Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The reason nobody uses dinosaurs in D&D

It's because they're boring. I mean, sure, dinosaurs, cool, but at the end of the day they're just large bags of Hit Points with a bite attack. If they're really extravagant, they might have trample or a tail swipe. In a game with dragons, demons, wizards and weird monsters that just doesn't cut it.

So for those who want to use dinosaurs without their players yawning, here's a Random Dinosaur Mutation Table! It doesn't have as many entries as I'd like to see, so add your own one in the comments!

1 aura of silence – 75% for a few rounds at a  time,  20% for hours, 5% constantly
2 breathes fire
3 breathes frosty air blast
4 breathes mutagenic gas
5 burning blood – harms whoever inflicts close combat damage
6 commands other reptiles
7 feathered (or featherless, if otherwise typical theropod)
8 friendly – 50% to whoever is kind to it, 50% picks a friend and sticks with him to the point of being burdensome
9 giant
10 glittering feathers/scales – when moving in bright light, observers must save or be stunned
11 glows – 1 in 3 chance glow is radioactive or has magical effect
12 inorganic diet – 50% preferred diet is ferrous (armour, weapons), 50% prefers coins and/or treasure
13 invisible – 75% for a few rounds at a time, 20% for hours, 5% constantly
14 knows how to operate doorknobs, winches, levers, etc.
15 laser (or death energy) eyebeam
16 lulling song – 50% magical sleep effect
17 mind control – 50% short duration, direct „puppetmaster”, 50% long duration insinuator
18 miniature
19 multiple heads – 75% 2 heads, 25% 1d6+2 heads
20 non-reptilian animal head
21 religious – greatly respects: 20% the given land’s immortal ruler / 20% some god from the  God Coast / 20% a dinosaur deity / 15% the Olm / 15% Baratrón / 10% other
22 sound mimicry (like the Predator, it can mimic but doesn’t understand it)
23 primitive (tribal level) intelligence (50% it affects the entire herd/pack)
24 shapeshifter – 40% into similar-sized animals, 40% into inanimate objects or plants, 20% into humans (but doesn’t gain human intelligence)
25 spawn – miniature copies burst out from carcass
26 speaks
27 spellcaster
28 spits acid
29 spits hallucinogenic substance
30 spits poison
31 telekinesis – 50% weak, 40% strong enough to hurl people around, 10% collapses buildings
32 walks through walls
33 winged, can fly (though pretty clumsily if it’s a Tyrannosaurus or somesuch)
34 wreathed in flames
35 wreathed in frost
36 X-ray vision
37-50 several mutations, roll again twice and do NOT ignore this result in the future

Monday, August 29, 2011

If you only care about the new spells and such, read just the second half

First, some details on last night's game, since someone asked for it:

The party started in medias res, having just acquired a possibly magical silver orb engraved with hundreds of infinitely thin lines (after its owner, who was looking to sell it, has been killed in a freak tavern brawl) and on the way to Turin's Tradehouse, a colony in the Lowlands where someone might be able to tell them what powers it might have. However, they took a wrong turn somewhere (or the land has shifted again), and ended up in Stepstone Ford, a small hamlet of beehive-like stone structures on the edge of the Bitter Brambles. During their first night, a murder has taken place in the hamlet, casting some understandable suspicion on the travellers. In order to prove their innocence, they decided to head out into the Brambles in search of a mad hermit who lives nearby and was responsible for the theft of strange magical artifact whose function nobody knows four years ago - and who they suspect might be the murderer. In the endless sea of thorny vegetation they've first stumbled into a clearing full of dry sinkholes and strangling roots, then investigated what looked like some sort of plantation - where the Thornhorse mentioned earlier animated and attacked them. Killing it is where we'll pick it up next Sunday.

Now for something meatier: how to kill a Thornhorse (or anything, really) with a rhyme.

Cutting Word
1st level

This spell has the power to give words a sharp magical edge to actually cut things with. It has two known uses:
1, By concentrating on a victim within sight, a sorcerer can prevent him from pronouncing a single pre-determined word: should the victim attempt to speak the word, he would start stuttering and coughing. He might say the word with considerable effort, but doing so will cause him 1d6-1 points of damage as the word cuts his mouth on its way out.

2, By delivering two (or more) lines of rhyming, metered and previously unused verse, the sorcerer can cast his own cutting words at a single enemy from a range. Damage done is determined by DM's discretion, but 1d6-1 would do for a rhyming couplet. (In last night's game, Qabar rhymed "burn" with something, so I gave it 1d6 damage because it was especially appropriate against a plant monster.)

As a note, this idea comes from historical pre-Islamic Arabic magic which I've studied for a semester. Just before battle, wizards would stand in front of the enemy army and shout rhyming curses - and the enemy would drop on the ground to avoid being hit by the rhymes flying through the air!

Quick note, just for the history books

First Zu session done. Spent quite a while explaining houserules and character creation options, so not all that much gaming got done, but we'll continue next week. Forgot to print the recentmost versions of some files and the complete equipment list, but that's good because it made me think on my feet.

The historic First Zu Party includes Qabar the Shaper, wizard extraordinaire and his Pnakognomatic Artisan servant; Cassandra the Lowlander ranger, Tui Chi the bushi from Khantún, and Echidna, the bear-statured humanoid beastwoman with a reasonably prehensile tail, scales, great sense of smell and self-healing slime covering her body. I didn't get some Mutant Future in my D&D, I've put some Mutant Future in there. Their first kill was a Thornhorse, a sort of demonic animated topiary creature. Half of its hit points were destroyed by a well-placed rhyme. Yes, really.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A quick post before I'm off

Okay, earlier today the Hungarian group had a weird adventure on Titan (of Fighting Fantasy fame) that revolved around the opening party of a new goblin club - using Melan's Sword & Magic system. More relevant to this blog, I'm about to leave to inflict the first World of Zu adventure on my English language group.

In a few minutes I'll be off and spoiling my players by giving them an artifact of inestimable worth from the get-go and no known way of actually utilising it, then hitting them over the head with a mad hermit and a bunch of monsters based on Zak's drawings. While I'm doing that, you all should psych yourself with a very good musical representation of Haaa plains barbarians:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

DMing for girls. Smallish ones.

So, it came to pass that I might run something for a group of 10-11 year old girls (all but one with no RPG experience). Not this week, not the next, but sometime, possibly.

I've started thinking about what I should run. The system isn't much of an issue - it's probably going to be some sort of simplified D&D, or maybe WEG D6 -, but coming up with themes, styles and a setting is a tougher nut.

See, there's already something out there that would be perfect, were it not for one issue: Pendragon. Not the system, the setting. I mean, it has:

- A background that even young non-roleplaying girls can relate to: King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Excalibur, etc.. They haven't read Mallory, but they'd know enough about it from pop culture.
- Several reasonably simple themes that might give them something to think about (and getting them thinking about things is good, this should be an educational experience): good versus evil, chivalry versus villainy, etc.
- Things that are a bit more complicated but probably still crackable: loyalty versus freedom, mercy versus nipping evil in the bud, idealism versus pragmatism. Depending on the game's angle, racial (Britons vs. Saxons) and religious (christians vs. pagans) tension.
- A soft sort of setting. I mean, these are young girls. You don't want S&S-style shades of grey and amorality, or low fantasy cynical nihilism. It's about noble knights and fairies and dragons.

But there's one glitch: it's about the Knights of the Round Table. Not the Ladies who stay at home knitting and swooning. And let's face it, even at our adult age, most of us roleplayers hardly (if) ever roleplay the opposite gender. 11 year old girls won't be doing it. And I'm NOT going to go the "your lady characters are so smart King Arthur makes an exception and says you can be knights" way; it'd just break the setting too far for me, plus it would teach the wrong idea of how the players' individual desires get to override the DM's setting assumption.
Sure, if I was a dad myself with my daughter in the group, I probably wouldn't bat an eyelid over allowing armour-clad Lady Knights of Camelot, or a cuddly Conan who respects women and doesn't kill people, or a Darth Vader who can be persuaded to shut down the Death Star if the heroine looks at him cutely enough with puppy eyes. But I'm not a dad, and I'm not going to twist established source material to fit the players any more than I would twist the players into a game style they just can't do.

So, there it is: what would be a good setting - possibly built from the ground up - that's like King Arthur in themes and sensitivities, but readily allows for female PCs? Chirp up in the comments!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Since I hate doing tables so much, here's another one for you. It's a random rooftop generator.

Well, this one needs a bit of explanation: it was written up for a possible future city crawl set rather explicitly in the world of the Thief computer games. Don't diss it, it's a very intriguing setting and I'm convinced it's highly suitable for pen-and-paper roleplaying, and not just with fans - and one day I'll prove it. For those not in the know, it's a sort of medieval society meets Victorian London by way of steampunk setting. So no, it's probably not suitable for Ye Olde Standarde Mediaevale Englande setting.

How to use: a series of rolls down the table gives you one building (or rather, it's rooftop and basic function). You need an "anchor point" for some of the rolls which give you some attributes relative to something - it could be the previous building you've rolled up, that should work.

PS: I'm experimenting with the pdf conversion trickaustrodavicus described in the previous post's comments. Had to downsize the images a bit, but I'm not sure how legible it is. If it isn't, holler in the comments and I'll fix it somehow.

Friday, August 19, 2011

You want a randomly generated divine idol for you game? The Headless Horse Archer delivers!

Note: even though all posts so far revolved around the World of Zu setting, this blog is in no way meant to be a single-world blog or a single campaign documentation. Here, for instance, is something I wrote for a completely different game I intend to run sometime in the future, one that revolves around stone age tribes, divine idols and Polynesian/Mesoamerican aesthetics. And flying sharks. What we have here below is a set of tables for randomly generating a divine totem. It's not quite complete - it would be nice to also have a random table for exactly what magical effects they can bestow on petitioners -, but this is as far as it's been written up as of now.

Note: The only way of doing tables in Blogger I know of is to code them manually in HTML and hope the formatting comes out as usable. Sorry for the mess. The intention is that a single column can refer to several previous lines. For instance, if you roll "2" for appearance, then you next roll 1d6 to see if it's a humanoid, animal/monster or plant shape. Then you roll another d6 to see if it's rough or finely worked, which goes for whichever shape you rolled.


2figurative1-2 humanoid1-4 crude1-4 full (partial for humanoid)
3-4 animal/monster5-6 lifelike5-6 partial (full for humanoid)
5-6 plant
3unworked stone
6negative space (pit, cleft, etc.)
7group of small, separate pieces(roll again for type of pieces)1-4 organised layout
5-6 random layout
8compound, 2-5 elements1-3 uniform style
4-6 mixed style


1-3: 1 effect
4-6: 2-7 effects

1fire1-3 fully covered1-2 normal firenormal burn
4-6 partially covered3-4 colourful flame4-6 magical effect
5-6 special (sparks, sticky flames, etc.)
2water/ice1-2 normal1-3 normal effect
3-4 colourful4-6 magical effect
5-6 other (flows upwards, shifting ice, evaporation, etc.)
3air (whirlwind, cloud pillar, mist shapes etc.) 1-3 normal effect
5-6 magical effect
4light (halo, glimmer, inverted shadow, etc.)1-3 normal effect
5-6 magical effect
5sound1-3 positive/neutral1-3 no special effect
3-4 sinister4-6 magical effect
6movement1-2 hover/float
3-4 rotate
5-6 pulsate/throb
7heat1-3 warm/hot1-3 only to touch1-3 no magical effect
4-6 cold4-6 radiating4-6 magical effect on touch
8emotion1-3 positive(calmness, safety, happiness etc.)
4-6 negative(fear, anger, confusion etc.)


1-2speech1-2 whisper
3-4 normal speech
5-6 thundering roar
3telepathy1-2 weak, simple1-3 "heard" by one person
3-4 medium strength4-6 "heard" by everyone nearby
5-6 overwhelming, complex
4through a speaker1-3 human1-2 marked individual
4-6 animal/monster3-4 anyone
5-6 sacrifice
8thought implanted into subject1-2 weak temptation
3-4 moderate inducement
5-6 overriding obsession

Character creation rules for Zu

And now we get to some crunch. When creating a PC for Zu, first you decide your class: Fighting Man, Adventurer, Wizard or one of several Non-human options.

Fighting Man

Level Attack bonus Saving throw AC (unarmoured) HD
1 1 16 11 1d6+2+CON bonus per level
2 2 14 12
3 3 12 13
4 4 10 14
5 5 8 15

Fighting Men can use all weapons (with a few rare exceptions) and armour. A Fighting Man character can choose to belong to a particular subtype and receive its bonuses (and penalties). Those who choose not to do so get to roll their new Hit Points twice and take the better result when gaining a level.

Lowlander Monster Slayer
Receives a +1 to his attack rolls when attacking a monster. At third or higher level, the bonus extends to damage rolls as well; at fifth level, both bonuses increase to +2.

Ankuran Janissary
Starts the game knowing the prayers and rituals necessary to operate the blessed weapons of the Empire. Starts with a small and simple Spirit House (small hand cannon) and enough ritual components for 6 uses OR with 2 single-use, pre-blessed Spirit Houses.

Rayyashid Mamluk
Receives +2 to his saving throw for horseriding-related rolls, and a  +1 to attack rolls when fighting from horseback. This increase to +4 and +2 respectively at third level.

Khantúnian Bushi
Can concentrate his Chi once per day (twice at third, thrice at fifth level). Receives a +4 to attack rolls and saving throws, and +2 to AC and close combat damage for one round.

Hāāā Plains Barbarian
Receives +1 Hit Point per level. Gains the ability to attack twice per round at third, and three times per round at fifth level. Receives +2 to AC. On the downside, he cannot wear any armour (helmets and shields are allowed); his extreme superstition causes him to suffer a -4 penalty to saving throws against any form of magic; and he must make a save (as against magic) when consciouly trying to tell a lie - if he fails, his inherent primitive honesty forces him to speak the truth.

Rotwalder Volkschmitt
Besides being a competent warrior, he is also a trained smith. Given the necessary tools (which such characters typically start the game with), he can quickly repair splintered shields & helmets by making a saving throw. Other repairs and similar blacksmithing activities typically require more time and better equipment than what can be assumed during an adventure.


Level Attack bonus Saving throw AC (unarmoured) HD
1 0 14 10 1d6+1+CON bonus per level
2 1 12 11
3 2 10 11
4 2 8 12
5 3 6 13

Adventurers live by their skills and wit rather than their combat prowess. As such, they can wield any one-handed weapon and wear light or medium armour. When attempting actions appropriate to their class orientation (such would include climbing, sneaking, acts of legerdemain or appraising the value of treasure), they receive a +1 to their saving throw. If an Adventurer character picks no subtype, he receives a +1 to either his attack bonus or AC.

Lowlander Ranger
Receives a +2 bonus to his saving throw when using it for navigation, pathfinding, tracking or sneaking/hiding in the wilderness.

Urban Thief
Receives and extra +1 to saving throw when attempting any sort of urban skulduggery (such as picking pocket, losing a tail in a crowd, running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop or bribing a guard). He can only wear light armour.

Rayyashid Nobleman
He receives a +1 to saving throws when trying to influence people, and starts with the skill of horseriding (but unlike a mamluk, doesn't receive any bonuses to it). Has a very limited illusionist ability, usable once per week if he makes a saving throw modified by his WIS bonus. This is restricted to replicating the effects of mirage: a green line of vegetation on the horizon, light glinting off of nonexistent metal helmets in the distance, a party of travellers falsely appearing to be in the distance, etc. Can only be used in wide open environments such as the desert or the ocean.

Hāāā Plains Reptile Hunter
Receives a +2 to saving throws when handling, riding, training, calming down or otherwise interacting with reptiles. As a downside, loses all special saving throw bonuses that assume a certain level of cultural sophistication (e.g. value appraisal).

Rotwalder Gildesschmitt
Can repair splintered shields and helmets like a Volkschmitt. Starts with the knowledge of random 2 runes and gains another 2 every level. Can wear any type of armour, but receives no bonuses to adventurer's skills.


Level Attack bonus Saving throw AC (unarmoured) HD
1 0 16 10 1d6+CON bonus per level
2 0 14 10
3 0 12 10
4 0 10 10
5 0 8 10

A Wizard character can wear no armour, and is restricted to the use of daggers, staves, whips & scourges, and one freely chosen one-handed weapon type. They start the game with 3 random spells. At the DM's discretion, he can choose how many of these should be 1st, 2nd or variable level spells. A Wizard who chooses no subtype is called a  Sorcerer and gains a +1 bonus to his spellcasting rolls.

Shamans only start with one spell and always cast their spells as a first level character. However, they can interact with the normally unseen spirits of the world if they make a successful spellcasting roll with their WIS bonus as a modifier. Such actions count as magic use, and thus have their HP cost.

Typical uses & appropriate difficulty levels:
See (or hear) nearby spirits1
Identify a spirithalf of the spirit's level (rounded down)
Talk to a spirit1 (or 3 if the spirit is hostile)
Attract nearby spirits from the area2 (or 3 for particularly reclusive ones
Repulse all spirits from immediate vicinity3
Give a command to a spirit4
Bind a spirit to an object or chase it away5

Rotwalder Hohesschmitt
 A Hohesschmitt starts the game with kowledge of 4 random runes and gains another 3 at every new level. Additionally, he is a fully capable weaponsmith and can wear all types of armour.

Still in the works:
Demonologist (though it might be just a Sorcerer with a specific spell loadout).

Nonhumans will be done later.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

More on Zu

Once we get this brief setting information done, we can move on to discussing  some more spells, monsters or Zu character creation houserules. That's what we're all here for, so let's get on with it:

To the west of the Ankur Empire (and roughly to the north of the Lowlands) lies the Asrakan Desert, a wasteland of rock and sand. It's dunes and labyrinthine mesas are a haven for bandits preying on the few trade and supply routes as well as horrid monsters - preying both the routes and the bandits. Travellers are advised to keep to the rocky southern stretches, as the endless sand seas are often plagued by the grey dust storms of the north and the attending raiders of the little-known but terrifying Grey Khanate, a distant and inimical place where, as they say, grey-skinned people live without water or food, ruled by the terrible Zubotai Khan.

In the centre of the Asrakan desert lies the salty, inland Spice Sea, named for the many exotic crops that can be grown on its salty shore. It is a point of violent contention between the Ankur Empire and the Rayyashid Califate, an alliance of semi-nomadic tribes that occupy the oases and waterways of the western half of the desert watched over and ruled by the allegedly immortal Protector of the Way, Calif Zurún al-Rayya ibn Khaldún ibn Sabbah. Rayyashid tribesmen are described by travellers as polite and hospitable, but this does little to improve their reputation: besides the demonic riders of the Grey Khanate, the Caliphate is the only land where the use of the fell and unnatural beasts called "horses" is accepted and even encouraged.

Somewhere to the west of the desert and the Lowlands, hidden behind great mountain ranges, lies the hidden empire of Khantún. Their fine luxury products occasionally make it into the possession of refined collectors, and rogue Bushi Knights of the land sometime travel into the known lands, but little else is known of these strange-hued, slanted-eyed people and their mighty fungal farms in the jungle. Their ruler is the Incomparable Sage of the Amber Heavens, the Emperor of the Lacquered Throne, Zu Long.

To the southwest of the Lowlands lie the barbaric Hāāā Plains. The longhaired, loincloth-clad barbarians of the plains have three main occupations: quarreling between tribess; raiding settlements beyond their borders for metal tools and weapons to better quarrel between tribess with; and hunting, trapping and taming the myriad species of dragon-lizards that seasonally migrate here from the south then selling them to the highest bidder as riding mounts, beasts of burden or warbeasts. These people are far too disorganised to have any sort of formal rulership, but a certain barbarian hero called Zungarr the Mightiest commands the grudging respect of all - and in fact has been doing so for centuries, if these barbarians are to be believed.

To the east of the Hāāā Plains lie the forbidding mountain peeks and deep dark valleys of the Rotwald Forest. A traveller must tread carefully and never deviate from the trails that connect the hamlets and villages of the valleys, lest they be lost forever or snatched up by the things lurking beneath the dense canopy. While most travellers only encounter the villages, the real power over the Rotwald Forest is held by the mountain fortresses of the reclusive Smithing Lords. The Smithing Lords are the preeminent weapon- and armoursmithes of all the known realms, creating - and jealously guarding - designs not even imagined anywhere else, and imbuing their best creations with the magic of mysterious runes. For a warrior, the armoury of a single Rotwalder hohesschmitt would be worth more than the Ankuran Imperial treasury - and, fittingly, an attempt at it would be similarly more preposterous. Little is known of the internal organisation of the Gilde, but the high-ranking master smithes are believed to be engaged in constant and covert struggle for each others' most powerful runes and weapons. Nevertheless, an entity called Zugfried Dwimmerschmitt is always spoken of with great deference, regardless the speaker's affiliations.

The last known land, sandwiched between the Rotwald and the Eastern Ocean, is the God Coast. Little is known of this narrow but long strip of land, as most who go there come back thoroughly changed - or not at all. What's known is that the land is peppered by hundreds, if not thousands, of shrines, temples and cathedrals, each consecrated to a different god. Some of these occasionally send missionaries to other lands, but the tenets spread by these people are just too strange to win many people over. Having said that, some of these missionaries do seem to have extraordinary abilities and magics at their command, so maybe not all these religions are the product of fevered delusion, after all.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A stream-of-consciousness deconstruction of monster creation

Just yesterday I found myself asking: how would I rework the Marilith? For the edification of my readers, here's a complete recording of the thought process:

Well, what is a Marilith? It's a large snake tail with some chassis at the front that holds a hole bunch of arms to fight with - let's go with this basic idea. Snake tail, okay, but let's top it with something scarier then a naked woman with tits (and some extra limbs). What's scary and has a lot of arms? Spiders. So it's a large (I guess maybe small horse-sized) spider with a long, heavy, ponderous snake tail where its abdomen would be.

It won't be waving around scimitars with its hairy spider legs, so let's give it a different method of attack. It bites and poisons, sure, but something else as well. It's half snake, and there's such a thing as a spitting snake, so I'll make it spit... but what? Poison is passe. It should spit something related to snakes or spider... flies! It spits living flies - or more accurately, tiny, vaguely humanoid fly-men. It creates them from the juice sucked out of its victims. The flies don't attack directly. They, ermm... they're flied, they're dirty, they spit on food. They land on food and infect it with the spirit of distrust, intolerance and hatred. They also so small theylook like normal flies at a glance, which works just fine: I want demons to be about more than just hitting hard and being tough to kill. So the spidersnake demon hides in caves, ruins and the like near populated areas and sends forth its tiny minions to spread hatred and chaos via the infected food.

So far, so good, but it needs something more, like some creepy extra body parts. Have you ever seen up-close photos of spiders? Those extra eyes sure look creepy, so I'll work with that. When it feels threatened (say, by adventurers), smaller snakes grow out of its eyes and try to bite its enemies. But here's a great opportunity to add something even more: those smaller snakes (well, normal-sized snakes) also have the forebodies of spiders! They're smaller copies of the entire demon. And since they're copies, they also have a whole bunch of eyes, so you have even smaller growing out of those, and of course they too have a spider body. And eyes. With snakes growing out of them.

As it were, this here is a fractal monsters which has smaller copies of itself growing out of its eyes, and out of the eyes of those, and so on ad infinitum. A single spidersnake is in fact an infinite number of ever-regressing spidersnakes and they all get a separate attack roll f*ck NO. We don't need that, only the first four get that. But we do keep the infinite regression thing, because it's nicely Cthulhoid and as such highly appropriate for a demon. So here's our lovely:

The Deepest Planter of Ebony Seeds*

4 Hit Dice. AC 14. Reduces all physical damage by 3 HP. Bite attack 1d6 HP + save vs. poison or temporarily lose 1d6 points of DEX. 4 additional eye-snake attacks when not surprised, each as a 2HD monster that does 1d6-1 HP. Does the fly-man food infection thing and also sees and hears through them.

*All stats for World of Zu, the numbers would be completely different for standard D&D.

Next time I might make a monster that combines a bear with a stone wall.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The world of Zu

The first of several writeups (the publication of which will probably be interrupted when I get distracted by some other idea) on the World of Zu, a Strange Fantasy setting. "Strange Fantasy" is a phrase I've just invented for a style which is a bit like Weird Fantasy but isn't quite so extreme. Instead of, say, being full of astronauts, cactus men (shout-out to Planet Algol!) and Radium Pistols, it's more Sword & Sorcery with some astronauts and cactus men. (Well, not those specifically, but you get the idea.) I'm not very happy with the phrase; "Queer Fantasy" would have expressed the notion of "weird but not quite so much" a while ago, but of course these days it would mean something altogether different. Dear Reader, if you come up with a better term for the sort of thing I have in mind, post it in the comments and you'll win a prize! Anyway, Zu:

The Lowlands of the Lost lies in the centre of the known lands of the World of Zu. Also known as the Land of River, Road and Rampart, named for its three major landmarks which allow the ragtag population to maintain a semblance of coherence: the Olm River, the Sword Trail and the ruins of the Cephean Rampart.
It's called the Lowlands of the Lost for good reason: almost all known methods of navigation fail here. No one knows what ancient magical or other forces make it so, but the fact remains: trees grow moss on all sides in the forest, magnet stones spin around, the stars and constellations dance around the sky unpredictably, and even the sun always rises at a different point of the horizon. In fact, the very layout of the land itself twists and rearranges itself from time to time: you may follow a path from one point to another and make extensive notes and maps; but if you try to follow the same instructions half a year later, you'll probably end up in the middle of the wilderness, thoroughly confused about how even the mountains and lakes seem to be completely elsewhere.

Nevertheless, people do manage to get from one tiny community to the other, and even some occasional trade exists: some people - always born in the land - seem to have a good if not infallible instinct that keeps them on the true path to wherever they're going. And even if you don't have the services to such a guide, features located close enough to the Olm River, the Sword Trail and the Cephean Rampart seem to be much more 'stable' then other spots, so the routes along these three tend to remain largely unchanged for years on end. Anything beyond, however, whether they be dark and humid forests, trackless swamps or labyrinthine hills and canyons, belongs to the daring, the desperate and the foolhardy who bet their lives against the prospects of finding a new, profitable trading route, an undiscovered mine of precious gems, or a lost city of foreboding and maybe even treasure-laden tombs....

However, not all lands of Zu are as inimical to civilisation as the Lowlands. If one travels to the Sour Coast (named after the peculiar taste of the ocean water here) in the east and then heads north and through one of the many gaps in the mountains girdling the Lowlands, he comes to the southern edge of the flourishing Ankur Empire.

The mightiest force in the East, the Empire is a land of great cities protected by thick walls, tall towers and the divine guidance of the god of the land, the immortal Sultan Zuliman. It was Zuliman who armed his janissary soldiers with the divine weapons of the Empire: these closely guarded artifacts act as houses for elemental spirits of air and fire. By performing the proper incantations and gestures and placing the necessary sacrifices into these receptacles, the spirits will strike the unrighteous with lethal fury.*

More later.

*True. Contrarily to whatever metagaming assumptions players might have, they really only work with the exact prescribed prayers and gestures. If someone tries to cut out the ceremonial stuff and tries to "just load the gun", it will not work. In fact, the spirits might well get offended and "misfire".

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pay for one spell, get 10 new monsters for free

Baratrón Pact
Level: 7, -1 for each HD of sacrifice at casting

This spell forms a pact between the caster and the mysterious subterranean entity Baratrón, who provides the former with a randomly determined obedient servant. The creature will follow the caster’s commands to the best of its abilities and serves for an indeterminate period of time. Once the creature is slain, banished from this world or magically removed from under the caster’s control, the caster must offer a second sacrifice of  intelligent creatures, this one commensurate with the power of his former servant: a total of 1 HD for each of the creature’s plus the wizard’s HD (so a 4th level wizard who's just lost his Animated Statue must offer a sacrifice worth 7 Hit Dice - since normal humans do not advance to such levels, this means a number of victims). Should he fail to perform this within three days, he will permanently lose 2 points for each HD from random attributes.

  1. – Subterranean Man
  2. – Pit Victim
  3. – Earth Elemental
  4. – Living Statue
  5. – Pnakognomatic Artisan
  6. – Baratrian Smoke Demon
  7. – Clockwork Horror
  8. – Troglodyte
  9. – Eye of Stone
  10. – Ancient One Who  Sleeps
Subterranean Man

A man with white or no hair, pale skin and milky eyes. He is like a normal fighting man (1st to 3rd level), but with the following exceptions:
- He is blind, and therefore immune to blinding effects such as sharp or stroboscopic lights as well as to purely visual illusions.
- His sharp hearing and preternatural senses are functionally equivalent to 90’ of vision in any light conditions.
- Due to Baratrón's blessing, he always understands his master’s commands, but can only speak his own unintelligible language.
- Accustomed to living in caverns: +2 to climbing and swimming rolls, +4 to moving silently in enclosed spaces characterised by hard surfaces.
Subterranean men are normally equipped with a metal club (1d6 damage), a small dagger and two dozen doses of blade poison (1d6-2 HP, -1d8/-1d8 DEX). They will not wear armour.

Pit Victim
A criminal thrown into the punishment pits of ancient and distant cities, reanimated by Baratrón's will. An undead creature with blackened and hardened skin, covered in long dark rags. Understands speech but cannot communicate. It automatically detects hostile intent towards its master and autonomously takes steps to cruelly dispose of the threat unless explicitly ordered otherwise.  Either carries an ancient, badly rusted weapon or uses its long, disease-ridden claws.

1-3HD, AC10, dam. 1d6-1 or 1d6-2 + disease: 1d4 STR / 1d4 CON

Earth Elemental

A hulking, shape of rock and earth that can pull itself into a vaguely humaoid appearance. It can tear down walls and dig through rock easily. All worked stone in its vicinity - bricks, walls, flagstone, statues, etc. - will slowly revent into natural stone formations over a matter of months, weeks or days, depending on the elemental's level. When not in contact with stone or earth, or when at least partially submerged in water, it slowly disintegrates, losing 1 HP per round.

3-8 HD, AC18,  dam. 1d6 (3-4 HD), 2d6 (5-6 HD) or 3d6 (7-8 HD).

Animated Statue

An exquisitely carved statue of stone, typically depicting a human or animal. Intelligent enough to follow complicated commands, but always remains very literal in their interpretation. When faced with a situations undefined by its instructions, it will try to follow the nearest match in its orders. Unless its master puts some thorough thinking into his instructions, this nearest match might well boil down to "protect me", which in turn might become "kill anything that come close." Animated statues can speak in a resonant voice, but usually only do that when isntructed to do so or when told to report some past event.

3 HD, AC17,  dam. 1d6+2. Takes minimum damage from non-blunt weapons.

Pnakognomatic Artisan

In this dimension the creature appears as a hunched, lean, black-skinned, hairless dwarf. While it only has one Hit Die, it counts as a 5HD creature for the purposes of sacrifice as described in the Baratron Pact spell. It cannot wield weapons or wear armour, but has the ability to part and pefectly reseal earth, rock and minerals (the latter only in their natural state) with its comically oversized bare hands. Furthermore, when given the necessary materials, even in their raw state (such as a vein of iron ore instead an ingot),  it can manufacture any non-magical metal or stone item in one hour without tools. It can communicate with its master, and anyone else the master declares is privy to such conversation, in a multitonal whisper that everyone perceives as his or her native language.
If the Pnakognomatic Artisan is killed, its full and proper form will momentarily intrude upon our dimension in its death throes. At the end of the round of its death, it will transform into a giant tentacled non-Eucledian monster and randomly lash out at nearby targets, attacking as a 10 HD creature. In this single destructive act it will lash out with 5 tentacles (1d6 damage); bite with its gaping mouth full of pointy teeth at the closest possible target (2d6+2 damage); and shoot a black eyebeam of death energy (save or die). Once the monster is still, it is sucked back into its native dimension, leaving no body behind.

Pnakognomatic Artisan: 1HD, AC11, dam. 1d6-1

Baratrian Smoke Demon

This intelligent, malevolent creature comprises tendrils of poisonous dark smoke and counts as a 4 HD monster for purposes of the Baratron Pact. It can fly and fit through the tiniest crack and is completely immune to non-magical weapons and most spell effects, some notable exceptions being wind, banishment or domination by arcane means. It attacks by engulfing its target: the victim can hold his breath by making a CON save with a cumulative -2 penalty for every round after the first, or try to outrun the smoke by an opposed DEX check (the demon is considered to have DEX 12, horndwarves take a -4, lizardmen a -2  penalty). A failure indicates that the demon’s poisons have penetrated the victim’s lungs, causing 1d6 points of damage to a randomly chosen attribute.

When located outside the Underworld, the Demon needs an unholy container, typically a clay or stone jar, to regularly retreat into and regain composure. If this jar is destroyed, the Smoke Demon will permanently disperse in a few days.
While the Baratrian Smoke Demon  is capable of operating above grounds, it will only do so by the explicit command of its master, since it has problems navigating even a light breeze, and a stronger wind is pretty much lethal to it.

1HD, AC: 12 (only against magic weapons)

Clockwork Horror

All cogs, joints, axles, pincers and swirling blades, Clockwork Horrors are mechanical monsters that come in a great variety of sizes and (sometimes vaguely human- or animal-like) shapes. They only take minimum damage from piercing and slashing weapons (except heavy, two-handed swords and axes), and are immune to fire, poison and all other effects that would not affect a steel machine. Electricity causes them to stop amidst convulsions for 1d4 rounds, but after that they’ll be quickened, having twice the movement rate and twice the usual number of attacks for the same duration. The smallest ones with 1 Hit Dice can climb over all but the smoothest surfaces, even upside down, and 2 HD ones also retain some of this ability to a lesser extent.

Roll HD AC Attacks
1-3 1 15 1d6-1
4-6 2 15 1d6/1d6-1
7-9 3 15 1d6/1d6/1d6-1
10-11 4 15 1d6+1/1d6/1d6/1d6-1
12 5 15 1d6+1/1d6+1/1d6/1d6/1d6-1
(Note that this is just a guideline, many other variations exist with different AC and special attacks, usually at the cost of normal attacks.)
 Yeah, I know it already exists; this is a different one.
These mottled red 12 foot tall monsters are vaguely humanoid but headless, having their eyes and gaping mouth in the middle of their chest. Their arms each terminate in a single great claw. They’re naturally aggressive, but under the Baratron Pact will be tame (unless ordered by its master to violence). Troglodytes are excellent underground trackers and can even detect their prey from the other side of a wall.
3-4 HD, AC14, dam. 1d6/1d6 or trample: needs space to charge, 3d6-2 if hit
Eye of Stone
This creature looks like a head-sized, pear-shaped piece of grey rock with an eyeball-like marble set at the narrow end amidst small pincers. When exposed, it cannot move on its own, but once placed against a rock wall or floor it passes through it without leaving a trace. It has perfect vision in any environmental conditions, and can even see rough shapes through a foot a solid rock without its eye protruding. It understands spoken commands and can communicate with its master by replaying what it saw as a miniature image on the surface of its eye. It can use its pincers to replace its marble eye with the fleshy ocular orb of a living creature, establishing a symbiotic relationship: the Eye of Stone comes under the direct mental control of the host, relaying back information immediately.
1 HD, AC12 when exposed, AC17 when peeking from a surface.
Ancient One Who Sleeps
This is the undead mummy of a 9 foot tall cyclopean creature, wielding an ornate scepter and ancient magics. They take half damage from weapons and are immune to cold and any effect that typically fail to harm corporeal undead. They do take double damage from fire. Their single eye emits a faint pale light and gives them perfect vision even in magical darkness. Every day they can cast 2 spells plus 1 spell per HD following list: Forfeiture of Light, Tremor, Graveyard Fog, Light of the Dead, Traverse Rock, Gale of Abyssal Doom, Singing Stone, Power of the High Ones
4-7 HD, AC 15, dam. 1d6+2

I thought I'll get in at least three or four "content" posts before getting into the ephemerals of rules mechanics, but I guess I was wrong

All right, probably a few words are in order on how these spells work in the Zu campaign.

First, the spellcaster must roll a d20 to see if he can cast the spell properly. This is not Dying Earth were spells are clearly annotated, well-memorized pieces of verbal technology that work 100% the time. Some of the formulas are incomplete and every wizard has to finish them on his own. Some involve speaking in languages assuming a different vocal apparatus, so you just have to try and make it sound as close as you can. Sometimes the proper words change depending on the astrological constellations, so you have to keep that in mind, too

Anyway, you have to roll. D20 plus your INT modifier vs a target number - sometimes the circumstances might call for additional bonuses or penalties. If you and your spell are equal level, that number is 12 (so 50% chance of success, assuming high intelligence). If you're higher level than the spell, the target number goes down by 2 for each grade of difference. If you're lower level (a 2nd level wizard trying to cast a 3rd level spell), it goes up by the same. If you hit or exceed it, the spell goes off fine. If you miss, you've failed but you can try again. If you rolled an unmodified 1, you mangled it badly. Roll again: if this time is a success, the spell still failed but at least nothing bad happened to you. If it's a failure, you get the Critical Failure effects. If this second roll is also a 1, then it's a double failure and chances are it's been nice knowing your character. If you roll a natural 20 on your first roll, something good happens, depending on the spell. With the spells in the previous post, their effects gain a "bonus" level.

But that's not all; some spells are really powerful for their level, while the rest of the (human) world kind of fragile. Therefore, whenever you attempt to cast a level (successfully or otherwise), you lose 1 HP for every level of the spell. Since, as we know, HP doesn't only represent actual wounds but also luck, divine favour, "rolling with the blow" etc. etc. you've read your Gygax, it can just as well represent the extreme fatigue of spellcasting. Note that in order to compensate for this extra cost, spellcasters roll d6 for their HP, CON bonuses come into play at lower values then in, say, AD&D, and non-magical HP healing is a bit easier to acquire.

So roll to succeed AND HP cost. There's got to be some upside to all this, and indeed there is: no Vancian pre-memorisation. Cue grognards twitching in the mouth. Once you know a spell, you know that spell. Feel free to cast it as many times a day as you can afford, but then don't cry when a monster hits you after you've burned through your Hit Point reserves. (Plus, the more spells you cast from those general reserves of yours, the more die will come up as a 1.)

And of course, a significant part of this is as yet completely untested (under real gaming circumstances, solo simulations are a different matter). Actually running this is the next thing down on the list, though, so it should happen in a few weeks. I did promise you "mad science" vibes, after all. If you don't know what sort of testing and peer reviewing procedures that means, you have to read Girl Genius.

One reason for instituting this system was a desire to try and solve one of the most commonly cited grievances with 1st level wizards: you cast your Sleep / Magic Missile and you're out of the game until tomorrow morning. This way, low-level wizards can cast a significantly larger number of low-level spells (with some associated risks), while high-level ones won't be able to just douse the battlefield in magic: even with d6 Hit Dice, they (like all other classes) will cap out at 5th level, so they will have to be conservative with those high level spells that cost 4 or 5 HP a pop. And if they decide to go full hog on those nevertheless, then they won't have an untapped standby reserve of a dozen low-level spells. So I'm hoping these rules will flatten out the wizard's "Suck at low level, rule supreme at high" power curve.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Some spells from the world of Zu

Note: these come with a bunch of heavy houserules which I'm not going to explain right now. Suffice to say, 5th is the maximum spell level, some spells can be cast at different levels for a different magnitude of effect, and Hit Dice go up to 5 for PCs. Just go with the flow and if you like the idea, twist the rules as you will.

Abject Flight

Casting this spell for the first time is typically an unforgettable experience for the apprentice wizard, and not in a good way. As soon as the incantation is finished, he will experience nausea and the feeling of something living moving upwards in his windpipe. Within a few seconds, one or several unsettingly large dark grey moths crawl out of his mouth and take flight. The moths will follow simple orders (along the lines of which way to go and in what general manner to behave) and emit a weak aura of despondency. When cast at higher levels, a larger number of moths is conjured and the aura grows in strength proportionately. This is a variable level spell, with the following modifiers:

Level 1- 1d4 moths
Level 2 - small cloud (~man-sized)
Level 3 - large cloud (engulfs a group of people)
Level 4 - engulfs several houses
Level 5 - engulf a village
+1 level (so harder to cast) - The caster can see the world through the moths’ eyes, perceiving it in fragmented, multi-angular images.
+1 level - Instead of hopelessness, the moths emit an overhwelming aura of fear and panic.
+1 level - The moths gain the ability to follow highly specific orders. (E.g.: "Fly down that street, at the square enter the big grey building through the third window from the left on the second floor, and flutter around anyone who wears a shiny headdress, but keep clear of people wearing blue.")
-2 levels (so easier to cast) - Whenever the weather is overcast.

Critical failure: The caster becomes a six foot long moth for 1d6 hours.
Double critical failure: The caster summons a humongous (carriage-sized) moth from a realm of greyness. It has 5 HD, an energy draining touch, emits an aura of fear and every round it shoots a death beam from its eye that causes 1d6 points of damage. It is hostile to all, especially the caster and whoever stands close to him.

Harbingers of the Waning Sun

A more directly violent version of Abject Flight, this spell conjures up a cloud of middle finger-sized red hornets. These also manifest through the caster's mouth but will not harm him. If spread loose, the cloud will cause 1 HP per round of damage to everyone inside it; if kept in a tight swarm, the damage will be 1 HP per round for each level of the caster. The spell is of a variable level, with the same basic levels as above and the following modifiers:

+1 level - Stung victims must make a save or temporarily be driven mad by the hornet poison. Poisoned victims will attack everyone and anyone in sight for a few minutes.
-2 levels - Whenever the spell is cast during sunset, since the harbingers are easier to summon in the presence of the Waning Sun.

Critical failure: the caster becomes a six foot long hornet for 1d6 hours.
Double critical failure: the caster summons a giant hornet with 5 HD, an aura that causes everyone nearby to save or go berserk, deadly poison, and a 2d6 damage bite attack. If the setting sun is visible, the hornet will attempt to snatch the caster and carry him away through the solar disk into a corrupted segment of th Empyrean Realm.

Malediction of Ruin

This slow-acting but inexorable spell has been responsible for the destruction of fortresses and even entire cities. The caster pronounces an alien word of ruinous power, whose echo will linger on in the area of the casting indefinitely - possibly for centuries or even millenia - and can be heard by an astute listener when the area is otherwise silent. The echo accelerates the natural disintegration of structures, statues and other man-made constructions tenfold. So great is the power of this word that the caster must instill some of his own life essence into it, losing 2 points of a random attribute; this can be regained later by unspeaking the word in the same location and thus halting the process of quickened decay. A risk-taking wizard might be able to unsay another caster’s malediction, thus gaining the life force originally expended in the spell and adding those two points to his own attributes. This, however can only be tried once with a single occurence of malediction. If the attempt is a failure, that wizard must gain a level before trying again.

Level 1 - Affects a roughly house-sized area.
Level 3 - Affects a village, a small town, or a single quarter within a city.
Level 5 - Affects an entire city-sized area.
+1 level - The disintegration process is quickened a hundredfold instead of tenfold.
+1 level - When unsaying a previously cast spell.
+1 level - When unsaying another caster’s spell (cumulative with the above).

Critical failure: The spell s stuck inside the caster, causing him to lose 1 HP per day and age unnaturally fast, with any sort of healing magic only being half effective. No sure cure is known other than the intervention of sufficiently powerful Blood Demons or Astral creatures - and such are hardly ever helpful.

Double critical failure: The caster accidentally pronounces an entire sentence of ruinous power, summoning the Astral Horror called The Dweller Among Ruins. This creature looks like a giant winged humanoid comprised of immaterial substance, like an elaborately shaped blind spot filled with mind-aching static. It has 15 HD and four attacks per round which cause 2d6 HP damage each. It is one hair's breadth away from attacking outright, and a wizard who knows how to distract Horrors might be able to engineer an escape... maybe.

More later, along with a few paragraphs on the setting of Zu.

First post

Well, here we are, creating a blog after so many years spent on various old-school D&D forums. Who would have thought? At any rate, if you come from one of those forums, you know me as 'Premier'.

The purpose of this blog is to gently force myself into actually writing up the various ideas and half-sentence notes I have. Note that these are ideas and notes on old-school D&D CONTENT. Not opinions. While no offense is intended towards any opinion bloggers, I'm just not here for that game. This blog here is for spells, monsters, magic items, setting writeups, house rule musings, the works. Quite a few of them untested - yet -, so also some "mad scientist's laboratory" vibes: I'll run a game where armour decreases damage and magic isn't Vancian, and I'm sure as hell going to call it OD&D. Why? TO SHOW THEM!!! Muahahaha!