters in charge will, by necessity, expend a share of their personal power on rulership.  In order to rule, one must wield power.  Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is a matter of survival.  From such seeds magocracies and theocracies flourish.  Both methods of rulership allow for extensive retinue so you’ll have flunkies to do other stuff.

The classic vizier occupies a half-way house between rulership and clandestine existence.  On one hand, useful authority and access to the powerful without the crown’s full weight.  On the other, limited autonomy. You can also delegate duties to the inbred cavalry.  This sits well with the morally flexible.

Clandestine spellcasters are a different matter.   Facades are built for various sensible reasons. Where magic is plentiful, this may even work.  Spellcasters usually have needs like most people.  This common touch explains goodwife witches, secretive cults, guilds of magical artisans and the foundation of churches.  

Bards appear a counterintuitive choice.  Yet their high Charisma and need for audience makes them quite effective despite misgivings about artistic flakiness. Inspiring all in earshot is no mean feat.  A need to learn the words encourages literacy.  Rome was built on military power, slave labour and inspired oratory. Not all bards are lute-toting troubadours. 

Clerics are natural city founders.  Churches and temples require communities to serve or dominate.  Divine power is also useful.  By turning undead, healing the afflicted, smiting foes or sheltering others, clerics help to engender civilization. These traits help sustain cities and foster their growth.  The temple is the heart of these communities.  Clandestine churches (branded as dangerous cults by dominant faiths) may face persecution, precariously persist or secretly flourish.

Druids may tend a civilization by covert means.  Again, charisma and divine power are a potent mix.  While wilderness is preferred, sometimes you go where the work is needed and then seek sanctuary.  If a city cuckoos nature, the druid restores balance.  Green spaces, rich harvests and loved animals show druidic favour.

Sorcerors may tend cities as magical nobility or humble founders using their arcane power and charisma. Conflict tends to follow sorcerors.  This drives change and growth for cities, the largest of which are literally built on the bones of their citizens.  The bloodline may exert a powerful influence on city life in other ways. The city built by abyssal bloodlines is seldom pleasant.

Wizards are natural urban dwellers.  With arcane might, intellect and knowledge, wizards make textbook viziers or citizens of extraordinary means. Those taking up rulership wield fearful power.  Their intelligence may lead them to greatness or tragedy depending on situation and ambition.  The wizardly need for others and tendency to isolation often results in extensive bureaucracy.

Other spell casters may combine elements or add martial talents.  Specialists may lend unique flair or frightening architecture.  Towns ruled by illusionists or with a circle of arcane archers are unlikely to be 'just another stop' en route.  The presence of magic in cities makes for interesting sandboxes.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

assorted dungeon ziggurats.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, the architecture is a little extraordinary.
  1. Altar to eldritch primordial entity.  Leave an offering (minimum 10gp x dungeon level) at the top and recite the prayer etched in hieroglyphs at the bottom tier for 7 rounds.  Offering disappears in cascade of silvery flaming orbs. 10% chance per dungeon level of getting +1 bonus on next dice roll.   
  2. Black ziggurat offers interdimensional transit to other black ziggurats. 10% chance per dungeon level the ziggurat is activated when ascended and transports you somewhere very different indeed.
  3. Elevator upon top tier that transports to megadungeon location with a 10% per dungeon level chance of working.  Elevator ascends or descends depending on relative altitude to ziggurat.  Jumping off early has a 50% chance of stranding you in the Nine Hells (DM's choice).  
  4. Generative ziggurat augments summoned creatures.  Activate by reciting chants on each tier as you ascend.  Casting a summon spell from the top tier grants creatures summoned +4 to Strength and Constitution for the spell duration.  This must be repeated for each summon spell cast.
  5. Inductor of mystical energies.  Any one charged magical item (casting a maximum of 3rd-level spells) left on the top tier of the ziggurat gains a charge per uninterrupted day left there.  Once fully charged, the top tier glows with bronze faerie fire.
  6. Kennel for hounds of retribution.  Recite the prayer on each tier then drop a scent-laden item down the grate on the top tier to unleash 1d6+1 hellhounds from lower tiers after the scented individual.
  7. Meditative center. By reciting the chants carved into the steps and meditating atop the ziggurat for 30 minutes, consciousness is expanded so a meditator can commune with infernal entities.
  8. Offertory to gods topped with blood-stained chains used to hold man-sized sacrifices. Hieroglyphs on steps bid a pleasant meal in the language of devils. 
  9. Rostrum that amplifies spoken words of those at the top by a factor of two.  A whisper can be heard as normal speech and speaking is equivalent to shouting.  Actually shouting causes pain (-2 to hit and any Dexterity bonus) to anyone within 30' of the ziggurat.  Sonic attacks upon those at the top cause +50% damage and impose a -1 penalty to saving throws.
  10. Tomb of abhuman dignitary.  Hieroglyphs on steps detail mighty deeds, foes slain, royalty ravished and gods defied. 10% chance per level that tomb hasn't been looted; 1 in 6 chance of hideous curse befalling tomb robbers.
  11. Vestal flame atop hollow oil-filled ziggurat to purify sacrifices provides helpful illumination.  Refilling this is done through a hidden port in the third tier.  Oil refuelled every sunrise by three acolytes with ewers of consecrated lamp oil. 
  12. Ziggurat for ziggurat's sake.  Pay no attention to the priest behind the curtain.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

two fists, two guns and cold steel

Robert E. Howard (1934)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Today is Robert E. Howard's birthday.  Another member of the Weird Tales triumvirate (along with Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft) he is at least acknowledged as an inspiration for D&D in Appendix N of the Dungeon Master's Guide and arguably as influential to the fantasy genre as J.R.R. Tolkein.

Howard has inspired numerous RPGs, including the Conan RPG by TSR (using the four-coloured table found in the Marvel RPG), Conan: The RPG by Mongoose (using d20 rules), GURPS: Conan and Savage World of Solomon Kane (using the Savage Worlds system).

A lot of words have been spilled about 'Two-Gun Bob', his writing and his suicide.  While Conan, Kull the Conqueror, Bran Mak Morn and Solomon Kane are what most readers of this blog will remember him for, he was also famous for Westerns, boxing stories and 'spicy' tales.  As part of Lovecraft's circle of writing correspondents, he also contributed to the Cthulhu Mythos, creating the Unaussprechlichen Kulten (or the Black Book) and pre-human serpent men (Children of the Night and Worms of the Earth).

Wikisource and Wikilivres has several stories for enjoyment.  If you prefer audiobooks, LibriVox has several works as does Huffduffer.  These sites use public domain laws to publish works which will vary by country.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

inns & taverns: the bright star tavern

Few know of this tavern.  Some claim it's exclusive, others say differently.  Yet the Bright Star calls a select few.  These know traders visit from afar - quite how afar would surprise neighbours and local tax collectors.
The Bright Star Inn is a nondescript tenement in the city with a narrow, midnight blue door.  At the back is a high-brick wall pointed with glass shards.  The tenement and it's backyard are hushed.  A pair of cellar doors outside the front complete the inauspicious appearance.  The sign is often missing.  The door is locked and sealed by magic.  When knocked upon a distant disembodied voice asks for a password - any password will suffice to gain entry.  Failure to provide means the door stays firmly locked.

On entering the inn from the south, a narrow cruciform passageway from the door goes long left to the lounge.  Ahead is the privy while right is a locked iron door.  This door looms ominously and those entering the landlord's chambers rarely come out the same.  Going left reveals a lounge with shutters on the north wall leading to a sparse garden.  Entering the lounge reveals a compact bar on the east wall with a stairwell descending.  Staff loiter here while the landlord reclines in a mahogany rocking chair in the north-eastern corner.   Frescoes of legendary heroes decorate the western wall.  The south wall is dominated by a locked bookcase.  A pair of long tables and assorted chairs complete furnishings in the tavern and the garden.  The latter is a forlorn place.    The high, glass-pointed walls shade too well.  Two brown ducks and something unseen defend against rats.

Patrons enjoy a pair of ales.  Most, including staff favour a pale, acrid ale named White Star (that locals call 'Beater') for five copper.  The other is a resinous stout named Wyrdowd sold for six copper to 'connoisseurs' and dwarves.  After nightfall, peach wine is sold for ten silver a bottle.  Rumours of whiskey have been confirmed but at 12 gold a glass, it's for conspicuous consumers only.  Pickled duck eggs are sold for a copper each.  Itinerant traders sell sweet-breads or fresh fruit, welcomed by most save a few hoary grognards.  The landlord takes a small cut of any profits.  No accommodation is available to patrons.  Staff eject everyone without exception and the landlord has made this explicit.  The more provocative the request, the firmer the refusal.

Samherod the landlord, sorceror and former dungeon porter rules The Bright Star from his rocking chair. Portly, gout-ridden and hirsuite, he dresses like an oversized halfling and favours a walking cane.  This homely exterior hides a keen business mind.  His boon companion is Taur - bald, bull-horned and bare-chested omnisexual sorceror and hammer of gods.  The bar is tended by Kemar, unctuous former dungeon porter whose pedantry and accounting keeps all three independently wealthy.  All three remain close-lipped about their wealth.

The Bright Star's cellars house an underground market and spacious in comparison to the tavern.  Stalls appear and disappear periodically but most things can be bought here for 110% usual price.  Traders speak Common and dozens of other languages.  After sundown they pack up and leave, some use the cellar door, others simply fade away.

Monday, 13 January 2014

to the sorceror of auburn

Clark Ashton Smith (1912)
courtesy of Wikimedia
Today is Clark Ashton Smith's birthday.   As one of the Weird Tales triumvirate (with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard), he helped to lay the foundations of the modern sword & sorcery genre. Smith was an artistic polymath, turning his hand to poetry, prose, painting and sculpture during his life and started writing at the tender age of 11.

The three of them borrowed elements from each other, with Smith creating the toad-god Tsathoggua, Mordiggian the Great Ghoul and the wizard Eibon whose presences in Cthulhu mythos and elsewhere are well-known.

Eldritch Dark is a prime resource for fans of Smith, with hypertext versions of his writing, a Zothique d20 guide and active forum.  You can find some stories in audiobook form at Huffduffer (hat-tip to Jim Garrison for that).

There is some contention around copyright for Smith's works especially for his Averoigne, Hyperborea, Poseidonis, Xiccarph and Zothique cycles, though this hasn't stopped some settings drawing inspiration from his tales (e.g. D&D Known World/Mystara).  While he's not explicitly referred to in Appendix N, he is surely one of the unnamed inspirations for AD&D.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

inns & taverns: the borderstone inn

The Borderstone Inn is a free house that marks the border of two rival mountain kingdoms.  It belongs to neither and welcomes all travellers.  Trade with local stone giants and pilgrims help it flourish, though few dwarves visit as a result.  Rumours of spies and druids add more mystique.

Built on a ridge road between peaks, the four-storey tower was built with giant help.  Great rune-etched boulders form the walls capped by a pyramid roof of red ochre tiles. Between boulders, plastered stonework and windows give a patchwork look.  The circular sign is a shield partitioned with both kingdom's colours by a giant rune for trade.  The tower appears built to defend against siege.  Wrought-iron hooded everburning lanterns by the doors shine bright at night to guide customers to safety.

The front door opens west into pleasant warmth, quiet during the day, turning noisy at night.  A well-lit lounge and hearth with turning spits and cauldron of stew warms the lounge.  Ornate wool tapestries hang under everburning lantern sconces.  A bar resting on barrels dominates the south wall.  Long benches and seats line the remaining walls, tended by liveried staff.  Doors on the north wall lead to stairwells leading up. The second floor is for staff and a locked door prevents casual entry.  All staff have keys, Broje's room is often noisy.  The third floor has six well-appointed guest rooms (5gp a night).  These have comfortable feather beds, woolen blankets, latched doors and shuttered windows with mountain view.   The top storey is for the landlord's private use and protected by lock and fire trap

The Borderstone has variety over quantity with ales from both kingdoms and further.  In summer, a pale heather and juniper ale is popular.  Winter sees mulled, spiced dark ale.  Regulars also enjoy a white strawberry beer brewed by local monks.  A local liquour made from herbs with faint anise flavour offers an alternative.  Fortified red wine is also available Hot food is limited to thick mutton stew for two copper or a spitted hare for five copper.  Visiting dignitaries face lamb cooked in red wine, stuffed mountain hen (ptarmigan) and stone giant cheese fondue with malted fruitbread, each costing seven silver.

The inn offers accommodation to guests.  The guest rooms (see above) or for two silver, you're given a blanket and told to sleep under a table in the lounge.  Those unable to pay are sent to a local monastery who have spare cells for pilgrims.  Pilgrims regularly sleep under one table while traders feast at the others.

The landlord, Callivel is an unobtrusive half-elf.  His age is uncertain, soft-spoken voice and forgettable face lets him fade into the background.  This hides a brilliant mind and implacable temper.  Everyone else looks to Broje, the bar manager.  Swaggering, bronzed by mountaineering and scarred by steel, he barks precise orders and charms the ladies.  The remaining staff are human or half-elven, all equally at home serving noble or churl.  Their livery is grey-and-cream patchwork, which amuses the stone giants for some obscure reason. They change regularly, new faces are routine.

The stone giant traders offer diverse goods.  Poor traders buy coal or large woolen blankets.  Uncut aquamarine and emeralds, ornate woolen tapestries and dwarf-sized wheels of piquant cheese cost much more.  The stone giants trade for iron, mining tools and barrels of wine.  Whispers the giants have slaves persist despite lack of proof.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

assorted dungeon bridges

Roll d12 for your conveyance across.  Mind the gap.

  1. Bone bridge formed from spine and ribcage of immense reptile lashed together with magically-preserved sinews.  Worthy example of caveman or barbarian engineering. 
  2. Chitin bridge formed of interlocking lacquered giant insect exoskeletons capable of bearing immense weight with barely-perceptible creaking.
  3. 'Dancing flagstones' rise between massive levitating menhirs to form a 5' section of bridge per person, moving ahead or behind according to their direction of movement. Loss of consciousness results in the relevant section collapsing after 1d6 rounds to drop hapless delvers. 
  4. Glowing blue coals held together by shimmering sheets of force form underlit span.  Edges are very hot, touching them does 1d4 fire damage and ignites flammable materials. Obvious magic is obvious,  worthy example of efreet engineering.
  5. 'Invisible' buttressed bridge of thick glass blocks.  Slippery underfoot, edges can be found by spilling sand, dust or opaque liquids.  Those aware of stonecraft or secret doors know where the edges are.
  6. Lethal wood and rope bridge with missing boards.  Jumping up and down or combat gives cumulative 10% chance per person that a board will break underfoot with 1 in 6 chance of falling through. 
  7. Net of chains forms unsupported bridge.  Walk slowly or crawl swiftly to avoid stumbling. Lose Dexterity bonus to your AC and if you drop something small here, it's 80% likely to be fall through.  
  8. Paired ropes allowing man or elf-sized to go hand over hand while walking the lower rope.  Dwarves have to reach up while halflings cling sloth-like or try tightrope walking.  Combat might be risky, kiss goodbye to any Dexterity bonus and try not falling if you get hit.
  9. Petrified bodies cemented together so you walk upon stone backs to cross the bridge.  Realistic faces and hands as decorative features. Casting stone to flesh makes the bridge collapse after three rounds in a Grand Guignol.
  10. Reinforced stone bridge with tree designs.  Everburning braziers and nightingale flagstones makes moving stealthily across it extremely difficult (half normal chances to do so).
  11. Span of woven giant spider silk affixed by magical adhesive,  Springy underfoot yet surprisingly strong. Combat not advised, sharp weapons or fire will destroy the span if 20 points of damage is done to a 5' section. 
  12. Zombified colossal worm suspended on dozens of hooked chains, surgically mutilated to form a covered bridge.  More hit points than a small European country, smells vile, guarded by ghouls who snack on it without destroying it.  Cannot be turned by your cleric, though the ghouls can be.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

welcome to public domain day 2014

Welcome to Public Domain Day 2014 - also, Happy New Year.

This year some of us get to use the stories of Beatrix Potter, Elinor Glyn, Radclyffe Hall and W.W. Jacobs (The Monkey's Paw). Also the songs of Lorenz Hart and Fats Waller, the music of Rachmaninoff and the science of Nikolai Tesla and George Washington Carver.  Those of you living in Canada get a field day with access to Aldous Huxley, C.S.Lewis, Sylvia Plath and Robert Frost.  Can't do anything with those?  Take a break.

This is also the first year some won't be celebrating due to changes in legislation which limit access to some works until 2019.  In the meantime, here's a PDF of the Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind by James Boyle and an in-depth paper on what Public Domain Day may achieve by Jennifer Jenkins of Duke University.
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