Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 5 (Elemental Princes of Evil to Eye of Fear and Flame)

Considerably smaller than yesterday's post, I considered for a moment lumping in the F monsters with this one but I just really don't feel up to it right now.

We begin with the five Elemental Princes of Evil, which are a pretty fun concept generally. I think that these elemental weirdos may be a fun unique alternative to demon lords, but that would really depend on their execution in a given game.

Cryonax (Prince of Evil Cold Creatures)
Not to spoil anything too early, but Cryonax is above and beyond my favorite of the princes of elemental evil. A pale white ape with octopus tentacles for arms is just such a fantastic image, one which reminds me of some of my favorite monster mashups of film (like Ro-Man the Robot Monster from 1953). I know the text describes Cryonax's body as that of a yeti, but his long muzzle gives me more of a baboon or mandrill vibe (and I know that this is the second time I've brought up baboons in this series of posts, I just like 'em!). Turning to Cryonax's mechanics, I rather like the note about how weapons have a chance to freeze and shatter when hitting him, and I like the note about his castle made of ice, quartz, and glass. I envision Cryonax as a haughty over the top b-movie monster villain, almost like an alien living in a world apart but so totally inimical to the world of the players. Thats the vibe I get!

Imix (Prince of Evil Fire Creatures)
There is nothing about Imix that I couldn't just come up with on my own. In fact, I think I could probably come up with a better prince of evil fire than Imix. He's just a pillar of fire that produces heat, can summon fire monsters, takes damage from water, lives in a volcano, and hates the princess of evil water. Boring! Surely this was already unoriginal and overdone in the late 70s?

Ogremoch (Prince of Evil Earth Creatures)
I really want to like Ogremoch... I love his illustration! He's a soft little boy, looks squishy, and I love him for that. But God is there nothing interesting in his description. Oh wow, he can turn flesh to stone and summon earth monsters and cause earthquakes? How definitely for real interesting! He doesn't live somewhere interesting, his home is just a flat mountaintop. Where is the creativity that was present in Cryonax? I really love the Li Lung's earthquake power because it feels like an interesting folkloric power... Ogremoch's earthquake power just feels like it gave it to him because it was expected of them. I really should have given more love to the east Asian dragons... they are much, much, much more interesting than all of the non-Cryonax princes of elemental evil. Gets an extra point for the illustration and fun name though.

Olhydra (Princess of Evil Water Creatures) and Yan-C-Bin (Prince of Evil Aerial Creatures)
Lumping these together because I want to be done with the elemental princes of evil. They both are very boring visually, just being large masses of their associated elements, and they don't have much that is very interesting mechanically or in terms of how they fit into the game world. I'm giving them an extra star because they each have one interesting thing in their description, with Olhydra's drowning ability and Yan-C-Bin's whirlwind ability, but even these aren't that special or unique. They seem like powers that all water elementals or air elementals should have. Its just that they make them just slightly more interesting than Imix.

I really want to like the elemental princes of evil, I really do... But the only one that lives up to the vibe that I think they deserve is Cryonax. Redesigning and reinterpreting the elemental princes of evil would be a must for anyone wanting to rely on the Fiend Folio.

Dark Elf
Okay let's be real, I actually really love dark elves, they are probably my most used elves ironically enough, mostly just because I like spooky evil things more than not spooky not evil things. But honestly, the Fiend Folio dark elf is so poorly presented. It takes up a whole page of text, with the most interesting portion being by far the lengthy Gygaxian prose explaining their origins. The rest of this immense monster description is dedicated to detailed descriptions of their special mesh armor, the spells they can use, the fact that they can see in darkness better than normal, that they can speak with other underground creatures, and the absolutely inexplicable notes separating male and female dark elves from each other by class and ability score generation. Honestly, this seems much more like a description for a player race than it is a monster. The conceptual density is all over the place, ranging from stuff that you would just assume (of course the underground elves can see in the dark and can talk to underground monsters) to stuff that is so inane that it might just be unnecessary (like the multiple paragraphs dedicated to explaining that drow arms and armor have special qualities but totally aren't magic guys). The most interesting parts of the original dark elf aren't even mentioned here! Those being, at least in my opinion, the social structures of the dark elves, their worship of Lolth, and their whole "backstabby assassins but also necromancers" shtick they've got going on. It pains me to give the dark elf anything lower than a 4, but the presentation here is trash. I figure the reason why dark elves have become so iconic since the late 70s and early 80s is more due to the Drow series of modules, rather than the Fiend Folio listing.

Honestly, I'll just link you to CosmicOrrery's stance on the enveloper, since I concur with him basically to a t! I think the concept here is fantastic, it reminds me a lot of the Abzorbaloff from Doctor Who, although that thing was a weird green monstrous humanoid that was somewhat marred by less well developed CGI (though I stand by its practical effects being pretty good!), whereas the enveloper here is a formless mass that can extrude limbs, and those absorbed by it lose their personhood in their entirety. I completely agree with CosmicOrrery that the enveloper should do more with the personalities of those it envelopes! An interesting idea that should definitely be developed further.

Yes yes finally!!! The ettercap is one of my all time favorite Dungeons and Dragons monsters, period. And the Fiend Folio ettercap is above and beyond the best rendition of the beast. When you get down to it, there isn't much going on with the ettercap though; a hirsute humanoid that can produce silk and has venomous fangs and generally gets on with spiders. Its that spider theme that makes the ettercap into more than just another monstrous humanoid to add to the hierarchies from kobold up to bugbear. The silk powers are incredibly versatile and unique, something which no other humanoid monster at the time had and very few humanoid monsters since have had either (sure there's the aranea from the Isle of Dread but that leans much more toward being a full on spider than the ettercap). But, the reason why I love the Fiend Folio ettercap so much more than every subsequent rendition of the ettercap in D&D's long and storied history is because it isn't a spider. I'm someone who absolutely loves to have bugs in my games, but there is something so much more intriguing and interesting about the ettercap being a weird hairy man-thing that just spends time around spiders so much that it has some of their traits. Let the ettercap just be spiderlike without being a spider!

Eye Killer
If I'm being completely honest, the eye killer gets such a high rating mostly off of the visuals. I adore the image of a coiled up snake with the helplessly flapping body of a bat where its head would otherwise be. The pathetic, the pitiful, is so so much better than the intimidating or bloodthirsty. The eye killer's description emphasizing its generally noncombative nature is fantastic, with it only using its most destructive power if approached with bright lights. I really like these things that can affect how the players engage with a given creature when encountered. I also absolutely love the detail that the eye killer is born as a featureless white ball; that feels like something out of a medieval bestiary. Not as into how the "Death Stare" works... I don't like how it uses both an attack roll and a saving throw, and how on top of that it can only be used once per day. You don't get to highlight the eye killing that the eye killer does!

The eye killer was first featured in the Fiend Factory column in White Dwarf, with this fantastically scuzzy yet very animalistic illustration. This eye killer feels more like a real living thing than the illustration on the Folio eye killer. The Factory eye killer doesn't have the mention that the Death Stare can only be used once per day, and there is a weird note that the eye killer never blinks unless light sources are brought in front of its eyes. No clue what that really means. 

Eye of Fear and Flame
I quite like the eye of fear and flame if I'm being completely honest. The name is fantastic, the illustration is fantastic, it having literally no ability to fight other than its two gemstone eyes functioning as magic wands is fantastic (I'm bothered by how the gemstone eyes lose their magical powers when removed from the eye of fear and flame though, that's a real missed opportunity for fun and interesting things to gain from an encounter with the creature). The eye of fear and flame mostly just following you around and trying to get you to do awful things is pretty great, but I really don't like how tied up the thing is in the nine point alignment system of AD&D. Would much rather that the eye target anyone, rather than specifically lawful good types. The note about there being only twenty is a bit unnecessary, though I think it would work well if there being a small number was really meaningfully worked into the game. I just kinda think it'd be better if it were either unique to a given area or there were a smaller number.

Well, that would be the last creature for today... if I had not realized that I actually missed one of the previous monster's entries in the Fiend Factory! In the interest of completeness of analysis, its high time we took a look at that accidentally unnoticed critter!

The Fiend Factory carbuncle isn't too different from its Folio counterpart (which you can find my review of here, if you haven't read those earlier posts in this series), but the illustration does have considerably more personality than the Folio version. A little mischievous smirk, a gentle glow emitting from the gem in its forehead, and a much more armadillo-like armoring make this rendition of the creature much more interesting, at least visually. The description isn't very different, but some small details are rather fun. For instance, the carbuncle's gem is still worthless if the creature dies (just like the Folio version), but rather than shattering it "deflates to a worthless soggy red pulp". I absolutely love little details like this, that provide a more fun alternative to the faux seriousness that a lot of published TSR products had. The mischievous toying that the carbuncle does with the party is a bit more specific, with "false prophecies" and even the creature using its telepathy to enrage monsters into fighting mentioned. And, in my opinion, the most interesting part of it is the given reason why the carbuncle toys with the players: not hostility, as implied in the Folio description, but rather just that the carbuncle, as a creature who has no concern with death or pain, doesn't understand why the player characters would be bothered by being hurt. Now that is a unique characterization for a monster!

I also especially wanted to point out the Fiend Factory carbuncle because of this little tidbit in Don Turnbull's editor commentary: "This is a monster which would take an awful lot of skill on the part of the DM - certainly it is not a monster whose reactions you should determine from random tables (if anyone still uses these things at all)." I find that offhanded comment about how much Mr. Turnbull found random reaction tables useless absolutely fascinating; I for one absolutely love them, and I love the general uncertainty they provide to the game! Seeing someone so casually discard something that I today consider a core part of the classic D&D experience is really interesting, at least to me.

Well, that's probably plenty of rambling from me! I hope you have a lovely evening! There are some ideas here that I'm thinking of expanding into larger posts... I guess we'll have to see and find out.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 4 (Dakon to Dune Stalker)

A bit of a long one today! Lots of critters here, including some of the best in the Folio!

The dakon is not a very good creature to start off with. Its just a nice ape that can talk... Personally I would just use a real ape, or at the very least the fantastical "white apes" from Barsoom/Lovecraft/Moldvay. I've had good intelligent baboons in my games, but would probably never use a fictional intelligent good ape.

Now the dakon is also one where I can show off the original Fiend Factory version and oh my god this illustration makes me love this thing. The dakon is described as a "shabby ape" in both the Factory and Folio versions, but only this one really shows off that shabbiness. It looks disgusting, almost mangy and matted, with a humanlike face on a weird bearlike body with human feet. This thing does not look like an ape at all, it just looks like a mess and I love that. My above one star rating is for the Folio version of the dakon, but just this illustration alone makes me love the dakon considerably more... though I don't know if I would commit to giving it three stars. Maybe 2.5

Dark Creeper
Now this is what I'm talking about! The dark creeper is definitely a weird one... a race of squat humanoids wrapped up in dark clothes that are all conniving thieves, can feel the presence of magical items, can create supernatural darkness, and spontaneously combust when killed. The ability to detect magical items is a bit weird and honestly kinda unnecessary, but I really love the magical darkness and death combustion stuff. I like the little note that they hide their treasure in the folds and pockets of their cloaks, its a nice little touch! I think if the players discover that they usually keep their treasure on their person and that they spontaneously combust when killed they would be encouraged to find better ways to get that treasure than murder. Gotta have treasure be damaged by fire! The note about their language being incomprehensible isn't great in my opinion... you lose out on the opportunity to negotiate with them, at least in their native language.

Dark Stalker
Did the dark creeper really need a special distinct group of overlords? Especially as a completely separate monster. This isn't like how goblins have goblin kings of so and so hit dice mentioned in their description. They don't look as interesting visually as the dark creeper, and in many ways they're just "what if the dark creeper but More"... in addition to being able to make darkness, they also make fog, instead of just catching on fire, they explode like a fireball spell. Not super necessary. I will say though, the note about them basically practicing eugenics to keep themselves above and apart from the dark creepers is interesting. I think this would be super interesting if you really leaned into it; a society of cut-throat murderers and thieves dominated by an imposing hierarchy made even stronger by actual eugenics. Too bad the Folio doesn't lean into it very much.

Death Dog
Not super special or unique honestly, but pretty fun nonetheless! Just weird two-headed dogs that hate you and want you dead. I like the disease that slowly kills you; I think I would give the two heads visible filth on them, spit festering with bacteria, perhaps like an exaggerated komodo dragon. The note about them usually aiming for the legs is nice, but honestly I don't think it needed much of an explanation, I think most dogs would just do that anyway. The little thing about them being descended from the actual mythical dog Cerberus is wild, I kinda wish it was more than just an offhand reference.

Death Knight
There honestly isn't much going on with this one but I kinda have a soft spot for it. I definitely appreciate there being a fighter equivalent to the lich's undead wizard! The lengthy sections describing all of the spells it can use is a bit unwieldy and weird, and I much prefer the notes mentioning that there are only twelve of the death knights in the entire world and that they were probably made by Demogorgon. Wouldn't it be super cool to lean more into that prince of demons angle? Maybe they have a baboon motif? I just like baboons to be honest. Them being immune to turning sucks, I never like it when there are undead monsters that are immune to turning. It is already such a situational power, why would you restrict it even more!! I think the death knight is great conceptually, but I would probably prefer it if each of the twelve death knights were presented as unique NPCs, each with their own personality. Obviously that would have considerably stretched things out here in the Folio, but it could be an interesting idea to pursue outside of it.

Not going to provide a rating to the category of demons as a whole, although there are some interesting ideas here. Demons being able to pop between planes at will except for the material plane is cool, and demon amulets are cool too. Though I don't think I would use it as a super common thing... they feel a little too similar to lich phylacteries and I would prefer the more folkloric vibe of being able to control a demon by knowing its true name, rather than controlling them by having their amulet. Just my thoughts I guess.

Lolth (Demon Queen of Spiders)
Honestly, for a demon spider elf woman, you would think I would love Lolth. And I definitely do love the concept of Lolth in general... its just her presentation here that is incredibly underwhelming. Not much about her powers or abilities really stands out... she has normal spider stuff (spider webs), she can cast a bunch of spells, she can't be hit by most nonmagical weaponry. I honestly like the illustration at least, though I do think it isn't a black widow (the spider she is compared to in the text), and I do kinda wish it was more spiderlike. She just isn't that special sadly... but the concept of a demon spider elf woman is strong enough for me to give her a pretty good rating. I would reinterpret her for my games honestly. I probably wouldn't even have her be a monster you can just kill! Her being distant and imposing and truly supernatural would be much better.

The denzelian is just a new slime that eats rocks. The explanatory notes about their reproductive behaviors is interesting but really not that necessary. I always like having eggs and other animal bits be treasure, so that is a welcome addition, but I don't quite see much reason to use the denzelian in particular.

I feel the same about the new notes about devils as I do about the additional notes for demons. The talisman is the same as the amulet, there is a lot of stuff that is pretty unnecessary about damage types, I do kind of appreciate the notes about what happens when you kill a devil on the prime material plane, but really it isn't that interesting.

Styx Devil
Really underwhelming. The styx devil doesn't even really have much unique about it. I think they should have leaned more into styx devils kidnapping people to take them back to hell. I always like having combats that don't just automatically end with full death on one side or the other. But well, after noting that the styx devil will kidnap people to take to hell, they also say they sometimes just tour the material plane to kill all humans in their path. Boring.

Devil Dog
This is just a normal dog. No, not even that, a normal dog would be much more interesting. No, these are normal dogs that always want you dead and will not stop until that happens or they die. Awful. At least with a normal dog or wolf or hyena or what have you there are still nonviolent ways to get around them. But no, devil dogs "always jump for the throat". Their special powers are all things that a normal dog/wolf could very well have: knocking people unconscious on a "critical hit" and having howling/baying that causes fear. None of that is super natural in nature. Pretty sure if you get injured enough normally you get knocked out, and pretty sure people can be afraid of normal wolf howling anyway. Please just use a normal dog.

Dire Corby
I love these weirdos!! If I'm being completely honest, its just the image; I love love love the concept of these horrid birdmen running at you in the dark screeching DOOM DOOM DOOM!!! I don't like the note that they always attack and always fight to the death. I think that works well when used sparingly (I like OD&D and B/X berserkers despite them also always fighting and never checking morale), but personally I think that the dire corby would be better served without that little bit. The big thing that makes me think the perpetual fighting to the death should be scrapped is the note at the end of the description that there was once open warfare between them and giant bats, but that there is now an uneasy truce. That is such a fun detail! Players should be able to place themselves into the squabbles between the dire corbies and the giant bats over their caverns. Diplomacy would be so fun with these wacky guys. The drawing is super underwhelming though, I wish it was better.

One of the best monsters in the Folio, hands down. I definitely concur with the idea of "attack every part of the character sheet", and the disenchanter is a fantastic example of that. Just like the rust monster, the disenchanter targets player items, but instead of destroying iron armors or weapons, it saps the magic out of magical armor and weapons. It using a trunk to do that is fun, but if it feeds primarily on magic then why does it have a mouth too? On the one hand, it'd be fun if it had some kind of leech mouth on the end of the trunk that sucks up magic, on the other hand what if its mouth also has magic-sapping properties and its teeth can serve the same function? The note about nobody ever finding their lairs is a missed opportunity, I feel. Also, why no mention of the disenchanter having an effect on magic-users? What if every hit of the disenchanter's snout takes off one level of magic experience... that would be awful for players, but it would definitely be a unique challenge (albeit one similar to undead level drain). I would probably not have it take any of the other things the wizard gets for being a certain level, just the spellcasting.

The disenchanter originally features in the Fiend Factory column, with this delightfully emaciated drawing. I adore how the trunk ends with a growth almost like a vacuum cleaner, that's a lovely detail. The description is essentially the same, though Don Turnbull's editor commentary is absolutely beautiful: "I like to think it makes a vulgar slurping noise while in the process of eating enchantment, with perhaps even a soft and reverent belch if it particularly appreciates the quality of the magic it has just devoured." 

Okay, I know I've railed against using these monsters that are basically just slight variations on real life animals, but the doombat is that done well. I really like the barb-lined tail as an attack, and the utility of the loud sonar screech that makes it impossible to cast spells and makes to-hit worse but doesn't actually deal damage. I think more monsters should have combat abilities that don't just deal damage. Otherwise, this is kinda just the same as a normal giant bat.

Now the Fiend Factory doombat is rather interesting! Unlike the Folio doombat, the Factory doombat is an undead giant bat, and the lash of its barbed tail paralyzes you a la the touch of a ghoul. I have no clue why they completely dropped the undead angle in the transition to the Fiend Folio. An undead giant bat with a paralytic tail is much more interesting than a normal giant bat that just has a tail attack and a sonar shriek. If the Folio doombat was closer to this rendition, it would have five stars. This is a great monster!

Oriental Dragons
I was originally going to rate these all separately, but they're such a weird part of the fiend folio. As far as I can tell, none of them are based on actual Chinese legends except for the Shen Lung and T'ien Lung, which is uh definitely a point against them as a whole, since 2/3 of them are completely made up. I also find it especially strange since the gold dragon from the Monster Manual was based primarily on notable east Asian dragons like the tianlong. I think these would be much better if they were the default dragons in a setting at the very least. There is considerably more distinct between the different "oriental" dragon types present here than there are between the chromatic and metallic dragons of the Monster Manual, and they aren't so neatly divided between "good" and "evil" which is nice.

Here are some individual things about them that I like, just to be fair:
I really like that the Li Lung (earth dragon) has the ability to create earthquakes instead of having a breath weapon, and I definitely think that more dragons or otherwise large monsters should be unique powers like that instead of even more breath weapons. I like that the Lung Wang (sea dragon) demands tribute from travellers, it makes them feel like a folkloric hazard that has to be contended with rather than just a monster to fight. I like that no arthropod can ever go closer than 60' to the Shen Lung, I think that could be really interesting if bugs feature prominently in your games (which they often do in mine). I like that the T'ien Lung eats opals and pearls and that you can gain the favor of them by feeding them some of those gems. These are all really good things to give creatures, and as I said above, if these were the only dragons in a game, I think they would be fantastic creatures. But they are marred by not really cleaving close to legendary origins, featuring a lot of orientalization of east Asian culture, and being somewhat redundant with other dragons in AD&D.

An alright fish. Not really all that special. Personally, I wouldn't use it when there are real life animals that already pose a potential hazard to people passing through water. Lionfish with their extravagant barbs, cone snails with their venomous "sting", etc etc. I like having speculative fantasy ecosystems in D&D game worlds, but I really do think that you should ideally exhaust your options of real world animals before making up new ones. Real world biology will always be more interesting and have more touchstones for players than animals with little connection to reality!

Dune Stalker
I really don't like the dune stalker illustration. I've consistently skipped over this weird comic book looking fool when I've read through the Folio in the past, mostly entirely due to how underwhelming I find it to be. But the concept of an emaciated violent mutant humanoid that wanders the desert is incredible, as evidenced by how often creatures like that have featured in post apocalyptic science fiction. Its mode of attack is also really really cool: instead of attacking you with its claws (which you might think, given they are so sharp in the illustration), the dune stalker attacks with sonic vibrations, most intense when the mutant gives a "kiss of death", sending violent vibrations through the body by its lips making contact with skin. This weirdo wouldn't feel out of place in Gamma World, and I love it for that, even if the drawing is boring.

But wait, what's that? The dune stalker was one of the earliest Fiend Factory monsters? It technically even predates the Fiend Factory column? Well, let's get a good look at what it was like back then.

OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO MUCH. The dune stalker was the second monster ever published by Don Turnbull in White Dwarf, and this earlier illustration just exudes soooo much more character. It looks almost pitiful, so emaciated and malformed and with a look of shock or surprise on its face. Its teeth are black, almost like they are rotten. Its fingers seem to wriggle around in the air like they are desperately searching for something to wrap around. And not to mention that the beautiful frame that the drawing is placed in adds so much character too. The Factory description is really just a more barebones version of the Folio one; Fiend Factory mentions that magic-users create them, while the Folio just makes a reference to them being often summoned by evil magicians, the sonic vibration attack is still explained, etc. Personally, I would just make the dune stalker be a race of mutants who wander the wilderness, rather than something summoned by sorcerers, but that's just me I guess.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

King of Kings Session 4 After Action Report

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb
Rohm'Dann, level one cleric dedicated to Anzhalar, a local chthonic god of subterranean flame
Zana the Charlatan, level one magic-user

There was considerably less downtime action stuff at the start of this session, and in fact nobody did a real downtime action this time! Rohm'Daan and Kusa have been more focused on saving up drachmae to get lots of XP in one big go, and Zana was unable to do a downtime action at the start of the session since he sold those sketches at the end of the previous session. Zana did donate 40 drachmae to Ishthyromeda to try and cover the latter's carousing debts, which netted him 40 XP, but other than that and some stocking up on things like lantern fuel and sticks of incense not a whole lot happened at the start of the session.

After handling restocking and donating, the game got started!

The four adventurers convened on the house of their patron, Farzaneh Taburi, to discuss what they were going to investigate or otherwise pursue. They remembered the rumors of a ghost-haunted farmstead to the north and a farmstead filled with the sounds of digging to the north, and mentioned new things which they had heard: a blacksmith woman shared talk of wails in the northern foothills with Ishthyromeda, while a chthonic priestess mentioned a peace agreement being drawn between the bandits of the forest to the east. Out of a desire to consult with their superior, the group approached Farzaneh, asking her about anything she knows or would want them to pursue. She didn't have anything in particular, but mentioned that she would have to take a more significant cut of any treasure they get due to trade routes to the south being blocked by an upsurge in lizardmen and bandits. A number of the adventurers attributed the expansion of the lizards to Manchugo's destruction of the carvings on the ancient tomb.

With that in mind, the four decided to revisit the abandoned tomb of the dinosaur kings to the southwest, since it has thus far been the most lucrative source of treasure that they have visited. With that in mind, they departed from the city along the paved road to the south, splitting off to follow a footpath leading west. On that very footpath, as they approached the edge of the holy cedar forest, they saw four flitting things high in the sky.

courtesy Locheil

Flying high in the sky were four glorious Huma birds, their twin heads glowing in the late morning sun, their lionesque limbs never alighting upon the ground. The group kept their distance and took the time to draw the birds, with Zana sketching their beautiful visage and Kusa even drawing up sketches of a potential clay oil lamp in the shape of the birds. While watching them, Ishthyromeda describes a creature of her homeland, the wish-granting Calythiop.

Once the huma drawings were done, the group pushed on, reaching the cedar forest in short time. As they delved deeper into the wood, they found the path increasingly strewn with deer bones and other torn carcasses, and upon closer examination they find that the tooth marks closely resemble the teeth of the lizardmen. Kusa lights one of her sticks of incense to cover up the scent of the rotting flesh.

Along the winding forest path, they were approached by an inquisitive jet black jackal. Rohm'Daan threw one of the deer bones that he had picked up earlier, but the jackal did not go to grab it. Ishthyromeda readied a javelin, which caught the jackal's attention and prompted it to stand up on its hind legs, bringing its black snout to roughly face height. After a few moments of fearful confusion on the part of the four adventurers, the jackal smiled a wide human-toothed smile and greeted the travelers, before promptly turning inside out at the mouth to reveal a corpulent bright red humanoid form with three eyes and tusk-filled mouth.

courtesy Kusa's player, who can find over here

courtesy Locheil

The being (an ifrit to be precise) struck up a conversation with the group, revealing their name in the tongue of the people of this land to be Fire Eater. Fire Eater described the present difficulty that they have been contending with: the lizards which were previously nesting at the base of the mountain had expanded into the forest and the valleys (for what reason Fire Eater did not know), and with the rainstorms that had blown into the Dazur valley from the east the lizardmen had acquired a taste for cooked meat, and had been keeping fires first started by lightning strikes. Fire Eater, who has been vested with the protection of the southern reaches of the holy cedar forest by the Guardian of the Forest, wanted to get rid of these fire-loving lizards, but could not because he cannot bring harm upon any beast of the forest. And so, they reached out to the traveling adventurers for assistance.

Ultimately, three of the adventurers would make a deal with Fire Eater, with Kusa, Ishthyromeda, and Rohm'Daan stepping into a circle with the ifrit (Zana refused to make a deal with the spirit). Crawling out of the ground came four promise worms, little black things that mark a pact that has been made, dying only when the promise has been fulfilled. In exchange for their assistance, Fire Eater said that they would guide the adventurers to hidden sources of treasure in the forest, and would serve as their guide from then on for any traversing across the cedar forest they wished to do.

The four adventurers, who were familiar with the opening to the ancient tomb of the dinosaur kings at the top of the mountain, already had an idea of how to deal with the lizardmen: they would take one of the statues (which they knew to be filled with a thick stinking cloud of fog) and drop it on the lizard's nest from above. Fire Eater told them that the lizards had taken roost in a mountain pass to the south that had been filled with dirt as a result of a mudslide, and so the plan was put into motion. Before going up the mountain, Rohm'Daan searched the cave that the lizardmother was previously dwelling in, finding little scraps of metal, shiny acorns, and two uncut green gems in a pile of bones. The group moved up the mountain and ventured into the tomb to bring out two of the statues (grabbing a second one just in case the first one doesn't work), and tying them to the mule and draft horse brought by Zana and Ishthyromeda respectively. And with the statues ready, the group set up camp and went to sleep, with Fire Eater staying watch the entire night (since they need not sleep)

In the next morning, Fire Eater informed them that a mysterious man in sleeping robes made an attempt to kidnap Zana in the night. They said that the man was asleep the entire time, their eyes closed as they sleepwalked up to the group, and did not leave until they transformed into a plague of frogs, which prompted the mysterious man to walk away on the empty air as if it were a staircase. The four adventurers were rather perplexed and concerned by this to say the least, but it did not stop them from going through with their plan.

And so, following Fire Eater's guidance, they traversed the holy cedar forest and came upon the nest of the lizardmen, ensconced within a mudslide-filled mountain pass. Kusa and Rohm'Daan climbed up the rocky side of the mountain pass and pulled one of the statues up using a length of rope provided by Zana. They tied rope around the statue still in its wooden coffin and tied the other sides of the rope around their waists, to make sure that if their grip loosened it would not drop prematurely. Crawling slowly along the jagged rocks, they reached the vantage point, from which they could see the corpulent lizardmother poking her wide flat head out of her hole in the mudslide. The area was teeming with lizardmen, with a number of juvenile examples that had been born in the week or so since they were last in this area.

And so, they hoisted the coffin with statue up onto their shoulders and tossed it down, and with a loud crunching crash it landed in the muddy mountain pass. A moment of silence filled the air before the stinking purple cloud began to billow forth, much faster than it did in the ancient tomb just due to the presence of a warm summer wind. Chaos broke out, with the lizardmen frantically scrambling up the pile of half-wet earth or up the sides of the mountain pass, and the lizardmother herself crawling out from her hole to flee. In moments, they were all gone bar some sickly stragglers overwhelmed by the stench. Most had fled south, into the mountains and the desert beyond, with some fleeing back into the forest.

Kusa, Ishthyromeda, Rohm'Daan, and Zana reached into their pockets and found their glistening black promise worms wriggling in pain and then perishing, their promise now fulfilled.

courtesy Kusa's player

The two statue-tossers clambered down from atop the mountain and searched the wreckage of the statue, finding a golden amulet, which they presumed to be cursed, and bones strewn about. The other statue they acquired was still in good condition, but they broke it open to drain its foul gases out before returning to Tabur. Bidding Fire Eater farewell, they traversed the roads back to the city, upon reaching it they were forced to give tribute to the guards, who demanded the golden amulet. Paying the tariff of ancient gold, they entered Tabur and visited Farzaneh Taburi, presenting the statue, the sketches of huma birds, and the two uncut gems to her. She took one of the uncut gems and the sketches of the huma, and asked Kusa to make her schematics of a huma bird oil lamp into reality and give it to her. She also ordered the group to sell the ancient statue and give her three fourths of the money they receive... which ultimately turned out to be no money because Zana the Charlatan, the failed merchant who took care of selling the statue, was swindled out of his money! He was forced to give Farzaneh a portion of his own drachmae, but her suspicions have made her trust the group slightly less.

Treasure Acquired (After Tribute and Sales)
One uncut green gem (600 drachmae (150 drachmae for non-clerics, 135 for clerics))

Non-Treasure Experience Acquired
22 lizardmen with lizardmother (137 XP before Prime Requisite modification)

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

King of Kings Session 3 After Action Report

This session was last Friday but I didn't have much time to write about it until now, which is my bad honestly. With this session, King of Kings has now lasted longer than every other game I've run since the end of high school other than the 5e game I run for my housemates at college, and even then that game has only had a few sessions all in the same location. So basically, to put it succinctly, this session marks King of Kings as my most actually realized game in basically a year and a half or two years. That's pretty nice!

courtesy Locheil (this is Kusa's first session so I just thought I'd share the art of her! There is art of most all of the other characters too... might share those in a post in future I dunno, if Locheil's alright with that)

Dramatis Personae
Ghanum Babra, level one magic-user
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'Dann, level one cleric dedicated to Anzhalar, a local chthonic god of subterranean flame
Zana the Charlatan, level one magic-user

The session began with some time dedicated to performing downtime activities, since I finally got around to writing a player doc for things to spend money on and the group had some funds from the previous expedition. Since Kusa was a new (and very welcome!) addition, she wasn't able to take part in downtime activity expenditures, and Rohm'Daan chose to save up, although only after buying a little cloak for Skeleboy.

After freshing up some supplies (mostly light sources, since the previous expedition was defined by a rather small selection of light sources, but Ishthyromeda also bought a new horse and Zana a grappling hook), the four adventurers who were spending money on their downtime decided what they wanted to do. Babra donated all 88 drachmae in their possession to a private library in the city of Tabur. Ishthyromeda went carousing around the city, but overspent her meager funds and is now in debt for 376 drachmae and ended up insulting her party fellows, leaving her alone and sad enough that she received a penalty to all saving throws for the session. Manchugo went to the giant lizard races and bet 30 drachmae on the big blue reptile, but lost it all in the process, and also went around the market charitably buying up worthless little trinkets as a donation of 9 drachmae. Zana similarly bet on the races at the hippodrome, but his bets were of much better consideration and he got back double what he bet (24 drachmae).

I'm giving XP for treasure spent, so these downtime activities provided the characters with the following XP:
Ghanum Babra: 88 XP
Ishthyromeda: 64 XP (buying a horse provided them with XP because they are a nomad)
Manchugo: 42 XP
Zana: 13 XP

With those formalities and downtime activities taken care of, the group came together once again in the home of their patron to discuss their next expedition. Those present previously remembered rumors they had heard of a farmstead filled with the sounds of digging and a farmstead haunted by ghosts. They had also, however, heard tell of an ancient and long abandoned tomb of the perfidious dinosaur kings in the forested foothills to the southwest and talk of fears about the mindless and wild lizardmen overtaking the Dazur valley. After much discussion, the group decided to seek out the tomb of the dinosaur kings, following the paved road southward before splitting off to crawl along footpaths to the edge of the cedar forest in the west.

courtesy Locheil (also a very unique and interesting direction to take a lizardman in in my opinion)

After traveling for much of the day, the group came upon a nest of wild lizardmen roosting at the foot of the looming mountain peak. There were 22 of these creatures, with animal carcasses and torn furs strewn about the surrounding dusty ground. Zana immediately hailed the lizardmen in the foul tongue of chaos and untruth, but they bade him no heed. After some quick discussions among the group, they shifted from bearing weaponry to attempting to calmly approach the squamous humanoids. Manchugo placed his club on the ground and put a bowl filled with a mix of wine and cider before them, attracting a few down from their sunning rocks. In an attempt to communicate with the lizards, he began to draw in the dirt, only eliciting a reaction (and a rather fearful and negative one at that) when he drew toothsome dinosaur.

Warily, the group began to continue up the mountain path, Kusa having approached a small cave in the side of the mountain but finding that coming close to the opening brought loud hissing from the lizardmen she chose to not go further in that direction. She appeased some of the lizardmen with dropped rations, and the six adventurers traversed the rocky mountain path. While walking, Kusa began to share stories of her distant goddess. As they passed by some of the furs, Ishthyromeda considered taking some but held off for now.

courtesy Locheil

After only a short time, the group reached the opening of the tomb: a large stone gate carved with images of dinosaurs riding other dinosaurs flanked by rows of crumbling columns. Bringing out Skeleboy, they showed him the large looming carvings, which prompted him to cower almost in awe clad in his loose cloak. Manchugo, wishing to kill two birds with one stone, decided that in order to scare the lizardmen at the foot of the mountain away, he would make it seem like the tomb was cursed by bashing the carvings with his club (which he proceeded to do). To get a feel for what sort of creature would have had to build this place, the group attempted to push the large limestone gate, concluding that it would likely take the whole group to move it, or at least something with boundless strength.

The group entered the tomb and found themselves in a wide hall flanked on both sides by side rooms and with a large stone door at the other end. Each side room had within it a wooden coffin, and the large door at the end was held by a large slab of heavy grey stone held up by iron pegs. (For those familiar with OSR adventures, you might recognize this... let's just say some of my players did too! woops! but thankfully not all of them).

courtesy Locheil

Zana and Babra began taking sketches and rubbings of the carven designs of crowned dinosaurs riding other dinosaurs emblazoned on the door, only moments before Manchugo went bashing again. After this, Kusa and others went into one of the side rooms to examine a coffin, gently opening it to reveal a clay statue of a raptorial dinosaur clad in a loose robe within, a silver ring with a single sharp tooth on it stuck to its finger. Kusa attempted to slide the ring off using a bit of her lamp oil, but rather clumsily broke it off, revealing that the inside of the statue was filled with a thick purple fog that stank to high heaven. Fearfully, the entire group fled into the corridor and then back out, waiting out the stinking cloud as it slowly seeps into the hall.

Back outside, Kusa examined the ring and slid it onto her finger, which prompted her fingernail to quickly blacken and lengthen, splitting into two points glistening with an unnatural sweat. She tried to slide it off but found it too logistically difficult to pull beyond the split nail.

As the session began to draw to a close, the group decided to venture into the tomb one more time, using Babra's floating disc to drag the (now slightly damaged) raptor statue out and back to the city with them, using some of Kusa's strong smelling incense to keep them safe from the stinking gas. On their way back through the den of the lizardmen, Ishthyromeda decided to nab some of the furs to take back to Tabur.

Having returned to the city, the group came before their patron Farzaneh Taburi, the night sky already dark over the valley, placing the statue, the furs, and the sketches and rubbings of carvings on the platform before her. She took one third of the furs and demanded that the group sell the dinosaur statue and give her half of the funds in return. She also noted some... positivity regarding the information that the group seemingly dealt with the lizardmen, mentioning in passing that some of her associates had fears regarding them as well.

Treasure Acquired (After Tribute)
Furs torn from their wearers (value: 400 drachmae)
An ancient statue of a dinosaur king (value: 250 drachmae (the other 250 went to Farzaneh))
Rubbings of dinosaur carvings (value: 75 drachmae (although it is important to note that these were purchased by Jamshid, a former business partner and rival to Zana the Charlatan))

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Ten Things for Your Game Based on Archaeology

Archaeology Magazine is the only magazine I actually have a subscription for. As a student of history and religious studies and someone interested in the humanities and social sciences more generally, I just think it is good to stay up to date on discoveries and findings. Also, as a worldbuilder and TTRPG referee, I love to plumb things like that for cool ideas for games and settings. So hey, I had an idea when I got the January/February 2021 issue of Archaeology and saw that it featured an article with the top 10 archaeological discoveries of the year (along with an Additional top 10 archaeological discoveries of the previous decade more generally). I thought it could be a great idea to take those 10 archaeological discoveries from the past year that the AIA chose and make game content inspired (sometimes loosely, sometimes more closely) by them! So uh, here is that I guess!

Feline mummies from Saqqara

Eternal Tomb of the House of the Temple
(Discovery of large cache of priestly mummies in Saqqara, Egypt)
A slowly slanting tight shaft descends in the side of a cliff-face, a tomb from thousands of years ago dedicated to a longstanding (and now long forgotten) dynasty of high priests in the temple of a cat god. Roughly 60 mummified priests are entombed in the shaft, with each tomb marked with the priest's name and a long carven representation of the family line following the wall ever deeper into the rock. The oldest patriarchs of the family are toward the front of the shaft, while the younger priests are deeper in, due to the shaft being steadily expanded over the generations. Each little corpse-niche has statues of gods (both the cat god and a long forgotten god of death) and numerous mummified cats (some even having mummified lion cubs). The shaft is only wide enough to fit one person, who will likely have to squat in the tight area, and the deeper tombs of newer priests are protected by ever more sophisticated hazards, as the tomb builders grew more careful of tomb robbery since the shrines of the older priests were constantly being burgled.

Wand of Accurate Assessment of Age
(Development of new technique of radiocarbon dating by Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol)
Although called a wand, this device is actually in the shape of a handheld cuboid with a handle, made out of a black brittle material. It features a small dial that can be turned between two options, one marked with a small horizontal line and the other with an open eye, along with a crystal screen. When the dial is turned to the open eye, an eerie bluish glow emits from the front of the cuboid, and after a turn of being focused on an object it will return an accurate age in the form of a range of years in the past. This will only work on organic material or objects that have organic material in them; the wand is useless at detecting the age of stone bricks, although activating it to assess the age of something inorganic will still use a charge. It is very fragile, and if the character falls there is a 3 in 6 chance that it breaks.

The Family That Goes A-Viking Together Stays Together
(The largest ever study of viking DNA)
A regular presence in the seasonal raids of coastal settlements are the Olevs, a family of raiders who all accompany each other in crossing the sea for plunder. They are headed by Hrefgar Olev, a pale man with dark hair and dark eyes, and his shieldmaiden wife Siinna of the Land of the Elk. Their sons and daughters are a motley crew of warriors, all black of hair and of eye, and often they will bring a new daughter or son from their homeland on the seasonal voyage. The wife and husband and their older offspring are very experienced in the many rivers of the land, and often this family acts on its own separate from the other sea raiders. They have little respect for those who wantonly and cruelly kill, and may even be willing to ally themselves with locals depending on the circumstance. It is important to remember though: they are only a fleeting seasonal presence, and their family comes before all else.

Three Men Forced Together by Cruel Circumstance
(Discovery and detailed analysis of the remains of the first three African slaves in Mexico City)
The three men did not know each other in their now distant homeland, now together in the great city of the greatest and most terrible emperor in the world. This city floats on the lake like a lily pad, dominated by ancient temples and tombs and homes of the nobility, and the three men confusedly found this great city of the greatest and most terrible emperor to be ruled by a people very different from those who walk its streets and live in its homes. Under cover of the smoky night the three men speak in the tongue of their homeland, their sharp filed teeth and blinking eyes and gesturing hands the only things moving in the dark. They drew a plan to escape their master, that friar with the loose skin and the friends dressed like metal crabs, and dart off into the ruins in the hills on the shore of the lake. The three men, once strangers, are friends of cruel circumstance, in the ruins of a once great empire under metal clad foot.
A Hittite monument with Luwian hieroglyphs
(not the real stela of Hartapu though)

The City of Hartapu the Inconquerable
(The translation of a Luwian royal inscription in southern Turkey that points to an untouched Iron Age city)
There is a city that none can find. All that is known of it comes from the great pillars of its imposing king, stone stela declaring the victories and glories of Hartapu the Inconquerable, the Great King of a city he built by his own hand with the will of the gods. The countryside, the hills and mountains and plains and sands, is dotted with these markers of a tyrant long gone, pointing in their own ways to the site of the ancient city, said to be dominated by its glorious temple and the palace of Hartapu, supposedly made of basalt and gold. Hartapu's great wealth came from his conquest of a rich land to his north, and the city of his provenance was built on the backs of those conquered people... if the city is ever found and its buried streets ever plumbed, bones and coin alike would likely be found strewn about.

Shrine of the Wolf Brothers
(Discovery of a possible shrine to Romulus in Rome, at the site of his supposed death)
The ancient twin forefathers of the great city are interred in a small and unassuming shrine at the heart of town, right before the forum. As the city has grown and declined, this shrine has stayed much the same... its walls of rough hewn stone, its twin stone sarcophagi of the brothers of the wolf within, flanking the shrine proper. Arenas and hippodromes and grand bath houses have loomed large in the city, but today they are without attendant, without fanfare. Even the ancient forum is largely empty of the echoing argument which filled it in days long gone. And yet, the small shrine of the wolf brothers remains. Its red-robed attendant lights the fires and tends to the sarcophagi of the forefathers, forever on watch, forever one with the shrine. The great city is great no more, but its heart still beats.

The Bird of Desire
(A 13,500 year old sculpture of a song bird from Henan, China is the earliest work of 3D art from east Asia)
The small carven image of a bird, a songbird in vague outline alone, has exchanged hands innumerable times since it was first shaped by careful human hands in long forgotten days. It is not something one would expect to see in the gilded abode of a king, and yet it has been thus. The subtle curves of the bird's head, its wide tail feathers, its slightly slanted form of a foot, these little details draw the eye and draw the heart to them. None know who it was that made this bird, but all know who owned it before them, for its small pale shape exerted such a force upon their mind that they felt the compulsion to snatch it up. It is even said that a nomad king of the grasslands once killed his way across the heartland of empire to get the little thing in his grasp, returning home with only his very own horse as the rest of his men had lost their lives in the attempt. But, it is as they say: beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
An incised Mississippian shell ornament
(not from Dyar mound in Georgia, also not from the time period being discussed below lol)

Desperate Rites to Save That Which has Been Sundered
(An accurate re-dating of charcoal at Dyar mound in Georgia reveals that religious rites were maintained there long after the decline of the population from European diseases)
Plague has raged through the land for generations, with its true cause uncertain... the people of the valley to the west assert that it is the fault of the men in the silvery shell like a crab that brought it when they passed through their homeland years ago, but the priests upon the mound care not for causes, they care only for the cessation of suffering. They will continue the rites of the forefathers and the rituals of the woodland atop their mound, in desperate pleading attempts to appease the forces which bear down upon them, just as their fathers and mothers did and their fathers' fathers and mothers' mothers before them. The priests are open to anything to help bring an end to the suffering, but either way they will continue the burning of charcoal and the performing of the proper rites atop the mound.

A New Temple to the Gods, Built by Happy Hands
(The oldest and largest Maya ceremonial structure has been discovered in the state of Tabasco, Mexico, seemingly built without threat of force due to the lack of art depicting leadership figures)
The great priests of the stars above have determined themselves to the construction of the grandest temple yet, a temple which could very well be a town, a temple which will stretch away from the worshiper in neverending expanse. Eager to bring glory and beauty to the land, the people of the surrounding countryside and towns have set to work cutting rough stone blocks and great basketfuls of loose earth, a whole city of workers eagerly setting to work. One of the most prominent coordinators is a woman by the name of Itzamutul, her nose and lips pierced by colorful stones and clad in a grand garb, who studies the stars at night and coordinates the laying of stones and carving of statuary. She would be very open to receiving any kind of assistance that one could offer.

All Haile the Sygne of the Redd Lyon!
(Uncovering of the first permanent theatrical playhouse in London)
The Red Lion is a grand playhouse for actors of all types, where fine shows are put on and even finer sums are made on the art thereof! Its proprietor always takes a grand portion of all proceeds from performances, but mayhaps those prancing upon the stage may make some coin as well. This could very well be a place for adventurers and expeditionists to spend some coin or perhaps make some coin, experiences recounted upon the stage for all the see and hear and, perhaps, to pelt with fruit as well. The Red Lion is, unfortunately, constantly afearing of collapse for the uncertain and shoddy carpentry of its beams and construction, but the proceeds of performances are naught to allay those difficulties.