Saturday, May 29, 2021

Be a Good Listener. Encourage Others to Talk About Themselves.

 So you know how beholders are big spheres all covered with eyes? Well what if they were all ears!

This is just a monster that I'm writing for fun based on an idea that came to me a few days ago. I'm (probably) not gonna use it in King of Kings, so this isn't going to have any of the assumptions of that setting in it. Just a fun unique monster for old school roleplaying games!

Armor Class: 14
Hit Dice: 6
Attacks: 2 bonks (1d4) or 1 spell
To-Hit: +3
Saving Throws: D10/W11/P12/B13/S14
Morale: 6
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 500
Number Appearing: 1d3 (1d6)

Yeah I cut movement from this what of it? I'm not gonna bother with that stuff anymore.

Bonk: The only real mode of attack for the eavesdropper is a bonk from its hard but flexible trumpet. If the trumpet is torn off, the eavesdropper loses the ability to make melee attacks and must immediately make a morale check.
Flight: Eavesdroppers can fly with the use of their ear-wings. They cannot magically float, and must flap their wings to even remain in the air. This produces a noticeable noise similar to a canvas flapping in the wind.
Sound Sensitivity: The eavesdropper is sensitive to loud noises, being stunned for 1d4 rounds if it fails a save vs. paralysis when it hears a very loud sound (such as a cave-in, explosion, tyrannosaur roaring, etc)
Sound-Stealing: Eavesdroppers are unable to produce their own original sounds, and instead must steal sounds from others or from their environment. The eavesdropper can steal the words right out of a person's mouth as they are spoken. Eavesdroppers can steal any normal word, phrase, or sentence as it is spoken. If it is attempting to steal a magical spell as it is being cast, the spellcaster must make a save vs. spells to not lose the spell immediately. After stealing a sound, it can repeat it with complete perfect accuracy, as if it was just spoken or produced. Once it repeats a sound, it loses it forever.
Spellcasting: If the eavesdropper stole a spell, it is able to cast it. It must choose between casting a spell or bonking. There is a 2-in-6 chance that the eavesdropper has already acquired a spell. Determine spells acquired randomly.

Eavesdroppers are anxious and self-conscious little things no bigger than a barrel or the top half of a human body (torso+head), every inch of their spherical bodies covered in ears of various sizes. They are cursed with an inability to speak their mind or use their words, and must instead steal words from others in order to repeat them with perfect precision. This leaves them terribly depressed, feeling that they are unable to assert themselves or have any real independent thoughts, doubly so because each precious sound that they hear is immediately lost upon being repeated. The saddest of all eavesdroppers are those who dwell in cavern depths, incessantly repeating the dripping of water off of stalactites. Certain very clever eavesdroppers are able to piece together sentences from words and phrases they've heard, but since they lose each sound upon repeating it this is rather fleeting. They have beautiful minds filled with thoughts and ideas, and no way to express them.

Their ability to steal words, including the words of power that make up magical spells, makes them quite sought after by sorcerers and spymasters of all sorts. Since the eavesdropper is unable to say how it is feeling, however, these are mostly very unequal relations. A spymaster with an eavesdropper servant may keep it in a cage, while a heinous sorcerer may trap the eavesdropper in a box of complete silence. Kinder masters feed their eavesdroppers words for them to repeat, effectively giving their ear-slave the gift of speech. Most eavesdroppers don't like the situations they are forced into.

The young of an eavesdropper are called evenings, and appear as a complete smooth sphere of skin with two disproportionately large ears. They cannot yet fly, and crawl on the ground with their ears. Eavesdropper parents will often hide a nest somewhere they think is safe and return to give their young sounds to repeat in order to develop their noise-trumpets.

Here is a very quick doodle of one sleeping (since they have to flap their wings to fly, when they sleep they're just slumped over on the floor)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Steel on Steel and Blood on Blood!

 My foolhardy rules-tinkering knows no bounds! Or well, I guess actually it is pretty bounded, since I am just going to be re-examining something that has been examined innumerable times before by innumerable other referees and game designers: combat. 

I have set out to make a combat system that:
01: is no more complex than B/X combat already is
02: has simultaneous/descriptive initiative (this is the biggest change from how I'm used to running things, but I think it will be a change for the better)
03: has as many rolls as possible be player-facing (gotten really into player-facing rolls from the GLOG tbh)
04: has abstracted and simplified movement that doesn't require tracking distances (this is because on the one hand a lot of my games are run over the internet and on the other hand because I am awful at visualizing distances so just not bothering with it is better for me)

There are many posts that inspired this one, too many to link individually, though I would like to thank the fine post-writers over at METAL vs SKIN, Spells and Steel, Goblin Punch, Alone in the Labyrinth, and innumerable people I know via the OSR discord who helped me in discussions about this, especially Retired Adventurer, CosmicOrrery, Archon's Court, and kahva. Very likely I've forgotten some people, sorry about that if I have!

I've taken too long to actually get to the combat rules stuff so here it is


Let's take a look at this step by step using a made up random encounter to illustrate. Skip to the section titled IN SUMMARY for a more succinct description.

An adventuring party of two fighters, a thief, a cleric, and the cleric's henchman come across four pigmen wandering the halls of some abandoned cellar, one of them astride a stinking manpig. It would take 2 rounds for one party moving in to close the distance, and the pigmen are doing just that! At the table, the referee rolled a hostile reaction for the pigmen, who noticed the adventurers by their torchlight. The adventurers cannot see anything just yet, but they hear movement in the darkness and smell the dripping spit of the manpig as it approaches. The players succeeded their roll to see if they would be surprised.

So far this mostly works like a B/X encounter normally does! Notice the switch from rolling the exact distance that the monsters are encountered at to rolling the number of rounds it takes to close the distance. Since we will not be tracking distances elsewhere in combat, I figured that an easy abstraction would be to just roll how long it would take for the players, the monsters, or both to close in. Then, it becomes a binary choice: do you move in to engage in combat, or move away to avoid a fight? There are of course other alternatives, but those would be situational and don't have to be detailed here. The way this is determined depends on the location:
Dungeon/Underground: 1d4 rounds to close in.
Wilderness: 3d6 rounds to close in.

A rambunctious pigman, upon rushing closer to the group for a round, throws a rock at one of the fighters, who is holding a torch. The fighter's player makes a saving throw vs. dragon breath, and fails. They are hit on the head with the rock, taking 2 points of damage.

Like I said above, as many rolls as possible are made player-facing. Rather than the pigman making an attack roll to hit the fighter with their rock, the fighter makes a saving throw to not get hit. Didn't help them much here though; they got hit anyway!

By the time the four pigmen come within the light of the torches, the adventurers are ready. The referee describes the situation to them: a pigman with a tangled mess of teeth holds another rock in their hands, while a pigman with one eye missing approaches the fighter that was hit by the rock, a sword in hand. The pigman astride the manpig rushes toward the cleric, while another pigman wielding a flail approaches the other fighter. Each player describes what they are doing in response: the already hit fighter defends themself from the sword-wielding pigman, the other fighter engages the flail-wielding pigman, the cleric and their henchman defend from the pigman astride the manpig, and the thief dashes in to strike the sword-wielding pigman while distracted by the fighter.

Here is where things start to look more and more different from B/X. Combat is handled with simultaneous initiative: the referee describes a starting situation, the players describe their reaction to that situation, and each response is handled one by one. A round finishes once all of these are resolved.

The fighter who wasn't struck by the rock is wielding a short sword and a wicker shield, and is engaged in melee with the pigman wielding a flail. The fighter rolls 1d20+2; this is the combat roll, it is modified by +2 because of the fighter's level (they are level 1, so they add +1 to their rolls) and because they are carrying a wicker shield (which adds an additional +1). They roll an 8, which is a failing roll, so the referee rolls 1d6 for the pigman's flail: 3 damage is rolled, which would halve the fighter's HP, but they are wearing cloth armor that lessens it by 1 point.

With monsters no longer having a dedicated turn in combat that they do their actions on, and with as many rolls as possible being player-facing, I decided to combine monster and player attack/to-hit rolls into one single roll that the player makes every round they are engaged in melee. The player rolls 1d20+combat bonus (your combat bonus is based on your class, level, and possibly also certain items you are using) with the referee comparing it to the monster's combat score. On a success the player rolls damage dealt to the monster, on a failure the referee rolls damage dealt to the player. Armor worn by a character is damage reduction. The combat roll functions this way as an abstraction of offensive hits and defensive parries in aggregate, with the ultimate result of each round of fighting coming out at the end.

That armor doesn't look very protective young lady! I would be inclined to grant a bonus to damage for wearing that!

The other fighter (the one who got hit by a rock earlier) and the thief are engaged in melee with the sword-wielding pigman. The pigman is focused on the fighter, although they do notice the thief slipping behind them out of the edge of the torchlight. The fighter rolls 1d20+1, rolling a 19, which is a success! In addition, since the majority of their attention is focused on the fighter, the thief is able to stab them with a knife, automatically dealing damage. The pigman collapses to the ground from their injuries.

A creature/character with only one attack per round simply does not have the capability to keep attention on multiple opponents at once. As a result, if another combatant attacks the "distracted" opponent, that combatant's attack automatically deals damage. In a sense, this is an abstracted way to handle that flanking that "tactical" combat in games like 3e and 5e like so much. Notice however that this did not give the thief the opportunity for a sneak attack; the pigman was fully aware of the thief, but couldn't risk turning to defend from them since they were already defending from the fighter.

The cleric and their henchman are engaged in combat with the pigman and its manpig mount. This is a dangerous situation for the cleric: they have to contend with two melee combatants, as well as a very likely thrown rock from the other pigman. The cleric's player asks if it would be possible for their henchman to distract the pigman so that they could turn the unclean manpig and force the mount and rider to flee. The referee gives the a-okay to that plan, but includes a difficult cost: the henchman will automatically take damage and the player must make a save vs. poison or their henchman contracts a horrid disease from the manpig's bite. The cleric player succeeds on the saving throw, but the henchman ends up taking 6 points of damage and collapses to the ground. In the interim, however, the cleric succeeds on the turn unclean roll, forcing the manpig to flee with its rider in tow. The referee makes a morale check for the other pigmen, resulting in them fleeing, but not before the one wielding a rock throws it at the cleric. They fail their save and take 4 points of damage.

After just one round the combat is over. Morale works just the same as in B/X, since it is by far my favorite aspect of that system's encounter rules. I included the bits about the cleric's player discussing with the referee to show that this combat rework is just as flexible as normal OSR play, with everything coming about as agreement between players and referee, and DM adjudication. 

Distances are not tracked in absolute numbers. Whether you are able to engage with a given creature is entirely based on relative, narrative-based description. Initiative is simultaneous, rather than going in turns.

To-hit rolls, AC, and monster saving throws have all been scrapped. Instead, players make combat rolls that represent all aspects of a fight in a round, defensive and offensive. If they succeed in a combat roll against a monster's static combat score, they deal damage; if they fail, the monster deals damage to them. Characters have a bonus to their combat rolls based on their level, their class, and items/hirelings they may have. Armor is damage reduction, and players make saving throws for non-player characters/monsters, as well as making saving throws to avoid being hit by ranged attacks, rather than the monster rolling to hit them with the ranged attack. Characters/monsters can only engage with as many combatants as they have attacks per round; any creatures attacking them in excess automatically deal damage.

01: (if applicable/at beginning of combat) Roll for surprise. During the surprise round, whichever side has surprise can act unopposed (attacks automatically deal damage).
02: Referee describes the situation at the start of the round to the players.
03: Players discuss among themselves and communicate to the referee how they respond.
04: Non-melee actions are resolved first. Spells, retreats, missile attacks. (these are resolved first so that monsters can respond to them if possible. this didn't happen in the example above but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen).
05: Melee combat is resolved.
06: Check morale when applicable. If monsters or players do not flee, return to step 2.

Martial Classes: Equal to level. Example: Fighter, Berserker.
Semi-Martial Classes: Half level, rounded up. Example: Wrestler, Ranger.
Semi-Combatant Classes: Half level, rounded down. Example: Cleric, Thief.
Non-Combatant Classes: 0 at level 1, +1 every level after. Example: Magic-User.

DEX modifies melee combat rolls. INT modifies missile attack rolls. STR modifies all damage rolls.

Wielding a side-arm along with a one-handed weapon provides a +1 to a combat roll. Think a parrying dagger or swordbreaker. On a critical hit, deal the damage of the sidearm in addition to the maximum damage of your primary weapon.

Carrying a shield with a one-handed weapon provides a bonus to the combat roll. +1 for a wicker shield, +2 for wood or metal. The player can choose to sacrifice their shield to negate all damage taken (a la SHIELDS SHALL BE SPLINTERED).

Henchmen (defined here as retainers that typically engage in combat) provide a bonus to the attack roll of whoever they are helping equal to half their HD/level, rounded up if a more fighty-type character, rounded down if a less fighty-type character.

Armor is damage reduction. Damage dealt can not go below 1 point from armor.

No armor, normal clothing: 0 armor
Cloth/padded armor, leather, animal skins: 1 armor
Mail: 2 armor
Plate and mail: 4 armor

Reach weapons (such as spears, polearms) stop their opponent from effectively responding. The player still rolls (when both on the receiving end of the polearm or they are the one wielding it themself), but the one not wielding a reach weapon never deals damage to the one that is wielding it. If both parties are wielding spears/polearms, combat works as normal, with some risk of the polearms getting caught up on one another and falling to the floor.

Being slow in combat (either from encumbrance or wielding a slow two-handed type weapon) leaves you open to attacks even when attacking. If engaged in combat with a faster opponent (i.e. one that isn't encumbered and isn't wielding a slow weapon), they always deal damage to you even if you succeed on the combat roll. If you succeed, for instance, they deal damage to you and you deal damage to them. Two opponents that both wield slow weapons fight as normal.

Sneak attacks automatically hit, none of this "+4 to-hit" stuff, if your opponent is actually unaware that you are attacking then you always hit with the sole exception of if some extraneous circumstance stops you from doing so. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Toward a More Perfect Statblock: Second Edition

 So it's been a while since the last time I did one of my examinations of D&D monster statblocks! The first (and thus far only) one was... by Jove, six whole months ago! Go check that out if you want my preliminary thoughts on a) why I'm even looking at different monster stat presentations in the first place and b) my thoughts on the presentation that OD&D, the Basic line, and AD&D 1e go for. Today though we're just gonna be looking at how monsters were presented in AD&D 2e, and whether there is anything worthwhile to glean from them.

Like I mentioned in the previous post, I'll be using the owlbear as the stat block of choice, since it appears in every single edition of the game. Here is the owlbear from the AD&D Monstrous Manual from 1994!

Aw jeeze... that sure just ratchets up the density that I didn't like about the 1e presentation. Uhhhh but first, some general comments!

AD&D 2e standardizes the structure of monster entries like no previous edition has. Each monster takes at least one full page, with only very few prominent monsters or types of monsters having more than that (like dragons, giants, beholders, etc). The monster description is no longer a mostly free form paragraph that includes both gameplay information and description/lore; instead, the description is cordoned off into four distinct sections: an opening short description, a combat section, a "habitat/society" section, and an ecology section. AD&D 2e definitely leaned into naturalism with its monsters. Also, every single monster has an illustration, which I for one really appreciate if for no reason other than I just love monster art. A lot of the art in the Monstrous Manual is from Tony Diterlizzi, who for me is the face of AD&D 2e, for both his part in the Planescape setting and his monster art in general.

Also, not really related to the discussion at hand, but the page directly opposite this owlbear from Diterlizzi (which I am sorry to say is not one the better illustrations of the beast) is one of my favorite monster illustrations for D&D ever.

Tony Diterlizzi's otyugh illustration is the best drawing that that creature has ever had, and you can't change my mind!! It's just so full of personality, so scuzzy and gross but with a kind of puppy-like cuteness. Just love it! That's the power of an illustration; it really does say a thousand words.

But yeah back to the descriptions. These sections are mostly there to fill space, if I'm being completely honest. I don't think the reader really needs to be told that owlbears "inhabit the depths of tangled forests in temperate climes, as well as subterranean labyrinths, living in caves or hollow stumps." It's just a wordy jumble that says what the DM reader already knew: owlbears live in forests because that's where owls and bears live, but also I can just put them in my dungeon because I want to. It's not exactly rocket science to come to that conclusion. Most of the descriptions in 2e were like this, and while there are for sure interesting elements buried in those verbose paragraphs, for the most part much of the information isn't useful. I wouldn't even say it makes for good reading since a lot of it isn't very conceptually dense. This isn't me saying its worthless though! I have a copy of the Monstrous Manual and I love reading it and perusing it. I just don't think its the most economical use of space.

The ultimate reason why monster descriptions were formatted like this is because of the shift in how AD&D 2e brought its monsters to the plucky monster-loving DM. Rather than publishing a Monster Manual with the release of the edition, they chose to release "Monstrous Compendiums" that were collections of loose leaf paper that you would put into a binder. The Monstrous Manual I've been referencing was published later, and just brought a few of those Compendiums into one hard-cover book. The idea behind these Compendiums was that the DM would be able to pick and choose which monsters they needed or wanted, and then just put those into their own personal little bestiary in their game binder. The only problem with this is that each page was printed on both sides with a monster each, so it was a tad impractical to put only the monsters you wanted or needed in there. In reality, I'm fairly certain that this was a plan by TSR to cut costs and sell more monsters; it's why they produced dozens of Monstrous Compendiums, many of them associated with TSR's new campaign settings. Born at the confluence of corporate cost-cutting/profit-seeking and a presentation of making monster selection better for the DM, 2e AD&D produced monster presentation that was... relatively sterile and static.

How about we take a look at the stat block itself?

Just like with the text descriptions, 2e separates the stat block into two distinct sections. The former is mostly environmental/ecological information, while the latter is combat information. I actually... rather like this. I don't think the environmental information should be at the top since it isn't important for me to reference that owlbears live in temperate forests when I'm actively running the game, but I don't think it is a bad addition! To me, it evokes an RPG bestiary as a kind of field guide, providing quick information for a traveler or perhaps even a dungeon delver. I like blurring the distinction between an in-universe object and a game object. 

A number of the somewhat problematic entries on previous stat blocks have been moved to this section: frequency, intelligence, treasure type, and alignment. I still don't think frequency is at all important, and I stand by thinking treasure type is a confusing presentation of an important concept, but otherwise I think it was a good choice to move those to this first section. The other elements of the opening section all relate to the ecology of the creature: climate/terrain, organization, activity cycle, and diet. I think some of these are more useful than others. Climate/terrain is probably the least useful. It either presents information that is obvious or reiterates information that would already be known from where the creature is appearing, its inclusion in random encounter tables, or whatever is mentioned in the description. Activity cycle is... a very interesting choice, and one that I would be tempted to include. It wouldn't be necessary for all creatures, but noting that a given creature is diurnal or nocturnal etc etc could be very interesting! You could easily make that relevant to the players by tying their activity cycle to whether or not they are in their lair or by giving penalties to creatures that have been awake too long. I just don't think that needs to be codified for every creature.

Organization and diet are the most useful of the new additions, in my opinion. Diet I am a little uncertain on, since oftentimes it can be easily gleaned from description or intuition, but I think it could be useful to note what a given creature eats, if only for that good ol' verisimilitude and for reference for whenever players attempt food-related interactions with creatures (which has happened a not insignificant amount of times in my games). Organization is the most useful in my opinion, but I don't think it should be presented like that. Please just roll it up into Number Appearing, it means literally the same thing. Or well, it would if you actually based the number appearing entry on anything. The 2e owlbear says that their organization is as a pack, but then the number appearing is 1 unless they are in a lair. A lone predator does not a pack make! I think if I were to include organization at all, it would be on the number appearing line to provide more concise information for why that is the number appearing.

The rest of the stat block is mostly the same as the previous editions, just with some reordering. XP has been included like in the BECMI line, which is useful (though I am increasingly interested in scrapping XP for monsters and just having it be treasure if I'm completely honest), and... oh my gosh the mad men they finally did it. They actually put Morale on the monster stat block! I really harped on morale being included when I made my last post, mostly just because I think it is the most important part of old school style combat, so I was appalled when 1e AD&D didn't include it in monster entries. Or well, not appalled, because I already knew that that was the case just... it makes the 1e stat blocks really bad for reference. Oh also technically THAC0 is a new addition in the 2e stat block, which does make combat easier than the flipping back and forth that previous editions had, but I don't use THAC0 so I don't feel much of then need to comment on it /shrug

In conclusion:
AD&D 2e went really far into how much they can try and cram into a single page of monster information. Most of it isn't very useful, or reiterates stuff that is mentioned elsewhere, or can be easily inferred without needing to be stated. However, I think including ecological information is useful, fun, and brings an element of verisimilitude! I would be more exacting about what ecological information I include, but I would be inclined to include it. I appreciate the descriptive terms for entries like Morale and Intelligence, and I would be inclined to include descriptive terms for things like those in my own ideal stat block. Also I think there are interesting lessons to learn from the strange attempt a new format for monsters that was the Monstrous Compendiums; there are definitely more interesting directions to take an RPG bestiary than just a big book full of big stat blocks, long descriptions, and drawings.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

On Assassins, Geckos, and Leprosy

My very bad and scribbly attempts at drawing examples of Eggsmen in their cloaks, hats, and masks.

The city of Humakuyun is home to the headquarters of the Order of the Egg, the most extensive such organization in the whole of the Enlightened Empire. They are sanctioned murderers, a clan of criminals given a wide berth here in the east. The only person they fear is the Kanarang; not even the King of Kings himself scares them. They make themselves identifiable with tall flat-topped hats and wear masks that hide their true identities. They give themselves new names, for their old names are forfeit when they take their first blood.
An oviraptor, the symbol of the Eggsmen

The Eggsmen have a crest in the form of a oviraptor clutching to a clutch of cracked eggs. They were founded centuries ago as a raptorial clan in the realms of the ancient Dinosaur Kings, granted official license to keep rival family lines in check and regulate the law of death by bringing all assassination into one association. Only their clan could kill with impunity; the only other given that right were the armies of the Dinosaur Kings themselves. When the Conquering King marched his armies into the northern valleys, the raptor assassin clan saw the writing on the wall and betrayed their lords. The Eggsmen sent messengers with missives to kill the Conquering King back to their senders, their eyes torn from their sockets.

In the generations since, the clan has become a secret society, one that accepts initiates of all peoples and nations. Its saurian leadership has receded into the secretive depths of its most exclusive circles, while its network has expanded to reach far north, south, and east. The Enlightened Empire, otherwise opposed to such criminal networks, has allowed the Eggsmen to continue to operate solely because of their reach, influence, and... usefulness.

It is rumored that the patriarch of the Eggsmen is still a dinosaur, wrapped up tight in linens and silks, their sharp-toothed snout peeking out from behind the curtains that only the grandest of guests or the deepest of initiates get to see.

The assassins of the west resent the Eggsmen for having state sanction and for their influence. It is not uncommon for western assassins to try and steal Egg secrets for their own gain, or try to take out high-ranking Eggsmen... the reach of the westerners is fleeting and clamoring, however.

Source: Iguanamouth, A Book of Creatures

A favored weapon of the assassins is the humble gecko. Geckos, especially the ones from the shores of the southern seas, spread leprosy. Their wrinkly skin festers with disease, and reminds fearful hearts of the melting of their own skin. The assassin releases the lizard into their target's chambers, and leaves it to fate. It is a slow and painful death, but one that gives the assassin many options. They can kill the target while they are at their weakest, leave them to fester alone, or push for their exile to a leper colony across the mountains. A social death is still a death, after all.

Coming into physical contact with a transmitter of leprosy prompts a save vs. disease (poison). You must make this save for every potential vector if in contact with multiple (for instance, multiple geckos). On a failed save, you have contracted the disease. It takes 1d4 weeks to begin to show effects; after that amount of time, you take 1d2 points of damage to CHA and CON per week, and -1 to save vs disease/poison per week. You are also able to transmit the disease yourself. Cure disease only cures one week of leprosy; it takes serious intervention to heal the disease.

(Hex 19,15)
Terrain: Rocky arid wasteland in a wide valley between looming mountain peaks.
Main Feature: A quarantined leper colony, connected to the satrapy to the north by only a few isolated mountain paths. Its ostensible head is a long gone leprous priest named Zurva Baba, his tattered robes eroded down by desert wind. They have small gardens on the edge of the isolated oasis they cling to.
East: Camel graveyard. Home of a desert hermit who despises the leper colony nearby. Haunted by disembodied screeching at night.

(Hex 15,10)
Terrain: A hilly and rugged land coated in a consistent covering of deciduous trees.
Main Feature: An abandoned village, only recently depopulated by disease. Its houses still stand, empty and forlorn. It is crawling with geckos, coating just about every surface. The statue of the goddess of the morning star that sits in the town's shrine has an angry look about it, deprived of sacrifices for several months.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Nume-serpent (A Monster for King of Kings)

Just a nice little monster for today... a bit of creative block has me caught between different ideas right now, but I've had adapting this little guy to King of Kings on my mind for a week or two. I say "adapting" because this is a new version of a monster I came up with for a setting years ago, a design that has stuck with me for quite some time. Also this post features some of my own art!

To the east there sits the march of Numistan, the Land of Coins. A mountainous and looming land, it is bisected by the domain of the King of Kings of the Enlightened Empire on the western flank and the kingdom of the southern Dog-Headed Men on the eastern flank. Its rocky outcroppings are rich with gold and silver, and lapis lazuli to boot, and so the mountain valleys have been fought over by enemy empires and feuding kings over the centuries. Its air is filled with the smoke of burning villages and coin mints. Great statues carved into the sides of mountains gaze across the horizon like blind gods. Ancient cities reborn with every conquest sit in isolated mountain valleys, their walls bedecked with rugs.

In the valleys of Numistan, there dwells a creature called the Nume-serpent. This furry little worm has a single eye which rolls around in its socket as it wriggles in the dirt and hides in the tall grasses. They can imitate sounds to trick their prey (mostly rodents and insects), and sometimes have been known to mimic the sounds of the hammers that bend the coins into shape, or the crackling of fire, or misunderstood snippets of speech they hear on the edges of human settlements. Nume-serpents despise gold and all things that hoard gold (whether greedy men, hungry ants, or magpie gryphons). They seem to panic whenever they see the glittering stuff, and are known to bury coins or chunks of gold in a desperate attempt to stop anything from finding it. Seekers after gold who travel through Numistan say that the surest way to find the glittering stuff is to see where the nume-serpents are not, or where they flee from in disgust. The nume-serpent is an anxious little thing.

The nume-serpent is sometimes kept as a pet. The merchants of the mountain passes and the desert roads bring forth their caged nume-serpent to see whether coin is true gold or not; if a coin is a forgery, the nume-serpent will likely curl around it rather than flee in terror. The nobles of the lands west of Numistan find the little creatures a fun novelty. They wear them draped on their shoulders as living stoles, and teach them silly little phrases to show off their mimicry, and put them in silly little hats. The serpents likely resent this. Spies and assassins keep nume-serpents for their weak venom. It is not a deadly nor paralytic venom; it simply weakens one's muscles slowly.

Armor Class: 11
Hit Dice: 1-1
Attacks: 1 x bite (1d6 + weakening venom)
To-Hit: +0
Movement: 90' (30')
Saving Throws: D12/W13/P14/B15/S16
Morale: 4
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 7
Number Appearing: 1d6 (2d6)

Atrophy Venom: The venomous fangs of the nume-serpent secrete a soft venom that weakens muscles. If successfully hit, save vs paralysis or take -1 to all rolls that involve physical exertion. Take an additional -1 every subsequent turn.
Aversion to Gold: When presented with gold in any form, the nume-serpent will attempt to flee or hide. If gold is presented with no other creatures around, the nume-serpent will attempt to bury it. 
Mimicry: Nume-serpents are able to imitate with incredible accuracy any sound that they hear. The imitation is made more accurate just by listening to the sound repeatedly.

The nume-serpent is a new rendition of a creature concept I came up with for one of my earliest D&D worlds. At the time I called it a gnomesnake, and it was a venomous one-eyed furry serpent wearing a gnome hat, intelligent and living in small villages in tall grasses. These are admittedly less intelligent than the original version, but I think the concept here is made even more interesting by the connection to gold and such... In my mind, the gnomesnake, now nume-serpent, is an iconic creature of mine, at least to me. I'm happy to have them in King of Kings; the first time I've used them since at least five years ago.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Too Much of a Good Thing (A Monster for King of Kings)

The alchemists of the First City, capital of the Enlightened Empire, have isolated the components of air. A foolish endeavor in the eyes of just about everyone else, nobody trusts them when they talk about such abstract notions as "oxygen" and "nitrogen", though there are rumors that agents in service of the Gnostic Elves are seeking out such treatises. It is common knowledge that air is simply a firmament through which the light of the holy blessed God travels. The alchemists are surely wrong.

In the antediluvian days, when the Sea Tyrants held sway over the whole of the world, they would poison the air and the water through mysterious means. Even to this day, there are patches of earth strangled by forgotten machinations, with no plant life clinging to the skeletal dusty dirt. Only the most learned scholars are aware of this fact and who did it.

Nobody knows how.

Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 10 hp (mobile form) or 30 hp (sessile form)
Attacks: see below
To-Hit: N/A
Movement: 12' (4')
Saving Throws: D8/W9/P10/B10/S12
Morale: 12
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 100
Number Appearing: 2d6 (in mobile form unless otherwise specified)

Damage Resistance: Oxygenators take half damage from all bludgeoning weapons and all non-magical slashing and stabbing weapons.
Damage Weakness: Oxygenators take double damage from fire. They are weak to certain salves and rubs.
Hyperoxia: Oxygenators produce excessive amounts of oxygen, causing oxygen poisoning. Oxygen poisoning only begins to take effect if the oxygenators are in a small contained area or in direct contact with an air-breathing subject. For every turn (when in a contained space) or every round (when in direct contact), make a save vs. poison. Track how many failed saves have been made by each air-breathing subject in the area:
1: nausea and confusion (-1 to all rolls (incl. saves))
2: tunnel vision (-1 to attack rolls (-2 including the above penalty) and AC)
3: drowsiness (-1 to all rolls (incl. saves))
4: convulsions (disadvantage on attack rolls, half movement)
5: uncontrollable vomiting (cannot take any actions other than moving)
6: fall unconscious
7: amnesia (lose a level)
8: instant death
Mobility: Oxygenators can alternate between a slow oozelike mobile form and a sessile form in the appearance of a lumpy column. They cannot move when in the sessile form. It has a much lower HP amount in the mobile form, and any damage sustained in mobile form is maintained when it transforms into its sessile state. It will automatically switch to its sessile form if it reaches 2 HP. They are especially dangerous in the mobile form, since they can crawl onto the faces of air-breathing creatures to accelerate the process of hyperoxia.

The mobile form might look more or less like good ol' fashioned green slime (though more mobile so its not just doomed to dripping)

Okay breaking the whole in-character style of the beginning of this post to talk about what this thing actually is. The oxygenator is a colony of oxygenating bacteria held in a matrix of green algae and animated by sea tyrant sorcery. It was developed as a weapon of war during the incessant skirmishing between rival fish lords. Hyperoxia and oxygen poisoning are real conditions that were one of the largest inspirations behind this creature, and the effects of the failed saving throws are based directly on actual symptoms of oxygen poisoning (though usually it takes you longer than 80 minutes to die from it lol). This actually isn't the first time this creature has appeared in my game worlds; The World With No Name, which is the setting that I ran my games in in high school, featured an antediluvian empire of Cambrian overlords who used these bacterial beasts to make areas inhabitable in a nearly oxygen-less world. There are still Cambrian influences on the Sea Tyrants in King of Kings, but they're primarily Devonian and Carboniferous in inspiration, so turned the original purpose behind this thing's creation to one more suitable to the more developed/evolved antediluvian overlords. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Dog Who Speaks Softly and the Woman Who Barks Like a Dog


The Dog-Headed Men of the barbarian north feast on the flesh of their fellow men. They go hunting with their spears and lances, pouring forth on horseback to slay woman, man, eunuch, and child. The naked bodies slung over their mounts, their packs full of stolen silver, they return to their homes in the wilderness. The nomad Dog-Men wear necklaces of human teeth and spheres of silver. They take perverse pleasure in desecrating the idols of the gods of the Enlightened Empire's Good Religion. In the east, the Dog-Headed Men of generations past seized the lands beyond the Empire and formed their own kingdom, at the crossroads of west and east. The Dog-Headed Men of this land do not act so wildly, but instead keep their fellow man in outdoor preserves and cook them up in high brow ways. The eastern Dog-Men wear gold and rich silks and long gloves that reach up to their elbows.

The fire-priests of the Good Religion use the Dog-Headed Men as a moralistic example of what not to do. Their cannibalism is a most heinous sin, and one which suffuses their whole bodies with uncleanliness, but they are not unclean by nature. Humans are never unclean by nature. Rather, the Dog-Headed Men worship daevas and sully their holy form with cannibalism. The mobads refuse any Dog-Man who does not abandon meat for the flesh of fish and flora (the life furthest from manflesh in all respects). 

It is a well-known fact that the gaze of a dog dispels unclean spirits. The Dog-Headed Men despise dogs (the mobads say because the demons riding on their backs fear the dog's gaze, the Dog-Men say because domesticated dogs are just disgusting and uncanny). When descending on a town, they bash the heads in of the people's hounds and leave their bodies to rot. They fear and hate wolves as well, culling them in the wilderness and sacrifice them in mass pyres and ashen burials. 

The Dog Who Speaks Softly
In the city of Humakuyun, the port of the north, there dwells a lone Dog-Headed man. His new name is Pesir Khub, and he hates to hear his old name. He wears his hair cropped close to his head, and is clad in a green cloak that descends over his whole body. He lives with a local wife (a woman without a dog's head named Somayeh), and has a single daughter (Elnaz) cursed with dog-headedness. He despairs over his daughter's already present taste for flesh.

Pesir Khub moved to Humakuyun from a town on the borderlands with the barbarian north. He was member of a group of Dog-Men who bowed before the governing authority there and took part in the rituals of the local shrine, abandoning their ways. Taken into the employ of the temple, he traveled to Humakuyun with an entourage of similarly converted Dog-Headed Men (although he kept with him a wooden idol of a Dog-Man god, stained red from soaked blood). On the way there, his companions were attacked by bandits and slaughtered, leaving him and a young temple functionary to flee across the wilderness to the port city. He was the first Dog-Headed Man to live in Humakuyun for some time (there were several Dog-Headed Women there when he arrived), and he disavowed bloodshed for the second time in his life. He had his canines removed so that he may never again puncture the arteries of a man, and for this reason he speaks with a lisp, and mutters quietly to avoid barking brashly as the Dog-Men do. He is ashamed of who he is. He keeps a pale greyhound to keep himself beneath its baleful gaze.

One day, he returned home to find his daughter gnawing on a bird. She took to crawling around on all fours and snatching at flitting insects and crawling lizards with her gnashing teeth. She still has the canine fangs her father tore from his mouth. She is sixteen years of age now, and sneaks out at night to do things her father and mother do not know. He fears his own daughter.

Pesir Khub is a level two fighter but does not carry weapons. He can speak and understand the speech of the Dog-Men, but refuses to utter any of its words. His most valued possessions are his dog and his hidden bloody idol, and his greatest loves are his wife, his daughter, and his work.

She's like this but more chainmail and with a sword (also it was Really hard to find a suitable picture of a chainmail-clad barbarian woman)

The Woman Who Barks Like a Dog
Among the Dog-Headed tribe of Kanashan, there lives a woman without a dog's head. She only goes by the name Half-Moon, and she bellows out wildly and harshly when the tribe goes on hunts. She is a warrior of the Dog-Men, who left her life in the fertile valleys of the Enlightened Empire to join the people who ate her neighbors. She was gracious to them for doing so; the very ones they devoured were the ones who tormented her for her blemishes, her clumsiness, and her quietness. When they gulped down the flesh of the firebrand preacher, she saw the man who ordered her exiled into the forest for perversion destroyed in cosmic justice. Despite everything that the mobads say about the Dog-Headed Men, about the daevas that ride upon their backs and the heinous sin of cannibalism that curses their whole people, she was saved by the rapacious rampages of the Kanashan Dog-Men. And so she joined them.

Half-Moon walks on all fours when she is not riding a horse. She finds it an easier way to move around than shakily stepping around on two feet. She keeps her hair long and unkempt, and wears mail armor and cloaks that drape over her body as she crawls around. She used to speak haltingly in Shahanistani, but now issues orders to her fellow dog-warriors in the barking tongue of the Dog-Men. But she refuses to eat the flesh of men, instead hunting beasts in the forest and snatching the burnt flesh of wolf-sacrifices. She leaves the cannibalism to her Dog-Man benefactors.

Half-Moon is a level four fighter who wields a long rusted sword as her primary weapon. She lives in a yurt that she can tear down and carry with her on her horse. She collects trinkets and baubles and curiosities, and is fond of little things that catch her eye. She never wants to return to Shahanistan.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Wow! Sorry About That Impromptu Hiatus Guys! Here's Announcements and Two Very Very Late Session Reports

 Hello hello hello everyone! I am ever so sorry for taking what basically ended up as a four month break from posting to this blog between late January and early May. This was not at all intentional, and really just came down to me being busy with more schoolwork than I normally have during the school semester and simultaneously taking a break from running King of Kings for the very same reason. I still haven't ran any more sessions of King of Kings since January, but I actually had not one but two sessions that I ended up never writing session after action reports for. There were repeated times in the past four months that I felt like I needed to post the session reports but I could never actually bring myself to do it until now for a litany of reasons, some valid some not as much. 

Another major reason for my lack of posting is that I have just been feeling completely sapped of my creative energy and motivation for quite some time. This mostly started in February, when a video game mod I was on the developer team for (it was for the WW2 grand strategy game Hearts of Iron IV, and centered on an alternate history scenario that continued another popular mod into the cold war era, also yes of course I'm someone who is into alternate history) began to split and fall apart due to issues caused by a hostile lead developer taking action that alienated other members. The members who left were ones that I greatly respected and looked up to, and while we tried to make things right back then in February, ultimately nothing would come of it and none of the people who left would rejoin. I remained on the project until mid April, but my involvement was steadily declining as I saw the lead developer and her friends dismantle the content that those former developers made, and it just made me feel so awful. On top of that, my work was repeatedly ignored, underappreciated, or changed without my knowledge/consent, and during an incident where the lead developer made a change for something I worked on without me approving it, I left the team. Apologies for this kinda personal ramble, but its just to explain why I haven't really worked on any creative stuff for a while. That project was one of my main creative endeavors for the past two years, and leaving it and seeing it get taken apart very quickly made me feel demoralized, like no creative project I ever work on would ever see completion.

I still don't feel great about it but I'm glad I'm out of there! And now, I hope to get back into the swing of not just posting things to this here blog, but also running King of Kings again!

For a quick glance into the future, I plan on continuing to post KoK content and session reports, but on top of that I want to expand into posting more of my own original dungeons/adventure locations, reviews of independent RPG content (I already have some lined up by a fellow blogger, and down the line I will receive some books I backed on Kickstarter!), and perhaps original fiction as well. 

But with no further ado, I must now perform the ritual which was to be completed so many months ago: regaling to you (albeit in shorter form than I typically utilize), the events of the two unspoken of sessions of King of Kings from January 2021.

King of Kings Session 5 After Action Report
Dramatis Personae
Arugula Chosen, level one itinerant cleric seeking out a god
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon
Manchugo Coldeswain, level one cleric dedicated to Damir, foreign god of the trade routes
Mithra, level one cleric dedicated to Czehlem, chthonic goddess of wealth, gems, and dyes

In the morning, the four clients of Farzaneh Taburi meet at their patron's house, discussing rumors and talk that they have heard from the surroundings. In addition to rumors they have heard previously, they also mention that a dyeworker girl whispered to Manchugo that the dihqans of the valley sacrifice peasant women to the dragon of the horrible winds at night, while Ishthyromeda mentions a street preacher spoke of the northern dihqans being displeased with lack of productivity on their estates.

After much discussion, the group decides to return to the ancient dinosaur tomb high on the mountain to the southwest, since it is a much safer guarantee of treasure based solely on the knowledge they have at hand. On their way there, they encounter Fire Eater in the guise of an owl, who mentions the deal from the previous session, but they do not act upon it just yet. Instead, they push on to the tomb, although while passing through the holy cedar forest they are almost beset upon by mysterious small green humanoids who cling to the trees and chitter madly. They do not stay to investigate, instead speeding on with their horse drawn cart (a recent acquisition) so as not to be caught by them.

They step past the opening chamber of the tomb and reach the door at the furthest end, a large stone gate held in place by a large stone slab on metal pins. They break the metal pins with their weaponry and use Ishthyromeda's lance and their collective strength to lever the stone slab out of the way. On the other side of the door is a tomb chamber, with a large ancient wooden coffin broken open from having fallen onto the floor, a large skeletal reptilian thing with gemstones for eyes and rusty metal bolted to it bringing itself to its feet. The group proceeds to... well, they repeatedly use turn undead to force the skeletal beast into the corner until it is cowering against the wall and then break it apart systematically until it cannot move, then they remove the gemstones in its eyes. They continue on to the other two wooden sarcophagi in the chamber and do the same to the other two skeletal things, bashing their bones with mace and sword while they cower helplessly. From them they retrieve gems from their eye sockets and ancient motheaten silks from their coffins.

Entering a side chamber, the group see a looming black statue of a large beast, a tall sail upon its back and a long beak-like snout stabbing at the air, its body curled up like a frog upon a stone. Beneath the beast itself, however, the base of the statue has been eroded away by dripping water to reveal a staircase downward. Venturing down the stairs, they find themselves in a long hallway flanked by statues of carnivorous dinosaurs. Manchugo uses his rope as a lasso to grab one of the statues and tear it down, revealing a hidden chamber behind it. They try doing the same on another statue but there is no secret chamber. They investigate the chamber, finding ancient rotted furniture, two immense polearms on the wall, and a small silver icon depicting a king of the dinosaurs. They snatch the polearms and the silver icon and leave. 

They decide not to venture any deeper, and begin to make way for the door to the tomb, grabbing another clay statue of a raptor on the way. They make their way back to Tabur under the cover of night, although they are confronted by large spiders on the road, which they keep at bay by throwing food to. An argument almost breaks out with the guards at town when they have to pay the tariff, but they hide the clay statue by disguising as a mute and paralyzed person, and ultimately give up both a polearm and a green gem they took from one of the skeletons.

Treasure Acquired (After Tribute)
One dinosaur polearm, half the value of a red gem from the skeleton and half the value of the statue (sales were not done during this session, it will be something handled at the start of the next session)
Non-Treasure XP Acquired
Three dinosaur skeletons (45 XP before Prime Requisite modification)

Kusa's Grand Day Out
Dramatis Personae
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb

At the same time that the above group of four was venturing into the ancient mountain tomb once again, Kusa was venturing into the depths of the holy cedar forest without the rest of them, accompanied only by the jinn Fire Eater. (This session happened after the one described above, but in the game itself was occurring concurrently, with Kusa meeting Fire Eater right after the four adventurers left them). Kusa came upon Fire Eater in the form of a jet black lizard with yellow slit-pupiled eyes, to take their offer of guidance to treasure deep within the holy forest. 

Kusa and Fire Eater embark on a dual spirit-journey and treasure hunting adventure, endeavoring to cross the mountains that divide the forest in two to reach an ancient site in the inner valley. They come upon two bird-eating tarantulas, which Fire Eater explains give them a wide berth because the beasts of the eastern portion of the forest respect them as their protector. They note that the beasts of the inner forest are... rather more impetuous. Venturing onward, they come upon a small clearing in a passageway between two large hills, where the pair encounter twelve lumpy green mosslings, little humanoid things made of plant matter. A haggard and wet old mossling greets them, and expresses gratitude for Kusa's role in extricating the fire-loving lizardmen from the forest recently, asking only for a tribute before they allow her passage into the deeper forest. She is asked to pledge the first thing she makes upon returning home to the mosslings, a request which she grants.

Stepping into the woodland valley past the mossling gate, Fire Eater offers to ferry Kusa to the treasure she seeks. They bring their clawed hand close to the ground, inviting Kusa to stand on their open upward-facing palm. Once standing in place, Fire Eater clambers up a tree trunk without even gripping Kusa, bringing the pair to a clearing dominated by a large circle of ancient standing stones, all carved with images of predatory and scavenging beasts.

Fire Eater described the place thus: "this place was a place of honor and of fear, in times long before me... a looming edifice of ancient stories, where the people that lived here long before i was born shuddered beneath the circling vultures and the cloying claws of the valley lions... they knew they were here on the graces of the Guardian of the Forest and of the wild beasts of the valley, and so they gave them their homage... and yet still, the audacity of the last ones who dwelt here put themselves above the beasts they once bowed before in this place... you will find what remains of them, buried in the center of the circle of stones, their narcissism covering their bones with gold."

Kusa asks for Fire Eater's permission to dig here, and they say they care not what they do with the bones. She did not bring a shovel, and so must spend hours digging away at the dirt using only her bare hands and her axe. After several hours a glittering golden femur comes before her eyes. She digs some more, revealing the skeletons of six people, all covered in gold leaf from head to toe and with chunks of gold in their eye sockets. Kusa removes the gold from one socket on each skull, telling Fire Eater that she has done so "So they will still see what their audacity brought them."

Fire Eater replies "these six forgotten traitors shall be left with their vision by your charitable hands... a truer reflection of who you are was never seen... and it is truly a beauteous one."

With her pockets full of gold, Kusa reburies the bones of the audacious ones and climbs back onto Fire Eater's outstretched hand to return the same way they came. She bids farewell to Fire Eater and embarks back to Tabur. Kusa hides the smaller chunks of gold in various folds in her clothing, leaving only the two largest to be seen by the guards at the gate... the guards notice that she is from that exiled people who live on the north of the city, having heard from the northern gate guards about their community. They deign to take only one chunk of gold, whereas normally they would have taken both.

Treasure Acquired (After Tribute and Sales)
One chunk of ancient gold, not sold
Four chunks of ancient gold (320 drachmae, 288 drachmae after the cultic tithe)
Non-Treasure XP Acquired
Discovering the depths of the holy cedar forest (20 XP)

Sorry about how long this post was, I just felt that everything in it had to be done before I could really get back into blogging! Hope you are having a lovely day!