Friday, January 31, 2020

Ye Olde Halfling

I shouted into the howling abyss about halflings recently and that thread covers the content of this post much more succinctly.

(See also http://bxblackrazor.blogspot.com/2010/09/halfling-love.html from 10 years ago, demonstrating giant killer credentials: I am so late and I cannot keep up)

Because of my own historical anti-Tolkien prejudice (for better or worse, I conjure Fafhrd and Grey Mouser when I think of the basic fantasy adventure set-up) and cleric fetish, I didn't have much time for halflings in any edition or setting. Even the Athasian 'cannibal halflings' weren't as interesting as that sounded (opinion, not fact) when Dark Sun was trailed.

Re-reading old gaming materials, I was struck by a very different halfling to the image I had from fictions and illustrations.

Ye olde halfling (and 'mine' isn't the oldest) already plays well as a monster, if you wipe off the 'hail fellow well met a tankard for my friend and a little something for my pipe'. Forget Tucker's Kobolds: halflings are the Goblins of the Labyrinth, scuttling round Sarah's house.

Mentzer Red Box Player's Manual (my mechanical/statistical first encounter): AC bonus of 2 vs. anything bigger than a human, +1 with any missile, +1 Initiative, 90% undetectable in natural surroundings, 2 in 6 (33%) undetectable in shadows/cover.

90% undetectable! The thief at the same level is 90% detectable and won't ever come close to catching up in most campaigns. Even indoors, this halfling is better at hiding than a thief until around 6th level.

(Incidentally, these abilities don't appear in the monster section entry)

These are ambush predators as much as hide-behinds; these are borderline supernatural powers.

What are the natural surroundings of halflings in your setting?

Image result for the haunting 1999 gif
The Haunting (1999)
(Also, put in your gifs afterwards, so they're not looking at you all the way down the page)

When the Dark Sun setting was trailed, 'cannibal halflings' didn't conjure up big hair and bone knives for me. I could see the comfy hobbit-holes, nice cushions, hearty welcomes...

And the locked pantry. The dark root cellars winding off into the depths of the hill. Feeding you up, insisting you stay. You lay down for a nap in one of the guest bedrooms.

More Parents (1989), maybe, than The Hills Have Eyes (any of them).

Phalse, from Azure Bonds (1988 Forgotten Realms novel), wasn't technically a halfling, but reading his sleep assault on Olive Ruskettle put another shiversome sheen on the hairy-footed ones. I would have been about 12/13, impressionable, and I've never really been able to shake the perception of an inbuilt capacity for creepiness.

Finally, there's a good reason I used the halfling experience table and saving throws as the basis for the Old School Shoggoth Race-as-Class.

IIRC, in both D&D  (Mystara? Blackmoor?) and WFRP there is or was some lore that halflings were created, built for purpose; I think, by the Old Slann, to resist the warping power of Chaos, and by some Immortal-or-other to resist (amongst other things) radiation.

Even if my recollection is faulty, it puts me very much in mind of HPL's Old Ones/Elder Things/Primordial Ones, and their highly resilient manufactured species of slave-machines...

...something I'll return to in a later post, once I've compiled the notes.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

d66/d18 Gems and their Magical Properties


[Edit 21/06/2021 to replace old table & add pic]

All gems are worth their base value (1 to 18, below) in the common currency unit of my/your setting, multiplied by d6 x 10 or 10d6 (if you prefer).

They are either the size they would be in reality, or they are about the size, shape and colour of the dice you are holding at the time. Or compare them to bird's eggs, quail up to duck.

Gems can be kept as treasure (to be traded for cash and counted towards XP after an adventure) or can be used during an adventure as a one-shot magic item.

Once used, gems shatter, disintegrate or are otherwise destroyed; the remnants are worthless.

If you intend to save a gem to use in a future episode/session of your current adventure, it cannot be counted towards experience even if you later change your mind and trade it for cash (you still get the money). Define the boundaries/unit of 'an adventure' if your game does not already cover this.

You cannot buy gems on the open market to take them into an adventure to use as magic items under normal circumstances. Their magical powers are a property of the condition of 'adventure' and as such do not operate outside of this - they are drained by exposure to the mundane.

Ignore any of this that doesn't fit with the game you want to play.

Roll 2d6:

1st d6 (1 to 2) 2nd d6:

  1. Quartz (1): reroll 1s on any roll, once.
  2. Lapis Lazuli (2): reroll a failed fear/ morale save.
  3. Topaz (3): reroll a failed spell save.
  4. Coral (4): cure wounds at 0 hp.
  5. Turquoise (5): reroll or force a Reaction Roll.
  6. Amethyst (6): reroll a failed Strength roll.

1st d6 (3 to 4) 2nd d6:

  1. Amber (7): reroll a failed Constitution roll.
  2. Carnelian (8): reroll a failed warding, spell casting or attack (melee or missile) roll.
  3. Opal (9): reroll a failed Intelligence or Wisdom roll.
  4. Jacinth (10): reroll fire damage or failed fire save.
  5. Aquamarine (11): cure wounds or doubles effect of your casting.
  6. Jade (12): reroll a failed Dexterity or Charisma roll, or a failed missile attack roll (thrown or device).

1st d6 (5 to 6) 2nd d6:

  1. Serpentine (13): reroll a failed attempt to deceive/ stealth/ steal/ backstab.
  2. Pearl (14): reroll a failed polymorph/ petrification save.
  3. Ruby (15): reverse a failed roll, automatically succeed on a roll, or convert a success to a best possible result.
  4. Sapphire (16): recover a cast spell without penalty.
  5. Diamond (17): protection from damage, or reroll a death save.
  6. Emerald (18): protection from/ dispel magic.

This table is based on the Gem Generator from the UK Corgi paperback edition of Tunnels & Trolls, which is where I first encountered the d66 table.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Easy Encumbrance and Fatigue

(I'll boil this down into a nice, terse table to add after publication)

Basic Assumptions.


  • That you're playing an Old School/D&D adjacent ruleset, with Classic Six compatible Ability Scores rated 3-18 and Armour Class (though damage reduction could be used to stand in for this).
  • That the amount of stuff you carry should have in-game consequences.
  • That you want to model fatigue as one of these consequences.
  • That you're not desperate for extreme granularity or simulation.

Carrying Capacity and Items/Objects Counted.

You can carry as many items/objects as you have points of Strength before you are Encumbered.

Each point of Armour Class from armour worn/carried counts as an item/object.

The basic unit of item/object is the weapon. While this is quite a common basis for simple encumbrance systems, I'm using Dragonwarriors (p.60 of 1985 edition) as my source.

The examples of equivalents those rules give are: full quiver of arrows/bolts, scroll, bottle (potion or wine, presumably), lantern, torch, c. 150 coins. 

I roughly agree with this, though I also suggest a 'three makes an item/object' category which includes scrolls, herbs, jewellery, single dose magic potions, knives (including throwing knives, but possibly not daggers), tinderboxes and so on.

Objects of negligible encumbrance (an individual, high value/magical coin; a gold ring; a magnetised pin; a pinch of bat guano; a quill pen) aren't counted unless you've got an awful lot of them. A rule of thumb might be 10 or 12 to the item/object.

You might allow a stack of 3, 5 or 6 javelins or torches to be an item/object, but I probably wouldn't.

Encumbered/ Tired.

When you are Encumbered, your Dexterity is halved. 

You can put things down in order to climb walls, pick locks and fight monsters, and so go back to normal Dexterity, but otherwise you take the penalties.

A GM could waive the Dexterity penalties for fine motor skill activity, but I personally find being encumbered IRL to make me generally clumsy so I'd stick with it unless there was a particularly good reason not to.

Every time you do something strenuous (jump a chasm, climb a tower, chase the thief, and definitely combat), you will be Tired until you take 10 minutes rest (1 turn) to recover. While you are Tired, all your Ability Scores are at -1.

While you are Encumbered, you can carry further items/objects up to your current Constitution, at which point you are Overburdened.

Overburdened/ Slow.

When you are Overburdened, your Dexterity is 3 and your Strength is halved. This does not effect your overall Carrying Capacity; you were already Encumbered and now you are Overburdened.

When Overburdened you need 30 minutes rest (3 turns) to recover from being Tired due to strenuous activity.

You are also Slowed while Overburdened, and may only act/attack every other combat round and will always be the last to act when you do (or apply the effects of your game's equivalent of a slow spell).

Further Complexity.

Use the modifiers from The Black Hack Additional Things to give unusual objects more impact on Carrying Capacity.

Where you carry your equipment is as important as how much you can. Unless you specify, the top three items on your inventory are easily accessible; the rest will require at least a Dexterity check to retrieve it when under attack/stress. Worn items and your primary weapon are exempt from this.

Using with Tunnels & Trolls.

T&T has uncapped Strength and Constitution, so this system can't just be ported straight over (I'm basing this on the 5th edition rules, as per the UK Corgi paperback - a lot's changed that I haven't followed). As well as the number of item/objects potentially spiralling, the penalty for being Tired becomes insignificant.

Maybe the capacity could be 10 + Level to Encumbered and then same again to Overburdened, or 10 + a bonus worked out by comparing your T&T Str/Con against a D&D modifier table that extends beyond 18, with Tired having the effect of making saving throws one step harder.

I don't know. 

I've not had the opportunity to play or run T&T enough to work through this outside of my own head.

Commentary.

Encumbrance is an intrusion of reality into your gaming space.

Encumbrance is probably the first rule jettisoned when I/we started gaming, even though it is important to a certain kind of play. It should encourage the use of hirelings and pack animals, which can be used to add further drama, risk, social interaction and pathos; these probably weren't concerns to 10-year-olds wanting to load up with imaginary treasure and weapons.

I never liked granular weight-based systems because of the book keeping and not being good at estimating/calculating real weights; I've since come to appreciate how simple the armour + treasure method, revisiting it decades later.

My earliest thoughts on encumbrance were heavily influenced by:

Dragonwarriors and Fighting Fantasy rpg both give 10 as an adventurer's carrying capacity, but it's just a limit - there are no consequences given for exceeding it. 

The Lone Wolf gamebooks also float around this 10 maximum, as you could carry 8 backpack items and 2 weapons (plus unlimited Special Items, eventually reined in to 12). Again, this was a limit; there were no consequences for cheating.

Constitution got included in carrying capacity because of Maelstrom: it doesn't have a Strength stat, but uses Endurance instead to determine the armour you can wear and the amount you can carry.


This is pretty much the same system as I use for my heartbreaker, and it could be bolted onto non-D&D adjacent systems with a little bit of conversion. I'm sure there are lots of other similar systems out there, but this is my particular outcome.






Thursday, January 23, 2020

Elves are Wolves/ Chthonians are Martians

(not mutually exclusive, unless that's what you want)

Elves are wolves, because of predictive text/auto-correct. 


They are grey-haired with an under-bite; pointy ears and eyes that reflect red; subtly pointy teeth; bare arms and no coats/cloaks, even in the deep winter. Dress in dull natural shades, overgrown with leaves, or simple furs. Shorter than humans, but stocky, solid.

Can be mistaken for surly farmhands or rebellious peasants, until you realise they're just waiting for you notice they're not.

Don't like fire and noise (gets them a bit Grendel). Eat an uncooked, omnivorous diet; meat-heavy for effect. Prefer traps to ambush.

Immune to mortal diseases, but can be poisoned. Can cast spells in either form. Can communicate with animals, and often team up with owls (and wolves, unsurprisingly).

Carry and use stone, bronze and copper tools/weapons; iron burns them; steel cuts them just fine.

Elven boots worn by mortals allows stealthy passage through the woods and the snows, and leave a trail of paw prints. An elf instantly knows when a mortal is wearing their boots, and all elves recognise the false trail.

There are no elven cloaks, but hairy elven belts that allow mortals to transform into wolves under the moon (not necessarily full). You need to take your clothes off to transform, and you need both those and the belt to reverse the process.

If you have half-elves, the other half is wolf, not human.

Chthonians are Martians...


...because maybe I misread something in The Jennifer Morgue (Chthonian war machines?).

If you have access to the materials, take a quick look at Chthonians, Lloigor and Flying Polyps (my reference was Call of Cthulhu 5e). I know they're different from each other, but there's also a big strip of 'same' running through them all.

I'm following a line of thought as follows: Chthonians are Martians (but not from Mars); Chthonians are Lloigor are Flying Polyps; Chthonians are also Der(r)o (Shaverian and/or Veins of the Earth rather than D&D).

They're significantly bigger and bulkier than humans, but by no means the giant worms of the source material, with a face full of tentacles and a boneless sac of a body. They might have a roughly frog/toad-like form (because this is still the Mythos); limbs are rudimentary, muscular flaps of hide. Probably no eyes, but clusters of pearly orbs that are mistaken for them (the unfertilised eggs they constantly produce). A bear of most suitable size crossed with a salamander would serve for a stat block in a pinch.

If their habitat is not the molten regions beyond the mantle, it's certainly the hottest and meltiest of the subterranean realms. Low(er) temperatures, volumes of water, and excess of oxygen have deleterious effects on them; they crust over, go into hibernation and dim dreams, and petrify inwards if not recovered by their own kind.

Chthonians are highly technologically advanced. Surface-dwellers (and we'll include most subterraneans in this category, too) have knowledge only of the extensive range used to terrorise and dominate, with domestic appliances being restricted to the deepest, hottest places where no mortal could hope to survive.

All the things that the games say Chthonians, Lloigor and Flying Polyps can do at a distance (draining your energy, trapping you at your desk, flattening a town, horrible nightmares, reptilian manifestations etc), these Chthonians can also do, using machines - either deep beneath or in their carriers.

Chthonian carriers look a bit like the Chthonians you're expecting, but maybe with a three pronged grapple instead of a mess of flailing tentacles; they can stand up and stride about on these, repurposing the rock-melting ray as a weapon and releasing great clouds of rare, poisonous elements.

Unintentionally, Chthonian incursions release bizarre spores from the subterranean realms, which mutate and colonise the surface.

Like the mind flayers want to put out the sun in some editions, the Chthonians ultimately wish to drive the planet into the solar corona at which point they would evolve into magnetic plasma beings. This is their religion, so this could be nonsense.



Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Stranger Aeons: Reimagining the Cthulhu Mythos

Having seen a tweet by @anxietywizard (their blog), about Cthulhu being 'immune to innovation', I thought I'd bring forward a post I've been thinking about doing, regarding an abandoned setting of mine: Stranger Aeons. 

I can't gauge whether the whole is particularly innovative (I don't necessarily have the breadth of knowledge, esp. in gaming, despite how much and how long I've been consuming Mythos), but it is a hasty, tasty mash-up that might suit some people, if you're prepared to put in the effort to make it work.

[Some links to add post-publication]

[EDIT: kept remembering stuff; added Port Sunlight, Port Fishoil, The Resurrectionists, Sacerdotal Matriarchies, Fear of Little Men]

Background.


Stranger Aeons is set after the Cthulhuvian apocalypse of a D&D-adjacent world; the Stars Were Right/CODE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

The earthbound Great Old Ones woke up/got free and plunged from world to world - they're gone. It was a worldwide catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions, yes, but They couldn't care less about this galactic backwater and off They went. So, there's no Cthulhu or the rest of the unpronounceable crew left; you can't contact them, you can't summon them.

Your campaign world has been irrevocably transformed. Mythos monsters are out-and-about, proud-and-loud, and -it turns out- not as per canon.

Reshaping the World.


Take your campaign map, cut it up and collage it back together; spatter it with black ink to indicate areas of Old One (Elder Things/Primordial Ones) space-time; splash it with blue ink to indicate where the seas have swallowed the land (you could also invert or expand random bodies of water). 

If there isn't one already, you'll need a dense, mountainous/volcanic island chain to represent the thousand mile plus reach of the Nightgaunt Archipelago (or whatever you'd prefer to call it) dividing the most suitable sea. What is on the other side is a Big Mystery.

This is absolutely swarming (some mountain look black and shiny due to the numbers) with slippery, tickly, rubbery nightgaunts and forms an impenetrable barrier until the story requires it to be bypassed and/or someone comes up with a really good plan. There are castaways and wrecks here, and it can be a place for adventure; just don't try to get to the other side.

Invert, cut up and collage back together any aquatic dungeons/cities you might have and stick them on the nearest convenient bit of dry land. These are now stranded and largely abandoned Deep One cities.

Depopulate with extreme prejudice the uppermost and lowest levels of all megadungeons. Decide how this impacts on the levels in between.

Any dungeon or wilderness location that was associated with a Great Old One is a smoking crater, radioactive swamp or howling waste, or has become another mythos monster's lair.

Don't worry about the big monsters, legendary heroes, great wizards and such like; almost all of these were wiped out attempting to prevent the end of the world or during it. Maybe also 'retire' any PCs of greater than 6th level.

Reshaping the Characters.


If you're going to play with humans and close-to-human characters, you can basically use RAW for whatever edition of whatever system you're using. Apply a bit of logic: characters will have either lived through the apocalypse, or it will have happened within recent living memory.

There's room for survivalist, out-of-the-ashes and assorted other zombie-apocalypse styled play. Or you can use the setting as the new normal; it doesn't have to be a grimdark, crapsack, misery crawl (but it can be if that's what you want).

Importantly, and based on AD&D, only 1st and 2nd level cleric spells are available; this is a godless universe. Scrolls are not affected, but you can't scribe the higher levels, nor use the scrolls to learn. Mythos priests may have totally lost their faith and powers.

If you want to, druids can get round this by teaming up with Dark Young, or through an extension of the druid vs. druid advancement rules in AD&D 1e.

All spells, unless cast inside a dungeon (or comparable adventure site), take longer to cast by one step (dependent on the rules you are running) and absolutely require material components. Dungeon casting is with the usual casting times and you may also choose to handwave components; Magic Users are keen to set-up shop in dungeons for this reason.

Ancient, anachronistic and alien equipment will crop up with greater regularity, and some common supplies may become rare to non-existent. The Dark Sun and Carcosa settings can provide rules and source material for this kind of stuff.

Characters should start out with better than normal hit points, either maximum possible or equal to their CON (until they gain enough HD to roll higher than this).

Mythos PCs.


I've already posted details for Deep One, Ghoul, Shoggoth and Yithian characters: these are not the originals for Stranger Aeons but will do for a start. Background details for the four playable types are as follows:

Deep Ones.

Sorry, my fishy chums. It turns out that the millennia of worship and breeding with dry-landers was for nothing; the glorious, ancient prophecies were not for you, either. The DNA-deep drive behind your civilisation turned out to be a cosmic lie.

While some of the Elders still cling to the old ways, surviving Deep Ones now live an amphibious, integrated existence with dry-landers. Adapting to life amongst dry-landers but not as their masters, you're no longer eating great quantities of raw meat, and size has diminished (though not as much as in The Shuttered Room). 

Bereft of their gods, faith and certainty, religiously-minded Deep Ones are turning to the absent gods of the humans; they now prefer their gods to be at much greater than arm's length.

The ancient Guild of Coprophages, which previously consumed the feces of the Elders, continues its work in a new form, devouring the waste of the mixed communities. It's dirty, honest work.

Ghouls.

Ghouls were always closer to mortals than other mythos monsters, and it was both fairly easy and natural for them to step out of the shadows. People got used to them pretty quick, though they're not welcome round hospitals.

I always liked undead ghouls as much as Lovecraftian, so combine the two. They can be loyal, if unsentimental, companions, and can communicate with nightgaunts (no free pass through the Archipelago, though).

Shoggoths.

If using BECMI/RC, combine the following: green slime (B), black pudding (E), elemental (C), adaptor (M). Add Halfling advancement and saves. They regenerate 2 hp/round, except damage from ultraterrestrial sources.

STR and CON must be raised to 18 by lowering INT, WIS, DEX and CHA, 1 for 1. You could use the alignment drift of Athasian half-giants for Shoggoths if it's appropriate for your game.

Based on Mr. Shiny the Shoggoth Lord and Michael Shea's Fat Face (but less compulsively homicidal), Shoggoths have been living amongst mortals for countless centuries and have been growing somewhat like them as they have. Most have been maintaining a bulky humanoid form for years now.

Horribly overpowered at front-end, Shoggoths are probably the new masters of the earth and starting to realise it. Functionally immortal, they have no urgency to this end and like carrying out big civil engineering and landscaping projects in the middle of nowhere, as well as attempting to learn the finer points of mortal social behaviour. They can always just destroy things and absorb you if they get frustrated.

Yithians.

Yithians are pretty much as detailed in the earlier post; I just wanted to follow the model of four classes.

The Great Race are scholarly adventurers and 'death' is only a rude interruption that means they lose their place in the narrative. Aftermath of the Cthulhuvian apocalypse is just another day at the office for them.

Mix and Match.


There's no particular reason why you can't have regular characters and mythos characters in the same party; there's no reason they can't get along.

Obviously, the mythos classes are heavily front-loaded and unbalanced compared to the regulars. But that's the point.

Shoggoths are remarkably sensitive about assumptions of being used as pack mules, meat shields and battering rams, in spite of their considerable strengths in these areas. I suppose they don't like being stereotyped.

The Others.


The Mi Go/Fungi from Yuggoth and the Old Ones/Elder Things/Primordial Ones are the other two significant species to feature in Stranger Aeons.

Because I've always thought there was surprisingly little difference between Chthonians, Lloigor and Flying Polyps, we'll leave them out of it (this is another post, for the future).

Visitors from other worlds and dimensions do drop by; it's probably a bit easier for them to do so, but they're no more or less bothered about the mundane world than previously.

I also have a special place in my heart for good old pseudocanis Tindalosi, but I'll keep them back for another post, because I didn't adapt them for the setting until after the initial push.

Mi Go/Fungi from Yuggoth.

Cross a shrieker, giant bee and giant crayfish to get a statblock for an earthbound Mi Go. Give it human average or better INT. They're scientists, surgeons and miners, so their fighting styles, special abilities, equipment and behaviour will reflect this.

If you kill one, it will turn to stone, acid or explode like a Dragonlance Draconian; they never leave remains.

They're not working in secret anymore and will even let you wander round their bases as long as you don't interfere or try to access restricted areas. They don't like you, though, and their eerie buzzing makes you confused and sleepy. Do not fall asleep in or near a Mi Go base.

Give them weapons of a significantly higher technology level than the rest of the setting; they won't use anything as gross as gunpowder, though they still use blades, spikes and their little nippers.

Mi Go lairs are always bursting with mined and processed precious metals and gems, which they largely do not value (but know you do), just need to get out of the way while looking for rarer substances.

Ultraterrestrial Mi Go.

The earthbound Mi Go are the lesser representatives of a species from outside mundane space-time. 

With the Great Old Ones gone, the ultraterrestrial Mi Go are incrementally slipping back in to take over the whole operation. They find mundane space-time unpleasant, even deleterious, so cannot remain here long; the ultraterrestrial Elder Things have a solution to this, but do not want to share.

Use a mind flayer as the basis for an ultraterrestrial Mi Go. Its brain eating ability is effective against all inhabitants of mundane space-time; it is a psychic/psionic power rather than a physical one. Use the nightshade from BECMI/RC for general immunities, touch and aura effects - the very presence of a Mi Go is poisonous to mundanes (earthbound Mi Go also suffer, but only at 50% intensity).

An ultraterrestrial Mi Go must consume one earthbound Mi Go for every hour it spends in mundane space-time or shift itself to another continuum (this could include other planes, but more likely their own dimension); earthbound Mi Go must always and absolutely obey their commands, no save.

Ultraterrestrial Mi Go are accompanied by a constant and discordant electronic/metallic screeching noise (the sound of them rubbing mundane space-time the wrong way), which causes nausea and bleeding in mortals.

The Old Ones (Ultraterrestrials).

As far as this world is concerned, the Old Ones died out without even the indignity of being dug up by polar explorers after millions of years. Those earthbound creators of all planetary life might get a post of their own sometime.

Abandoned cites and equipment exist; some will have been commandeered by Shoggoths. Perfectly preserved corpses still lie beneath the seas and polar ice, and who knows what has been brought closer to the surface by the transition of the Great Old Ones?

In Stranger Aeons, the original, ultraterrestrial Old Ones now have the opportunity to take back this little planet now it has been divested of Great Old Ones. To this end, they are converting mundane space-time into something more amenable to them (coincidentally, this is also suitable for Mi Go).

The Old Ones do not care to leave their preferred environment (which is why I never statted them; presume they are at least equals of the ultraterrestrial Mi Go). While unsympathetic to and uninterested in what happens in mundane space-time, they are not troublesome neighbours (except for the deadly poisonous aura) and are almost impossible to provoke (after all, what harm can you do?).

This doesn't mean anyone really likes living near an enclave/encroachment, but you might get used to it.

Shoggoths don't like getting too close to Old One encroachments, as they would be bound to absolutely obey any issued commands, no save.

What Else Is Going On?


The Dark Young.

Use a mash-up of BECMI/RC ghoul (B), treant and troll (E) (possibly throw in something that has a blood draining attack) as the basis for a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath.

I decided the Dark Young were elemental extensions of the multiverse (dignifying Shub-Niggurath as some kind of 'real' deity, beyond all others). Give individual Young immunities and special abilities based on one of the D&D elements (including para- and quasi-).

While I never worked out the particulars, I thought druids should be able to tap them to power spells that were otherwise cut off. 

Dark Young are still hostile monsters.

Weapon Masters.

If you're using the Weapon Mastery rules from BECMI/RC, there is only one Grand Master for each weapon, maybe up to three Masters, and to achieve relevant rank you must defeat (though not necessarily kill) them in one-on-one as well as the usual training time and cost. If you're that rank, prospects come after you, including PvP.

Guild/Union of Summoned Monsters.

Intelligent monsters subject to summoning spells now tend to congregate in and around dungeons, forming mixed communities as members of the Guild/Union. Being summoned is not a pleasant or dignified experience, so the Guild/Union was formed to mediate between the two parties. 

Again, I didn't work out the details, but it does mean that there may be charges to enter some dungeons and levies/taxes to pay on leaving, as well as monster hirelings who prefer a business arrangement over being ripped out of space. 

'Wilbur Whateleys'.

Of various sizes, shapes and levels of power, these are the abandoned children of the Great Old Ones.

Every one is unique. Some of them could be PCs. Most of them are not happy. 

The Gods of Earth.

Break out a copy of Deities & Demigods or similar. Pick any or all of the gods (if you have a really old copy, leave out the Cthulhu Mythos ones), and grind their stats down almost to nothing. With random access to some of their old powers, and carrying some of their old baggage, set them down on the earth with amnesia and let them loose.

They're not going to recover from the thorough kicking Reality has taken, but they might end up with followers/worshippers again, and they're vulnerable to exploitation in a way they weren't when fully divine.

Port Sunlight.

The shining city on the coast (you decide). A beacon, a legend, a metaphor amongst the human and other mortal survivors of the planetary cataclysm.

Lady Malton exercises absolute power, and permissions to access even the outer wards of the city are notoriously hard to obtain and the qualifications are punitive.

No one has seen Lady Malton close up and unmasked, and no one knows for sure her rise to power. She is responsible for controlling the spread and availability of magic/spells (limited only to where she is able to exercise this).

It is said Port Sunlight sends out recruiters to populate the inner wards of the city.

Port Fishoil.

The greasy industrial counterpart to Port Sunlight, teeming with mortals, Deep Ones, Ghouls and few Shoggoths (who set up oversized inns and play the creepy, avuncular host).

Lord Cobain very strictly controls the fishing and trading fleet (composition and extent depends on how long since the apocalypse), and law-enforcement within Port Fishoil, and across the countryside right up to the outer walls of Port Sunlight. He is ever-present and ever-vigilant.

Cobain and Malton appear to be co-rulers, but the exact relationship is uncertain.

The Resurrectionists.

Members of this faction are normally only ever encountered after death. They resemble adventuring parties, but better armed and prepared than yours.

Focussing on 1st-3rd level characters, they find those who have died in dungeons and in the wilderness, and return them to life. This places you in an unspecified amount of debt, payable at some future date and in unknown form.

Only rumours are known regarding their motives, origin and headquarters.

The Sacerdotal Matriarchies.

Looks like a Puritan-era colony along the nearby coast, but cut off landward by densely wooded mountains and flooded valleys. For the last however-long-you-like, only women and girls have been seen for sure - the men and boys are apparently fighting a defensive war somewhere in the interior.

Outsiders are not welcome beyond the shoreline trading posts, so details of the Sacerdotal Matriarchies are scant, out-of-date and sometimes utterly unbelievable.

If you like, the Matriarchies are the best/only source of firearms, gunpowder and full plate armour; in any case, they are protected by heavily armoured, well-armed, mounted knights (women), who maintain a threatening, visible presence during trade.

Fear of Little Men.

I don't know when it was dropped, but Call of Cthulhu 2e has a pixie or sprite in the non-Mythos bestiary. The notes refer to them dropping in to 'loosely run' campaigns, and Stranger Aeons is that campaign.

There are pixies and there are sprites, and they have always been rivals. Since the apocalypse, they have seemingly entered an era of total war; increasing their numbers and expanding their range and committing atrocities.

For both sides, there is only the War and death, victory or defeat. Both sides are utterly contemptuous of other creatures, seeing them only as resources to be exploited, captured or denied their enemies.

Commentary.


As a contextual P.S., it was trying to make Stranger Aeons that put me back in touch with ttrpg.

Between family and work, I can't really justify the time to go so deep into my notebooks nowadays, so this has  mainly been from memory; its light on detail and specifics, and I can't be sure of my references. It was mainly made with D&D in mind, my knowledge at the time being surest on BECMI and AD&D 1e and 2e.

Originally intended as a 16 page module/zine for an art exhibition when I still had an art practice, the tone is all over the place because it wasn't meant to be the thing it purported to be. There is also a deliberate element of 'pulled out of my ass/a hat'.

Part of my motivation was that there appears to be a greater willingness to work further from the source material, whereas there's a tendency to cleave close to the canon in core gaming materials - things can get more interesting in scenarios and supplements.

The easiest way to start reimagining the Cthulhu Mythos was to chuck most of it out of the window, and then put back in the bits I like without worrying how they fit. It's now closer to the level of the mundane and the human; they're not really so alien to us (the consumer of media) anymore, even if they ever were.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

d66/d18 Wight Cloaks, Crowns and Eyes

[Edit 21/06/2021 - Replaced table to deal with display incompatibility across browsers; added a little to the descriptions]

Wights are the mysterious and ancient barrow dead. Formal, mannered, honourable, even courteous, in their own way; Wights are also brutal, vengeful and quick to take offence - many still driven by the office they held in their deep, dim, mortal past.

Use any RAW wight you like, but I look to Dragonwarriors for my ur-wight, with a pinch of the meorty from the Dark Sun setting (particularly the one in pseudo-Elizabethan dress, 2nd edition, I think) - I like them pseudo-Celtic/Viking for the older ones, and medieval/late medieval for the Stranded Isles (17th/18th Century rough equivalent).

Give them an enormous, blunt two-handed sword to drag, sparking against the flags, or a vast, branching bow that no mortal living could hope to draw, then pick or roll to dress and crown them, and put in their eyes before letting them loose.

(2d6) A Cloak of ...

1st d6 (1 to 2) 2nd d6:

  1. Boiling darkness that cannot be driven off
  2. Dust & cobwebs
  3. Faces (living or dead, stitched and/or stapled)
  4. Feathers
  5. Fine cloth
  6. Severed Fingers

1st d6 (3 to 4) 2nd d6:

  1. Flayed human(oid) (possibly undead)
  2. Fur, luxurious or gore-stiffened (possibly prehistoric)
  3. Severed Hands (living or dead)
  4. Hair & eyeballs
  5. Reptile hide
  6. Tatters of cloth

1st d6 (5 to 6) 2nd d6:

  1. Tatters of own flesh, more than it should have
  2. Teeth (living or dead)
  3. Trail of frost that limns everything as it passes
  4. Whole animal pelt (possibly undead)
  5. Worms (living or dead)
  6. Writhing mist that clings to the Wight

(2d6) Crowned With ...

1st d6 (1 to 2) 2nd d6:

  1. A Living Thing
  2. Antlers
  3. Bony growth
  4. Copper
  5. Crystal growth
  6. Dead and dying roses

1st d6 (3 to 4) 2nd d6:

  1. Electrum 
  2. Gold 
  3. Gorgeous flowers
  4. Horned 
  5. Iron 
  6. Lead

1st d6 (5 to 6) 2nd d6:

  1. Silver
  2. Skull(s)
  3. Snakes 
  4. Starry 
  5. Thorns
  6. Vines & leaves

(2d6) The Eyes! Those Terrible Eyes ...

1st d6 (1 to 2) 2nd d6:

  1. Blinding light pours out when open
  2. Burning coals
  3. Carved from stone
  4. Closed with coins
  5. Cyclops
  6. Distant cold stars

1st d6 (3 to 4) 2nd d6:

  1. Empty sockets 
  2. Feline, blazing
  3. Filled with worms
  4. Gemstones
  5. Held in hands
  6. Orbiting the Wight, possibly more than the expected two

1st d6 (5 to 6) 2nd d6:

  1. Out on stalks
  2. Ovine, glowing
  3. Sad, weeping
  4. Sewn shut
  5. You cannot meet their gaze
  6. Your own eyes looking back at you




Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Old School Deep One Race-as-Class

This is just a common-or-garden Deep One class; it's just keeping company with the Ghoulthe Shoggoth and the Yithian.

It's not the one I came up with for a specific setting - that requires checking more than one unindexed notebook, which will also hopefully turn up the Wilbur Whateley-type ("I wonder how I shall look when the earth is cleared and there are no earth beings on it").


Deep One.

Description: Scaly, batrachian, ichthyic, with bulging eyes and webbed claws. 

Some people find this attractive.

XP: Advance using the Dwarf Experience Table; same level limit applies.

Saving Throws: Save as a Dwarf/ Monster of your Level/HD, whichever is better.

Prime Requisite: The Deep One class has no Prime Requisite.

Minimum Scores: No minimum scores, but your Dexterity on land is d6+2, while your Dexterity in the water is d6+12. 

Hit Dice: d8, or whatever is the standard for monsters in your game. You have 2 HD at 1st level.

Armour: Deep Ones have natural armour that improves AC by 2 places; Dexterity adjustments apply. You will not wear armour, even if it could be made to fit. You can use a shield. 

Weapons: You can use any weapon (something suitably aquatic/nautical), but can make one claw or one bite attack for 1-6 damage instead.

Special Abilities:
  • You can breathe, speak and cast spells underwater.
  • You can swim at a rate of 18.
  • You cannot be surprised underwater.
  • You save at +4 vs. water-based attacks/spells.
  • You can cast spells from scrolls (Cleric or Magic User) with a 10% chance of failure, but land-lubber scrolls won't survive submerging.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Old School Yithian Race-as-Class

Keeping with an ongoing theme, Yithian (Great Race) Race-as-Class for old school styled games.



Yithian.

Description: You look just like a normal person; maybe a little awkward, a little eccentric.

This mortal vessel contains the ancient, alien intelligence of a time-travelling super-species.

XP: Advance using the Elf Experience Table; once you reach your level limit, the intelligence abandons the mortal form - you are an Ex-Yithian.

Saving Throws: Save as an Elf/ Monster of your Level/HD, whichever is better.

Prime Requisite: The Yithian class has no Prime Requisite.

Minimum Scores: Intelligence and Wisdom must be 18 each, but unless you are very lucky, you must reduce your Charisma and Dexterity 1-for-1 to raise them this high; if doing so would take either Charisma or Dexterity below 3, you cannot play a Yithian.

Keep a record of your original rolled Ability Scores; you revert to these on becoming an Ex-Yithian (see below).

Hit Dice: d6.

Armour: You can wear any armour and use a shield.

Weapons: Any weapon you pick up, you have a 50% chance of being able to use; otherwise, you are -4 to Hit with it.

Special Abilities:
  • You are immune to sleep, charm, feeblemind and magic jar.
  • You are immune to Ghoul paralysis.
  • You save at +4 vs. all forms of mind control, fear, confusion and illusion.
  • You can cast spells from scrolls (Cleric or Magic User), but you don't like to show off.
  • You only do not understand a language you encounter if you roll a 1 on d20; you can choose to speak up to a maximum of 18 (your Intelligence).
  • You only do not know how to use a magic item if you roll a 1 on d20; even if you do not, you can learn by possessing and studying it for d8+1 days.
  • If you ever suffer an irrevocable, permanent loss of Intelligence or Wisdom by physical injury or through the special abilities of a being with twice your level/HD (or greater), you immediately become an Ex-Yithian. Also, make a system shock/death save.

Ex-Yithian.

  • You retain your hit points, but must start again as a 1st level character and otherwise lose access to all Yithian Special Abilities.
  • You can cast spells from scrolls (Cleric or Magic User) with a 50% chance of failure.
  • You can understand any language you do not know if you roll a 20 on d20, up to the maximum determined by your Intelligence; you can try again when you gain a level.
  • You can recognise Ex-Yithians.

Friday, January 10, 2020

d66/d18 Diseases

Picture of Dorian Gray/ Ivan Albright/ 1943-44.
For the 1945 film.

[Edit 21/06/2021 - Replaced table with nested numbered list; added pic]

A table of diseases for you to suffer; pre-supposes you're using something resembling Classic Six Ability Scores, but shouldn't be hard to convert and there's plenty of room for your own interpretations.

Use your own or someone else's sub-system for infection, incubation and recovery, because I haven't thought of my own just yet.

1st d6 (1 to 2) 2nd d6:

  1. Cave Cough: otherwise indistinguishable from Island Cough until the first time you cough up blood. Fatal and caused by luminous microscopic shellfish native to the coasts, caves and dungeons of the Stranded Isles.
  2. Crusticles: crumbly, scaly accumulations of calcium/keratin at inner joints, crotch, nose, mouth, corners of eyes; lose Dex and Str until bedridden, cure or recovery; if bedridden, it could kill you; very unsightly, leaves light scarring.
  3. Dreaming Chills: lassitude, plummeting temperature, waking dreams, catatonia, false death, actual death. No known cure, but plenty of folk and quack treatments of varying efficacy that can delay or temporarily reverse progression. Considered quite attractive and romantic by some.
  4. Fetters: Dex sapping, massive swelling of the neck, hands, wrists, feet, ankles, fingers, toes; shortness of breath, sluggishness, fever. Rarely fatal but attacks can flare up for years afterwards, especially when stressed or in hot, dry weather.
  5. Fireseeds: masses of ruby red rice-grain sores all over the body and a scorching fever; only treatment is cooling until the disease burns itself out. Contagious, frightening and might cause SHC if you don’t have enough magical diseases. As an option, this disease can burn out another disease if you survive.
  6. Galloping Rot: starts with a small infected wound, which can be treated with red hot irons; if exposed to sunlight, the victim decomposes within hours. Senses and mind are unaffected until final dissolution. Can be stalled by death and undeath.

1st d6 (3 to 4) 2nd d6:

  1. Greasy Stinks: overproduce and exude fatty, oily substances; it smells so bad that you and those nearby are nauseated and dizzy; drains Con, but not fatal; temporary relief if sluiced with sufficient wine, vinegar or spirits; water has no effect; soap reacts to cause chemical burns.
  2. Grey Waste: Pallor, lassitude, non-communication, hopelessness. Non-fatal, but the cause and cure are unknown. Temporary relief through eventually ineffective treatments. Sufferers seek the deep mists and solitude. Contagious.
  3. Island Cough: really annoying, persistent cough - spoils spell casting, stealth and diplomacy; caused by exposure to microscopic shellfish native to the Stranded Isles. Normal remedies will treat the symptoms, but you need to leave the Stranded Isles to get it out of your system.
  4. Laughing Pox: a bit like the Joker gas/poison and a bit like being Crossed; disfiguring boils swarm across the temples, jawline, chest and abdomen. Invariably fatal; those recovering will probably be executed for what they did, or take their own lives.
  5. Phantom Epilepsy: a spiritual disease that affects the astral body, rendering the sufferer vulnerable to psychic attacks and unable to dream properly. Cannot be diagnosed by normal means, but tell-tale symptoms are feeling observed and threatening dreams.
  6. Pseudovampirism: extreme reaction to alliums and sunlight, and a craving for iron-rich foods; induces creepy behaviour, stealthy movement and delusions of charisma. Con, Str and Wis loss in a race to the bottom, lying down to die in some dark, secret place.

1st d6 (5 to 6) 2nd d6:

  1. Rat Fever: you don’t actually get this from rats, but everyone thinks you do and acts accordingly; fever, delirium, wasting, exhaustion; often fatal and very contagious.
  2. Silent Disease: your mind and body waste away and you are unable to ask for help. Very likely a result of demonic possession.
  3. Spring Gangrene: carried by ticks in lovely lush green places; the bites become smelly infected wounds. Easily treatable, but can lead to loss of affected parts and/or severe scarring if not.
  4. Swine Blisters: unsightly with a debilitating fever; contracted from domestic and herd animals (including pack mules); usually attacks the hand webs, nostrils, lips and chin. Rarely serious, you can only have it once, and it vaccinates against one other disease (not necessarily on this list).
  5. Wolf Head: very much like rabies, contracted from animal bites, but can be treated by conventional means; however, survivors are susceptible to attacks of lycanthropy (actual or delusional) in future.
  6. Wrack: the most excruciating cramps you’ve ever had, all the time; limbs become twisted and rigid. Non-fatal of itself, but drains your Str to death as eventually you won’t be able to bear any movement or sensation, including eating and breathing. Usually drives you mad, too.

The Stranded Isles form the assumed/implied setting of my heartbreaker and most adventures I run, so that's what I tend to have in mind as background, but you don't really need to know anything about either to get use out of the table.

Maybe make the Swine Blisters vaccinate you from a disease against which a paladin's immunity is ineffective, so that paladins have a surprise vulnerability.

If you don't believe in vaccination IRL, then maybe you can suspend disbelief for a fantasy game.
By 'a bit like being Crossed' (Laughing Pox), I mean as in the Garth Ennis comic (it's pretty horrible, even if you like that sort of thing).

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Old School Ghoul Race-as-Class

A quick mash of Mentzer Red Box and 2e/5e Call of Cthulhu, for old school d20 systems.

Ghoul.

Description: You are a ghoul, like the ones you want in your game. 

From my perspective, you're a necrophagous undead humanoid, but you're not necessarily a terrible person; somewhere on the continuum that takes in ravenous undead cannibals and Randolph Carter's allies in The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath.

XP: Advance using the Elf Experience Table; same level limit applies.

Saving Throws: Save as an Elf/ Monster of your Level/HD, whichever is better.

Prime Requisite: The Ghoul class has no Prime Requisite.

Minimum Scores: No minimum scores, but your Charisma is not counted as more than 9 when dealing with the non-monstrous living (except for necromancers).

Hit Dice: d8, or whatever is the standard for monsters in your game. You have 2 HD at 1st level.

Armour: Ghouls have natural armour that improves AC by 3 places; Dexterity adjustments apply. You can wear any armour, but will not get any AC benefit unless it is better than your natural armour; you always benefit from armour magic bonus. You can use a shield.

Weapons: You can use any weapon, but prefer claw/claw/bite for 1-3 each (no Strength adjustment to damage) + paralysis.

Special Abilities:
  • You are undead, and immune to sleep and charm spells. 
  • You make no noise when moving about.
  • You can be turned by clerics and are affected by protection from evil.
  • You can communicate with nightgaunts (+2 Reaction Roll).
  • From 2nd level, you can cast spells from scrolls with a 10% chance of failure.
  • You only take half damage from firearms and projectiles.

Monday, January 6, 2020

'Classic Six' Initiative Order

Following on from a tweet/blog post by Half Minotaur Farmer (who covers this for d20 Initiative), and a recent DIYRPG/OSR Tweet (the author of which I cannot now recall) of using Ability Scores other than DEX for Initiative modifiers:

For reasons of simplicity, I prefer the straight DEX Initiative order of games like Call of Cthulhu to the d6 vs. d6 per round or the d20 set-up of D&D-adjacent systems, but suggest the following alternative: use all the Ability Scores to determine initiative - the specific score depends on where you're up to in the combat.

With the 'Classic Six', I'd take the following order, rounds 1 through 6:

  • DEX (reflexes, reactions, speed)
  • INT (planning, strategy, observation, memory)
  • STR (the inexorable tide of steel, the fighter's surge)
  • WIS (it's a screaming bloody mess now; in the confusion, trust your instincts and sixth sense)
  • CON (after the initial adrenaline, combatants may already be starting to flag)
  • CHA* (it's all down to luck and divine favour now)
Presumably, at round 7, we just start again.

However...

Maybe 6 rounds/1 minute is the soft cap for a combat encounter, and instead of 'death' being the victory condition, it can be whichever side has the upper hand at the start of round 7. 

Round 7 is when you flee, surrender, reload**, call for parley, beg for/show mercy, and is a convenient time for Morale checks (if you use them). 

If you're very strict on interrupted castings or like the dramatics of it, this could be the island of calm that allows a spell-caster to call down the flames of heaven and wipe from the map the apparent victors.

For an added layer of elaboration (and with agreement at the table), it might be possible to use different Ability Scores vs. each other; maybe by sitting out a round, DEX could be used to overcome INT, for instance.


* I don't use CHA as the go-to social stat; I'll explain if/when I discuss Ability Scores.

** For post-medieval/early-modern firearms, you could make this the rule for reloads and the pay-off for higher damage.