Monday, May 23, 2022

King of Kings Session 13 After Action Report

 It's been a good while since the last time a session report was posted here, and even longer still since I posted a session report that I actually wrote! You see, that's because unfortunately King of Kings has been on hiatus ever since October of last year, but yesterday the campaign made its valiant return, and this time I'm deadset on avoiding such long gaps between sessions. So without further ado, here's a report on what my players got up to in the world of the eastern satrapies of the Enlightened Empire!

Dramatis Personae
Coro the Esoterian, level one magic user
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon
Manchugo Coldeswain, level one cleric dedicated to Damir, foreign god of the trade routes
Rohm'Daan, level one cleric dedicated to Anzhalar, a local chthonic god of subterranean flame
also Parsani, scrawny son of a rural matriarch

The session began in Tabur, with the group awakening to the terrible news that Zana the Charlatan, their fellow adventurer and client of Farzaneh Taburi, was arrested by the city guard and jailed in the Iron Pit in connection to an accusation of arson by his rival Jamshid the Merchant! A few sessions before, when the group was traveling to Temple Town for the festival of Saint Jumhura, Kusa had set fire to Jamshid's cart, and when Zana left the group to go back to Tabur while the rest went on to explore the valley, Jamshid pinned the blame on him. Much of the beginning of the session was taken by discussing what to do, with the group ultimately just deciding to pick up on exploring the abandoned farmsteads in the valley, since there was one more abandoned peasant commune to check out. Also they geared up, namely buying a large number of iron spikes to use against any possible jinn they may encounter.

As an aside, a note on Zana's situation. Long term imprisonment isn't really a practice in the Enlightened Empire, at least for anyone who isn't an antimartyr heretic; rather, Zana is in jail pending the trial, which is to happen one in game week from the day of the previous session. Jamshid is also in jail pending the trial. At the trial, testimony of witnesses and associates of the accused and accuser will be brought forth to testify, and if there is any inconsistency in testimony then Zana can possibly be tried by fire, to suss out the truth. If Zana is found guilty, then he will be publicly lashed, branded as an arsonist, and fined. If Zana is found not guilty, then Jamshid will be publicly lashed and fined. If the truth comes out that Kusa is the one who actually set the fire, then Kusa will be publicly lashed, branded as an arsonist, and fined. That's just how it be!

Once the group decided what to do, they set off for the road, in the process meeting Coro the Esoterian, a new player's character who brought along with them a ragged old camel. They followed the road north, the one that leads ultimately to Humakuyun on the sea, first stopping by the little compound of Parsani's farming family to let them know about the kallikantzaroi and headless bull thing that they encountered at the abandoned farmstead they went to previously. After this quick stop, they went on, passing by a fork in the road, one path leading north to Humakuyun and the other leading east to the ragged village of Broken Huts, which I totally didn't steal from Gus L.'s Prison of the Hated Pretender. Sticking to the northern path, they eventually came upon the only remaining farmstead to investigate: a small walled compound surrounded by fields, a waist high mud brick wall encircling it. On the way there I didn't roll a single random wilderness encounter so they just got a nice wilderness stroll it seems.

The compound is a small oval shaped thing, with a little goat pen off to one side, a small copse of trees, a well in the middle, an outhouse, and a main hut where the family presumably lived. The group first set about corralling the goats into the pen and closing it back up, because a number of them had escaped and were running amok in the compound. Manchugo and Rohm'Daan went to investigate the trees, because they were swaying in the wind in such a way that caught their attention, but other than finding a little bright green caterpillar on a branch they didn't find anything. Though once Manchugo turned away from the copse of trees, a strange sound like a high pitched laugh filled the air, which caught their attention but they didn't really do anything about.

Manchugo next went over to the outhouse, but knocking on the door just prompted a loud hissing that they chose not to investigate further. They assumed it to be a snake that was using the outhouse, and didn't want to intrude on their privacy. At the same time, Rohm'Daan poured a bit of goat's milk that Coro harvested from the goats into the well, which did nothing.

This is just what came up when I googled "skinless people sitting"

With the area outside seemingly fully explored, the group next decided to go into the main house building. The first thing they saw upon entering was the large wooden table off to the side, with a family of four arrayed around it, all completely missing their skin. At this point, I did a bit of a small infodump about the nasnas, who it seemed were the most likely culprit for removing the family's skin. The group did a quick look around the rest of the room, seeing the large rug on the floor, the two beds, the hearth with four chairs arrayed around it, the faint hint of a footprints on the floor, and the opening to a sloping passageway seemingly leading to the basement. Before going any further, they took the skinless family and buried them outside the compound with a respectful little ceremony, similarly to how they treated the other dead peasants they found at the last abandoned farm.

Returning to the building, they decided to go down into the basement. After crawling down the low ceiling sloping passageway to the basement, they discovered that it was a storage place for cured meats, including a number of slaughtered and cured goats or cuts of goat hanging from the ceiling. There was a little pile of dirt on the wall opposite the doorway leading back up, and a locked door off to the side. Ishthyromeda poked at the dirt with one of her weapons, dislodging the pile and revealing an opening behind it. At the same time, Rohm'Daan and Manchugo investigated one of the hanging goats because it made a strange clinking sound on the inside when poked. They ended up cutting open the goat, causing ten drachmae to clatter to the dirt floor below! At the same time, a group of four giant ants crawled out of the tunnel, although they did not seem hostile. Coro and Rohm'Daan set about feeding them some of the goat milk and meat, to calm them down and keep them there.

It wasn't nearly as bad as this

Ishthyromeda decided to crawl through the tunnel the ants came out of, ending up in another square room where a good half of the walls had been dug out with both ant mandibles and shovels, with a doorway on one side that had a broken down door and four ant tunnels forking out of the chamber in different directions. As she approached the broken down door, with a candle in hand for light, Manchugo decided to knock on the locked door, hearing the scrambling of human feet on the other side. When Ishthyromeda heard the knocking through the broken down doorway, she went back to the tunnel she crawled through to notify the group that it was the same room connected by both doors. The group then concocted a plan: Ish, Rohm'Daan, and Parsani would approach from the room connected by the broken down door, while Coro would guard the sloping passageway back up, and Manchugo would continue knocking to distract the inhabitants of the room.

What Rohm'Daan and Ish saw when they entered the room, however, was not a hostile group of creatures, but three nasnas cowering in the corner from the sound of the knocking. Rohm'Daan went over to unlock the door, letting Coro and Manchugo in once they realized that the nasnas weren't going to fight them. They then attempted to let the nasnas know that they weren't going to hurt them, offering them food and attempting to speak to them and communicate with them by writing, but the creatures' fear stopped them from eating in the adventurers' presence, and their half formed voice boxes stopped them from verbally communicating. It took Coro casting a charm person spell on one of them, which the creature failed the saving throw for, for them to respond with simple nods for yes and shaking of the head for no. But at this point, it was getting late in the day, so they left the terrified creatures in the basement and set up camp outside, in the low lying mud brick walls of the compound.

Treasure Acquired
10 drachmae

Non Treasure XP Acquired
20 XP each for burying the skinless family, since I gave XP for burying dead peasants last time.
15 XP each for coordinating the approach of the nasnas room, just because it illustrated good group coordination
10 XP for Coro for charming the nasnas
Total: 35 XP/45 for Coro

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Six Horror Monsters for Underneath

 I love horror, as a genre with its own tropes and aesthetics and as a general vibe or atmosphere. While most of the stuff on this blog has been primarily "fantasy", I think it is probably apparent that my love of horror and spooky stuff generally suffuses my creative work. I actually honestly think that the stark genre divisions between fantasy, horror, science fiction, etc. that exist today are both unrepresentative of the realities of fantastical fiction and honestly bad to the kind of cross pollination and creative admixture that makes really interesting fiction, but that's beside the point. The point is, I finally got around to making and running a primarily horror tabletop game last year, and this post is gonna be all about one part of it.

I wrote the scenario for and ran the game with the ruleset Underneath, created by Martin O. over at the Goodberry Monthly blog. It's a fantastic, effective, and simple ruleset that really grabbed me the first time I read it at the suggestion of a friend of mine, and I knew right away that it was what I wanted to use as the foundation for my game scenario. Below are six monsters that I wrote for the scenario, which as an aside I've been calling More Than Regulation in my notes, all statted up + described using the format described in the original Underneath rules post. For a basic explanation, monsters in Underneath are primarily defined by their Hit Dice, which are both the number of successful hits from the players it takes to subdue them and also the number of d6s that the monster gets to roll to injure the players. Each die has a 3 in 6 chance of success, so the referee rolls all the d6s, counts how many successes the monster rolled, and then goes from there. Monsters also have an "Insight Threshold", which is the mechanic that really made me fall in love with the game. Rather than having a sanity counter that slowly spirals down and down a la Call of Cthulhu (which, as an aside, I really want to run sometime soon), Underneath has Insight, which steadily climbs higher and higher, revealing new realities when it hits certain thresholds. The insight threshold on a monster is the level of insight that the character has to have to see the uh... well, it might not be the "true" appearance, if you catch my drift. Etc, etc. I really love that mechanic, it's super cool, reminds me a lot of the similarly named insight mechanic from Bloodborne.

So anyway! More Than Regulation is a horror scenario set in the present day in the fictional town of Bone Lick, Wisconsin, situated between Milwaukee and the southern border of the state, on the other side of a foggy marshy wetland that definitely doesn't actually exist in that part of Wisconsin but yknow that's whatever. The town's biggest employer, the main factory of a certain Sweetie Jay's Peanut Butter Company, has recently been temporarily closed pending an investigation by health inspectors from Milwaukee after a few employees have come up dead under very mysterious circumstances. The health inspectors are gonna take a few days to get there, but everyone in town knows that nothing is really gonna come of it; the cops haven't said anything about the situation and have even left the spouses of the deceased in the dark, and the Sweetie Jay's company has its fingers in a lot of pots in the area. The goal of the scenario is for the players to find out as much as they can about what's going on before making their way into the Sweetie Jay's factory to take things into their own hands before the health inspectors get there and cover everything up.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to finish the scenario, though that may change at some point, some of my players expressed an interest in finishing the game over discord. I wanted it to just be a one shot but it ended up being like three or four sessions before scheduling problems caused it to stop continuing.

I described my inspirations for the scenario as being Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, David Lynch, and Junji Ito. I really want to release it sometime, though I should probably polish it up before then. Anyway, here's six monsters from the scenario! These aren't all of the monsters I wrote up for it, I just wanted to do six of them as a bit of a sample I guess.

All art in this post is by me

Hit Dice: 1
Insight Threshold:
Low Insight Appearance: A very large cockroach. Sometimes encountered rolling around a mostly empty jar of peanut butter. 
Description: A shivering mass of chitinous limbs seemingly stuffed haphazardly into a congealed blob of wet peanut butter. Leaves a trail as it crawls on the ground. Smells much too clean for how it appears. 
(1 Hit): Scratch: The thing’s wretched claws dig into your flesh. -1 Body. 

Hit Dice:
Insight Threshold:
Low-Insight Appearance: A very large slug of a sickeningly orange hue. The smell of msg and steamy water. A mane of thick noodles. 
Description: Desperation against the teeth. A thick goop of powder and water combined into a clawing hand slinking along the ground. It doesn’t want to be eaten. 
(1 Hit): The Flavor: It fills your nose. -1 Instinct. 

Hit Dice:
Insight Threshold:
Low-Insight Appearance: A tendril of rope or vine, caked completely in an oozing algal skin, moving about in the water with unusual purpose, but you can easily explain that away with the currents of the marsh. 
Description: A clump of something gooey and wet, presumably some other color before its time rotting in the swamp. It is a sickeningly slick blackness which cloys to any surface it touches, the void broken only by the myriad simple insectile limbs which claw at the air and water and the single plastic baby doll face peeking out from the sludge. 
(1 Hit): Half-Remembered Depths of Childhood: The sludge seeping into your pores draws forth the hazy recollections of childhood trauma. -1 Empathy. 

Hit Dice:
Insight Threshold:
Low-Insight Appearance: A woman or a man, tears streaming down their face, their clothes tattered and their hair disheveled. They hold a knife in their hands. 
Description: A vague and shadowy thing looms over them. The memory of what they’ve lost, the hopeful memories of what could have been. All of it was stolen so that the woman in the factory could get some cash. The shadowy thing digs its claws into their shoulders. It could happen to you too. It could happen to anyone. 
(1 Hit): Nothing to Lose Anymore: While sobbing uncontrollably, the poor spouse lunges for you, trying to dig their blade into your flesh, your flesh that reminds them too much of the one that they love. -1 EMPATHY. 

Hit Dice:
Insight Threshold:
Low-Insight Appearance: A very fat rat with a long worm-like tail. 
Description: A messy knot of long slimy hairs, slick with water, or is it spit? Small flecks of nail clippings poke out from between the nasty strands, as the thing bares its still all too rodent-like teeth, a full set of rat teeth in this alien environment. Its tail is a raw electrical wire, spitting sparks like mad. 
(1 Hit): Slimy Shock: The thing clambers onto you, its live wiring making contact with your skin, the disgusting spittle of its hair conducting the current into your flesh. -1 RESOLVE. 

Hit Dice:
Insight Threshold:
Low-Insight Appearance: A very large cricket, with a much too loud chirp. 
Description: Two gargantuan cricket legs that tower over the average person when outstretched whilst jumping. A pair of crazed and fearful eyes floating above, the iris drawn in leaving only the depths of the pupil void within. 
(1 Hit): The Deep Dark Depths: The thing stares into your eyes, ensnaring you for just a moment. As it hops around, you can do nothing but follow the blackness within its pupils. -1 INSTINCT. 

I just realized that all of these are 1 HD monsters, I swear I wrote up monsters with more than 1 it just so happened that the ones I wanted to share only have 1.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 11 (Lamia Noble to Mite)

 Hey! It's been a bit since the last time I did one of these. But I am deadset on finishing the Fiend Folio review series by the end of the summer. I think I can do it!!! And with this post, we're roughly halfway done with the monsters too! So let's just get into it!

Lamia Noble
Dang, off to a not so good start. I really don't like the tendency to have monsters that are just another, already established monster but more powerful; not a fan of the Neo Otyugh, not a fan of the Margoyle though at one time I kinda was, etc. It feels a bit different when it's well executed, but here it just is not. The lamia noble is a leader type for lamias, which were originally in the Monster Manual as monsters with the torsos of human women and the lower bodies of big cats. Here, however, lamia nobles have the lower bodies of snakes (which is cool), but they can be either male or female, and their abilities vary by sex with males being fighters and females being magic users. That's really cringe. Also, lamia nobles can disguise themselves as humans, but it says that "intelligent humanoids will always be able to penetrate the disguise", and then in the next paragraph it says that humans and demihumans of high enough level have a chance to identify them, all of which is just incredibly clumsy and annoying. They can also take away points of wisdom, and if the character goes below 3 wisdom then they are under the lamia noble's thrall... that's just a very underpowered charm ability. Why not just have it be a saving throw? So stupid. I like evil snake women, I don't like evil snake women or men with vaguely defined disguise powers and really weak charm abilities that have no real distinct identity. The note that they "are given to outbursts of senseless violence" is fun though.

Lava Children
OKAY HEAR ME OUT. I know that these are one of the Fiend Folio monsters very commonly made fun of and mocked, but I honestly think that they are really surreally fascinating. The offspring of earth spirits and fire spirits, lava children are like elemental mutant mules with an uncanny appearance and unnatural powers. They have a broad shouldered body with pale skin, but their hands have fingers tipped with long sharp claws and their faces look like constantly smiling children. I especially love the illustration that goes across the bottom of the page, where its shown that not only do the lava children have childlike appearances they are all exactly identical. These things are so creepy!!! And it seems that the folks over at Paizo felt somewhat similarly, when they included the lava children in their book of often maligned old school monsters, Misfit Monsters Redeemed. I honestly don't think they need "redeeming" though; they're already really cool! In terms of powers, they fight with their claws and bite, which is wonderfully animalistic for something so human looking, and it is explicitly stated that metal doesn't exist for them. Not that they are just immune to metal weapons, no, metal phases through them as if it doesn't exist, as if the lava children exist on a parallel plane only vaguely intersecting with the prime material. That is just so cool!!! It also means that their attacks ignore metal armor, which is cool. Most of the rest of their description is pretty much what one expects for an AD&D humanoid race, describing the types of leaders that they have (which, for the record, are mostly fighters but large enough groups also include magic users and clerics, with a note about rumors that their leaders are triple classed fighters/magic users/clerics), which I can really take or leave, it doesn't do anything for me here, feels very generic. The implication of a society that can support trained warriors, wizards, and priests is kinda weird to me, I don't know if it jives with how I read these creatures. One last note: their language is described as "sibilant", which is such a cool and delightful additional detail.

Lizard King
A lot of what I said about the lamia noble applies here. I'm not a fan of monsters that are just another monster but more powerful, the infatuation with cataloging humanoid leader types in AD&D most of the time doesn't do much for me especially if it's way too detailed, etc etc. The lizard king is alright though, for what it is. It's just a more powerful, more intelligent, and "more human" (that's what the description says) lizard man that rules over other lizard men. It gets an extra star over the lamia noble though because, for one, it is way simpler and more evocative than the lamia noble is, the lamia noble sacrifices anything interesting for overthought mechanics and generic vibes. Of note, the lizard king demands HUMAN SACRIFICES from the lizard men it governs, and if they don't provide human sacrifices then he will start taking his own followers as sacrifices. That's fun! They also wield a trident, which is a cool iconic weapon that deals extra damage on certain circumstances, though its bullshit that the extra damage and special abilities only count for when a lizard king wields them; the players should be able to get them too! Also the art just looks really cool, I love the tongue sticking out.

Magnesium Spirit
I'm gonna be honest, this is the first time I've read this monster's description. I think I just skipped over it a lot since it doesn't have an illustration! The magnesium spirit is actually a super interesting monster, one that I think I could see myself building a whole scenario around. The description mentions that there are only three or four of these things, summoned to the prime material plane ages ago by a powerful sorcerer, and they are constantly in search of humans to possess in order to perform the ritual to send them back to their plane of origin. That is really cool and evocative! Visuals wise, they're also pretty cool, a column of pale flame with a wispy tale, and it mentions how they move faster than even characters that have had the haste spell cast on them and that they can do a flash of blinding light. Love that stuff, super cool. What is not so cool is the extremely detailed stuff all about the magnesium spirit's powers, the detailed process of them merging with a human host to perform the ritual, how many levels a host has to have for the ritual to go forward, etc etc. It suffers so much from the kind of rules bloat that plagues a lot of AD&D monsters. I'm really not gonna get into how complex the whole thing is; suffice to say that there are so many hurdles the magnesium spirit has to go through that it is really a miracle if it is even at all able to do the one goal it has. I think I would love to use the magnesium spirit in a game, but what I would use would be a much simpler version; rather than tying so many things to player level, perhaps I would specify that they seek to take over a magic user to perform the ritual. I would give this monster four or perhaps even five stars if the description weren't so overwrought.

Lookit their sad little face!

The mantari is basically just a big airborne stingray. Not much more than that, and honestly that's alright! It attacks with its tail, which is described as "not poisonous" but instead acting on the victim's nervous system which uh... that means it is venomous, actually, it just has a neurotoxin instead of a haemotoxin, but yknow that's beside the point. Unlike the real world stingray's more defensive bestinged tail, the mantari uses its tail like a spear, pointing it at a victim and diving at them from the air. Also if you get hit twice by the mantari's tail it deals four times the damage. Jeeze!! That's a bit overkill honestly. I love the note that they usually prey on giant rats, it's such a lovely little piece of dungeon ecology, which is doubly asserted by the mention that their "preferred haunts are dirty dungeon chambers where its prey abounds". I love that! I think I'll definitely use the mantari in a certain dungeon I'm working on that will hopefully get some use. One thing I really don't like though is that they are 85% aggressive toward other creatures and humans. I just like the nice 2d6 reaction roll! Anyway, these things just seem like animals, albeit ambush predators; I don't think they should be so aggressive.

The meazel isn't anything really all that special, but what it is its pretty good at! These little shits are yet another kind of awful small humanoid who will do awful things to you underground, but they're at least a bit more fun and, more importantly, waaaaay simpler than the godawful jermlaine that didn't need to have such a long description. These guys are little thieves, with the same abilities as a level 4 thief, and often they fight with garrotes which is pretty cool, though the first illustration depicts one holding a sword. I really love the note that they are the enemies of orcs and kobolds, and that "most creatures of the underworld will attack meazels, for they have a nasty reputation even among dungeon denizens". Everyone HATES them. That's just so fun! I would love to have them as a faction in a dungeon. I similarly love that they don't recognize the value of gems, instead dumping any gemstones they get from the people they capture and eat along with the bones in big bags outside their lairs. That's so evocative and fun, and it provides a cool opportunity for players to acquire treasure without combat. Also they apparently almost all have a noncontagious skin disease that makes them look leprous. They are just so nasty!

I'm kinda breaking my own rule here, because I really how long and overly detailed in terms of specific creature behaviors the meenlock description is, but I honestly think that the monster's vibe and atmosphere still shine through to the point that I'm willing to give them a five out of five despite the overwrought description. Basically, meenlocks are awful little humanoids that dwell in mysterious deep shafts in the ground that are so dark and twist around in strange directions that you can't see the bottom, completely lined with moss so movements are silent in them. They have psychic abilities that allow them to create false smells, which they use to defend their tunnels by making it smell like there are rotting corpses at the bottom, and they can communicate telepathically. If the players open up one of their shafts and go down in, they will find the nest lair of the meenlocks at the bottom, in a little cave; the meenlocks will fight to defend their lair using their claws that have paralytic venom, but they are scared by light so their first priority is putting any lights the party has out. If the players open up one of their shafts and then leave without going down in, then the meenlocks will crawl out of the shaft and follow the party, sneaking so as to not be found, and they will select one member of the party to basically psychically harass into being stressed and paranoid, and then when the party goes to rest the meenlocks will come by and KIDNAP THEM, taking them back to the mossy shaft where they are TRANSFORMED INTO A MEENLOCK. It is so pulpy and fun! They seem a lot like awful little humanoids like Shaver's deros, or like children's bogeymen. My only problem is how overwrought their description is. In fact, this is one monster where I think I'd like to see my good friend the Cosmic Orrery make a FKR version! The vibes are all there, just gotta be certain about the execution.

A steam mephit

I'm going to be reviewing the mephits as one creature even though there's four subtypes, mostly because in general there is a lot in common between them. I did it before with some of the other monsters that had a bunch of subtypes, it's alright. Mephits aren't really my favorite personally, but I can see why they exist in the game. They are the, to use the description's wording, "evil messengers and errand runners of the powerful creatures of the Lower Planes", which is definitely a sort of conceptual niche that is needed in fantasy games like D&D. Personally I think I'd be more inclined to use things with more literary vibes than the elemental themed mephits; like, I dunno, maybe basing things on Lovecraft's servitors of the outer gods or Poe's imps of the perverse. In fact, why not just use imps, which were literally in the Monster Manual? Okay okay, there is one thing that I really love about how the mephits are described, which honestly let me just quote it in its entirety:
"Mephits are connoisseurs of the vulgar and tasteless; they share an extraordinarily twisted sense of humor (to a mephitic, the sight of a creature writhing in agony is excruciatingly funny). They delight particularly in tormenting the helpless. If they can obtain them (and it is usual that they do) they will wear clothes of the most garish design and color possible. They are often seen puffing upon smoking rolls of exceedingly foul smelling dried vegetation. They adopt a strutting gait and have shrill voices."
They are evil assholes with a mean sense of humor and they're described as stoners who dress in gaudy outfits. I bet they listen to breakcore or 100 Gecs or something (I really like 100 Gecs actually so that's a good thing lol). Now, for the sake of brevity, let me just summarize my thoughts on the four subtypes of mephits. In general, I really don't think there needs to be so many subtypes, and since the publication of the Folio there have been many, many more. It is typical of the kind of overly taxonomic gygaxian impulse to just constantly add new variations on monsters as canon "subtypes", "breeds", etc., and I am decidedly not a fan. However, here's how I feel about the four types of mephits described here:
Fire Mephit: Pretty basic, they're always on fire so touching them deals damage, they have a breath weapon of fire that they can change the shape of between either a jet of flame or a blanket of flame, I guess that changes how many targets it can hit? Also they can do heat metal and magic missile. Pretty generic.
Lava Mephit: These guys are delightfully gloopy, their illustration has such a shitty expression on its face, even its nose is drooping with dripping lava. They're not actually made of lava either; lava mephits instead sweat lava, it's described as oozing from their skin. I really like that, it's so messed up. The lava sweat obviously produces a lot of heat, so they can be detected from a good distance away, touching them deals damage, etc. They can also spit lava and their touch dissolves/melts stuff and they can shape change into a pool of lava. A bit too many powers in my opinion, but pretty alright!
Smoke Mephit: Honestly these guys are just a reskinned fire mephit. The description even directly compares them. Rather than spitting fire, their breath weapon is a "sooty ball of smoke" that can also blind you in addition to dealing damage, and they can turn invisible and use the spell dancing lights. Also when they die they "cough up" 1 point of fire damage to everyone nearby, which is kinda fun.
Steam Mephit: Like the lava mephit, these guys aren't actually made out of steam but instead sweat boiling steamy water, which I really quite like. Their breath weapon is a jet of scalding water; more importantly though, they can also summon a magical rainstorm of boiling rain, that is treated as an ice storm but just with the temperature reversed to really hot. That's an amazingly messed up power. I think I might steal that for a different monster sometime.

I kinda hate that I felt the need to write so much about the mephits. My favorite ones are the lava and steam mephits.

Mephits are also our first monster in this post to have originally been featured in the Fiend Factory column in White Dwarf! Notably, however, you will not find them if you go looking for the name "mephit"... That's because they're actually new types of IMPS. I WAS RIGHT. I SAID THEY SHOULD JUST BE IMPS AND THEY ORIGINALLY WERE!!! I have no idea why they were changed from just being new subtypes of imp to being a completely separate type of monster in the transition from Factory to Folio, but that's just what happened. The four types are all here, but lava mephits are instead called molten imps. In terms of powers and abilities, they are roughly the same, though the powers are stated in much simpler language in the Factory versions, which is very welcome. The smoke imp/mephit is described as oozing smoke in a similar fashion to how the steam and lava/molten mephits/imps ooze their respective material, so that's super cool. Also Don Turnbull remarks that cautious DMs may want to avoid having certain types of imps in the same encounter together, saying that the steam imp's rain of boiling water and the molten imp's lava would interact in really bad ways. I say screw that, the awful clouds of steam and the sudden reaction of the water with lava would be great for an encounter! I will say, also, that the Fiend Folio version has a lot more personality, with the mentions of their gaudy clothing and awful senses of humor. Normally I find the Folio versions to be relatively worse than the originals, but here there is much more personality in the Folio version.

Mezzodaemons are Okay. I really love the illustration, like I really really love it, its such a good creature, but basically everything else is generic as hell. It feels almost like they were just created to fill in a gap in the AD&D cosmology so that there would be monsters for the planes between the nine hells and the abyss.  They really have no distinctive or unique powers, abilities, or flavor; they just have great strength, fight with their "horny hands and talons" (a bit of unfortunate word choice there) or sometimes with magical weapons, they can use basically any magical item and can cast a handful of specific spells, they're immune to nonmagical weapons and take half damage from acid and cold and fire, they have magic resistance, they can see infrared and ultraviolet, and they have unique names that if someone else knows then they can control them. All of that is basically the same stuff that every other fiendish creature in AD&D has. The name thing, the magic resistance, the immunities, the spells, it's pretty much the same as a given demon or devil, and pretty much all the time the demon or devil will be more interesting or iconic. Really sucks though, the illustration is great.

Yet another awful little humanoid that will do awful things to the player characters in the dungeon? These guys are getting a bit repetitive at this point. These ones are actually specified as being related to the jermlaine and the snyad, which we will get to in a future post; yet another instance of annoying gygaxian naturalism, feeling the need to establish these unnecessary genetic relationships between monsters. I personally don't really benefit from having a taxonomy of very similar awful little humanoids that live in dungeons, at least not the way its done here. Mites capture adventurers with traps, tripwires, etc., beat them half unconscious and rob them, strip them of their armor, tie them up, and then drag them to a main corridor of the dungeon to be killed by a wandering monster. I guess the mites are on better terms with the other dungeon inhabitants than the meazels are. I really like the detail that adventurers can sometimes hear them scurrying around in their little tunnels that wrap around the larger dungeon corridors, that's cool. Other than that, though, I honestly think that the meazel is a much more interesting alternative. This one has a great illustration by Russ Nicholson, though.

The humble mite is also our only other Fiend Factory original for today. And, other than the uh, very lackluster illustration, the Factory version is much better. All the basic beats are there; mites live in small tunnels all around dungeon corridors, adventurers can sometimes hear them scurry around in there, they use traps and tripwires to capture adventurers and beat them up and steal all their stuff before leaving them back in the dungeon to be killed by wandering monsters. However, and this is an important thing, there's no mention of the stupid forced genetic relationship with the jermlaine and snyads. I know that the jermlaine were Gygax's creation, so of course he would force other people's monsters to have explicit "canonical" relationships with his. Typical Gary move. Also, there is one thing in the Fiend Factory version's description that is so good I simply can't believe it was left out from the Folio version. Since the tunnels are so small that most human sized creatures can't effectively fight in them, the most effective way to combat mites is to fill their tunnels with smoke. I love that!!! It's such a cool, creative weakness that really feels like something adventurers could feasibly figure out, AND it's evocative of bees. You just have to find all the openings to their tunnels, cover up all but one of them, fill the tunnel with smoke, and then bada bing bada boom you can fight them as they come out. Really fun! If that had been included in the Folio version, I honestly probably would have given them three stars.

Hey so I'm really sorry about the length of this one! I just really didn't want to break up the letter M and it turned out that I apparently had a lot to say about some monsters that I felt mostly mixed on. Well I hope you are having a lovely day and stay tuned for the next entry in the Fiend Folio review series, where we will do the letters N and O!

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Elden Ring's Land Squirts for Old School Roleplaying Games

(I actually started writing this post like a month ago but then I got busy n distracted, so I'm finishing it now and posting it!!! Oh, and I have a personal website now, so check that out!) 

So everyone has been talking about that Elden Ring game huh? It looks fantastic, amazing vibes, great open world, lots of opportunities for adventure, the whole nine yards, but uh, I actually can't play it. Woops! My computer wouldn't be able to run the dang thing, so I've been watching playthroughs of it to get a peek into that lovely little lands between that From Software gave to us. And while most people are talking about the bosses, how there's like a hundred of them, and I will admit Elden Ring's bosses do look fantastic, there is something else that has caught my attention...


Yeah, maybe they're not the most important enemy encounter in the game, but I really love them. The land squirts are found along the shores of the starting area of the game, Limgrave, as well as in a few other watery areas. They gather in clusters and are basically immobile, their only real defense mechanism being releasing a cloud of poisonous liquid from ports on one side of their body. If they are themselves poisoned then they explode into a cloud of poisonous liquid that can poison the other squirts near them, triggering a chain reaction that can kill them all. And that's basically it; these aren't a very story important enemy, they aren't very active, they're basically just a hazard to deal with when traveling through swamps and coastal regions.

But what is so special about the land squirts is that this is the first time I have ever seen anything in any form of media that referenced the sea squirt, one of the most fascinatingly weird animals, and a group of animals that I love. 

Sea squirts, or more accurately ascidians, are a type of tunicate that live in relatively shallow seawater. Tunicates are super fascinating animals, both for their sessile, filter feeding lifestyle, and because they are actually chordates! Yeah, the lumpy, eyeless, boneless, multicolored creatures you see before you are closer relatives to you and me than an octopus or a beetle, despite the latter two sharing more superficially similar structures with us! Tunicates are the only invertebrate chordates, meaning that despite the presence of a notochord (the structure that forms the spine in vertebrates), they lack a bony spine or any bony skeleton at all. In fact, when they are adults, sea squirts and other tunicates even lack the very notochord that defines the phylum Chordata! They have a distinct nervous notochord in their larval form (seen below), but when they metamorphose into the adult stage of their lives they digest the notochord, leaving them without a central nervous system. Isn't that just so cool?? The closest boneless relatives of humans, frogs, lizards, birds, sharks, and fish DIGESTS its own nervous system to transition to adulthood. I just think that is sick as hell.

A larval sea squirt in all its flagellate glory!

Tunicates do this because they actually don't need a central nervous system as an adult. That's because sea squirts and other tunicates live lives where an energy-hungry brain would actually be somewhere between worthless and an actual detriment. To be precise, there are three types of life patterns that different species of sea squirts employ. On the one hand are the completely sessile solitary sea squirts that take root on the seafloor and filter out nutrients from the water; there is also a more socially organized form of sea squirt, where they are still sessile but form larger sea floor conglomerations, several squirts all rooting in more or less the same spot. And then, going in a completely different direction, are the much more mobile colonial sea squirts, considerably smaller than their sessile cousins, who form larger organism-esque colonies that can float and swim around the ocean, each individual squirt contributing to the whole. They're still filter feeders though, just ones that can move around. While I find colonial tunicates super cool and fascinating, the land squirts in Elden Ring are very obviously from the second type of sessile squirt, forming small communities rooted in close proximity to one another. Maybe a colonial tunicate monster would be a good opportunity for a post in the future?

A super cool free floating colonial tunicate... not relevant to today's post, but very cool nonetheless!

Additionally, sea squirts in real life are actually not uncommonly used as food! And I don't just mean by animals, though of course the sessile sea squirt is a perfect prey item for many predators who don't really want to bother chasing something around the ocean (and, as an aside, the presence of tunicates on land has fascinating implications for what eats them). But it is also human food in many parts of the world! In Korea and Japan, for instance, a species of sea squirt known as sea pineapple (Halocynthia roretzi) is actually cultivated in captivity and served raw, sashimi-style, or as part of bibimbap! Sea figs or grooved sea squirts (Microcosmus sabatieri) are eaten in France, Italy, and Greece, served raw with lemon or as part of salads! In Chile, the piure (Pyura chilensis) is served as an ingredient in seafood soups! There's more examples of sea squirt based cuisine around the world, but I just wanted to share these as inspiration for potentially more creative applications of squirt based creatures in your elf games!

A bunch of wild sea pineapples all rooted in place!

Before I get into the actual game stats, there is one question that has to be asked regarding the very existence of the land squirt. In real life, sea squirts are filter feeders, they subsist on the floating particulates of the ocean, with orifices open for water currents to just flow through, almost like a sponge. Elden Ring's land squirts are, rather obviously, on land, where last I checked there weren't any ocean currents carrying nutrient particles (maybe small grains of dust or floating seeds caught on the wind?), but they still have the distinctive openings characteristic of real sea squirts. I don't really know how they eat! They still live in wet environments, swamps and on shallow coastlines, so perhaps they have openings that are lower to the ground to pick up food from the water? The openings on the top are where they release poison in-game, so maybe those are waste openings? The poison is also a bit out of nowhere since, rather obviously, real life sea squirts don't spit poison out of their orifices, but I don't care!!! I like the weird lumpy poison shooting swamp dwelling giant invertebrate chordates!!!

The "land squirt ashes" that let you summon spectral squirts in Elden Ring

Land Squirt
Number Encountered: 2d6+1
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: poisonous liquid (see below)
Armor: as leather
Morale: N/A (they can't flee!)
Cluster: Land squirts gather together in closely packed clusters.
Poisonous Liquid: Land squirts can spew a toxic liquid from their anterior openings. Those in the spray's range and on the front of the land squirt must save or take 1d8 damage.
Sessile: Land squirts are completely immobile, rooted in place by a fleshy stalk. They are reliant on water to survive.
Toxic Overload: Despite being poisonous themselves, if they are poisoned they explode and release all of their toxins in a wide radius. Those within the radius take 2d6 damage. If there are any other land squirts within range, they are also poisoned and thus also explode.

I thought about trying to model their poison ability off of the Dark Souls/Elden Ring poison mechanic, but I think that may have to wait for another day. Also, because I think larval sea squirts are so cool and weird, here's a stat block for a larval land squirt despite those not appearing in game.

Larval Land Squirt
Number Encountered: 3d6+1
Hit Dice: 1-1
Attacks: bite (1d4)
Armor: none
Morale: 6
Self Digest: Larval land squirts can begin to digest their stiff notochord and other inner organs, typically three days after they hatch. Touching a larval land squirt while it is self digesting deals 1d6 damage due to the creature's acid.
Slippery: Larval land squirts are incredibly difficult to grab, and they will always slip out of attempts to grapple them.

Perhaps I exaggerated the metamorphosis process... well it's whatever, hyperbolic monstrous presentations of real life animals is what fantasy games are all about!

Also, since I think land squirts would fit super well in a Gamma World or GW esque game, here are stats for them for use with 1e and 2e Gamma World. I can very easily see myself putting them in the Great Black Swamp of my Gamma Ohio or on the shores of Lake Erie!

Land Squirt for GW 1e
No. Appearing: 2d6+1
Armor Class: 8
Movement: N/A
Hit Dice: 6
These swamp and coastal creatures are the gargantuan mutated descendants of sea squirts, filter feeding sessile invertebrates. They are reliant on water to survive, but the openings once used for filtering water now spew noxious poison. The poisonous liquid of a land squirt is a contact poison with a poison strength of 9. If a land squirt is poisoned, they will explode and release a large cloud of poison, and they can be poisoned by the poison of another land squirt. Land squirts cluster together in large sessile groups.

Land Squirt for GW 2e
Number: 2d6+1
Morale: N/A
Hit Dice: 6d6
Armor: 8
Speed: Does not move
MS: 1d4          IN: 1d4
DX: 1d4          CH: 1d4
CN: 1d12+9    PS: 1d12+6
Attacks: Poison spray
Mutations: Poison Susceptibility, Water Dependency
Description: See GW 1e description above.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Parrot-Fiends of House Manati (and the Unceasingly Useful Dermestid Box)

I mentioned these creatures in my last post, so I felt it was probably a good opportunity to write them up and describe more about them! 

Its hand twisted backwards, perhaps a hint to its provenance.

Number Encountered: 1d6
Hit Dice: 2+2
Attacks: claws/bite (1d6/1d6+1)
Armor: as leather
Morale: N/A
Avian Screech: Parrot-fiends are able to let out an ear piercing shriek. This shriek will always attract 1d4 additional parrot-fiends, as well as 1d6+1 city guards or house Manati stooges depending on the context. Typically, a parrot-fiend will only screech either when they have someone in their undying grasp, or when they are close to dying.
Magic Resistance: Parrot-fiends have +4 to saving throws versus spells and magical effects.
Moonlight Power: Parrot-fiends are weak and delirious on the night of the new moon, and emboldened on the night of the full moon. 
Undying Grasp: The parrot-fiend may sacrifice its claw attack to instead attempt to ensnare a single human sized enemy in its grasp. The target of its undying grasp must make a saving throw or be captured, and once captured only a successful open doors roll with assistance will be able to free them.
Undying Loyalty: When confronted with the dermestid box (see below), they have advantage on their fleeing roll (i.e. they roll twice and take the better result).

The dreadful parrot-fiends are the foul undead creations of the sorcerous scions of House Manati, the descendants of the Conquering King's princes stationed in Elburz Satrapy all those centuries ago. They are created in a secret ritual, passed down only through one particular matrilineal of the noble house, that which claims descent from the stargazer wife Vani, third wife of Manat son of the Two-Horned Conqueror. This ritual is done only on the night of the full moon, its eerie greenish light bathing the princely sorcerer in unnatural energies. Other than this, very little is known about the creation of the parrot-fiends, and in fact nobody knows where the parts which make them are sourced; it is obvious that the things are the merger of the desiccated body of a human being and the head of a great big crimson parrot, but who the bodies are from is the subject of rumors and nobody in this part of the world has ever seen a parrot of such a hue or size before. Gossip and whispers that the Vani-Manatis use the bodies of dead servants or of slaves or of long dead ancestors are just hearsay, and only in far eastern hinterlands can it even be dreamed that such a large and brilliant red parrot may roost.

House Manati employs parrot-fiends as a gruesome additional security in their palatial estates and, most notably, in the rich princely quarter of Tabur, the Bay of Red-Feathered Plenty. This is not to say that they rely solely on parrot-fiends, since they are slow, incapable of communication, and can only be produced once a month, not to mention their eerie uncanny countenance that puts even members of House Manati on edge. The parrot-fiends are more roving jailers and alarm systems than actual guards or mercenaries; they only capture intruders for humans on Manati or municipal pay to deal with rather than being a true defense themselves. In Tabur, in fact, the city guards despise the parrot-fiends and find that the undead creatures take a significant portion of their job, and perhaps even obstruct their sovereign operation in a full quarter of the city. But the interests of Manati and of the lesser notables of the city are great, and the wishes of those who are protected by the shuddering corpses win the day. The city guards would be very kind to anyone who could at all bring the parrot-fiends down a peg, even if it means angering House Manati. Outside of Tabur, parrot-fiends are a fixture of Manati estates, with the exception of those lesser scions and isolated valley dehqans who the heads of the house deem unworthy of receiving any fiends. These less notable princes would do anything to have a parrot-fiend in their possession; having even one is a status symbol of sorts within the circles of the house. 

An officer of the guard, drawn a tad too messily (also an akinakes short sword)

Tabur City Guard
As a level one fighter (HD 1+1, ATK 1, AC leather+shield, MRL 7)
Officer of the Guard: Large groups of guardsmen may be led by an officer of the guard, a high ranking guardsmen, second only to the city's captain. Officers of the guard fight as city guards with a +1 to hit and armor as chain+shield. When an officer of the guard is present, all guardsmen have morale 9. Officers of the guard are identifiable by the banner upon their back that looms over the streets, decorated with the symbol of Tabur, the ancient basilisk.
Equipment: City guards wield maces or akinakes (short swords). Those stationed at or near the city walls carry bows. Additionally, they always carry with them rope for tying up targets.

House Manati Stooge
As a level one fighter (HD 1+1, ATK 1, AC leather, MRL 6)
Mercenary: Most, but not all, men at arms in the employ of House Manati are mercenaries in some form or another. Their allegiance is to coin or to land, not to the noble house. 
Equipment: House Manati stooges wield hand knives, wooden bludgeons, hatchets, or slings. All stooges will have slings and one such melee weapon.

The Unceasingly Useful Dermestid Box!
Not everyone can be initiated into the beauteous cosmic mysteries that provide the ability to turn the undead, and yet standing skeletons and crawling corpses are a perennial, albeit not overwhelmingly common, hazard to travelers along abandoned roads or delvers into dark depths! The solution, then, is to find the one thing which can prompt disaster for the dead: decomposition. Enter the dermestid box, a wooden export of that ever industrious city Humakuyun on the Sea. This is a wooden container wherein lies a crawling mass of skin-devouring beetles; by simply opening the box and tossing its contents on a beskinned undead foe, it is possible that faint memories of self preservation will prevail and the thing will stagger back at the thought of its skin and flesh being eaten.

Dermestid Box.....20 drachmae
A single use item that, when thrown on an undead target that still has its skin (skeletons and the like are unaffected) prompts a d6 roll to see if they stagger back in sudden realization. There is a 3-in-6 chance of a reaction. Some undead which are made feverishly loyal through special sorceries, such as the parrot-fiend, have advantage on this roll.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Tabur, Grand Capital of Elburz Satrapy

Tabur has been the base of operations for my players in the King of Kings campaign (which has been on an extended hiatus since my last after action report post, unfortunately; though it will be making a valiant return soon enough), but for the most part it has been left rather vaguely sketched out. For the most part, it has only been a location to gather rumors and then return to after an expedition is done to give tribute to the group's patron, Farzaneh Taburi. While there has been tidbits of flavor here and there, I wanted to develop it into a more fully fledged location, and one that can possibly be a location for some adventure if the players so desire.

So without further ado here's some notes on the city, along with descriptions for the four quarters of the city and tables for random encounters! Additionally, I wanna thank John over at The Retired Adventurer for the advice/help with the format for the core description of the city.

Capital of Elburz Satrapy, religious and political epicenter of the east.
Atmosphere: Old money and old power, political intrigue, massive inequality. Looming stone structures a la Persepolis.
Size: ~9k souls.
Demographics: Mostly Shahanistani, small frogling and weirdwalker minorities.
Ruler: Satrap Gholam Ruyanian
Major Cults: Cult of the Morning Star (sanctioned), Cult of Mitra (sanctioned), Cult of the North Star (sanctioned), Followers of the Veiled One (banned)
Major Factions: House Taburi, House Manati, The Temple Reformers, The Snakes, The Mongeese, The City Guards
Landmarks: Hangman Bridge (river crossing, public executions), Lion Bazaar (major market), The Plaza of the Horse (horse racing and gambling), The Iron Pit (prison and city guards).
Quarters: The Tigerskin Quarter (froglings, weirdwalkers, and industry), The Charcoal Quarter (the poor, destitute, and craftsmen), The Bay of Red-Feathered Plenty (noble shops and homes of House Manati), the Emerald Eye of the Basilisk (fighting rings, homes of House Taburi).

What one of the gates to the city might look like (the Ark of Bukhara in Uzbekistan)

Short Descriptions of Factions
House Taburi is a well established noble family centered on the city of Tabur, but with land holdings and dehqans of many ages spread primarily throughout Elburz satrapy. It is the family of Farzaneh Taburi, the group patron, and thus House Taburi is the faction that the players are most associated with.
House Manati is the greatest rival of the Taburis, although they are a younger house. While Taburi can draw their lineage back to some of the earliest shahs of Elburz, Manati claims descent from the Conquering King. The jockeying for power between Manati and Taburi is why the Shahanshah has appointed a third party as satrap of the province.
The temple reformers are a loose collection of priests and temple bureaucrats who believe that the enlightened temples have been taking advantage of the poor and needy and seek to reform the religion and, by extension, the state of affairs to better society. Many of them are followers of the Veiled One.
The Snakes and the Mongeese are the rival horse racing teams of Tabur, with followings in most of the cities of the north of the Enlightened Empire. Think something comparable to the Blues and Greens of Justinian's Constantinople, along with their gangs of supporters.
The City Guards are the clenched fist of Satrap Ruyanian, although they are mostly centered on the edges of the city and at the Iron Pit where criminals and heretics are held and executed.

The Tigerskin Quarter
Sights: Closely packed brick houses, tight winding streets, frog lords in water tubs carried on the backs of slaves.
Sounds: Conversations in several different languages, braying of beasts, croaking of frogs, clanging of metal on metal.
Smells: Burning smoke in the air, brackish blackened water, wet clay, hot metal.

The Steel Serpent:
The official supplier of metal arms and armors for both the city guards and the forces of the Kanarang whenever he comes to Tabur. The only official source of plate armor and other such items in the city, and to even be able to purchase such items requires bribes and cajoling.
Mail Armor: 150 drachmae
Cataphract Armor: 500 drachmae
Grivpanvar Armor: 1,000 drachmae
Cataphract Horse Armor: 1,000 drachmae
Grivpanvar Horse Armor: 1,500 drachmae
Repairs to any set of armor: Half the listed price i.e. 250 for repairing cataphract armor, 500 for repairing grivpanvar armor.
Short Sword: (such as akinakes) 12 drachmae
Two Handed Sword: 25 drachmae
The Steel Serpent is the only place where one is able to legally acquire a sword in Tabur and, as mentioned above, access is controlled.

The Tigerskin Quarter is home to Tabur’s two minority communities: the froglings, sorcery-wielding amphibians from the marshy land surrounding the First City in the western regions of the Enlightened Empire, and the weirdwalkers, an exiled people with no land who are on a journey in search of their lost god (Kusa’s people!). The froglings cheer for the Mongeese.

Potter's Alley:
This is the place to go if you need any kind of ceramic ware or glass (it has been since days long gone that glassblowers were lumped together with potters), and so it is frequented by anyone in need of a container for anything else. Potter's Alley is also on the edge of the neighborhood of the weirdwalkers, their mysterious kilns belching sweet smelling smoke up into the sky.
For a typical clay vessel, price varies by who is making it and by size. Typical size to price ratios are:
Very Small: can fit roughly one swig of a liquid or a small amount of solid, 2 drachmae
Small: a small bowl or oil lamp size, 3 drachmae
Medium: comparable to a water bottle or larger bowl, 5 drachmae
Large: an amphora of wine or something of comparable size, 9 drachmae
Very Large: a very large bowl too large to hold in one hand or even both hands, 15 drachmae
For glass vessels, add 5, so very small becomes 7 drachmae, small 8, medium 10, large 19, very large 25.
It is possible to commission weirdwalkers to make ceramics with mysterious properties, for that is the gift of their crawling god. Such creations have their prices determined on a case by case basis.

Random Encounters in the Tigerskin Quarter (1d6):
1: A contingent of burly sooty slaves dragging a hot crucible through the winding streets, holding onto it with heat-resistant gloves and tongs and dragging it on dirty clothes. They are singing working songs and swearing up a storm.
2: A panicked debtor is attempting to pawn off subpar blades that they say they were convinced to sell by a frogling blacksmith. If they don’t get money for the blades, they’ll be sent to the Iron Pit!
3: A frogling mother has accidentally dropped the clay jar she was using to carry around her tadpoles!
4: A group of weirdwalker children playing in the street with clay toys of different animals and monsters. If you didn't know better, you'd think some of them were moving on their own!
5: A hunched over manservant dragging a cart behind him is in the process of picking up and taking back swords and other weapons for the city guards. He is dissatisfied but afraid of punishment.
6: A frogling coin lord is being marched through the street in a tub of sloshing water borne on the backs of four slaves. They are going around the streets in some fusion of a business trip and a flaunting of wealth.

The Charcoal Quarter
Sights: Tenements housing many more families than can comfortably fit all stacked one upon the other, crumbling ruins as the quarter gets closer to the city walls, beggars and carpenters and dye workers.
Sounds: Plaintive groans, feet padding upon the wet ground, arguments in some house you can't quite see.
Smells: Water, sweat, smoke from wood fires to make charcoal.

The Charcoal Quarter is where most people in Tabur live. It is presumably where most of the players have been staying when not going on adventures for Farzaneh Taburi, at least just due to it being the cheapest place to live. It is also a good source of rumors, namely from everyday lower class inhabitants of the city; most of the rumors that the players have received have come from NPCs centered in the Charcoal Quarter.

In addition to being the population center of the city and the poorest section of the city, the Charcoal Quarter is also where most craftsmen are centered. While those who work in industries that require a more forceful and fiery hand, such as blacksmiths and glassblowers, dwell in the Tigerskin Quarter, simple carpenters, bakers, coopers, dyers, candlemakers, and others in similar professions work here. Probably the biggest landmark of the quarter is the great dye works, where swarms of barefooted young women and men with bright stains up to their knees provide color to the spun cloth of the town.

Notably also, the Charcoal Quarter is where one can find most hirelings on the cheap. Drachm Street, where beggars and those in need of odd job employment aggregate, is where many such people can be found.
Example hirelings of Drachm Street:
Beggar: 1 drachm, +1 hit point
Light Bearer Boy: 1 drachm
Failed Stonemason: 3 drachmae, skilled at digging and cutting stone
Dye Works Girl: 3 drachmae, agile and quick, able to identify liquids
Tough Bully: 4 drachmae, +1 to hit and damage

Random Encounters in the Charcoal Quarter (1d6):
1: A millenarian street preacher, clad in garishly colored robes and with some implement of pain wrapped around their necks and arms. They call for all who listen to heed their warning of the coming prophet. If they linger too long, they will be arrested by the city guards.
2: An elderly beggar, a veteran of a battle against the Gnostic Elves decades upon decades ago, holding out a bowl for alms as he sits on the corner, unable to move except on a little wooden cart made for him.
3: The loud sound of an energetic youth harking goods outside of a family shop. They are making these little pieces of carpentry sound irresistible. 
4: A scrap in the street! 2d4 youths (and perhaps their tired and haggard parents) are caught in a fist fight over some perceived or real slight. The only way to find out is to intervene.
5: A gaggle of dye girls striding through the murky street, their legs and arms stained a cacophony of colors. They seem very excited to go see something.
6: A giant insect, pitch black from the choking smoke, crawls on the wall beside the group. It can spray a noxious fluid from its behind, and tastes foul raw but delicious when boiled (though make sure to throw away the water after, it'll be choked with coal dust)

The Bay of Red-Feathered Plenty
Sights: Houses made of beautiful wood and smooth stone nicely spaced from one another, bright red feathered plumes that loom over the street, servants in well to do garb anxiously going from store to store.
Sounds: Jovial conversation filled with words that you only half understand, deep guttural laughter, discussions over prices, water and wine being poured from clay jugs.
Smells: Spices, wine, olive oil, and aromatic woods. The dried out skin of long dead animals and dusty feathers.

The heart of upper class artisans and craftsmen, who work in fineries and fripperies day in and day out. Just about the only place here in the east where the traditional luxuries can be easily bought and sold (other than, of course, Humakuyun on the sea, but that city has many more unorthodox luxuries as well). The ancient arts and poetries of the region are represented well in this district. Additionally, the Bay of Red-Feathered Plenty is the center for House Manati, whose scions and princes dot the rolling riverside hills of the district in spades. It is beside the river itself where the most ancient building in the quarter sits, the palatial estate of the Conquering King's bastard son's descendants, the heads of House Manati. While House Manati presides here, they cannot stop the nobles of House Taburi from venturing in; but the Manatis have made as much of an effort as possible to keep their district as autonomous as possible from the sway of the city guards.

While it is technically not illegal to set foot in the bay as a member of the lower classes, being visibly poor will result in disgusted glances and refusal of service. If you dress in clothes befitting a higher station than your own, then perhaps you can get by in the wide boulevards of the bay, but being found out as a facsimile of the rich will net you an even worse punishment than simply being poor in the district. Alternatively, you can simply spend Rapport with your patron to have her accompany you in the bay, resulting in everyone assuming you are simply one of her clients or slaves.

The bay gets its name from the red feather plumes that loom over it during the day, and from the crimson Parrot-Fiends who haunt it at night, squawking loudly and entrapping trespassers in an unbreakable embrace until guards arrive (although in certain situations this is actually until pigmen in the service of one of the noble scions of House Manati arrive; in fact, the bay has a sort of parallel system of pigmen guards for affairs internal to House Manati). The parrot-fiends are sorcerous undead creations, and can be turned by clerics. The city guards hate them.

Example stores in the Bay of Red-Feathered Plenty:
The Aviary of Ashfar Ghen - Large building filled with cages of the finest and most exotic birds. Exorbitant fees must be paid for long distance transportation without the birds eaten by tigers. 
The Herpetorium of Yamsheen the Wise - An unassuming building operated by an old woman from a long line of fine lizard breeders. Illegal gecko production facility in basement, shipments sent to the assassins in Humakuyun.
The Manticore’s Tongue - A warehouse of spices, owner on good terms with Farzaneh Taburi. Locked up tight at night for fear of robbery, even with the bay’s security system.
The Silver Scale - A rather new lizard breeding enterprise established by a brineman named Farfeen. Closely involved in parrot-ghoul maintenance.
Sarai’s Silken Thigh - A purveyor of fine clothes, which supplies the city’s nobility with fine silken brocades and dyed cloth. Sarai owns a dying facility in the Charcoal Quarter.
Order of the Red Feather Dancers - A dancing company that takes in young men and women and turns them into dancers and confidants. Also sells spy-monkeys.
The Glinting Knife - A secret weapon supply for the nobility and merchants. Specializes in the production of blades for quick and silent murder. 
Yaghbona’s Furs and Skins - A purveyor of fine clothes, but more particularly focused on items made of animal furs and reptilian scales. One of the few shops in the bay regularly visited by adventurers.

Random Encounters in the Bay of Red-Feathered Plenty (1d6):
1: A foppish young nobleman being borne along on a palanquin, sightseeing around the quarter that he already lives in. He is loose with his coin, and easy to fool.
2: A poor river fisher on their boat, being yelled at by a port servant in dark robes for stopping in the bay's wharf.
3: A mysterious palanquin with its curtains drawn in close, only vague silhouettes visible through the thick brocades in the midday sun. Rumors abound as to what is in it; a portion of a noble's harem, a fine treasure being transported from house to house, perhaps even an eccentric noble themself?
4: An artist displaying lizard poetry in the street. The beautiful words encoded in the patterns of scales on the reptiles' backs are mesmerizing.
5: A group of burly men in full body cloaks and masks march through the street, carrying bags laden with fineries upon their backs.
6: A wandering, meandering party of nobles and their hangers-on crawl through the street, wine drunk and with full stomachs.

The Emerald Eye of the Basilisk
Sights: Houses of ancient stone hewn with the finest of tools, tall buildings painted in bright hues of green, mercenaries and guardsmen for hire lingering on certain corners, members of house Taburi striding in the street with parasols held above them by manservants.
Sounds: Whispered conversations at street corners, the wind flowing through silken curtains, the muffled sound of fighting somewhere not too far away and not too close.
Smells: Incense, soap, blood. The fresh smells of the river as it flows into the city.

The Emerald Eye is the old center of the city, the part of town that has been inhabited for centuries before even the time of the Conquering King. The crumbled remains of the city's original stone walls encircle this district, as the city has grown far past its meager beginnings innumerable generations ago. At the middle of the Emerald Eye is a hill, where in ancient days it was said a basilisk was born on the night of a viridian comet and a full moon. That baleful rumor kept the pastoralists of the valley away from the hill and away from the river it sits beside, allowing for a settlement to take root. Sitting atop the hill is the palatial abode of the city's satrap, Gholam Ruyanian; at its foot is the Iron Pit, the dreadful jail where criminals and heretics go to die. Encircling the satrap's palace are the homes of House Taburi, the ancient family who founded this city.

While House Taburi are the ancient founders of the city, they are also deeply involved in the trade networks that pass through the valley, and in many of the affairs that this implies. The Taburis have a finger in every pot, so to speak; Farzaneh, for instance, is deeply involved in the salt and spice trade through the Great Desert to the south. As a result, there are many warehouses owned by House Taburi in this part of town. One of the more unsavory businesses which House Taburi have gotten themselves involved in is the mercenary trade. While there are independent mercenary companies in Elburz satrapy, House Taburi dominates this area in Tabur proper. This, however, was made difficult by the ban on open carrying of weapons in the city put in place in the not too distant past. As a result, there are those in House Tabur who operate secret fighting arenas and underground training facilities, trying to stay under the nose of the city guards, or bribing them every once in a while.

Example mercenaries and hirelings of the Emerald Eye district:
Great Desert Slingman: 7 drachmae, wields a sling
Desert Guide: 9 drachmae
Dog Headed Mercenary: 6 drachmae as long as you let him eat what he kills, wields a nasty weapon
Spearman: 8 drachmae, wields a spear
Caravan Guard: 7 drachmae
Amazon Guide: 12 drachmae, wields bow at +1
Wrestler: 10 drachmae, skilled martial artist and can perform feats of strength, carries a training club

Random Encounters in the Emerald Eye of the Basilisk (1d6):
1: A gaggle of temple bureaucrats and palace scribes striding through the street, deep in conversation about taxes and financial minutiae. Their pockets are weighed down.
2: A wrestler in traditional garb practicing in the street with large weighted clubs. His brow glistens with sweat and his hairy chest heaves up and down.
3: A lithe hunting dog on the loose, its leash still clinging to its neck. This is obviously the pet of some nobleman, but the thing will resist capture.
4: A meeting of functionaries for some business of House Tabur's, discussing prices and trade routes and hazards along the way. Maybe they'd be open to an offer of help?
5: A group of mercenaries attempting to advertise their skills and prowess without direct reference. Spearmen wielding errant branches, wannabe cataphracts on donkeys. They know a guard is nearby.
6: A young member of house Tabur striding through the street in ostentatious dress and style, their long cloak held up off the ground by two manservants behind. An older woman, presumably the noble scion's mother, stands at a distance, disapprovingly.

That's all I wanna share about the city for now! Obviously there are more opportunities for tables or descriptions of NPCs or things to do with the landmarks I mention at the top of the page, but this post is long enough as it is so that will be for a different time.