Tuesday, October 26, 2021

King of Kings Session 12 After Action Report

 This after action report is brought to us by RandomWizard, one of the regular players in the KoK campaign! They wrote the following in character as the cleric Rohm'Daan, and well... inflated the importance of the events therein. Without further ado, here it is!

Writer's Note: This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real life is purely coincidence.


Four brave explorers left the great city of Tabur that morning. First came their leader, the devoted priest Navid of a cult of cthonic gods. He was followed by the warrior Swifthoof from the far away steppes, known for her skill with axe, spear, and beast, the wise shaman Leila who called upon the power of nature, and a village boy named Jamshid with a strong heart and dreams of glory. Together, meeting beneath the great gates of Tabur, they swore a blood pact to venture into the deep forests in search of the ancient treasure of the Dinosaur Kings.

Writer's Note: The names of Rohm'Daan, Ishthyromeda, Kusa, and Parsani have been changed to Navid, Swifthoof, Leila, and Jamshid respectively. Also, there was no blood pact, and we met at Farzaneh's house, not the city gates.

The four warriors went along winding roads and up steep cliffs into the deep depths of the forest. For seven days and seven nights, they partook in the trials of the woods, venturing the treacherous roads walked by none  and passing through groves of unfathomable beauty, until they were accosted by a horrifying foe. An army of accursed pig-men, hundreds strong and wielding long blades tipped with the fangs of beasts as they rode great wagons, appeared from the darkness to destroy our heroes!

Writer's Note: We were out there for a few hours. Also, there were only ten of them, and they mostly just ran away from us.

The leader of the pig-men, a towering titan as tall as one of the glorious towers of Tabur, stepped out before the four explorers. "I am the great tyrant Irontusk, who rules these woods!" He bellowed and stomped his feet, crushing the branches of fallen trees underfoot. "If you would pass through my lands, you must pay me tribute!"

But the shaman Leila was clever, and knew how to speak to the denizens of the wilds. "We are explorers, come to seek treasure in this place," she said to Irontusk. "We have no treasure now, but when we return, we will bring much more. If you wait until we return victorious, you will claim much greater tribute then."

Irontusk was greedy, and he fell eagerly for the deception of the shaman. "I will take your offer," he said, gnashing his massive jaws. "When you return from your adventure, you will give me as tribute a mountain of gold and jewels as great as the Holy Mountain." He raised his arm as great as the trunk of an ancient tree, and gestured to his servants that they should allow the explorers to pass freely.

Writer's Note: Irontusk didn't exist and we didn't do any of that deal-making.

And thus the four explorers escaped the pig-men, and made their way to the gate of the ancient ruins in the depths of the earth without further incident. Between massive stone towers sprawled the gate of a massive maw, the tunnel between its granite teeth spiraling downwards into the depths of the labyrinth.

Although the way forwards was dark, the youth Jamshid lit a torch from his pack, and its coruscating flame illuminated the way. Wielding the burning brand in front of him, the four explorers ventured downwards into the endless night below.

For seven and one hours, the heroes journeyed the depths of the tunnels, the flickering embers of the torch their only protection against the shadow that closed in from all sides, until at last they arrived at a great chamber. It stood with magnificent engravings upon its tiled floor, depicting glorious sigils of birds and beasts, plants and heraldry.

Writer's Note: We spent about twenty minutes getting to that room.

Even as Navid and Leila, driven by greed, swiftly took to cutting the engraved floor loose from its bonds, they were surprised by the sound of a great hissing that came from a nearby corridor. A writing tide of hissing serpents, hungering to devour the flesh of all that lived!

Writer's Note: There were three snakes, they were small, and making them angry was entirely Ishthyromeda's fault.

Even as our heroes panicked, Swifthoof instructed them to act to protect themselves. She instructed her compatriots to douse their torch and hide against the wall. The snakes would have no ability to sense them then, for their glistening eyes could see not in the darkness.

Writer's Note: Other way around. Parsani and I got us to hide; Ishthyromeda just stayed on the floor.

The serpents scanned the now-lightless room for any trace of their prey, but sensed none. Hunger still whirling within their chests, they slithered onwards, but from the passage where they had come came a greater foe still. One of the walking dead, in the form of a titanic dinosaur wrapped in accursed bandages, stalked into the room! Its eyes glistened with the profane light of red-golden gemstones, and its lifeless heart burned with the desire to extinguish the souls of men!

Writer's Note: The corpse wasn't actually alive or anything, and was just a corpse.

Bathed in its horrible gaze, our heroes drew their blades to face the abomination! The evil spirit swung its rotten-spined tail, splitting the floor to shards, and released a roar that struck terror into the hearts of its foes, but their courageous hearts stood strong nontheless. Jamshid and Swifthoof drew their blades and struck true, digging deep gashes through its wrappings to reveal the coursing dark mist within, but the monster was beyond pain.

Writer's Note: This entire part is made up. We just poked the corpse a bit to make sure it wouldn't come back to life.

But even as it reared back for its lethal jaws to come down and crush our heroes, it was brought down by the invocation of Navid! He raised his holy symbol high, and its cthonic power banished the spirit within! The mist faded before the drowning tide of divine rage, and the bandages forming the demon's mortal shell crumbled to dust. All that remained within were its red-golden eyes, stained with the last sparks of hatred from the monster that our heroes had slain.

Writer's Note: We didn't actually destroy the mummy, either. Instead, we took it intact as loot. It did have some cool golden jewelry, though, which we took.

Our heroes claimed those twin treasures for their own, and along with the engraved floor tiles, returned to the surface to escape the darkness-claimed depths of the ancient labrynth. Laden down with their winnings, they were careful to avoid the pursuit of the fearsome Irontusk, and arrived back at the grand gates of the holy city of Tabur safely to share their glorious winnings with their patron and revel in their newfound riches and glory.

(Just as a note for myself:

Treasure Acquired (After Tribute)

20 drachmae each (total 80) (from Farzaneh)

3 carven stone floor tiles

Gold necklace (500 drachmae)

2 gold bracelets (300 drachmae each)

Total: 1100 drachmae from treasure, +20 each from Farzaneh)

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Lizardmen of the Eastern Satrapies

 In ancient days, when the Reptile Tyrants, those Dinosaur Kings, ruled petty kingdoms in the East, they kept the lizardmen in chains and in pens, and cooked them up for lunch, for dinner, and for supper (rarely was their flesh eaten for breakfast, though their leathery eggs were cooked up for such occasions).

Courtesy Locheil (this is from a session from a while ago)

A Fine Recipe for Roasted Lank-Lizard Flank
(Sourced from On Cookery Both High and Low and of the Uses of Spices, a manuscript written on orders from the Dinosaur King Kalanna in what is now western Numistan, transcribed on a scroll made of sewn together shed skin)
Take the flanks of the lizard which walks like a man. Create mixture of yogurt, onion, and garlic, and the juice of a lemon, and pepper, cardamom, salt, cumin, and turmeric in equal part. Lighten the mixture with water and sunflower oil. Slather it on the flanks, and roast over a fire until the flesh resists not the blade.

Using the framework of Skerples' Monster Menu-All, lizardman flesh is a rare normal meat that tastes like a cross between chicken and fish (leaning more toward chicken) with no unusual effects.

When the Conquering King came on in with his armies that filled the horizon, he destroyed the citadels of the Dinosaur Kings and laid waste to their cities. To the princelings of the scaly ones, this was a terror of apocalyptic proportions, the end of their civilization, the final hurrah of the apes over the reptiles. They receded into the far valleys, into the countryside, into the foothills of the mountains that loom to the east; they ensconced themselves in secrecy, or hid their visages behind sorcery. They feared that what they had done to the kings that came before them would be done to them. For the Conquering King, it was the tail end of a long campaign, his soldiers tired and weary after years away from home. It was nothing special to him; he had conquered many a land before it. He barely even thought anything special of knocking down statues of the ancient kings of the Thunder Lizards and putting their viziers and generals to the sword. Armageddon for dinosaur princes was more of the same for the Conqueror.

And just as in all other lands that he subjugated, the Conquering King sought to win the support of the oppressed and downtrodden segments of the population, so that his rule would be upheld without even a second thought. In other lands it was he who rebuilt destroyed temples and liberated slaves (whilst enslaving others); in the lands of the Dinosaur Kings, he empowered the local human population by giving them most of the local administration, and he freed what he thought were the dinosaurs' slaves: the lizardmen. 

Courtesy myself

In this Green Land, the Green Men which dwell here, the Lizard Men, once Enslaved now Free, redeemed by My Hand, by My prophesied Hand. In the name of the King of the Gods, my Father, the Bondage of these Scaled Men shall Forever be ended. Their Tyrants vanquished, just as My Forefathers did, so that all men in the world can forever be free!
-Inscribed on the Orders of the Conqueror-

In truth, however, the lizardmen were not men at all; they were beasts! Despite their humanoid appearances, the lizardmen have none of the emotional nor cognitive abilities of human beings. In the words of many a thinker in the east since the days of the Conquering King, the lizardmen are without a soul. The Conqueror's "liberation" of what were little more than cattle was entirely due to a misunderstanding and miscommunication on his part. He was under the impression that they truly were men, a race of men entirely enslaved at that, and thus were in needing of redemption. And so, with the chisel in the hands of a hundred artisans, this foreigner singlehandedly put a breed of unintelligent meat-beast on the same level as humanity. He even appointed a lizardman as vizier to the local governor! (That eternally controversial move has left a lasting impact in the mythology and art of the region, such as the comedic poem The Appeal of Dosthenes, about a foreigner attempting to lobby the vizier for access to the satrap but having to contend with the vizier's inability to speak or comprehend what he says.)

And so was born the scourge of the wild lizardman. For as long as the Conquering King and his appointed satrap lived, it was punishable by death to put a lizardman in bondage. What was once a domesticated species went completely feral in one human generation. And with the Dinosaur Kings having receded away, those who had domesticated them in the first place were no longer able to, not on any large scale. By the present day, the lizardmen are at best an exotic pet, and much more commonly packs of feral things crawling around the forests, hills, and swamps of the eastern Satrapies.

One of the distinctive features of the lizardmen is their very matriarchal relationships. They form packs, sometimes called nests, headed by the lizardmothers, the venerable female progenitors of the rest of the pack. This is not a eusocial system a la those of bees, ants, wasps, or termites, but rather a loose hierarchy with the oldest, largest, most ravenous females at the top. Most packs only have a small number of lizardmothers, for they are very competitive, typically only between one and five; it is not uncommon for a female to leave their pack to establish their own. Oftentimes the lizardmothers also control reproduction, being the primary target of mating for most males in their pack. The quickest way to destroy a nest of lizardmen is to kill their lizardmother(s).

(I'm going to be using a smaller more generic statblock format for this post. Its something I've been using in my notes/documents for a while, it should still be usable with just about all of whatever OSR type RPGs one may need it for)

Number Encountered: 1d6 (Almost always encountered with lizardmen)
Hit Dice: 3+2
Attacks: 2 claws (1d6+1) or 1 tail swipe (see below)
Armor: as chain
Morale: 8
Cold Blooded: All lizardmen are cold blooded. They must sun themselves regularly to not become sluggish. If conditions are cold or the lizardmother has been kept from sunlight for an extended period, they make all rolls with disadvantage.
Commanding Presence: Lizardmen of the same nest as the lizardmother will go to defend her. When defending her, they make morale checks as if they had the same morale as the lizardmother.
Tail Swipe: Instead of making her normal two attacks, the lizardmother can choose to perform a tail swipe. Any within melee or reach range must make a saving throw or take 1d4 damage and be knocked to the ground.

(note: In OSE (and in B/X), lizardmen have perfect morale (12). I kind of hate overusing things that don't make morale checks because, as I may have said before, I really like morale rules. Assume that when I mention lizardman morale, they have a morale of like 6 or 7. I'm just mentioning this because of the above mentions of it.)

A nice little boy!

Some distant ancestors of the lizardmen, perhaps coming from the same time as the first progenitor population to be domesticated, escaped into the caves and crevices of the mountains. After generations beneath the surface of the world, they have become pale, blind, emaciated, and sluggish. Cold blooded like their surface brethren, they subsist on the most meager of food in the depths. Unlike some other creatures adapted for the depths, these troglodytic beasts only really live in some of the more wide open caverns, around bodies of water although they are not able to breathe underwater. The men of the deluge often hunt the subterranean lizardmen.

Pale Blind Cave Lizardman
Number Encountered: 1d8+1
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 claws (1d6) and 1 bite (1d6)
Armor: as leather
Morale: 7
Blind: Pale blind cave lizardmen are not affected by bright lights or visual effects. They can only effectively target someone for an attack if they are making noise; if all is silent, they will not know that you are there.
Sluggish: Despite their lithe appearances, pale blind cave lizardmen are very sluggish owing to their dark dank environs. They make saving throws to dodge out of the way of something with disadvantage.
Swimming: Despite their sluggishness, pale blind cave lizardmen are avid swimmers.
Vice Grip Bite: If a target is hit by the pale blind cave lizardman's bite attack and both claw attacks, then the lizardman bites down with such force that the target cannot remove them. They deal 1d6 damage to the target every round and make them unable to move, as well as still being able to defend themselves with their claw attacks.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Janissary Deserter (A Class for the Gamma GLOG)

 I actually first wrote this class roughly two months ago, but I have since revised it somewhat and have been meaning to post it for a while. It was the first class I wrote up in my haphazard messy GLOGhack based on Gamma World and similar post-apocalyptic science fantasy games (or other forms of media). Colloquially I'm calling it the Gamma GLOG, but its full name is building on a game I made many years ago: Mutants and Machines of the Baffling Badlands. Technically, this makes this abortive attempting at a rules hack a second edition to that game, even though the rules are essentially nothing alike. Oh also, you should check out my previous posts about Gamma Ohio, since this class (and Gamma GLOG more generally) are set within that world.


You are a stranger in a strange land, brought here to fight enemies you've never seen before on the orders of a king you've never seen the face of. You have no lot in this futile battle, so you left. The generals of the Amish King do not take kindly to deserters.

Each template of Janissary Deserter you have gives you +1 to hit +1 to rolls for stealth.

Skills: Animal Husbandry, Lying, and Foreign Customs

Starting Equipment: A polearm of some sort (1d8), a submachine gun (no bullets), a tall silken hat emblazoned with pheasant feathers, an ill-fitting ostentatious uniform, a slip of paper guaranteeing pay (now null and void) (all of the above are stolen). A small thing to remind you of home, fear (the only things that are truly yours).

A Piercing Pressure, Anxious Aura, Hunted
B Run for your Lives
C Faceless Enemy
D Auspicious Incident

Piercing Pressure
All ranged and reach attacks that you make pierce through armor, even if the weapon is not listed as armor-piercing.
Anxious Aura
You are never surprised. The rest of your group may be unable to act due to a surprise round, but you will be able to act. However, because of your intense anxiety, you are always able to be detected by psychics or creatures that can smell fear. You lose anxious aura when you are no longer being hunted.
You are being hunted. You know that you are being hunted, but by what you don't yet know. The general you deserted, a bounty hunter he hired, an executioner-droid, just the feeling of guilt weighing down on you?
Run for your Lives
You have advantage on rolls when fleeing during a chase. You are also able to give advantage on rolls when fleeing to a number of other people equal to your number of Janissary templates minus 1.
Faceless Enemy
If you do not know the name of the enemy you are fighting, then any damage you deal in excess of how much it takes to kill them goes to the nearest creature. This continues until you hit an enemy you know the name of.
Auspicious Incident
If you would be killed by a physical attack (this does not apply to psychic attacks or nuclear radiation), you can declare that you slipped out of the way in the nick of time. This is only possible once. The fear from that near-death experience allows you to have a new start. Once the auspicious incident occurs, you may take the A template of another class as if you never had Janissary Deserter's D template.

I have no clue what this is from (if anything), and the fungus stuff has basically nothing to do with this post but I found it when looking for janissary art and thought it was cool

Also here are some SUPER SIMPLE CHASE RULES so that Run for your Lives makes more sense:

When a chase begins (I believe it would be rather obvious when a chase has begun), each individual person/creature involved in the chase (not counting hirelings/pets) roll 1d20+DEX modifier. If the chasers roll higher than the flee-ers (not exactly certain what the term for the would be), then the flee-ers are caught, and may be forced to fight, or be captured or eaten, depending on what sort of creature was doing the chasing. If the flee-ers roll higher, then they get away with little to no complications.

However, if some of the flee-ers fail the roll (roll lower than their pursuers) while some succeed (roll higher), then the ones who succeed can simply choose to abandon the ones who failed, allowing them to get away just fine, or they can try to help them up and get back to running away. This prompts another roll, with no modifier; at that point, whether you're able to get away is up to chance. Also, players who fail a roll can choose to sacrifice a hireling in order to succeed the roll; this lets them escape, but will invariably cause strife with whatever other hirelings the group has. This system assumes creatures that are roughly of normal human speed; creatures that are considerably faster than a person will always win out in a chase with a person on foot, and players who are so overburdened that they cannot run with agility will always be caught.

Chase begins
All pursuers and all flee-ers roll 1d20+DEX modifier
Pursuers and flee-ers compare the results of that roll
If pursuers roll higher, they catch the flee-ers; if flee-ers roll higher, they get away
If some flee-ers fail while others succeed, the flee-ers who succeeded the roll choose whether to just keep running away or turn back to try and save their friend(s)
If they choose to turn back and help their friend(s) back up, they roll 1d20 with no modifier
If a player fails a chase roll, they can sacrifice a hireling to succeed it

Sunday, August 29, 2021

King of Kings Session 10 & 11 (10.5?) After Action Report

 Yes, two sessions in one post... or well, perhaps more accurately one session split between two days of play? It got split due to confusion on my part that caused a mixup during the first session. For the purposes of continuing numbering, gonna consider the second one as session 11. Just gonna describe it in one go though, just because it is easier. The events described in this post occurred on August 9th and August 18th.

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon 
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb 
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 group made camp at the edge of the Holy Cedar Forest following the battle with the smoke-billowing headless bull-thing. After some discussion, they decide to call for Fire Eater, their jinn ally in the woodland. They get a fire started, burning some of Rohm'Daan's shiny acorns and some of the ancient silks they had found in an ancient tomb as a sacrifice. Fire Eater, in the form of a slimy black salamander, dashes out of the forest and swallows the flame whole.

They got into asking Fire Eater about what that headless bull-thing was, and they tell them that it was a "poor sort of being", specifically a marid, that only started living there three months priorthat the people who lived there were already gone by the time the bull-thing took residence there, and that there are small creatures that crawl out at night with axes and handsaws to slash at the fields surrounding the abandoned farmstead. When the group mention "that with yawns deep" which they heard about from the oracle back in Temple Town, Fire Eater thinks for a moment and just replies "a hole in the ground." After this, they say goodbye to Fire Eater and discuss what their next course of action will be.

They decide to go back to the ruined farm and investigate some of the collapsed buildings that they didn't look very closely at before. The largest of the buildings collapsed in on itself due to the ramming attack that the marid bull-thing did, so they go to the leftmost of the two smaller buildings still standing. Crawling one after another through a hole in the wall, they find what looks to have been a familial house, with beds strewn about everywhere and children's toys and animal bones on the floor. Manchugo investigates under some of the beds and finds a strange silhouetted form beneath one... which they push out from underneath it using a broom, revealing the desiccated mummified corpse of a child. Their body is intact other than their left hand which is much more destroyed.

Our adventurers take the body and bury it outside, then move on to the next of the pair of buildings. Inside, it is much the same; except for a basement at the back, which they descend down into after investigating the beds for other bodies (none were found). In the lantern light, they see silhouetted humanoid forms hanging from the ceiling, and presume that they are some sort of bat people. Manchugo wonders if they are the former farmers, transformed into bat-oids at some point. They discuss among themselves whether to burn the whole place to the ground, but ultimately decide against it.

After some more deliberation, it is agreed that they will investigate the ruins of the collapsed building and then wait out for the creatures in the basement to come out at night, assuming that they are the beings that Fire Eater mentioned. The big collapsed building seems to have been the house of the farm's matriarch, and they find her skeletonized corpse in the rubble, in what seems like a side room with a bed in it. There, Ishthyromeda finds a lockbox and, after fiddling with it with her knife, she finds a silver necklace, three brass nose rings, and two iron finger rings, all of which she pocketed. There wasn't much else of note in the collapsed building. After this, the five of them took the bones and buried them along with the dried out child corpse outside of the compound's walls.

Then they took to the walls and waited for nightfall... their plan was for Manchugo to throw a lasso around the last of the creatures as it exited the hole in the wall of the house with the basement, in order for them to interrogate it or otherwise figure out what is going on... but this is kind of where it fell apart. You see, in the process of me explaining the creatures crawling out of the abandoned house and Manchugo, Kusa, et al handling their actions during the encounter, I got so confused about what was going on (mostly due to communication problems on my end), and it was getting really late on top of that, that I elected to end the session there and pick up where we left off next time.


So yeah Manchugo had rope and used it to lasso the last of the little critters when it crawled out from the hole in the wall of the building. By this point ten other creatures had crawled out, with four of them remaining within the walls of the compound. Manchugo throws it at the last of the creatures, which now they can see has hirsute goat-like legs and massive ears, but he fails to catch it, misaiming and letting it hit the dusty ground uselessly. However, the creature doesn't notice where the group is, and ends up just running to join its brothers. Manchugo rushes forward and throws the lasso again, and ends up snagging the thing in the rope! He runs and grabs it up in his arms, tying it up with the ropes, before waving to the rest of the group for them to run out of the compound and to the edge of the forest to interrogate it while giving the rest a wide berth. Surprisingly, they are able to dash out of the compound without alerting the others.

Not gonna describe the whole interrogation and whatnot, but basically the players discovered quite a bit! The creature repeatedly told them to "fuck off" and was impervious to threats and torture but was ultimately coerced into helping the players with a gift of an abacus and reassurances that they would return it to its brothers. In the ensuing interrogation/conversation, it identified itself and its brothers as "we who gnaw" and "ka-li-kan-tsa-roi", frantically desperately tried to count the individual strands of the rope it was tied with, was appeased with the aforementioned abacus, described how they and their brothers gnaw at the roots of trees, and described how the farmstead was built by humans but that they had not seen the humans there (i.e. it was not those-who-gnaw nor the bull-marid who killed the peasants). The players decided to call the little creature Higgles.

Locheil wasn't playing in this session but he very graciously drew our lovely little pal :3

After the impromptu interrogation and the abacus deal that they made with Higgles, the group brought the small being back to the compound to return it to its brothers and ask them some questions too. It took some convincing on the part of Higgles to get its brothers to agree to talk with the man-things, but eventually the players asked some questions and those who gnaw asked some in return. Oftentimes those who gnaw would speak in unison or in singsongy chants. They asserted that there was no ruler among them to parlay with and asked the group what they did to make the bull-marid go away (they used what the creatures called "the poison metal what pisses off jinn" of course). In response to the players' questions, they said that all they do is gnaw and cut, describe how before they arrived here there were the "half-men" who were sorrowful and ashy-skinned and who were themselves chased out by wolves, mentioned that those who gnaw cannot smell, and said that they did not kill the owners of the bodies the players found earlier and in fact did not touch them at all when they found them.

Oh and also, when asked about the "that which yawns deep" thing that they heard about from the oracle back in Temple Town, those who gnaw spoke in unison (after a bit of muttering about whether or not to even say it): "big spiral, deep down, full of slime and gunk... a word of warning for the lot of you, a foul nasty funk... beware that which yawns so deep, the hole beneath the earth.... or else in the end you will find your life, in dearth... ancient kings dug down deep, a dismal dark so dreary! do not descend lest you desire naught but death and diadems of pale bony stone..." if you can't tell this was improvised during the game

After this, the group decided that they were much too tired, starving, and beaten up to continue pushing on, at least for now. They return to Tabur via the northern gate at the Tigerskin Quarter, where Kusa's connections got them into the city without having to pay an exorbitant tariff.

Treasure Acquired
1 Silver Necklace
3 Brass Nose Rings
2 Iron Finger Rings

Non-Treasure XP Acquired
Burying Abandoned Bodies (12 XP each before Prime Requisites)
Capturing Higgles (2 XP each before Prime Requisites; for being the one who lassoed Higgles, Manchugo gets 6 XP before PR)
Total: 14 XP/18 for Manchugo

Monday, August 2, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 9 (Hellcat to Iron Cobra)

Two letters today (mostly just because I only has three).

Starting off with another weird supernatural cat servant, albeit this one is considerably more evil than the guardian familiar from the last post. Visually, the hellcat is very unique, being invisible in any sort of light source but appearing as a faint ghostly outline in darkness. It doesn't really have especially unique or interesting powers, just having three attacks per round (which is typical for a big cat, even mundane ones usually have claw/claw/bite) and having immunity to non-magical damage (also a... very strange and unnecessary thing that notes that magical damage bonuses don't affect it? I really don't like that.), but what is interesting is the hellcat's relationship to a master. Hellcats always serve a master, and will switch to serving one of the players if they are stronger than their current master (I assume that means higher level/HD) and are lawful evil. Personally I wish this wasn't tied into the alignment system so that anyone could have a hellcat but whatever. However, a hellcat can only serve a master for a year and a day before they have to return to hell, and every week they require a human sacrifice from their master. If they do not get a human sacrifice that week, then they will devour their own master! I really love this folkore-esque horror-esque vibe going on, it really feels like a supernatural being that you made a deal with that has forced you into a corner of doing horrible things. I just wish it wasn't tied into the alignment system; what does human sacrifice matter to someone who is already supposed to be evil?

Hoar Fox
Personally I don't find the hoar fox all that interesting aesthetically, but gameplay-wise it is very very good. I'm always a fan of nonstandard treasure types, and especially of furs as treasure, so the hoar fox's incredibly valuable silvery furs are a fantastic detail. I'm also a huge fan of creatures that prompt creative problem solving: the hoar fox's fur is worth 100 gp, so adventurers would want to kill them, the quickest way to kill them is with fire (they take double damage from fire), but fire damages the furs and makes them worthless for sale. On top of this, getting in too close won't always be the best idea because of the fox's cone of cold breath weapon. A supernatural winter fox is a very good folklore vibe, and I think this is a very well realized creature.

Hook Horror
I'm going to be completely honest, the hook horror gets this score off of aesthetics alone. There is a reason why hook horrors have become an iconic D&D mainstay since their publication here in the Fiend Folio! The bird-like head, hard exoskeleton, and unnatural hooks for hands is such a good design that balances the familiar with the unfamiliar, alien, and monstrous. The art here isn't exactly my favorite rendition of the horror, however; that honor would probably have to go, once again, to Tony DiTerlizzi's illustration for the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual (which is above instead of the Folio one because I like it more). Mechanically there just isn't a whole lot going on though, which in my opinion is a good thing, a simple beast that highlights the weird aesthetics is very good! Their one unique mechanic is a lower chance of surprise, which I think is cool, but the way it is implemented is weird; it says "10%", when I'm pretty sure that surprise works on a d6. How are you supposed to roll surprise with a probability that doesn't fit on the normal die? That is very strange. Love the note that it communicates with others of its kind by clacking its hooks on its exoskeleton. Could the players figure out how to communicate by hitting objects against each other, maybe banging weapons on their armor?

The hook horror first appeared in the Fiend Factory, and like the grell it is almost identical between the Factory and the Folio. So again, I will just reproduce Don Turnbull's editor commentary: "Straightforward stuff, but an excellent and vivid image even without the artist's work. Perhaps they could have vulnerability to, or at least fear of, light - so that a light spell would hold them off, for instance?" I think that would have been a fine enough addition!

Love the illustration though

Giant Hornet
On the one hand yay more giant bugs I'm always a fan of giant bugs! On the other hand the description of the giant hornet mischaracterizes them as excessively aggressive, and I'm never a fan of media that demonizes or exaggerates the violence of insects. The way that its sting works is very clumsy as well; it deals damage, and also poisons (negated on a save), and also incapacitates (I assume that means basically it paralyzes the victim) (negated on a save). Note that that isn't one save to negate both effects, that is two saving throws, one per sting effect. Call me a minimalist but I think it is best to make things just one roll whenever possible. The effect of smoke on the giant hornet's attack rolls is fantastic though, I really love that. That encourages nonviolent problem solving, using smoke to weaken it enough that you could potentially catch it or avoid it. Same for the loud buzzing making it easy to detect from a distance. A very usable creature, I just think aspects of it are clumsy.

Hound of Ill Omen
You know, I want to like the hound of ill omen. Its a pretty cool concept, a nice portent of doom goin' on, a spooky vision, all that, but its just not interesting the way its implemented here. Only one character ever sees it at a time (so the players cannot collaborate to respond to it), it cannot be harmed or stopped (so basically the players can't even respond to it at all), and its howl has one simple effect that is partially undone only by the specific application of the remove curse spell. The effect isn't even all that interesting, it just makes attacks deal quadruple damage for a short period. It is overly mechanical and only has one use. I'd love to use a black shuck type dog that portents doom, but this is not what I would use. It's also like the aleax from the first post in this series, in that it is implied to be sent by an offended deity, which honestly just makes it even less interesting.

Not exactly the most interesting undead monster unfortunately. Essentially it is just a wight that can shapeshift and can spread disease a la the D&D mummy, but rather than being a disease specific to the creature, it is one of the generic cardiovascular-renal diseases from the AD&D DMG. Does that mean the huecuva causes diseases that cause heart attacks? I love the illustration though, its honestly kinda sad that such a cool illustration is tied to a really quite boring monster. Also the name comes from Mapuche folklore, but the Mapuche huecuva (or wekufe or... well, there are a lot of alternate spellings) is just a term for a general type of evil/unclean spirit that can be controlled by sorcerers (kalkus) and can itself control the spirits of the dead. There are actually a lot of very interesting aspects of this indigenous "demon" lore, and it reminds me a lot of Middle Eastern spirits like daevas and jinn, especially in that the wekufe don't actually have a singular set appearance. I have no clue how "Underworld Oracle" chose the name of a category of Mapuche spirits for their heart attack skeletons. Man, a skeleton that causes heart attacks would just be more interesting than this even.

Ice Lizard
Ah, the white dragon answer to the firedrake! I honestly don't find it as interesting though, probably in part because the ice lizard has so much more going on than the firedrake does. It really just feels like a white dragon with fewer hit dice. Not only does it have the white dragon's cold breath weapon, it also can polymorph itself, cast sleep, and cast fear. It's unique aspects really don't feel all that interesting, like oh cool even though it is immune to most magic it is susceptible to hold and charm... That does allow for interesting problem solving on the part of the players, but there just isn't enough interesting here for me to use it over a young white dragon. 

An absolutely fascinating and weird encounter presented in an alright way. Boy do I wish there was an illustration though! The body is described in these absolutely surreal ways, a strange "grey-green lumpy cylinder" with tentacles. I really want to know exactly what that is supposed to look like, but this one is one of the very few monsters with no illustration! The power is interesting, if admittedly gimmicky; the imorph selects an opponent and slowly but steadily shapeshifts to look just like them, and although its attacks remain the same damage-wise its to-hit is based on who it is imitating. If this were where it ended I would have given it a lower score though; the imorph gets that three star rating primarily by having a real palpable reason for the players to engage with it, being host to a unique treasure in the form of a slimy liver that allows polymorph self when consumed mixed with water. I love that a lot, its very evocative and provides a super interesting reason to engage. Otherwise though yeah the imorph is kind of the epitome of a gimmick monster. 

EDIT (3/8/2022):
I somehow missed that the imorph actually originates in the Fiend Factory column! Thankfully, given my past self's wish for an image to really show what the imorph actually looks like, the Factory version has a drawing next to it:

What a delightfully unusual creature! Funnily enough, the description here is much clearer than the one in the Folio; I think probably because it doesn't call the imorph a "cylinder". Where did the cylinder comparison even come from? Nothing about this drawing is cylindrical. Anyway, powers of the creature are more or less the same, the Factory version just takes fewer words to say them (as is usual). I would say I vastly prefer the Factory description, since it explains the concept much more clearly, but interestingly enough one of the best parts of the imorph isn't in the Factory version! The slimy valuable polymorph self liver is completely new to the Folio version of the imorph. I wonder why that addition was made? Perhaps Turnbull and Gygax felt that the imorph needed some form of clear treasure? Speaking of Turnbull, his comment on the Factory version mentions that it would be really interesting if the imorph were able to isolate a weak member of the party and essentially replace them, doppelgänger style. Other than that, the comment isn't very interesting: Turnbull mentions that the imorph would be more powerful against certain players/opponents than others but that since it is unintelligent it wouldn't know that, and that it is important to keep in mind that once shapeshifted it will use the man vs man attack matrix rather than the monster one.

Iron Cobra
An iconic and fun construct! Snakes are always a fun design, and the iron cobra is very lovely as the creation of some sorcerer or the servant of some opponent that could easily be retooled to serve the players' interests. I like that there is a specific value for the cobra if it is deactivated, monsters that also serve as treasure are so good. It having poison is kind of boring, I think I would much prefer it if the actual effect of the bite could vary by what the creator desires. Maybe it could inject any potion through its fangs? The description acknowledges variable bite effects by mentioning that some iron cobras have "paralysing, sleep-inducing drugs", but for some reason that is easier to resist than the normal poison. Don't quite get that. I like how they are controlled by command words, if the players are able to acquire those then they can control it! Not exactly the most unique monster, but very usable. If I used them I would make it inject any potion rather than specifically the poison.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 8 (Goldbug to Guardian Familiar)

 The second half of the letter G, fittin' it in before the end of the month!

I'll admit, I had never read the goldbug entry before! Probably mostly because it doesn't have an illustration. Not exactly the most complex monster, just a nice lil bug that looks like a gold coin and can bite you. Save or die poison isn't the best but it's to be expected really. I put the Dungeon Meshi coin bug picture here because that is just such a good rendition of this concept. Dungeon Meshi also has a whole lot of variety of treasure insects which is super great!

I do very much like the look of this weird little critter, but it isn't all that interesting in implementation. Its basically just a single surprise gimmick; it has a high armor class in normal combat, but can only attack someone by attaching onto them with its claws which lowers its AC to the worst possible... but then if you hit it with any kind of sharp weapon it will burst open and deal damage to the person it is clinging to and whoever attacked it and anyone within 5 feet. I will say at least it has a lot of good personality: the illustration makes it look like the gorbel really doesn't like doing what it does, though that is kinda contradicted by the mention that they are "mischievous, fickle and irritable creatures" at the end of the description. I think the surprise gimmick thing would be interesting if it was paired with more of a personality, like perhaps if you could talk to it etc etc but the gorbel as presented isn't really that. It gets an extra star for the illustration though, otherwise it'd be a 2 star beastie.

Gorilla Bear
The epitome of "just use bears". Stats-wise and in terms of how one would use it, the gorilla bear is literally just a normal bear. The description doesn't even say they have any kind of special Thing from being part gorilla other than the literal parts that they have, they just reference "the aggressive disposition of the grizzly bear and the carnivorous tendencies of the cave bear". Yknow last I checked grizzly bears were carnivorous too. They just have the hug attack from the owlbear too. Also, the end of the description says they won't have the bear ability to keep fighting past 0 hit points... do bears have that in AD&D??? I wasn't aware of that at all, that's kinda interesting actually, though not interesting to necessitate making this better since its something the gorilla bear doesn't have. I will say though, the image of some kind of horrible taxidermy beast with a gorilla's head on a bear body is kinda cool, just that isn't what this creature is. Very boring!

The grell would be five stars if it didn't make you roll an ungodly amount of dice. Conceptually/visually, just a masterpiece, there's a reason why the grell became such a D&D mainstay since it was published in the Fiend Folio. A floating brain with lots of tentacles and a horrid little parrot beak is just such a good design. However, mechanically? Mechanically this thing is hell. It has ten separate tentacle attacks each round, which are explicitly always targeted at the same victim, and each successful tentacle attack prompts a saving throw (with a bonus for uh some reason?) to avoid being paralyzed. If someone is paralyzed, the grell latches onto them with two tentacles while they continue to attack that one person with the other eight and a beak attack. Before that paralyzation, you have to make ten attack rolls directed all at the same victim and said victim has to make up to ten distinct saving throws, and once the paralyzation has taken effect they just automatically deal damage! It is just so so much rolling for an effect that in the end is just paralyzation and a huge amount of damage. At the very least it is cool that there is a built-in way to weaken the effectiveness of it, by hacking off its tentacles, I just think it didn't need that much dice rolling. Call me some kind of crazy person, but personally I would rather a simplified handling of this than having to make ten to twenty rolls for one monster each round of combat. Love the design though forreal.

The grell first featured in the Fiend Factory column, in a form nearly identical with that reproduced in the Folio. Much of the phrasing is exactly the same even. As a result, I don't really have anything interesting to say about it. I will, however, reproduce in its entirety Don Turnbull's commentary: "This thing is even worse than the Carrion Crawler - with ten tentacles hitting, there's not much chance of avoiding paralyzation; lucky it only attacks on the '5 dice' line. I should have thought the sight of this beast would be likely to induce fear in low-level characters as the Mummy. It's not often we have such a powerful entrant in the Factory, but this one is mighty interesting... in its way (I would not like to meet it)."

A bunch of good boys just hanging out :)

I'm so happy that the Fiend Folio officially introduced morlock ripoffs into D&D. The morlocks from H.G. Wells's The Time Machine are just such a good iconic creature, and they are handled pretty well here! I also feel like degenerate underground morlock types are a common sword and sorcery/science fantasy enemy you see in OSR circles, and for good reason! Plus, as a race of humanoids, they're very good for faction play, and being able to communicate with them and engage with their leadership structures is very good. Personally I would make them weirder but eh, take what you can get. I like that they are blind, and I like that the description is explicit as to what the mechanical effects of said blindness are, but I kinda wish they were just completely eyeless instead of having white milky eyes, eyelessness is such a good feature to give subterranean humanoids. The mentions of other creatures that live in their lairs with them is phenomenal, and that alone provides the grimlocks with so much more flavor than a lot of other humanoids. Why medusas live with them seems pretty self explanatory (since they can't see they can't get petrified), but mind flayers also live with them, which is just wild! I like how it mentions that the githyanki hate them because they consort with mind flayers, thats really good. Them being able to blend in with stone so long as they remain motionless is great, I can already imagine the weirdness from an encounter with them. Grimlocks are great, I do just wish they were more science fantasy-y than being just another Gygaxian humanoid race, but that doesn't make me dislike them!

Another sleeper hit! I don't think I've ever given the gryph the time of day, since it is sandwiched right after the grimlocks, but oh my god this is such a good concept. Let me summarize it for you: many-legged parasitoid birds. I already love parasitoid things both real and fictional, I already love many-legged birds (just go back to the first review to see me lavish praise on the Assassin Bug and Achaierai), this combines them in a super weird way. Why on earth are the female gryph's eggs implanted "through a thin tube which projects from the bird's abdomen"??? I know the abdomen is the posterior portion of an insect, but on a vertebrate wouldn't that make it protrude from the area of the stomach? I will say, however, that I wish they didn't obfuscate the absolutely incredible weirdness of this creature behind random rolls. Only female gryphs do the parasitoid egg thing, and you only ever run into a female if you roll 3 or more on the number encountered, so thats a 2-in-6 chance that you don't even have a chance of having to deal with the eggy weirdness, and then even if a female is present there is only a 35% chance that it will lay its eggs. This means that in a given gryph encounter, there is only a 23.33% chance of even having to contend with the egg laying. Who on earth is going to make gryphs a significant enough part of their game that they'd have to make sure only a quarter of the time it does its one special thing? These are really fun and unique and weird creatures, show off their weirdness!! Docking one star for the wonky probability here, but I love the concept, making a bird parasitoid is so fun.

Guardian Daemon
I wanna know how they made "demon bound by an evil high priest to guard a specific spot" into something so boring. The guardian daemon is just so generic. It doesn't even get its own unique appearance, they basically just say that it can look like anything, even other demons... wow! If it can look like another demon, I would just rather have it so that the evil high priest can just bind that demon! This just obfuscates things and makes them much less interesting. Its powers are boring: a normal bite attack, two normal claw attacks, it can breathe fire... what about this is daemonic? I at least like that while it has immunity to non-magical attacks, it always has one type of non-magical attack it isnt immune to. That has a kinda fun folkloric vibe to it, but again handled so generically. Its art shows it emerging out of an egg, that makes me wish this were a creature that could be summoned by breaking open an egg, that'd be much more interesting.

Guardian Familiar
Now I know what you're thinking. I just gave the guardian daemon a worse score, why does basically the same monster but now it's a cat get three stars? Well you see: it is a cat. Just by being an actual specific thing it is already by default better than the guardian daemon. On top of that, the guardian familiar has the absolutely incredible power of having nine lives. I love that so much!! Each time it is killed, it is instantly reborn, but now stronger. It also grows in size as it attacks, larger and larger from its initial small black cat appearance. It also stays put on top of the treasure it is supposed to guard, instead of the guardian daemon's generic ability to move around but only within a certain area. The guardian familiar just feels much more folkloric, it really feels like the kind of supernatural critter that a witch would have! Solely by having more interesting and unique powers, it is leagues better than the guardian daemon. Its honestly kinda funny that they're on the same page; the guardian familiar instantly shows you a better way to do the guardian shtick than the guardian daemon. Also the art is cute.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

King of Kings Session 9 After Action Report

 Just pickin' up where we last left off, this session was a direct continuation of the previous one (find it here) and there will be another session following up after this one.

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon 
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb 
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

So the four adventurers, having retrieved information and a payment agreement from dehqan Shahab Manati, depart to investigate the three farming communes that have been slacking in their payment of tribute. Their first point of call is the estate to the north, along the road to Humakuyun. They come upon a wide expanse of tall grain with a singular path dug through it, and as they enter in they are met by a single arrow whizzing by their cart! After another arrow, they hear a voice yelling from a small copse of trees up ahead, telling them to "fuck off" and that they don't want any "agents of house Manati here any longer". Yelling back to reassure the disembodied voice that they are not agents of that house, they are apologized to and told that they can move forward, but to please bring the arrows with them, since they're not easy to make.

Coming upon the trees, they are met by a wiry young man with a scraggly beard and a red hat cocked upon his head, who explains rather nervously that they are rather reticent to deal with the insistent agents of Shahab any longer. When the players started asking questions, he said that he didn't really know what he could say and that they needed to talk to his mother. Guiding the group down the path in the field, they eventually come upon a collection of mudbrick houses encircled by a low-lying wall, teeming with his brothers and sisters. They meet with the boy's mother (who, by the way, informs the group that his name is Parsani), and ask just a whole lotta questions about the situation. To summarize: two other farming communes have become wholly empty about a month ago, their families disappeared into the ether, and dehqan Shahab hasn't done anything to help them, instead just expecting the same amount of tribute. As a result, the family here has changed their allegiance to house Taburi (which, when Manchugo mentioned they were servants of Farzaneh Taburi, made the matriarch smile and open up considerably more). They ask if her and her family would ever be willing to renegotiate with Shahab, but she refuses (though this prompts Manchugo and Rohm'Daan to wonder at perhaps organizing a meeting between Farzaneh Taburi and Shahab Manati at some point in the future (although neither are the heads of their respective houses)).

After the conversation, the group and the farming family of eleven settle in for the night, the kind peasants hosting the adventurers for the night. Ishthyromeda teaches Parsani and a number of the other boys how to make better arrows. The next morning, before they depart for the other abandoned communes, Parsani comes forward and asks if he can join the group on their travels. Once convinced that his family will be just fine without him, the four allow him to join. They depart on the dirt paths out of the farm, traveling south to the next nearest farming estate. While on the road, the group hears sounds of loud cawing up ahead, and peek beyond a hill to see seven griffons clawing and tearing at an immense hairy beast. A strange beast indeed, everyone recognized it as something that wasn't from around here. They choose to not intervene, and just continue on the road, letting the beasts duke it out behind them.

My players have provided many a visual reference this session

Another hour or two of travel later, the group comes upon wild untended to expanse of grain, being overtaken by weeds but with paradoxical random patches that have been cut low to the ground. Beyond the field is a slumped over partially collapsed farm house, and beyond that the edge of the Holy Cedar Forest. As they approach, they see the more thorough destruction of the mudbrick wall and the houses therein, empty animal pens scattered about. They spend some time discussing what to do, but ultimately just decide to look around the complex.

When they approach the main farm house, Ishthyromeda at the front with javelins in hand, they hear no noise. Ish peeks around a corner of the crumbling building, and sees a very strange form: a massive bull with pitch black skin rippling with muscles, an empty headless stump of a neck on its shoulders. She immediately threw a javelin at it, which flew right through the beast, leaving a gaping hole in its wake billowing out choking black smoke.

Another player-provided visual aid, which served as a size reference in-game

A combat ensued, using the new combat system I wrote up in this post here, but I won't describe it in a play-by-play, that'd probably be a tad too longwinded for an already too rambly post. It mostly worked out, though the headless bull-thing didn't really get to shine in the system because it was impaired by a choice it made at the start of combat: to rush at the wall of the farm house to collapse it, which ended up having no effect on the players due to lucky rolls on their part. With its shoulders embedded in a mudbrick wall, the group started whalin' on it, but bronze weaponry simply clanged off of its thick skin, while iron implements slid through it like butter, making deep slices that bled dark smoke. The beast's kicking legs knock Rohm'Daan and Manchugo to the ground. In the end, the horrible thing was pushed to fleeing by Kusa deftly grabbing onto its neck stump to attempt to hammer in an iron spike (which ultimately failed, with the thing's thrashing making Kusa fall to the ground, trampled by its feet and left with many broken bones) and subsequently by Rohm'Daan, prone on the ground but not injured, throwing sharp pieces of scrap metal at the thing. A single morale check later and the headless beast fled off into the distance through the field of grain.

After the battle, Kusa and Manchugo were helped to their feet, Parsani was found cowering behind a collapsed wall, and the group decided to make camp out at the edge of the Holy Cedar Forest, to investigate the area further next session.

Non-Treasure Experience Acquired
1 horrible headless bull thing (213 XP each before Prime Requisite modification)

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Lands of the East

 I've been realizing that my posting about King of Kings has been strangely piecemeal. A monster here, a random table there, etc. To rectify that, I'll be making a series of posts detailing some of the more foundational aspects of the setting, both for my own sake (since I'll be actively fleshing out a game world for use with my own games) and also for y'all! Gonna be doing this from the top down, in a sense... starting out with an overview of the satrapies and kingdoms of the east!

If one were traveling from the west to the east, more likely than not you would be along the King's Road, a loose collection of paths, paved roads, and bridges that crawls up from the First City, antediluvian urheimat of humanity, capital of the Enlightened Empire, birthplace of Shahanshahs, home of the one who those in the east call He-Whose-Face-Is-On-Our-Coins (obviously many know his actual name, but it has become a custom to refer to the King of Kings in such a manner). The King's Road leaves the First City and slinks between mountain peaks until it reaches The Wall of the Conqueror, the looming metal and stone edifice erected by The Conquering King (ancient unifier of the whole of the world) to keep giants and things far worse at bay. Turning eastward, the traveler eventually comes upon the city of Humakuyun, and is now in Elburz Satrapy, ancient homeland of the Dinosaur Kings before their defeat by the Conqueror.

Elburz satrapy (which I made a previous post about here), so called for the mountain range that shields it from the burning desert heat to its south, is the gateway to the east, a land of rolling hills and verdant valleys darkened by looming mountains. Its capital is the city of Tabur, a medium-sized walled city of roughly 8,000 souls. Tabur is the religious and political epicenter of the east: it is home to the satrap of Elburz, Gholam Ruyanian (a hunched soft spoken old man, veteran of the Neverending War waged by the Enlightened Empire with the Gnostic Elves to the west), and is smack dab in the middle between two of the most sacred sites here at the eastern edge of the Empire. To the west of Tabur is the Holy Cedar Forest, a land blessed since even before the days of the Conquering King, dwelling place of implacable spirits and strange beings. The Holy Cedar Forest is the home of the jinni Fire Eater, who the players met several sessions ago. To the east of Tabur is the Holy Mountain, looming mountain peak eternally topped with snow, ringed at its base by the Hallowed Halls of the Holy Mountain, colloquially known as Temple Town, a ragged complex of temples, inns for pilgrims, and half-abandoned ruins of shrines and saintly mausolea clinging to the cliff faces. Tabur is the de facto home base of the players in my campaign as of right now. It is a city of tyrannical local officials, arbitrary executions, severe inequality between the urban poor and the city's rival noble houses, violent outbursts dividing the people over the outcomes of horse races, and looming stone edifices from generations ago topped with the curved beaks of cruel birds.

Northeast of Tabur is Humakuyun, the real happenin' place of Elburz satrapy. A city of roughly 10,000 souls, it is the opposite of Tabur in nearly every way: rather than political-religious significance, Humakuyun has mercantile significance. It sits on the southern shores of The Sea of Giants, at the confluence of the King's Road that goes east-west and the road to Tabur going south. Humakuyun is the home of the Order of the Egg, the ancient clan of assassins with imperial sanction, as well as the Grand Hospital of Humakuyun. It is also home to myriad markets for both inanimate good and for slaves or hirelings, bars and other places to party, and sorcerous clubs developing new spells. If Tabur is old money and old power, Humakuyun is new money. 

After Tabur and Humakuyun, Elburz satrapy becomes little more than wide wilderness pockmarked with the occasional village. Heavily forested mountains and sloping hills collapse into verdant valleys of tall grasses and looming trees, isolated communities barely connected to one another by the most precarious of paths. The great distances involved prompt innovations in communication. Pigeons are used for message sending, with donkeys and ceremonial giant lizards for the ferrying of goods. More pertinent or violent desires require more direct involvement. It is not exactly uncommon to come across a roving taxman with sword in hand, a bounty hunter wielding a crossbow, or a contracted manticore wearing a written pact from some noble house on their neck. At the furthest eastern edge of Elburz is the vast Hinterbog, a stinking morass of rivulets and stagnant water. Home to salamen, many types of leeches, and things even slimier, the Hinterbog is the natural barrier between even the relatively settled valleys of Elburz and the wilder places beyond.

To the northeast of Elburz, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Giants, is the Domain of the Client King. A renegade war-bek of the King of the Nomads, whose rule stretches in a wide band at the southernmost edge of the Land of Darkness, fled his overlord's rule and bent the knee to the Shahanshah of the Enlightened Empire. Vested with defending the Empire's northeastern fringe from incursion by nomadic barbarians or things even worse, the Client King Aktan Timurbek does his job... to varying success. In truth, he sees himself less as protector of the Empire, and more as being protect by the Empire, protected from the vengeful nomad king in his yurt-palace on the backs of elephants. Aktan Timurbek the Client King has a capital city on the move, the city of Tungush, which cycles between several different spots throughout his domain in the grasslands beyond the Hinterbog. In truth, the region is not as secure as the Client King may make out, with bands of cannibalistic dog-headed men trawling the grasses and even insidious children of Ajuj and Majuj infiltrating the barrow mounds and small copses of trees.

To shift focus to a land opposite that of the Client King, to the south of Elburz satrapy is The Great Desert, or Kavir-e Bozorg. Quite possibly the largest desert in the world, even if it is not truly so it may as well be to its inhabitants. The Great Desert is truly what cuts off the east from the rest of the Enlightened Empire, necessitating following the King's Road from the west. Within the last few generations, however, the Great Desert has become less of an impediment, with camels being used to cross its expanse. A foreign import, these hot desert camels come from far to the west, and have been pushing out the traditional art of giant lizard breeding and riding. The Great Desert is haunted by ghosts, jinn, and writhing worms that subsist beneath the sands. In fact, many of its natural niches have been filled by worms unnaturally at ease with the sand and heat. The only places of rest in the Great Desert are the occasional Oasis City, settlements given special rights and autonomy by the Empire more in recognition of how difficult it would be to police them than in any ethos of charity.

Northeast of Kavir-e Bozorg, and east of Elburz satrapy, is the twin satrapy of the east: Numistan satrapy. Numistan is a land of bloodshed and metallurgy, mountains rich in gold, gems, and fine clay, bleeding out into the rivers, staining the land a cacophony of color. Numistan is the coin press of the east, the sky blotted out by the billowing smoke of foundries and smithies. It is a land cut in twain, with its eastern half governed by the southern dog-headed men, the more urbane (though still cannibal) cousins of the barbarian dogmen of the north. The tribes of Numistan paint themselves with ochre and lapis lazuli, and many of them ride on goats and yaks in the mountain slopes. The more urban sorts in the satrapy hold onto poetry and lizard breeding, and just about everyone reverse and worships the Conquering King as a deified warrior.

The capital of Numistan satrapy is the city of Gavarpazir, also known as The City of Spires. It clings desperately to a mountainside like a starving traveler, its towers clawing toward the sky like grasping hands. Gavarpazir is the home of the satrap of Numistan, Bashtar Khodadad, a greedy career bureaucrat, despised by the Kanarang (looming warrior-protector of the east who sits upon the back of a great black horse). Gavarpazir is a city of roughly 6,500 souls, the height of provinciality in truth but a center that claims pretenses of high culture. To the east of Gavarpazir, toward the border with the dog-headed men, are glorious mountains carved in the visage of men, robed hermits and bloody warriors shaped from the ancient stone themselves. To the west of Gavarpazir are a collection of large lakes peopled with fishing villages, dominated by taxmen and superstition. The people of the fishing villages speak of werewolves that swim just beneath the murk clinging to the surface of the water. Numistan is a land of militarism, tribalism, and gold, coveted not only by men but by griffons and giant ants as well. Dog-headed men in fine silken uniforms standing at the border staring at cataphracts and manticore-mercenaries, rural guides in flowing red robes and faces painted in bright hues sitting astride goats to guide travelers to stashes of gold hoarded by griffons. Not all beasts of numistan seek gold, however.

Beyond the easternmost fringe of Numistan and the Realm of the Client King, there are the Petty Kingdoms of the Road, tyrannies and despotates grown fat and rich off of trade. These are satellite states of the powers they border on, influence with them fought over by the Enlightened Empire on the one hand and the Furthest East on the other. Clinging close to the arteries of trade, the foothills of the mountains, or the occasional steppe oasis, the Petty Kingdoms always want a leg up on the next city over, a deal better than the one previous got, an agreement that will keep them even safer from the King of the Nomads, the giants, or the dog-headed men than any of their neighbors.

TL;DR: The east of the Enlightened Empire is a strange and wild frontier, the edge of empire colliding with worlds beyond it. There is Elburz satrapy, which is verdant wilderness pockmarked by rare settlements except for its two most prominent cities, once the domain of dinosaur princes. To its east is Numistan satrapy, a land of bloodshed and gold where both beasts and men fight over precious metals. To the south is the Great Desert, pretty self explanatory what that is, and to the north the Hinterbog (a really big bad swamp) and the Realm of the Client King, a steppe/grassland area that is relatively within the reach of the Enlightened Empire. Beyond the empire's borders are the Petty Kingdoms, which are caught in a sort of regional war of influence between the empire and a rival in the Furthest East.

If you want some real world geography to point to or look to for visual inspiration, Elburz is Mazandaran and Golestan provinces in Iran, the Hinterbog is basically any eurasian bog though I've mostly been referring to ones in Russia, the Great Desert is Dasht-e Kavir in Iran, the Realm of the Client King is Turkmenistan, and Numistan is northern Afghanistan and Kashmir.

How about a map!

And here's a map with the regions mentioned in the post outlined in respective colors if you're having a hard time reading the handdrawn one.

Key to this map:
Orange: The Great Desert or Kavir-e Bozorg
Light Green: Elburz Satrapy
Dark Green: The Holy Cedar Forest
Dark Turquoise: The Hinterbog
Cyan: Numistan Satrapy
Yellow: The Realm of the Client King
Burgundy: The Empire of the Southern Dog-Headed Men