Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Spelljammer post I don't have to write

Noisms gets it.
Trad Spelljammer. The background music is Hawkwind, The Mars Volta, Pink Floyd, Monster Magnet, Klaatu, Ziggy Stardust, and weird Daft-Punk-esque French synth pop; the flavour art is stills from Ulysses 31 and Thundercats, the illithids are dressed like Marc Bolan. It's so naff that it has gone beyond naff into cool again. It's Spelljammer how God intended it, and it is really, really great.
Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part IX

I'm obviously couple sessions (and weeks!) behind. So let's once again meet a few rogues and miscreants from the end of the world (with rain).

Jaelin the Charmer: This myrmidon-warlock is finely attired in gem encrusted armor which cost him a lot of money, so don't think he wants to get it scuffed up all the time. They call him "Jaelin the Charmer" for a reason. People like him. They like him for real.
Vengus Ult: Once more he has elected to promote himself, now to the rank of magnus. He is not an overly ambitious man. He just wants to go see what's in those sarcophaguses. Sarcophagi? Alright, he just wants to go see what's in those coffins.
Kshelek Stacks: Priest and investigator of the Affiliated Orders of the Pangnostic Cohesion, he is newly arrived in the rainy city researching the possibility that the secret of a weird conspiracy of the halflings might be found here. Which is to say, he doesn't know that such a conspiracy exists. Nor does he know that it might be found here. But he doesn't know that it doesn't exist, nor is there evidence that it couldn't be found here. Thus it clearly warrants further investigation.
Miker: A youthful coachman for Banthus's Elite Coaches, student in the autodidactic mode, with a major in philosophies both of the natural and the humane.
Dominian the Proscriptor! Master of the Gurgling Death! His manse on Tower Cliffs lies empty. It is said by some that he sailed away one dark night and has never returned. What treasures lie within those halls?
Dominian the Proscriptor's Backyard! Over the wall, it smells of wet dog and sulphur. Perhaps the front gate would be a better choice.
Mester Padfoot: Dependable halfling butler for Dominian the Proscriptor, Mester Padfoot lives in a small hill in Dominian's garden and comes into the house to bake fine hob cakes and see to the day-to-day operations of the manse. He is an old friend of Jaelin's, as so many fine people in the rainy city. Mester is rather used to Dominian's comings and goings, his long absences and briefly befuddled returns. He is quite sure that his employer will show up again. Until such time, he knows how to pay the manse's bills.
A Gang of Three-eyed, Purple Skinned Goblins: Unnatural creatures of sorcery, obviously. Not very good conversationalists.
Seventeen Dancing Automata: Some stand broken in the grand ballroom. Others whirl awkwardly past their broken down brethren and their treasured hearts. All bear the noble features of Dominian the Proscriptor.
The Librarians: A goat chewing on the pages of a book. A fat black spider in a web in the shelves. Something moving just past your peripheral vision. A fat-bellied imp with a barbed black tail. These are the librarians of Dominian the Proscriptor. They will gladly help you with information and book loans -- readily even -- if you would only just review and sign this contract with a bit of blood.
The Bedroom Poltergeist: This bedchamber is a mess of broken lamps, smashed chairs, and ruffled blankets. Even the dresser has been tossed over in disarray. Enter at your own risk!
The Screaming Skull: Earsplitting. Endless, even when the skull itself is shattered. You really shouldn't have disturbed Dominian the Proscriptor's spell component pantry.
Ussa: A beautiful water spirit, she lives in a pond in a chamber beneath the manse. No, she doesn't like to leave. Robbers might come in. Yes. And steal her pond.
A Tentacled Thing: It lives beneath the black waters in a natural cavern abutting Dominian's möbius dungeon. What does it guard? Well, there is the living cavern art gallery filled with priceless watery Dominians. Also a cavernous waterfall that might be a way out.
Twelve Corpses of Dominian the Proscriptor: Twelve sarcophaguses line the walls of the room, each holding a mummified corpse of Dominian the Proscriptor. Each wears Dominian's finest robes. Each wears Dominian's finest jewelry.
Dominian the Proscriptor: Returned, as predicted, this time wearing glittering gem-encrusted armor. Dominian the Proscriptor cannot die. He simply takes an occasional vacation. To get his thoughts in order.

Special thanks for part of this adventure (the dungeon beneath Dominian's manse) goes to Justin Alexander for his one-page dungeon, "Halls of the Mad Mage."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part VIII (Gen Con Edition!)

Another miscellany of rogues, scoundrels, miscreants, and lowlifes of the rainy city.

Bartholomew the Bald: Curate Clerk in the wizard's parliament. Balding and meek, utterly harmless. A trustworthy man, if only because he is far too timid to be devious, and of course is entirely lacking in cunning. Yes, it is odd that he always seems to know everyone's comings and goings, their appointments and travels. But even the dull need a hobby. No one would ever take notice of his comings and goings, nor find it remarkable if he were to leave his parliament office an hour early one rainy afternoon.
The Lodge of the White Wizard: Some say the White Wizard is a demigod, some an angel. Some say a mortal who ascended to immortality! Whispered rumors claim that he will one day save the world, returning light to the rainy city. Others say he is little more than the pipe dream of besotted necromancers. Whatever the truth, this much is certain: the White Wizard could well save or destroy the city, for initiates of his lodge can be found in administrative and clerical positions at all levels of government.
The Ransom -- A Ship Returning from the Outer Swells: Word came to the parliament some short time ago -- tantalizing rumors of a treasure beyond imagining to be found among the crashing waves of the outer storm where even pirates and salvage crews fear to sail. Rumors so great that even the wizard's parliament was moved to quick and decisive action. The Ransom, the fastest ship of the fleet, was dispatched immediately! And this afternoon, The Ransom returns...
Fargun Rasstead: Professional liberator of treasures, and sharper of good reputation. Always cool, her look of dull confusion lulls the unwary into underestimating her. When she speaks, she always questions, probing for information that few would willingly reveal, hiding her investigations in queries which sound stumbling, banal, even obvious. Masterful!
Crassius the Crass: A whispered legend within accounting circles, the subject of much rumor and hearsay. His very presence makes any social gathering awkward. His name alone is enough to draw disapproving glances and uncomfortable fidgeting from his colleagues. Abacumancer and calculator extraordinaire, he has often been heard to remark, "This just doesn't f _ _ king add up!"
Vangrid of the Obscuring Eye: Widely recognized as the master of the arts of obfuscation and perplexity, this enchanter would be even more widely recognized if only anyone knew what he looked like. Only the rains parting around him attest to his presence as he passes in the street. Some go so far as to say that he is no man at all, but in fact a ghost or specter of some sort.
Vengus Ult: His apothecary shop at the edge of the wharves must be doing exceedingly well. So many customers pass through its doors, from the highest levels of government to the lowliest stevedores of the docks! A remarkable thing for a man who does not sell true alchemies, but only tinctures and unguents (which must be of the highest order). Recent rumors that he has taken up necromancy and the conjuring of spirits are baseless slanders!
Jaelin the Charmer: Swashbuckler enchanter, the only elf to stride among mankind in the rainy city. Always well-liked, he is a fashion trend-setter. Purple capes are sure to become all the rage now that he flies over the city wearing one.
Hesperia: Hesperia's occupation is uncertain. Shipping agent, perhaps? Shipwright? Saleswoman in the ship businesses? Well, something to do with ships. Why should she be meeting with a gang of ruffians and scofflaws? This at least is obvious: if you aren't willing to work with dubious characters, you are bound to have a short career in the business world of the rainy city.
Marko Durban
: Professional rebel outlaw and odd jobs man. Frequent visitor to Hesperia's unassuming little ship at the edge of the docks, he now has a whole gang of outlaws at his behest.
Neezur Killroy: Member of Marko Durban's crew. In his shining plate mail, and with his silent grim countenance, he is obviously Mr. Durban's bodyguard and hired killer.
Celendra: Member of Marko Durban's crew. Lithe and quick, it is said that Celendra may be one of the many aliases of the rogue Fargun Rasstead. Perhaps even Rasstead's true identity? As always with this duplicitous scoundrel, nothing can be said for certain. Why she is working with Marko Durban's crew is a mystery. Unless perhaps she is the crew's secret mastermind, and Marko Durban is little more than a frontman.
Geezur: Member of Celendra's crew. Unassuming in appearance, bald and wrinkled, his appearance readily gives him away: he is obviously a cracksman and locksmith of the highest skill.
Ozur: The fifth member of Celendra's gang, introduced by Mr. Durban as Geezur's brother. Yet no one can describe him! Some say he was only Geezur's shadow. Others say he is a thief of such skill that he is only seen from the side, in the shadows, or looking away, no matter where you are standing when you look at him.
Elenia the Smuggler: A trustworthy transporter of sensitive goods, she is seeing remarkably brisk business these days. It is rumored that she is now doing business with even more unsavory sorts than is usual, a fact well-attested by the presence of Celendra's gang and some very unsavory stevedores near her ship recently.
Scaev: Sailor, mercenary marine, and occasional were-shark. In the face of a very friendly greeting from Jaelin the Charmer, Scaev revealed his villainy by assaulting this otherwise very well-liked gentleman. It is a mystery what Jaelin could possibly have done to deserve such poor treatment.
A Dozen Drunken Sailors: Overcome by a touch of mid-afternoon fatigue, they fell to sleeping upon the docks shortly after Scaev charged. Fights on the docks are commonplace. Naps less so. A new religious ritual, perhaps? Drugs? Weird magics?
Five Stevedores: Big, rough looking stevedores carrying what look like two bodies wrapped in carpets. They have a delivery of... flowers... for a Mr. Marko Durban, at this address.
Plague Victims in the Regalia of The Ransom: Plague ravaged corpses washed up against the boatman's landing of the Guild District. They wear uniforms of the sailors of The Ransom, and one even wears the tricorn of the First Mate. The plague has come to town. This is not the treasure that was promised.
Middle Class Partiers out for a Night on the Town: They huddle together beneath their umbrellas, looking politely away from the plague-ridden corpses near the landing. Their conversation remains unperturbed.
Quintas: Beneath the roof of his fine boat sit often the dignitaries of town. Tonight is no different! The Sergeant-at-Arms himself rides out to his nightly patrol.
The Sergeant-at-Arms of Parliament: A man of such natural discernment and acuity that he appears to do little more than repose himself comfortably with a sputtering pipe. Yet if anything is amiss, he would notice. His actions are decisive! In the face of obvious evidence of plague, he orders The Ransom quarantined. Savior of the city once again.
Spirits of the Dead: First, The Ransom is embraced by a chill fog. Then two pale apparitions arise from the sea. Is it any wonder that the sailors choose to spend no more time upon its deck?
Superstitious Sailors: These men have braved the outer swells, risking life and limb to take a ship where ships dare not sail! Their courage is unquestioned. But they were not hired to cavort with haunts and spirits.
Dominian the Proscriptor: A huge bellied wizard in a huge flowing robe, his mouth turned down, his right eyebrow cocked dubiously. He is here to investigate the ship, as the right and proper representative of the parliament. Do not doubt his power! Do as he orders, or he will strike you down with the Gurgling Death! You know he can do it! Because of that time, with the guy. Do you dare test him?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ah, Gen Con...

Gen Con was great fun. It quickly ramped up to "too busy to post updates with the phone," and the post con work blitz has kept me occupied since. So here are a few quick thoughts and memories.

First things first: I had a blast playing a Rainy City game with Crazyred of D&D Doodle and his gang of ruffians on Friday night. As soon as time opens up in my schedule, I'll have a "personalities of the rainy city post" about the session.

Also had fun playing in Zachary Houghton of RPG Blog II's "Smash n' Grab at Kobold Caverns" game Saturday morning. The pre-gen characters had exactly the right amount of characterization -- a catchy concept, a note about why they might be after the gold, and clever assignment of equipment. I drew the town sheriff, and it was a piece of cake to hit the ground running with him. PatrickWR of RPG Diehard took home the most treasure as the town's halfling baker.

Got in a Pathfinder game Saturday afternoon. I think I may have more to say about this in the future, but one thing really leapt out at me during the session. The structure of play really wasn't all that different from the morning game from the player's seat. Musing on this.

Didn't manage to fit in a D&D 4 game, even though it probably should have been easy. I've been meaning to try it out, but I just didn't find a spot for it.

Now that I've had some time to look everything over, I think I can say my favorite products that I bought at the con are Rhialto's Book of Marvels (for The Dying Earth RPG), 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, and How to Host a Dungeon. I also picked up a great selection of GURPS books to use with The Fantasy Trip (e.g., "GURPS Bestiary," "GURPS Fantasy Bestiary," "GURPS Low Tech," and "GURPS Arabian Nights") and grabbed the complete 3 volume "Priest's Spell Compendium" from the AD&D 2e era. These books will all get plenty of use.

In general, the best thing about the con is probably the people. I like nerds. Sure, there are some folks with real problems, including poor hygiene, that I'm not willing to ignore. But for the most part, Gen Con just strikes me as a place full of enthusiasm. The attendees are enthusiastic. The costumes are crazy cool, even though they're not always very good. (Yes, I even like bad costumes.) The exhibitors are usually great to meet, even though they're working their asses off the whole con and sleeping very little. The artists are especially easy to hang out and talk to. I can't wait to go next year. I have a bunch of new games I'm positively excited about playing, and I met a bunch of people I'm looking forward to seeing again.

I call that a success.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gen Con Day One

It's Midnight already?

This humble blog won't be your best source of Gen Con news -- there are better places for that. What I can do instead is just jot down a few (idiocyncratic) notes.

Pathfinder seems to be doing well. Also, Jason Buhlman (lead designer on it) seems to be genuinely witty. He sold me on picking it up, and I had not planned on doing that.

GURPS Man-to-Man is nowhere to be found. I should have listened to Timeshadows and bought it from the internet instead. I'll remedy that as soon as I get back.

Troll and Toad is still the worst place to go for out of print games. Big booth, sure. Highest prices for OOP products at the con.

Gaming Paper is cool. It's inexpensive, simple (even obvious, in retrospect), and it is well suited to my half-assed, fly by the seat of my pants style of GMing. Also, I like keeping maps as artifacts of the campaign. Dry erase boards and battle mats don't do that. The Gaming Paper guys said they'll start offering hexpaper in Sept. Perfect.

Gaming book I bought today that I expect will get the most use? Rhialto's Book of Marvels for The Dying Earth rpg. The chapter on wizard's manses and the one on wizard's conclaves are both ripe for plundering for my rainy city campaign.

Speaking of which -- I hereby offer to run the rainy city as a pick up game here at the con at any time.

What else? The orc stomp, of course! Started the day with a run. It ended up being too short (about 2.5 miles), but it was nice to meet the other 12 people at Gen Con who are willing to go for an 8:00 AM run :-) Also, each runner got a pair of dice engraved with the event name. Little touches like that make all the difference.

Major disappointment so far would have to be that so many people I know aren't here this year. I'm missing you, folks.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Liveblogging Gen Con the old fashioned way...

Tests indicate that the SMS blog update method leaves something to be desired. Fortunately, thanks to a handy web browser in my phone, the blog can go on during Gen Con! In between action and adventure, I'll see about stopping by here to share one attendee's perspective on the con.

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part VII

Characters from last Sunday's session.
  • Vengus Ult: Alchemist-Philosopher with a humble apothecary shop. Of late, friends and customers alike have noted a developing interest in enchanted blades, a topic to which he increasingly often returns when conversation lags.
  • Elenia the Smuggler: Broker and transporter of sundry goods. Elenia likes to get to know new people in the neighborhood. If you are looking for work, she can recommend a crew that meets at an unassuming apothecary shop at at the western edge of the docks. They are as trustworthy as any others you will find in the rainy city.
  • Vespasia: Scion of a powerful thieves' guild in a desert world, newly arrived refugee in the rainy city. Slight of stature and also of intellect, her elite training carries her through even the most dangerous of missions. Especially keen-eyed when it comes to spotting traps, her talents are already improving her lot in life. From an abandoned warehouse down by the wharves, her successes have already moved her into an upscale apartment in the west end of the guild district. Now she turns her eye toward Embassy Row...
  • Garmoud "The Bloody Handed": Garmoud is a wizard. Anyone can see that! His wizard's staff is stout and arcane. His wand a strange and uncanny instrument. His tall hat is adorned with tiny stars at its point, growing larger as they "fall" to the brim, a pattern repeated on his robes. Yes, Garmoud is a wizard. Some say that his hats oft resemble those worn by the wizard Vassili. Perhaps they buy from the same hatter.
  • Jaelin the Charmer: The epitome of the Swashbuckler-Enchanter. His jacket and feather-topped swashbuckler's hat are both a regal purple. His fine plate armor is studded with brilliant gems. He has been seen flying into the sky from the doorstep of an unassuming apothecary shop at the edge of the docks. Is this the same immortal hero who did battle with the Whirling Blade of Smallside Lane some weeks ago? If so, surely he will soon take his place among the high wizards of the Tower Cliffs.
  • Zaam the Alacritous: Little is known of the archmage Zaam's magics and powers. He shows uncharacteristic discretion for a wizard. Mystery surrounds him.
  • Jack, Zaam's Apprentice: Since the unfortunate incident with the magic sword, he has kept mostly to his cleaning duties in the old wizard Zaam's tower.
  • A Gang of Wharf Rats: Somehow dirty in spite of the rain, these street urchins are more than happy to smash a few windows at the behest of a pretty lady, coin or no coin. They can even be counted to do it within an hour or so of the appointed time!
  • Lucius Sol: Retired adventurer, owner of a set of shops that cater to explorers and adventurers. He keeps a close eye on his shops, visiting them daily, and living in quarters just above his warehouse. When he is away, he protects his stock with devious and deadly traps.
  • The Warder and Ledger Keeper of Lucius Sol's Warehouse: Business-like, a hard worker. He keeps an eye on the what goes in and what comes out of the warehouse. But perhaps you're right, he is a bit hungry, and he could use a drink to warm him from the chill and the damp. He'll only be a minute, if you'd be good enough to watch the warehouse for him. You seem trustworthy.
  • A Many Eyed Floating Monstrosity, its Eyestalks Swivelling about in the Darkness: Few guardians are stranger than this weird creature in Lucius Sol's warehouse apartment. And a dangerous thing it is to engage! What other eldritch things has Sol dragged up from the arcane depths and into the city?
  • Thirteen Mid-Ranking Alchemists: They have made binding contracts, signed in blood, to serve Lucius Sol's best interests at Guild Conclaves. But why? This remains a mystery. Their names are Irvin Popp, Albertus Unger, Winsome Cornelius, Harvard Dore (diligent in his studies but mediocre in his results), Malleus Woldt, Onslow Eversore, Angela Seasbury, Harmonius Crane, Geraldine Crank, Pollonius Zinc, Sophia Spring, Bullard Orius, and Inzur Popp.
  • Circensus: Young, almost too young to be a full alchemist, yet he is fully certified by the guild. You can trust Circensus's wares. And you do wish to support local businesses, don't you?
  • Workman, boarding up one of Sol's shops: Stout, with a bristling moustache and a hammer. He's just one of many workmen out boarding up Sol's shops. The Alchemist's Guild finally cracked down on his potion-selling. It is amazing that it took them this long.
  • Schwiller, the Boatman: He'll be happy to tie up his boat to a tower of the sunken school of magic. He's heard tell the outer ring is a good place to enter. The central tower lies lower, beneath the waves, and no one who has entered there has ever returned. He does know the drop point, though, if you're committed to living dangerously.
  • A Giant Fish, with Sharp Teeth, a Black Back, and a White Underbelly: Swimming languidly nearly within the gates of the school. It doesn't seem to be taking any notice of you.
  • An Earth Elemental Summoned forth by Powerful Magics: Lay your bets! A creature of pure elemental earth, torn fresh from the very stones of the castle? Or a giant toothy fish with a bored attitude?
  • A Grey Cloaked Elf Waiting at the Top of the Stairs: Metal glints beneath his cloak. His sword gleams in the light from your torch. His companions all fell in battle with living spells! These spells wander the tower, freed from rotting pages, seeking their own alien ends. He wishes only to leave this cursed place.
  • Two Emaciated Students of the Great School of Magic: Gaunt, pale, and rotting. These two students would like to politely invite you to a tour of the school, if you'll only be so kind as to open the door...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Superhero Necromancer Goes to Gen Con

I'm heading out for Gen Con tomorrow. Maybe I'll see you there?

I have a few event tickets booked. I might not actually go to all these. We'll see.

Thursday
  • Thursday, 8 AM: Orc Stomp (5-10K fun run)
  • Thursday, 10-12 AM: Small World (probably I'll end up skipping this)
  • Thursday, 2-4 PM: Eberron seminar (don't really know much about Eberron)
Friday
  • Friday, 10 AM-2 PM: Welcome to the Fontinium Mines of Zeta Major (Traveller)
  • Friday, 2 PM-6 PM: Tomb of the Iron God (Swords & Wizardry)
Saturday
  • Saturday, 10-12 AM: Smash n' Grab at Kobold Caverns (Microlite74)
  • Saturday, 1-2:30 PM: GM's Jam
In between, you'll find me doing any or all of the following things, in some order:
  • Walking the dealer hall, checking out games, looking for deals, playing demos
  • Eating food, preferably meat
  • Getting in a Pathfinder game
  • Playing games at Games on Demand
  • Meeting people
  • Drinking beer and whisky
  • LARPing?
  • Playing games at night at the Embassy Suites
  • Attending the costume competition
  • Coffee
  • Attending seminars -- I never go to these, but I think I'd like to do that more this year.
  • Sleeping?
I'll also be ready to run a game or two, if the opportunity presents itself. Probably I'll come with a copy of D&D (B/X), a copy of The Fantasy Trip, and a copy of Street Fighter. Anything I ran for D&D or TFT would probably be a "Rainy City" game.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part VI

Vengus Ult: His training, alchemical. His business, medicinal. His impression, philosophical! This is truly a natural philosopher of some quality, as his fine new goggles clearly reflect. He will now require a long tailored jacket of sealskin, adorned with seven clasps, one of gold, one of silver, one of copper, one of iron, one of tin, one of cinnabar, and one of lead.
Jaelin the Charmer: Magician-Hero and occasional Enchanter-Swashbuckler. Unlike humans, he was raised among the trees. He has learned how to fall.
The Adepts of the Deluge: The members of this sect disdain umbrellas and hats and other objects of delusion and self-deception, instead walking with naked head beneath the falling rain. The truly devout enter the streets fully exposed to the storm. You may choose to cover your head with a wide-brimmed cap, or hide beneath a canopy. But you cannot escape the truth!
Thevin Goon: Refugee and thief. Muttering senselessly near the door of the Salted Leech, he comports himself with an air of affected certitude in spite of his dazed and agitated stupor.
The Bartender at the Salted Leech: His finest liqueur of the day is the blackberry brandy. Oh, and the gentleman hiding in the shadows over there has asked that he bring you over a glass.
Mad Dog Konstantinos: Sump gang lord and killer. His murderous rage about the loss of the steam baths has mostly passed into bitter resignation. He has other business these days that occupies his time. The curtained booth near the door?
Musca the Censor: A dishevelled old man in a tattered uniform of vaguely officious shape. "What is your topic of conversation?" "The weather." "Approved!" "And What is the topic of your conversation?" "Vassili's outburst some weeks ago in the inn." "Scurrilous gossip and basest rumormongery! Disapproved! The fine will be one piece of gold."
Regulas: Harrowed and worried, dark circles under his eyes, huddled in the dark recesses of the Salted Leech. Beneath his outer coat, an alchemist's robe with the membership patch torn off. Vengus, if you will hide him, he will give you the Silver Distellembic he left in your care. He does not need it.
Quintas: His fine boat has a roof! Ah, Jaelin, good friend. Please, board the boat and get yourself under the roof. He insists! Don't mind the other guests. He's due to drop them off at the next pier.
The Cap Killer of the Mids: This mysterious murderer has struck again, slaying a young wizard, leaving his pointy hat in a pool of blood. A cautious man would do well not to wear his best hat on his nighttime walks. The genteel man of taste has no time for such cowardice, of course.
Circensus the Apprentice: Alchemist's apprentice, tormented and bullied by his master Gantos Vox. A week ago he found a strange rough stone that granted him the ability to call forth a giant of elemental earth. His revenge was sweet, as the "gnome" (the alchemico-scientific term) shattered the townhouse of Gantos Vox, breaking it down to its very foundations. Now Circensus has opened an alchemist's shop of his own in the western trades district. He is guild approved!
Gantos Vox: Master alchemist. He has moved into private quarters in the guild hall to rest and recuperate from shock. He has not been seen outside the hall since the incident.
Mr. Durban: Professional odd-job man. Has a selection of fine books for your perusal. Might you be interested in purchasing Frostarem's famously thorough Treatise on the Amorphous Hob? Excellent.
Mr. Killroy: Associate to Mr. Durban. A man of few words. Yet his demeanor speaks volumes.
Petticroft Grue: The old patriarch of the stately Family Grue. Master of spiritualism and the phantasmagorical. He will gladly buy your Tretise on the Amorphous Hob, which is clearly a work of scientific value. He has no interest in Vornif's Portentous Economy, a work of perilous pseudo-scholarship.
Qusa Bunt: Purveyor of fine garments in the storied bazaar. He will be happy to sell you a fine bonnet and viel today, and given time, yes, he can procure the alchemical coat you require. Do stop by his manse for tea some time. It is best if you call ahead.
The Lady Belladonna: The medusa who has emerged from the loneliness of undercity cryptoboratories to take up residence in Vassili's abandoned manse. With her newly acquired bonnet and veil, the Lady Belladonna will soon be ready to hold a house warming party in her new home. All the finest families of the Mids will be invited.
Zamdor: Channel boatman with an eyepatch. Happy to navigate his way through the ramshackle boats of the inner harbor to drop you off in the midst of the wharves near Winstead Creaky Shack, as requested.
Elenia the Smuggler: Her ship is moored near Winstead Creaky Shack. She's sorry to inform you that the Pentacular Job is too dangerous right now. A crew went in and botched the job and Pentacular has raised his security. She'll be happy to help you hide your friend, though, for a reasonable fee.
The Bartender at The Long Lamprey: "Scaev? Not around lately. Works this job and that job. Hasn't been in lately."
A Rough-Looking Warrior at The Long Lamprey, sipping from a tall thin bottle: "Nice goggles. You got any drugs?"
The Bartender at The Drink: "Scaev? Yeah, he's in here sometimes."
The Bartender at The Deadly Pudding: "Scaev? Sure, marine. Seen 'im. Not lately."
The Bartender at The Cucumber: "Oh, that salvage crew is due back in a day or two. Scaev should be with 'em."
Scaev: Sailor, marine, freelance bodyguard, mercenary, and pirate. A dangerous man, he makes the other sailors nervous because it is rumored that he can swim. That's tempting fate, that is. It is said he pulled a magic sword out of a wreck that washed up in the docks some weeks ago. If you cross him, he will kill you. And then he will eat you.
A Customer of Vengus's, with a Pressing Query: Just odd luck that you'd run into what must be one of your better customers, Vengus. The glint of silver beneath his cloak suggests a customer of quality and means. Do you have the medicines he ordered? He'll be by to pick them up at a later time.
The Boldest of Robbers, an Enchanter and a Swashbuckler, Villain and Hero: A powerful enchanter and swashbuckler, clad in shining plate armor, a red cloak, and weaving powerful sorceries. He can put a crowd of a dozen people to sleep with a whisper and fly away like lightning into the storm after robbing them all blind. He gives the gold to the poorest of the poor in the Sump, it is said, and he protects even the Mids from the horror of the Whirling Blade. Some say he was killed in the sky in a flying melee with the famed whirling blade. Others say this is not possible -- for he is surely immortal. Either way, Scaev would like to have a word with him about his missing sword...
A Sump Tree Sprite: "Oh hey Boss, I didn't know you could fly. Hey, wait up!"
Windsor Bolo: Friend to Vengus Ult, he has a job that would perfectly suit the talents of Scaev. It is a mystery why he did not appear at the appointed time at the Salted Leech. A tall, slim man, with a rheumy eye, always running, we don't know why he doesn't wear a patch over it. One gold earring. A skinny horseshoe mustache so small it sneaks up on you when you first meet him.
A Poison Frog: Really it isn't that poisonous. It's only a weak poison. Vengus would pay well if you'd just pick it up and bring it back to his apothecary shop for him.
Piets Schwiller, Boatman: Double time for double pay again, sir? Certainly!
The Whirling Blade of Smallside Lane: A fiend of wind and shimmering death. It slays indiscriminately, strikes unpredictably, and casts even enchanters down from the skies. Who will stop it? Who can?

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Great Day for a D&D Pick Up Game

Your friends are over and there's time for a pick up game, but you haven't had a chance to prep something? Don't worry.

Step 1
: Grab the random, comprehensive B/X character generator from A Rust Monster Ate My Sword.
Step 3: Go play!

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part V

Rogues, villains, and miscreants from last week's game.
  • Vengus Ult: An alchemist who of late seems unusually well informed about the boat and ship market. What use could an alchemist have with a boat?
  • Garmoud, the Bloody Handed: Yes, his right hand is wrapped with tattered, bloody cloth. This does not mean he is not a man of character!
  • The Sprites of Sump Tree House: Harmless. They would not think of stealing your trinkets or oddments. Kindly cast your aspersions elsewhere!
  • Jaelin the Charmer: He does not understand this human obsession with coins and jewelries. He is able to live quite comfortably within his means, without these trifling human obsessions.
  • A Shattered Gargoyle beside a Jaunty Hat and Frayed Ropes: Found on the cobblestones of an Upper Mids Street last morning. Victim of a fall?
  • Elenia the Smuggler: Expert in the secure transport of heirlooms and collectibles. She has a business proposition -- a simple switch job -- just for you. You take this fake deck of magic cards, switch it with the real deck in the tower, and the senile old wizard need be none the wiser. Everyone gets to draw from the real deck, which produces many wonderful things! Then everyone gets a cut of the sale, which she will gladly broker. You know where to find her if you want the job.
  • Iambic Pentacular: A wizard of the Tower Cliffs, upstanding member of the parliament. Such a personage as he will inevitably be surrounded by the basest of gossip and rumors. Who would believe that he wears ghosts as cloaks against the weather and steal the life from babies with a touch of his hand. Still more fantastic, that a watery entity with his very form walks the streets and carries his messages to friend and foe. Have you seen it? And it is surely not true that a great hand miraculously held at bay an assassin who would have taken his life. Who would attempt to assassinate an upstanding member of parliament? Exactly. As for rumors that he has in his vaults a magical deck of wondrous and miscellaneous things? Surely, this is little more than speculation.
  • Lucius Sol: He is a businessman. Adventure is for the young. Yes, he sells potions in his shops. Is that a crime? The guild does not seem to mind, or they would have asked him politely to desist. He is quite happy with his little chain of shops. He mostly keeps to himself in the apartments above his spacious warehouse on the border of the wharves and the guild district.
  • The Dealer at the Sign of the Sol: Oh, yes, we carry the usual potions, the healers and the water breathers. No, the guild doesn't mind. Perhaps you'd be interested in this fine mirror? I'll shine it right up for you. Perhaps a good sturdy pole for deep delving, of the sort Lord Sol used to carry? It has been well tested, and highly recommended! We at the Sign of the Sol will do the thinking for you -- properly equipped, ingenuity is no longer a requirement for the budding adventurer!
  • Schwiller's Boy, Nik: You're looking well, in his humble estimation, Mr. Ult. Much less overburdened than the last time. And your friend has more color in his cheeks.
  • The Cap Killer of the Mids: There is a killer loose in the Mids. A man was murdered in a dark alley, a jaunty hat still sitting upon his head. Who will be the next victim? Why was the victim torn up as if by the claws of some great beast?
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice, who, by the way, has no idea what you are talking about: He has no recollection of finding some fabulous sword and going on a killing spree in the Tower Cl ifs before disappearing. The last few weeks are a bit fuzzy, sure. But if he found a magic sword, wouldn't you think he'd still have it?
  • The Whirling Blade of Smallside Lane: Did you just hear it passing after you closed the manse door?
  • The Lady Belladonna: Yes, it is a lonely life in the old Capella family cryptoboratories. Even a medusa needs friends. Your offer of a nice manse, a new name, and a fashionable bonnet and eyegoggles is accepted, Marco Durban! The Lady Belladonna is in your debt.
  • Marco Durban: The Lady Belladonna's only friend. His associates, however, were somewhat inept in losing the Lady's belongings. She has no more use for them!
  • Two Gargoyles of the Cryptoboratories with Bad Intentions: Well, yes, they could make a deal with you. Or they could simply kill you and take your treasures afterwards. Where are you going? And how have you sealed this trapdoor so tight? Clever mortals.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Orcs as Soldiers

But the victory of the Elves was dear-bought. For those of Ossiriand were light-armed, and no match for the Orcs, who were shod with iron and iron-shielded and bore great spears with broad blades...
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Orcs, shod with iron and iron-shielded.

And the Eagles of the Mountains went far and wide, and they saw many things: the gathering of wolves and the mustering of Orcs; and the Nine Riders going hither and thither in the lands; and they heard news of the escape of Gollum.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Orcs muster.

And as they rode rumour came of war in the North. Lone men, riding wild, brought word of foes assailing their east-borders, of orc-hosts marching in the Wold of Rohan.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

And they march.

In Tolkien's corpus, orcs are soldiers, unnatural weapons of war, twisted by Melkor from Elves. Their nature is reflected in the language Tolkien chooses to describe their actions. Orcs muster and march. They invade and assault. They appear shod with iron and iron-shielded, bearing great spears with broad blades. And they gather not in tribes or clans but in companies, in bands, and in hosts. They are not savages, primitives, barbarians. They are soldiers.

There are "savages" in The Lord of the Rings -- "the wild men" -- but they are very unlike the orcs.

So great a power and royalty was revealed in Aragorn, as he stood there alone above the ruined gates before the host of his enemies, that many of the wild men paused, and looked back over their shoulders to the valley, and some looked up doubtfully at the sky. But the Orcs laughed with loud voices; and a hail of darts and arrows whistled over the wall, as Aragorn leaped down.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Even in speech orcs are presented differently from "wild men." When Ghân-buri-Ghân, headman of the wild men speaks in The Return of the King, he does so haltingly, using nouns without determiners and verbs without inflection, and his speech often ellipses words that would normally be included in actual speech. His language is patterned to suggest barbarism. Orcs, in contrast, speak with the usual complement of determiners and verbal morphemes. The speech of orcs is different from the speech of hobbits and "civilized" men in the tales, certainly -- but it is represented with dialect forms, not with a caricature of "broken English."

Given Tolkien's academic specialty, it's hard to imagine any of this is accidental. Orcs are associated with war and industry -- mining, black smoke, and iron. They are not native savages living in tribes in the wilderness of Middle Earth.

Orcs in Dungeons and Dragons
In Dungeons and Dragons, the barbarian or savage orc predominates. So much so that it is often simply taken for granted. Do evil wizards use orcs as soldiers and guards? Sure. But orcs live in tribes in D&D (a fact established as early as OD&D's Monsters and Treasure and repeated throughout the AD&D line). That isn't to say that there are no traces of Tolkien's orcs in the early D&D books -- orc mercenaries remain on hireling lists, and even into 2nd edition, orcs remain Lawful Evil. But orcs live in tribes, and are natural beings, not unnatural creations of evil. And by 3rd edition (at the latest), the barbarian orc is firmly entrenched, a fact reflected in their shift to Chaotic Evil alignment and association with the Barbarian class. Orcs (and other humanoids) in D&D in general are presented as natural savages, not the unnatural footsoldiers of a dark god.

...and other roleplaying games
What about other fantasy RPGs? Off the top of my head, I know that orcs follow the savage/barbarian/primitive model in The Fantasy Trip (where the default assumption is that they're descendants of neanderthal-like peoples!). Dragon Warriors, in contrast, clearly positions orcs as the archetypal "henchthings of evil." In The Burning Wheel, orcs also hew somewhat closer to Tolkien, an unsurprising fact given that similar things can be said of the game's elves and dwarves. Warhammer puts a characteristic twist on them, giving us armies of supernaturally tough hooligans. Other games (such as, I believe, Runequest) do away with orcs completely, replacing them with another race of humanoid enemies.

I'm fond of the orc that marches, the orc that is a soldier, the orc that counts himself a member of a company, not a tribe. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with departing from Tolkien's take on orcs, of course, but I think it provides an interesting alternative to the dominance of the barbarian orc. I like to see proactive orcs invading and capturing territory as soldiers, raiding dungeons for weapons to use in their master's war against mankind, planning raids rather than berserking, and stealing silently under cover of darkness into position to strike at the forces of good.

Now the Orcs that multiplied in the darkness of the earth grew strong and fell, and their dark lord filled them with a lust of rain and death; and they issued from Angband's gates under the clouds that Morgoth sent forth, and passed silently into the highlands of the north.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

How about you?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I am Jack's Cobra Commander (Fight Club / GI Joe Mashup)

Cobra Commander is Tyler Durden.

Car company employee falls into nihilism and psychosis, founds a secretive cult with members embedded throughout society, starts terrorist campaign to throw society into chaos and/or bring it to its knees.

Sound familiar?

It used to kind of bother me that Cobra Commander was a used car salesman. Not any more.

When I get around to running a GI Joe campaign (probably using Heavy Gear), this is the angle I'll take on Cobra Commander.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Desert Island RPGs

This is from Bryan. I'm picking it up via Claw/Claw/Bite and Vaults of Nagoh.

Ten desert island RPGs. Ten is already very generous, so I'll stick to core books only.

  • D&D Rules Cyclopedia: For playing D&D, which is very hard to do with another system.
  • Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game: Man, I can't tell you how much I love this game. Seven years worth of frequent play hasn't dulled my enthusiasm for it. It's the system for gonzo modern martial arts / adventure gaming. Only Ninjas and Superspies could even begin to lay a claim to being able to cover the same ground.
  • The Fantasy Trip: For tactical fantasy RPG combat with a sword and sorcery vibe, look no further.
  • Heavy Gear: The system gives you wargaming, roleplaying, and vehicle construction in an elegant package, plus a great setting. I'd also use this book (without modification) if I wanted to run a GI Joe game.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Good for CoC style games, of course. Also for the system, which would work for a variety of things.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: For the old world, for the career system, for critical hits, and for darkly humourous gaming.
  • Castle Falkenstein: Every time I've played it, it's been a full success. And I'm not even a steampunk afficianado.
  • TMNT: For the mutants, for the ninjas.
  • Poison'd: I'm on a desert island RPG, so the appeal of pirates is obvious.
  • Traveller: This has a lot of range.
Nightmare mode? It'd be Street Fighter, Heavy Gear, or D&D. But I'd hate to have to make that choice.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part IV

Being a miscellany of curious and improbable persons at large in the Rainy City. Everything below is incredible hearsay and basest rumor.
  • The Sprites of Sump Tree House: In the cupboards, under tables, behind the oven, and over the eaves, but never, ever, in bottles, the sprites of Sump Tree House are a minor nuisance and source of mischief in the neighborhood.
  • Jaelin the Charmer: Hero Magician of the Sump, friend to many, enemy to none, his quest for a spell of the Second Order is now fulfilled!
  • Novellus the Noble: Confused, credulous, and credible, with long, thin moustaches, he gingerly makes his way across the channels in the Sump. A refugee nobleman from another world who has lost everything but his keen knowledge of all things equestrian and his sharp eye with a bow. He is considering taking up a new profession as a leech fisherman, on the good advice of Jaelin.
  • Vengus Ult: No longer a mere Pedant, he has promoted himself to the position of Savant. The guild has no say in this matter! And he has seen no sign of the knave Regulus, or he would have reported it. Nor has he heard of this "Silver Distillembic" of which you speak. Why do you ask?
  • Regulas: No friend of Vengus Ult's, and a good thing, for poor Regulas has not been seen for a fortnight.
  • Maleficas: Head Monitor of the Membership Committee for the Guild of Alchemists. He very much needs to find good Regulus. The guild takes care of its own.
  • Vasilli, a Wizard of No Small Renown: Vanished! His house on Smallside Lane lies open, the entryway gate banging in the wind, rain spilling through smashed windows. All his doors are ajar. All his vaults lie open. But who would dare enter the house of a wizard, abandoned or not?
  • The Whirling Blade of Smallside Lane: None who has seen it has survived. It stalks the streets of the Upper Mids, a wild elemental thing. You will hear it before you see it. Too late!
  • Behatted Gargoyles: Jaunty hats have been found all around the city, on lampposts, on signs, and keeping the rain off gargoyles' heads.
  • The Wizard's Apprentice with the Enchanted Sword: The families of those he slew that night clamor for vengeance, but the Parliament of Magicians has not made a ruling, and the youth has not been apprehended.
  • Ianus Tut: A refugee, once a princely god-king. Indeed. But hailing from a land of dust and sand? Ludicrous! His manse, the lowest house on Embassy Row. His beard, the most finely groomed on Embassy Row. A painter of suns and writer of strange sigils, he is a renowned wit of the Embassy Row Salons, even though everyone knows he is a common burglar. His neighbors report that he walk through walls to steal precious books and good silverware. But no one is perfect.
  • Nik Schwiller: One of Schwiller's boys, a day shift raftsman. A lover of fine tobacco and pipe, he can afford a smoke once in a fortnight. And tonight is that night.
  • A Boy of the Mids, with an Overlarge Jaunty Hat: He will be a great wizard one day, living on the Tower Cliffs! Everyone knows that is where the grand wizards build their towers. He has not even passing interest in Ambassador Ianus Tut or Embassy Row.
  • The Watch Box Wardens of Embassy Row: Paid from the communal chest, they watch silently from their boxes, always alert and comfortably dry.
  • The Grue Family Gatekeeper: Yes, he's heard about Ambassador Tut's nightly depredations. In fact, he's quite sure the rumors are true. He's lost a good pair of shoes himself, recently. Coincidence? He finds it doubtful.
  • Petticroft Grue: The old patriarch of the Embassorial Family Grue, with a wispy beard and fine silk smoking pajamas. This new neighbor, Ianus Tut, has stolen from him a most valuable tome on the ghosts of another world, Van Richten's Guide to the Spirits. He would pay a fair price for its return.
  • Nezur Killroy: Mr. Killroy is an expert in the recovery of lost and stolen goods. His pointed ears suggest fey and arcane talents. His employers cannot, of course, be named, for reasons of confidentiality. But he might see fit to offer his services in the recovery of a lost tome, if the fee is proper.
  • Marco Durban: Mr. Killroy's associate. His goggles imply a past life as a staid guild man; his horseshoe moustaches imply a current life as a rebel outlaw.
  • The Apprentice Alchemists of Guildhouse Square: They have double-checked their papers, and there seems to be no prohibition against selling common drugs even to non-guild "chemists" such as Vengus Ult. For the right price, of course.
  • The Tut Gatekeeper: A dull job, but not so bad when old Tut goes out to the salon. Then there's time even for a gatekeeper to warm himself up with a drink and good company. A fine coincidence that his good friend Jaelin the Charmer should stop by with a keg just when the master's away!
  • The Tut Cooks and Staff: They come in for the day, head home for the night, and never, ever go upstairs. Ambassador Tut has forbidden it. And besides, it is well known that the upstairs is haunted.
  • The Shadow in the Crypt: Master bedroom, or tomb? The floorplan and fireplace suggest the former. The grave goods, gold sarcophagus, curse of doom on the door, and shadow guardian suggest the latter. Do not disturb Ianus Tut's resting place! Certain doom awaits tomb robbers and disturbers of Ambassador Tut's canopic jars.
  • Schwiller: A night boatman who plies the Tower Straits. He asks no questions. What interest is it to him what is in the fat sack weighing you down so heavily, Vengus, or why your friend Jaelin looks a bit more transparent than usual. Frankly, Schwiller has much more to say about the weather.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Illustrations of the Displacer Beast from 1939

Illustrations from 1939 of the Coeurl, the original inspiration for the Displacer Beast (2e MM pic here, 3.x MM pic here), at Monster Brains today.

The Coeurl is from A.E. Van Vogt's story, "Black Destroyer."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Quotes from Appendix N: Elves as Warriors and Sorcerers

"Faerie seemed a wilderness, hills and woods and uncultivated valleys. Holger asked a much subdued Hugi what its inhabitants lived on. The dwarf explained that they magicked up some of their food and drink, and got some from other realms in the Middle World tributary to them, and hunted some among the weird beasts which prowled their domain. All of them seemed to be warriors and sorcerers, their mental work done by slaves taken from the goblins, kobolds, and other backward tribes. Further questions revealed that the Pharisees knew not old age or illness but were said to lack souls. They would not be the most pleasant of company imaginable, Holger thought."

Three Hearts and Three Lions, Poul Anderson, 1953

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Rainy City at D&D Doodle

Thanks to the very talented Crazyred and his blog D&D Doodle, the Rainy City is now illustrated. It's fantastic piece that really captures the atmosphere of the place. I first found Crazyred's blog thanks to Noisms at Monsters and Manuals, and it's become one of my favorite places in the blogosphere. If you aren't already following it, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Punch Evil in the Face

If your Robot Daredevil is drawing the enemy's fire while my Atomic Detective nabs the final clue to the case, we may be playing Danger Patrol.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vassili's Cocky Cap

Magic User Spell, Level 1

Vassili's Cocky Cap
Range: Touch
Duration: 1d6 + 1 hour per level (until activated)
Effect: One living creature (the wearer of the cap)

When cast upon an appropriately stylish hat, cap, or bonnet, this spell imbues the hat with diverse protective wards and charms. If the wearer of Vassili's Cocky Cap fails a saving throw versus a magical attack, they are immediately granted a second saving throw to ward off the contemptible offense. Furthermore, for the duration of the spell, the cap does not slip or fall off, it cannot be lost, and it cannot be snatched from the wizard's head or otherwise disturbed. It can only be removed by the wearer, whether it be doffed in a show of politeness or it be removed to be freely granted to another.

If the spell is cast on a hat that lacks style and panache, however, the spell becomes capricious. The hat tends to slip forward over the wearer's eyes, fall off at inoportune times, and leave the hair badly mussed. Furthermore, when the wearer fails a saving throw, there is a 2 in 6 chance that the hat falls off at that very moment and fails to grant its wearer any protection at all.

The first time the spell is cast upon a new hat, cap, or bonnet, the DM will make a ruling on the stylishness of the hat. The player is encouraged to sketch, paint, or tailor the hat so that the DM may make a just ruling. A poem about the hat may also prove acceptible.

Once a given hat has been ruled sufficiently stylish, the spell will always accept that particular hat on future castings of the spell.

Vassili's Book of Conjurations

Rumors are spreading that the cliffside manse of Vassili (a wizard of no small renown) was burgled last night. His windows broken. His ledgers disturbed. His hat collection plundered.

And his grimoire of conjurations purloined.

What secrets lie within this mysterious tome?

Vassili's Book of Conjurations
A heavy, leather bound book of considerable age. Most of its pages are missing, some torn, some rotted away. The remaining pages are waterlogged, the ink barely legible at best. Its warped cover is adorned with the arcane sigil of House Capello. With much time and patience, the following lore can be won from the book.
  • A genealogy of the Capello family going back to its founding days in the halls of the Great School of Magic, in the days before that unfortunate business with the end of the world.
  • A treatise on the drawing of magical circles that bind both men and beasts in timeless stasis. If the drawing of the circle is not aligned exactly with the seasons and the moon, dire consequences are foreordained!
  • A magico-philosophical thesis on the 321 elementals, demons, spirits, and sandestins of earth, and the conditions of their habitations and progenitures.
The following spells can also still be deciphered:

Level 1: Normal Aura, Read Magic, Vassili's Cocky Cap
Level 2: Vassili's Whirling Blade
Level 3: Alacrity

Vassili will surely seek vengeance on those who stole his book of lore. And the vengeance of a wizard without his spellbook can be a weird and petty thing. Burglars beware...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monstrous Imagination

Thinking about monsters today.

Not sure why. Maybe because Jim at Lamentations of the Flame Princess has been saying interesting things about good and evil, my thoughts turn to monsters.

This in spite of the fact that there really aren't many monsters in our current D&D campaign. Rogues. Scoundrels. Criminals. Miscreants. Murderers. Yes, those. But few are really monstrous. Monsters just don't fit in the heist / caper style game we're running. Even Monster Manual "monsters" mostly aren't really monsters at all in our game. So far, the few which have appeared (the troglodytes, the salamander, the gargoyles, the white ape, the shimmering daemon spirit, the sprites) have basically been people. Cruel people, potentially, but mostly not even that. The troglodytes were slaves. Now they're working odd jobs in the Sump. The gargoyles may or may not be up to no good, but no more so than the rest of the populace. The salamander? Mean spirited, vengeful, even chaotic evil, but still more of a person than a monster, in a lot of ways. And that's the way I want it in the rainy city.

But still, today, I find myself thinking about monsters. What works for me in a monster, and what doesn't. So I thought I'd talk about it a bit.

Monsters that are
Let's start with an example of what works. The blogosphere gives us this one, and for me, it's a hell of a thing: Chris's "Orcish Atavisms" at Vaults of Nagoh. Take a look at that thing if you haven't seen it already. Wayne Barlowe's art is certainly part of what makes it monstrous. But only part. What's more monstrous is that this creature is a degenerate thing of orcish stock. Deformed. Retarded. But an orc, nonetheless. And orcs use these deformed kin as guard animals, food, and breeding stock. The orcish atavism is monstrous, certainly. But more than that, it makes orcs monstrous, a difficult thing after all their years as familiar low-level cannon fodder.

Here's another example, this one from a non-gaming source. Cordwainer Smith's Scanners, from the 1950 short story "Scanners Live in Vain." Scanners are human, but what they've volunteered to have done to themselves is monstrous. Their job is monstrous. If you haven't read the story, I recommend it. (The text is available online here.) If you have read the story, you probably know where I'm coming from when I say that Scanners are monsters.

These are the monsters I've been thinking about today. I'd like to find some examples of good, truly monstrous monsters from D&D, but I'm going to dodge that for the moment (and maybe ask you to do it for me). Instead I'm going to take the easy way out for the rest of the post and talk about what does not really strike me as monstrous.

Monsters that aren't
This is a much easier job. Let's start with the big boys -- Lovecraftian horrors out of space.

Too familiar. It's not their fault, I know. But after thirty odd years as gaming mainstays, I know them too well. They hardly seem alien at all any more (an unfortunate irony). A lot of effort has been put in to keep them fresh and scary, perhaps most recently in Ken Hite's multiple re-imaginings in Trail of Cthulhu, which I enjoyed reading. And any familiar monster can potentially be made fresh again by reimagining it or just putting it in the right context. But for me, Lovecraftian horrors aren't especially monstrous these days, in spite of some laudable attempts to refresh them.

Here's another approach that doesn't work for me. The "dark" "demonic" monster. You know this guy. He's probably red or green or black, or maybe he's just pale. Like this bunch of yahoos. If he's humanoid, he's totally ripped and leathery and wearing black leather, or maybe really into chains. If he's lucky, he looks like Oderus Urungus. Sometimes he's gross. Maybe he's rotting. Maybe his internal organs are showing. Maybe he's got bugs all over him. Sometimes he's too fat. He did his internship in evil with the guy from the Saw movies. Evil is basically a matter of proper accessorizing for this monster -- even his horrible acts are affectations. Video games are probably the worst offender in this area, but RPGs have a long and storied history of trading in dark, demonic evil guys, too.

I should probably add that I'm not above including these guys in an adventure:
DM: Black smoke billows forth from the depths of the hellish furnace. A freakish red devil steps out of the smoke with a vile grin. He has a bloody pitchfork in one hand and a fistful of ephedrine in the other. He laughs and kills a baby.
Party Fighter: I ask him where he gets his ephedrine. I have a big tourney coming up.
Of course, as with so many things in gaming, YMMV. So that's why I'd like to turn the question to you. What monsters just work for you, are really monstrous, either from RPGs or from fiction? How about monsters that just don't do it for some reason?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part III

  • Vengus Ult: Of course he does not peddle the wares of the guild. He is more a seller of tinctures and unguents.
  • Garmoud "The Bloody Handed": The city's lone master of the mysterious spell "Drenal's Stone Flame." He leaves nothing to chance when making a pact. He needs to know that he can trust you...
  • Regulus: An old school chum of Vengus Ult's, where by chum is meant "he too was at the school while Vengus was there. He knows that Vengus can be trusted. Vengus was always easy to keep an eye on. Arriving with his membership patch from the guild torn from his fine guild robes, he is a desperate man with something to hide. Will Vengus hide it for him, just for a little while?
  • Maleficus: Membership Enforcer for the guild. Have you seen Regulus lately? He has stolen important alchemical ingredients from the guild hall itself. You will, of course, let us know if you learn of Regulus's whereabouts. The guild will look kindly upon such cooperation.
  • Habitus Helveticus: His dashing messengers are the talk of the town. Oh the magics he must be casting to give them such fleetness of foot!
  • Ianus Tut: Newcomer to the city who has set up a manse at the bottom of Embassy Row. At all social gatherings, he speaks openly and freely of his plan to move up to the top of the Row. He's going up in the world. It is said when he arrived in the city he was seen wearing leather armor and walking through walls. This is unconfirmed and wholly scandalous rumor, he will assure you.
  • Ianus Tut's Neighbors: Recently their precious family heirlooms have been going missing. But it wouldn't be proper to blame such things on one's noble neighbors, of course, who must be people of honor to live in Embassy Row.
  • A Gargoyle on an Important Errand: Rumor has it that a gargoyle flying through a stormy night dropped a magic sword onto the cobblestone streets of the Tower Cliffs District.
  • An Unnamed Wizard's Servant: When an unnamed wizard's servant picked up the blade, he was compelled to strike down the nearest man. Now both servant and blade have vanished.
  • Schwiller: The boatman. He was out just last night and saw Vengus's old friend Jaelin the charmer out with a strange companion heading to the Mids, riding in a luxury raft with a roof. Oh, he didn't have time for old Schwiller's boat, no.
  • Jaelin the Charmer: Who knows what business he had with the shadowy stranger in the Mids. Schwiller would not care to speculate, not being the rumour-mongering sort.
  • A Scarred Stranger who Accompanied Jaelin the Charmer on some Errand Last Night: A newcomer to town, perhaps a refugee from a fallen world. No one knows what business he had with Jaelin the Charmer in the Mids.
  • Vassili, a Wizard of No Small Renown: Though his townhouse manse was broken into just last night, still he is out on the town once more with his faithful friends and companions for a night of debauchery. Tonight the angle of his hat looks particularly jaunty.
  • A Gargoyle Passing Overhead: He isn't circling, just passing by. Unless it's a very large circle. But surely he is not watching you.
  • Paintings of Wizards with Jaunty Hats and Prominent Noses: They cry out describing the intruders in Vassili's hall. Two men. One riding on the back of the other whose feet scarcely touch the ground. Hooded both. Faces obscured. One wearing a cloth kitchen napkin as a bandit mask, eyes hidden by alchemist's goggles. The other his right hand wrapped in a bloodstained rag.
  • A Great White Ape Dressed in Servant's Attire: Bored he looked, slouching in the drinking lounge on the second floor of Vassili's manse. Beside him, a half empty bottle of cognac. Around him drinks of every sort, some with a bluish glow.
  • A Dozen Sprites All Trapped in Bottles: Yes, they'll help you find the basement if only you will free them. No, they don't know what the pool of black water in the garden is. They make it a policy not to drink from magic pools. They thank you for your directions to a more hospital part of town. This "Sump" sounds quite nice.
  • The Shimmering Whirling Guardian: Not fast enough to catch a fairy. Not smart enough to see two grown men sneaking past while it swats at the sprites.
  • Schwiller's Boy, Jens: The quiet type. He'll gladly give you a ride back to the wharves. No questions asked.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A link to the compiled list of one page dungeon entries

I'm putting together a folder on my computer with all the one-page dungeon entries as people share them. What a fantastic resource this contest has become.

So to simplify life, here's my own local link to the Chatty DM's compiled list of entries. Posting it here increases the chance that I'll find it again next time I want to check it for more updates!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Inspiring Images


I'm a visual person. I spend a lot of time browsing art and illustration forums and blogs, and images I've found on them have given life to campaign ideas I already had and inspired new ones. One of the first things I imagine when I think about a campaign setting is "What does it look like?"

Which is why there are few blogs I follow as closely as Golden Age Comic Book Stories. For the last couple years, "Mr. Door Tree" has posted good-sized, high-quality scans of great art almost every day. His archives are a treasure trove of inspiration. Looking for romantic high fantasy? N.C. Wyeth's King Arthur and The White Company illustrations are a good place to start. Looking for something a little more sword and sorcery? Michael J. Kaluta's illustrations of Robert E. Howard's Swords of Shahrazar are one place to look, and you can't go wrong with a gallery of classic Weird Tales covers or Virgil Finlay's interior illustrations: 1936 -- gallery 1 and gallery 2; 1937 -- gallery 3), either. Maybe you're interested in space opera and science fiction? Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon are here, and they're not alone.

There's so much more. The art ranges from pulp art to Disney to Harvey Kurzman to Charles Addams. When I first stumbled across the blog over a year ago, I spent hours in the archives. Now... well, I'd probaby lose most of a day's work.

It's always hard when posting a link to know whether everyone else already knows about it, or whether people are hearing about it for the first time. Golden Age Comic Book Stories is a much higher traffice blog than mine, but if even one person is hearing about it here for the first time, it's worth my time to link to it.