Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Iron Court

So, to celebrate the TPK-related end of the first (shortish) Zu campaign, here's the map AND the key to the Iron Courts, the place where the party has met its demise. Appropriately to the name, this complex of rooms and corridors is made entirely of metal - in most places the walls, floor and ceiling are a single slab of smooth, grey metal with rust-coloured stains and streaks; in others, it's metal plating (or more solid metal) of a different type.

(Click to enlarge.)

And the key as a Google document (right-click and select Open in New Window - doesn't seem to work otherwise for some reason.)

The reader might notice an extreme lack of treasure here - that's by design. This sublevel is sort of a "punishment level" where certain wizards have the ability to banish their enemies; as such, the greatest accomplishment one can reasonably expect here is to escape through the large cave at #50.

And just for posterity:
- Hokiman (shaman): despair drove him into passive-agressive behaviour and started deliberately grabbing at the urns in room 42.
- Vestiron (sorcerer): Got too greedy and irresponsible for his own good. Ran out of Hit and Ability Points before figuring out how to remove the urns in room 42 safely.
- Cassandra (Lowlander ranger), Crowley (sorcerer), Sizzy (female beastman): Slowly worn down and killed by two Rust Guardians on top of the battlements at 52. The fight lasted over a dozen rounds, but it didn't occur to them to run. To their credit, they took one of the two enemies down.


A long time with no posts, but for a reason. The last fully completed Zu adventures (well, "completed" to a certain value of the word) was reused this past weekend at a local convention, so I didn't want to put up any spoilers about it, but a writeup will be coming along soon. Then, this Sunday... well, I refer you to the title. The party has perished horrendously in the Iron Courts, a sublevel of the Labyrinth they were teleported into by an enemy spellcaster.

For the time being, this also means an end to the Zu campaign - though probably not for good. The party is keen to try out something else as well, so I'll be running them through a one-off Mutant Future adventure then we move on to a brand new setting (and probably brand new set of houserules) of my own: the Buck-Rogers-meets-Dune space fantasy shenanigans of Starlords. And that means a whole new slew of material to post here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Random encounters in Lloegyr

Long time, no post, and rest assured, I feel really, really horrible about it. The thing is, the last two sessions revolved around an adventure I'll be reusing at a convention in a fortnight or so, so I won't post anything about it until after that.

Here's something else, though: the "generic" random encounter tables for my faux Dark Ages Britain Lloegyr setting. Generic in the sense that specific areas would have their own tables.

As you see, it's not particularly fantastic insofar that a significant part of it is humans and animals. But that's a conscious choice I took: Lloegyr is a settled, largely mundane land where the truly supernatural is typically limited to certain areas (and the ones that aren't are appropriate to the setting, like Norse giants). Also, I wanted to give "normal" animals a chance to shine: a magical white stag or a blood-red raven feel very mythological and can certainly be the core for an interesting encounter, but only if they get a chance to show up on the random list and aren't muscled out by the plain far-out bizarre.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Magic items from another world...

This is a totally non-Zu post. Last year, I've been running my Lloegyr campaign, presently on hiatus, for several months. It's essentially a Faux Dark Ages Britain settting with no particular emphasis on historical accuracy - so that the cool Roman-equivalents can still be there while the cool Norse-equivalents have already arrived. I thought it might be fun to go through my notes and make a list of some of the various magic items I've introduced into the game (though not all of them were acquired by the party). As always, feel free to steal any of them for your own games.

- The broken spear of Carnaic Anroc. Carnaic Anroc was a Cymirog warchief of old who has led his people against the invading Saax foreigners. His weapons and armour were placed to rest with him in his tomb. The wooden haft of his spear has rotted away and broke, but the if the bronze spearhead were fitted to a new one, it would count as a +1 weapon against all non-native people of Lloegyr.
- Carnaic Anroc's bow & arrows. They're broken and rotted, but the arrowheads could be fitted to new shafts and gain a +1 bonus against good people. Carnaic Anroc, while certainly a patriot, was not exactly a nice person and some of his soul has rubbed off onto his weapons.

The (magical) treasure of the those who formerly disturbed Carnaic Anrog's tomb:
- Pearl-inlaid shortsword. Allows uninhibited movement in water.
- An ebony box with a single white lotus flower inside. Consuming the lotus completely heals, cures and reinvigorates the eater.
 - Black spear. Does triple damage on its next critical hit, but then loses all magic.
The party has found all these items, but failed to acquire their previous owners', now ghosts trapped in the tomb, permission to take them. As a result, they - and all the nonmagical loot from the same place - turned to rust and rot as soon as they stepped out into the daylight. Shortly before that, the black spear was used to impale the undead form of Carnaic's former wife - buried with him and now a vengeful undead witch -, and she fell into a cistern seething with evil black... stuff. I've been rather stingy with magical gear up to this point, so the following ensued:

DM: And, shrieking in pain, the witch topples the black mass.
* Cheers go up around the table.*
Player: Wait... Fuck, the spear was still in her! I jump after it.
DM: You jump into the seething black mass of evil magical slime?
Player: Hell, yeah, it was a magic item!
Rolls were made, and he actually managed to retrieve the spear and climb back out without taking too much damage from the acidic material. Only to lose the spear to sunlight in about five minutes. I almost felt sorry for my players.

Windwail Crystal. When moved - or something is moving near it -, this fist-sized uncut crystal makes a windlike-sound with a volume proportionate to the intensity of movement. Some cavemen have put it into the mouth of a primitive statue depicting a two-headed dog to act as a warning system when passersby approach.

Metal Mask. A brownish-red metal plate with a rectangular face carved into it and the eyeholes cut out. When held in front of one's face, one would see supernatural creatures for what they are, but it doesn't work in daylight.

Red Paint of the Cave Woman Witch. This paint, when applied to a specific, extremely heavy object determined by the paint's creator (in this case, a large boulder blocking a passage) will make that object light enough to easily move until the paint dries.

Magical stalagtites. These formed in a cave chamber of varied speleothems affected by magic. A few of the stalagtites have foot-long, perfectly spiral ends, which, when broken off, function as magical daggers. They offer no bonuses and shatter on the first hit, but deliver a slow poison that reduce the victim's maximum HP and one random ability by 1d4 points each day.

"Lead" spears. A set of five spears made of some extremely heavy, lead-like material (including the shaft). They count as magical weapons for the purpose of overcoming magical resistance, but suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls because of their weight.

Pile of green coins. Very beautifully minted, but of unidentifiable origins. When a single coin is separated from the pile and dropped, it will act randomly:
- Roll away in a random direction, even upslope.
- Roll towards the most powerful creature in the general area.
- Fall up to the ceiling and roll along it as if gravity was reversed. In the open, fly up into the sky and disappear forever.
- Roll along in a tight circular path, then roll to whatever location its owner specifies.

???? - This immaterial black thing lies in a chest in a small shrine built by strange ophidian creatures in elder ages, now connected to a caveman complex via a subterranean waterfall. It fits into one's palm and is constantly changing its shape. It's utterly black, reflecting no light and having no visible texture. The party never found it, because after clearing out about half the dungeon they just decided it was "too tough" and "not rewarding enough" and left. At that point I became deaf to complaints of "not enough magic loot". They had an un-statted but completely genuine and no-tricks-to-bite-you-in-the-ass, very poorly guarded small piece of Death itself. But they didn't feel like going deep enough into the dungeon to get it.

Petrified antlers. When touched to the stone statue of a stag, it causes the statue to crumble into dust while gaining the ability to summon a stag on one occasion.

Silver fish statuette. When warmed up by human touch and placed into water, it starts swimming around until it cools down and sinks to the bottom.

Quartz Throne. A might throne carved of a single humongous quartz crystal, of inestimable value. When exposed to sudden light, it fills the area with a Prismatic Spray affecting all except its occupant. If someone sits on it while under the moonlight, he can summon a servile Shade. By speaking the appropriate words and exposing the throne to bright light, Prismatic Guardians can also be summoned, 3 HD humanoid creatures whose hit with their immaterial weapons decreases the victim's Intelligence or Wisdom.

This one has a story. The party has found it in a dungeon, took it with them (they had some people with them helping to carry it) and eventually made their way back to the ship that was to take them home. On the penultimate day of the journey through this thickly forested, mysterious land based on mythological Ireland, they've met a seemingly young yet strangely ageless man travelling alone in the deep woods where no men tread, explaining upon inquiry that he's moving from his summer abode to his winter one.

Now, Player J. is not one to take the game very seriously and just doesn't really have that little mental switch that tells you when an idea is really stupid. Also, a while ago he recovered the non-magical crown of afore-mentioned Carnaic Anroc, and decided to create a new unified Cymric nation... by going around and telling random strangers that he's fated to be the new Cymric king and they should follow him. And guess what, that's exactly what he tells the strange traveller who in no way could possibly be a prince of the Tuatha dé Danann, who certainly doesn't have a mischievous trait, and who's unlikely to be mildly offended by some dull mortal pestering him with such a ridiculous fabrication of a story. The stranger gets an amused gleam in his eye, and plays along with J's highly credible story without a question. A bit of interlude in the form of a tower and undead warriors during which the man is left alone with the throne for a while. Fast forward to everyone boarding the ship and sailing home - the stranger decided to stay in his homeland and was adamant about it. As soon as the coast of quasi-Irish Tuaisceart fades out of sight, the throne becomes a large, mossy boulder with a note on top of it:
Dear Friends,
I thank you the hours of amusement we've had together - I was most entertained. I hope you won't mind if I keep the throne as a keepsake of our hilarious hijinx and especially Volard (J.'s character). In exchange for it, I send you with honest feeling seven storms, and may each be more interesting than the last.
Yours truly.

The seven storms haven't happened yet, since after this session it was someone else's turn to DM for qutie a few months, then we started Zu.

Black Gong. Striking it causes utter silence to fall ni a 15' radius. Beating it repeatedly with an ivory stick summons incorporeal undead, and other sticks of specific attributes might have further effects.

Paper Figurines. A collection of hundreds of intricately folded figurines of animals, many of them never seen or heard of before by the party members. The first one taken has the ability to turn into the depicted animal when thrown away; once one was picked up, any attempt by the same party to take, touch or otherwise disturb another one causes that one to explode (and the resulting blast would knock over the rest, causing those to explode as well.

Rusty Sword. This sword was lying in a burial mound and, thanks to the siting of the entrance tunnel, was exposed to the sun for a few minutes. Once removed from there, it was a useless, ruined weapon for most of the day, except for the morning hours when it turned into its old appearance and functioned as a +1 weapon. It also attracted the shade of its old owner.

Steel Chain. 12 feet long, thin, but extremely strong. Paralyses any undead creature it is wrapped around - even if only wrapped around a single limb.

Ash Canisters. Cilindrical black wooden canisters with brass caps, containing ashes. By opening one and saying the proper prayer, its content will spill out and create a humanoid form of swirling ash which follows orders, is only vulnerable to magic, wind, water, fire and the deliberate touch of living flesh, and can choke, blind and normally damage enemies. Sometimes the ash zombie appears as soon as the canister is opened, and is hostile to all.

Obsidian Shortsword. Despite being made of obsidian, it has a strange, curved, flamelike shape. The party acquired it by bashing in an ancient sarcophagus and looting the largely disintegrated remains of the strange, not-quite-human warrior inside. The sword turned out to be cursed, hitting its own wielder. Later, in reasonably safe surroundings, the owner and another PC engaged in some mock combat to determine "how many plusses it has", even after me explicitly saying that you can't determine plusses like that. (It was player J..) At any rate, it turned out that under such circumstances it's also very much capable of hitting the target as well. For quite a while, J. kept some hope that the other 19 identical swords, looted from identical desecrated sarcophagi are perhaps not cursed. So far, he's failed to find one that works properly.

Obsidian Dagger. Primitive, and from a different source than the item above. A +2 dagger, but has a 1 in 6 chance of breaking every time it hits somone wearing metal armour.

"Onion Stick". A dry stick with onion-like bulbs growing from it. Does 1d4 HP of damage when used as a cudgel, but the bulbs release a strong nerve irritant on impact: the target must stand perfectly still despite the itch for a round; if he doesn't, he takes another 1d6 HP of damage from the intense agony, and must make a save or fall on the ground writhing.

The Hissing Sword. This evil black longsword adds +1 to damage and makes a hissing sound while wielded.

Golden Shortsword. Not truly gold, but surrounded by a golden aura when drawn from the scabbard. It is a cursed weapon that causes nearby animals to turn hostile, and causes the floor of sacred places to erupt in flames wherever its carrier treads.

Staff with Shriveled Human Head on Top. Exactly what it says. By learning the correct magic words, the head (formerly of a Magic User) can be awoken and forced to give advice or cast its own spells.

Smokestone. A grey stone half a fist's size. When held above a fire, it creates a large volume of thick smoke.

Druid's Torc. When worn, this torc improves a druid's AC by 4 and protects him from ranged weapons. When worn by anyone else, it HARMS AC by 4, attracts missiles, and tightens so it can't be taken off.

Druid's Headdress. This headpiece incorporates a pair of antlers (and is certainly not standard equipment even for druids). When worn by a druid, it improves his HP by 1 point for each level. When worn by anyone else, it sticks and reduces maximum HP by 1 point per level.

"Chopper". A strange 2-handed axe speckled with blood and full of ungainly jags and spikes, it formerly belonged to the large, vaguely simian Orc-demons. It suffers a -1 penaltry to hit because of its weight, but does 1d12 damage and severs the target's arm (always the arm, not any other limb) on a natural roll of 19 or 20.

Gold Key. Formerly possessed by the allegedly evil Horned Warlock. It opened a specific door at the bottom of a dungeon, and the party was charged by a mysterous red-haired woman who was washing bloody clothes in a lake to retrieve it so she can open the door and get home. Readers will probably guess (correctly) that she was called The Morrigan, and I can get away with brazen sh*t like that because I know my players are just too lazy to spend half an hour on Wikipedia reading up on Celtic mythology, even if they know fully well that the campaign is inspired by it. Of course, they're also too lazy to do the same for Germanic mythology, and that's why I also got away with using a doubly lame blacksmith called Wayland. Who is now their enemy, by the way.

Silver Dagger. This dagger has the engraving of a bee and a bird on its hilt. By throwing it in the air and saying the magic word, it can turn into a giant (fist-sized) bee or a red dove and carry out its owner's orders.

All right, that's it for now. Originally, I meant to make a point about magic item design, but this has taken longer then expected, so maybe some other time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Towards a bestiary of Zu

As a note, HD notation sometimes follows Melan's Sword and Magic system. Therefore, HD: 5+2 does NOT mean that you add 2 to the HP total, but that all of the creature's abilities are assumed to have a +2 bonus: +2 to STR, +2 to CON (and therefore to every single Hit Die), etc.. When used, this bonus is already factored into attack rolls, damage and the like.

Animal, phantom
A phantom animal is a pale glowing creature in the shape of one of many normal animals such as crows, deer, dinosaurs, horses or wolves. They may be encountered alone or in groups. The touch of most phantom animals does direct damage to a specific physical ability score, but some may have a ranged attack such as a howl or simply its glow (1 in 6), and / or might affect Intelligence or Wisdom if the victim fails a saving throw (1 in 6). The damage done is a fixed value between 1, 1d2, 1d3 or 1d4 points, depending on the strength of the phantom’s luminousity.

Batrakheios Megas
These humongous, vaguely toadlike behemoths may slumber for millenia under the earth’s crust or in the depths of dungeons. At a -5 penalty they may try to grab a victim and swallow him whole, their digestive juices automatically causing 1d6 points of damage per round. Once per day they can let out a tremendous roar that causes 4d6 points of damage and cracks rock. Touching their poisonous skin causes the loss of 2d6 points of CON unless a save is made with a -4 penalty.
HD: 8+2, AC: 12, DR: -4, attacks: 2* +10 paws 1d6+3 HP plus poison, 1* +10 bite 2d6+6 HP

For a detailed description, see previous post. Note that various regional varieties exist that have adapted to their environments: desert Behemoths have sandy/grey skin and scale, swamp Behemoths are green and can hide underwater, volcanic Behemoths are sooty black, impervious to heat, have metallic fur and can sling gobs of lava, etc..

Bicephalous snake
50-50% chance of the heads being on the opposing end, or branching off on the same side.
HD: 2+1, AC: 14, attacks: 2* +3 bite 1d6-1 HP plus poison, 1d6 CON

 Bull, divine
Ordinary cattle is virtually (or perhaps completely) unknown on Zu, but Divine Bulls can be occasionally encountered. These creatures often display human intelligence, can be of various majestic colours, and often have various magical powers. The immortal deity kings of the lands strictly prohibit the slaying of bulls, even though they are sometimes aggressive and greatly harmful.

For these nasty little birds, see the previous game session writeups.
They’re all 1 HD except for a few exceptional individuals. Half-fledged ones have AC 10 and get no attack bonus, fully fledged adults are AC 12 and get +1 to attack.

Flame Turtle
When attacked, this oversized turtle spends an entire round drawing its head and limbs inside its shell, then releases a blast of fire and high pressure air through its gaps. The turtle itself is unharmed by this. The shell is completely impervious to any form of non-magical destruction known to man. Rare variants might release a blast of freezing air, berserker gas, acid spray or other compounds.
HD: 1, AC: 10 when exposed, 18 when withdrawn, attacks: fiery blast 1/3 rounds, 4d6

Glory Snail
These giant snails roam the gently rolling hills and grassy plains. Named after their beautiful appearance, their skin glitters with sparkling slime, and their hard transparent shells let through rainbow-coloured swirls of light from within. Glory Snails emit strong pheromones. From a 100 feet away, this will cause people and animals to feel a sense of euphoria and a desire to sit down and rest, unless they make a saving throw sv. poison at +4. At 20 feet, they must make another save with no bonus or will lose control of themselves and attempt to climb the snail and crawl into its shell.
Once the snail has trapped enough creatures this way, its colourful lights will fade away while it digests for several days, the decomposing remains of the victims visible through the shell.
When attacked, it will defend itself by shooting its oversized love darts (no, really, look up the reproduction of garden snails) which cause 1d6 points of damage and on solid hits (0 HP, damage to ability score) can cause humans to slowly and excruciatingly turn into new Glory Snails over several weeks unless they save.
HD: 5 (1 for purposes of attacking), AC: 10 exposed, 18 when withdrawn, DR -2

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Some spells

These only have provisional levels as they haven't been tested yet.

Calling the Defender of the Brave 
Level 2
Summons a spirit of battle to aid a single target. The target will receive +2 to attack, damage, AC and saves when fighting two enemies, and a further +1 per each additional opponent over two, and will be able to make one extra attack per round (but attacks must be made against separate foes). Any action other then a courageous and immediate attack will cancel the spell - this includes flanking maneuvers, tactical withdrawals, or the use of ranged weapons. As a side effect, the target will feel an irresistible urge to laugh in the face of danger and loudly sing warsongs.

Cradle of Giants
Level 3
This spell can only cast in the presence of great amounts of snow or ice - on Zu, this typically limits its use to the high mountains. Upon the completion of the spell, a randomly determined creature will burst out from the snow or ice. If the spell is performed as described in most sources, the creature has a 50% chance of being friendly to the caster; with the addition of certain long-forgotten elements to the ritual, this chance can be increased up to 90%.

1-5          Meh-Teh 
6-10          Wind Wolf
11-14          Ice Bear
15-17          Woolly Rhinoceros
18-19              Mammoth
20            Behemoth

Meh-Teh (less commonly also known as Yeti) are large, shaggy humanoids. They have the intelligence and cunning of a particularly bright ape and are skilled at tracking and setting up ambushes in frozen areas. 2 HD, AC 12, att. 1d6+1 (bite and strike) 

Wind Wolves are great white or light-grey wolves. Thrice a day they can turn into chilling blasts of wing, crossing great distances at fantastic speeds. They will use this ability to harry prey or escape from danger. 3 HD, AC 14, att. 1d6+1

Ice Bears are mighty and savage white bears. When charging into combat, their snow-white hair becomes a blinding swirl of bright, crystalline sparkles. Those in the immediate vicinity who fail their saves become disoriented for 1d4 rounds, barely able to defend themselves. 3 HD. AC 14, DR 3, att. 1d6+2

Woolly Rhinoceros: 4 HD, AC 14, DR 3, att. 2d6  horn (double on charge) or 3d6 trample

Mammoth: 5HD, AC 14, DR 4, att. 2d6+2 tusks (double if charge) or 4d6 trample

Behemoths are stooped, two-legged mammals creatures that can reach down to a fully grown Tyrannosaurus with their heavy hands and three-foot claws, breaking the reptile's neck with a twist.Their thick, heavy layer of fur and the underlying fat offer better protection against most attacks then the heaviest metal armour. If they manage to grab a human-sized target, they can throw them far in the next round, causing 2d6 points of damage to the victim as well as to whoever was hit by him (requires attack roll). 7 HD, AC 16, DR 5, att. 2* 2d6 grab or 2d6 throw

Three Red Seconds
Level 4
By sacrificing three humans in the evening, the caster summons a horde of lesser demons who build him a sinister red tower on the spot in three seconds. The tower can house up to 50 people in cramped conditions and is an effective defense structure. The sunlight of next morning will cause it to collapse and evaporate within 1 hour after dawn, and astral energy including the casting of any astral spells in the vicinity will cause damage to it (albeit starlight in itself will not be enough to cause significant harm). Increasing the number of sacrifices will increase the area of the tower, incorporating a wall and small outbuildings. A rare version of the spell, shared by the Blood Demons with only a select few, allows the creation of a tower with much greater longevity.

The Ringing of Kurasark’s Bells
Level 5
The spell causes Kurasark’s bells to ring out over a band of heroes (up to 5 people for each level of the caster). The affected become immune to fatigue, fear and any mental effects, and will receive a +1 to attack rolls, saves, AC and current HP. Every time an affected man is slain, the survivors receive a further +1 bonus to the above, up to a maximum of +10. The sound of the bells will inspire all allies and demoralise enemies, and lasts until the next dawn or sunset.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Zu's secrets

For starters, a spell from Zu:

Lesser Empyrean Theft

The caster reaches through a burning pyre to retrieve an amount of unstable Empyrean Flame. Instead of letting it rage freely, the flame can also be wielded as a weapon for one round per level of the spell, causing 2d6 HP damage; or hurled as a single projectile or several smaller ones, for a total 1d6 HP damage per level of the spell. Alternatively, the  gate into the Empyrean Realm itself can be shaped and used as a burning barrier by, for example, causing it to stretch across a corridor or cover the floor. A special vessel prepared with materials worth 200 Kon can act as a receptacle for the Empyrean Flame, holding it indefinitely. With a gem-encrusted stylus worth 100 Kon, the flame can be carved into a surface to create Exploding Runes.

Level 1                   everburning flame (torch-sized)
Level 2                   ball or blade of fire
Level 3                   pillar of fire
Level 4                   great pyre
Level 5                   firestorm
+2 levels                use without pyre

Critical success: a friendly (but not enslaved) fire elemental of [spell level] HD is summoned.
Critical failure: the caster is set on fire.
Double critical failure: a hostile fire elemental of 2nd-7th level appears.

Next, some underlying cosmology for Zu which I have to write up eventually anyway, so why not know?
My present and prospective players really, really should not read this.

Names have power. The world of Zu exists and continues to exist because its name gives it the power to do so. In legendary times, a group of heroes arose, carried out acts of legend which will go undiscussed for now, then taken upon themselves to act as stewarts and guardians of the known lands. To this end, they've adopted names which also carry the power of Existence, and rule to this day as the immortal deity-kings already named in an earlier post. Thanks to the power of Existence in their names, their domains continue to harbour human civilisation.

The Lowlands, however, are different. They are an ephemeral land where the landscape twists, disappears and recreates itself constantly, because the power of Existence is not present. Given a king with the right name, it too would settle down like its surrounding areas. Such a king, however, is unlikely to appear, as the Lowlands already have two secret contenders for rulership, and they're unlikely to tolerate a newcomer. Unfortunately, either contender gaining supremacy over the other would certainly make the land even less inhabitable as it is today.

One of the would-be rulers has a well-known name, even if very few people are actually aware of the entity behind it. That name winds through the land as slow and cold water, supporting and taking away life in equal measure. But underneath its namesake river lies the Olm, a titanic creature of blindness and hunger. It has no intelligence in a human sense, but sheer ancestral age has elevated it to a near-divinity that even the greatest sorcerers alive have no hope to match. Should it gain monopoly over the Lowlands, those would turn into a lightless freezing hell of silent, ever-hunting amphibian death.

Opposite the Olm lies another intelligence, as methodical and calculating as the other is instinctive, and just as inhuman. Adventurers know of the Dungeon, the great system of subterranean ruins and caves that allegedly runs beneath the whole stretch of the Lowlands. A few - mainly sorcerers - know that the mysterious entity Baratrón (commemorated in the Baratrón Pact and several other spells) lives at the deepest bottom of the Dungeon. Even fewer believe that Baratrón rules the Dungeon. And a handful might suspect that Baratrón is the Dungeon.
A long time ago, in a distant city state there was a pit into which criminals were thrown. Many died from the fall, but others lived on for hours or even days, broken of body and blinded by pain. They would curse the pit, the city, the people, the gods and all of existence, their souls finally departing them in a black and bitter cloud that would coalesce at the bottom of the pit and coat it with pain, spite and despair. One day, a small crack opened at the bottom of the pit, and started growing and growing over the years. It became a crevice, then a tiny chamber, a cave, a cavern - and eons later, there was the Dungeon, born of the execution pit of a forgotten city. It hates, it schemes, it lures in wizards with pacts and heroes with treasure, and it dreams of a time when the whole world will be a labyrinth of monsters, deadly traps and unloving corridors.

And while the Olm hungers and Baratrón schemes, wild heroes roam the surface. They strive against nature, beasts and each other. They love, hate and dream their heroic dreams that are dwarved by the two secret contenders' power, but which at the same time also tower above those. They are Men, and - for now, at least - the world is theirs.

Friday, September 16, 2011


All work and no play makes me a lousy poster.

Anyway, at one point I've said that Headless Horse Archer is not a single-campaign blog. Now, I'm not running multiple campaigns presently, but that's no reason not to post a few slightly rambling paraghraps for a whole different setting I want to run one day:

You're a member of the People, and live in one of several small communities along the Coast. You fish, whale and hunt elk and seal - sometimes other animals, too. Maybe you're a student of the Angakok, the wise old man who tells the laws and old stories.
If you were to walk along the Coast in one direction, you'd eventually get to the land of the Stone Folk. It's a magical land where the ground is warm enough to melt the snow in many spots, and jets of scalding water jump into the air. They say if you can steal a hot rock from the Stone Folk, it will never go cold; but they guard their land jealously. If you walk the other direction, you'll get to the land of the Forest Folk. It's an endless forest and the People could certainly use all that wood, but the Forest Folk are elusive and play evil tricks on those who enter their land. And if you were to head inland, you'd cross the areas where the elk migrate and make your way to the Icy Plains. No one goes there, but the Angakok knows stories of dangerous monsters and great villages made of stone and ice where the people feel no cold.

One day, the Midnight Sun disappeared, and there were no more mornings. Along the Coast, there was still enough light to get by - there's a stronger, hotter sun somewhere across the sea, and the light that falls from it into the water is carried here by the currents. Nevertheless, the Angakok says that the Midnight Sun's disappearance is an evil omen, and the hunters say strange creatures are appearing where the elk are.

Then two people came out of the inland riding on great beasts, wearing no clothes against the cold: the Mammoth Mages Jabmal and Kathmal, bearing ill news.

The Midnight Sun, they said, was betrayed by a cabal of evils. The winged solar disk now lies chained to the bottom of a black lake in the Uttermost South, and its capturers walk the Icy Plains unopposed. They are the beast Noctis, the bodiless spirit Ice Fear, and the leader of the cabal, Father Illwinter. The men fled from the darkened Icy Plains, most of the dying but a few making their way to secret places of refuge under volcanoes and in ancient underground fortresses. As the inland men fell, the Cold Folk rose again after millenia of hiding, walking with Father Illwinter and occupying the now empty human citadels. Once he learns that there is still light along the Coast, it will be only a matter of time before Father Illwinter comes for the People.

The Mammoth Mages gave your people their two greatest magics, fire and metal, then went back into the darkness. Now many young hunters and fishermen are putting down the harpoon, the net and the paddle, and take up the Firebrand and the Hammer. The Angakok says that the humongous shrimp-goddess who lives in the sea has not yet taken a side in the coming conflict, and that a new people are bound to appear on the Coast, coming from the distant cities of walls and towers across the sea. What he doesn't know is that the paladin-conquistadores of the Pax Dei and cleric-sorcerers of the Vox Dei are only coming to extinguish the danger they fear might cross over into their own lands, and to claim the land for the One True Church; the notion saving the People is a distant third in their minds.

So there it is. It should provide plentiful opportunities for dungeon crawling (abandoned ice cities, underground shelters, ice caves), wilderness, and possibly even powermongering and diplomacy with the One True Church. I imagine that PC classes would be:
- Hunter, basically a ranger-type.
- Angakok, a shaman with healing, blessings and curses, and maybe some sort of herbology/alchemy skill.
- Fire Mage, the disciples of Jabmal, a mixture of blasty wizard and offensive cleric (since fire and heat would have a similar effect on creatures of the Uttermost South as holiness on undead).
- Blacksmith, the dedicated fighter.
- Renegade Cold Folk who's turned against Father Illwinter, a decent warrior with cold-related magic powers (and maybe really a double agent)
- Vox Dei cleric, whom I imagine to have a mixture of traditionally wizardy and clerical spells, but with a stylistic emphasis of voice: commanding voice, wall-breaking shout, etc..
- Maybe Pax Dei paladin. Likely no magical powers. Basically a fighter who starts with fine steel equipment far beyond the Blacksmiths' ability to make, but is totally unacclimatised to the climate. He starts out as a strong combatant, but if his equipment is worn down or lost, he's just fighter with worse cold and magic saves than the locals.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I am a DM-ing machine and the blood of PCs is my diesel oil

Got home from latest session. 3 out of 4 PCs dead or worse. One player, a relatively new guy to D&D (we've introduced him into the hobby some 2 years ago or so) has this conviction that all DMs are, deep in their hearts, really after the life of the PCs. Of course none of us DMs would ever admit he's right, but a near-wipeout on the 3rd session of a new campaign is... invigorating.

Brief session description: two of the PCs talked with the mad hermit, now locked up in a makeshift prison room, but failed to get anything out of him beyond his usual rambling about birdies and hatching and saving people - excepting a willing confession to the murder of that local two nights ago. The party made a short foray into the Bitter Brambles to harvest some plants that could be sold, but they got more pain they bargained for in the form of sharp crystals protruding from the ground and injuring their feet while crystalline butterflies attacked with tiny papercuts.

They returned and rested for the night, only to be woken up by the sound of breaking wood. They were quickly set upon by the mad hermit and over half a dozen weird warriors in glowing blue armour. Caught unprepared, they surrendered the black stone they took from the hermit, and the latter disappeared into the village with his cohorts as shouts and news of the prison break rose through the night.

They decided it wasn't their problem and ordered Qabar's Pnakognomatic Artisan to start digging and escape tunnel under the fiery moat around the village, while the villagers started combing through the area for the fugitive. While the work was underway, they were approached by the fat, gloomy Rayyashid who has accused them of the murder earlier. Still unfriendly, but he offered a decent sum if the party joins the search and brings the hermit back alive. Following his lead, they made their way to a quite little enclosure near the edge of the village, to an abandoned storehouse whose door was unbarred with the hermit and his mysterious warriors hiding inside.

Half the party charged, while the others tried to offer ranged support through a hole in the wall dug by the Pnakognomatic Artisan - and the fight didn't go well. The beastwoman Echidna fell on the ground unconscious, while the bushi Tui Chi suffered some serious wounds before defeating the mystic swordsmen. The hermit made a run for it with Qabar in pursuit. Up the tall spire in the main square went the pursuit, then, thanks to some grappling on the extremely rickety logs serving as steps, down on the ground, the fall knocking the wind out of both while a crowd of villagers arrived and surrounded them.

A strange gleam appeared in the hermit's eye, and his voice suddenly became less insane: "Get ready to pick me up, then run. One, two... three!" - he brandished the green-glowing black rock from under his cloak. Qabar, however, refused to listen to him and just grabbed the stone from the man's hand, stepping forward and extending it towards the villagers. Those stopped, shook their heads and broken into an unnatural quivering. Hard, long, pointy things emerged from their obscenely stretched mouths, great beaks which were followed by black, beady-eyed avian heads as the green light forced the Cuckoos to hatch in their human hosts. Qabar quickly went down under the assault of the zombiesque horde.

Meanwhile, Cassandra and Tui Chi were dragging Echidna's unconscious body out of the storehouse and towards the main square... running into the hatching mob. Tui Chi made a noble and pointless charge into the monsters, then Cassandra abandoned Echidna to her fate and made a run for her life. Luckily for her, the Artisan's escape tunnel under the fire moat was finished, and she made it out, panting, bleeding, nearly dead - but alive. In the dead of night she dragged herself through the outskirts of the Bitter Brambles and hid in the hermit's cave - where the hermit was already waiting, dejected. Seemingly having regained some of his sanity, he explained that he wanted to visit the village at nights, ferreting out the Cuckoos with the power of the stone and hunting them down one by one while they slept - but the party has ruined everything. Now the few people who might have been still uninfected were left prey to the mass of simultaneously hatched Cuckoos. Stepstone Ford was no more.

And here's how the hermit suddenly had the blue-glowing alien warriors at his service:

Opening the Ether Gate unto the Eternal War
 Variable level

The Ether Gate is brought into physical existence and opened, causing a number of Etherial Warriors to step through it. They have their own will and are not subservient to the caster, but will approach him on friendly terms. At the same time, another, hostile group twice the strength will also arrive to another place in the summoner's world. Repeated use will manifest the hostile groups closer and closer.

Ethereal Warriors are hard to hit* and wield Moon Blades that are powerful against magical creatures.

Total HD of summoned warriors:

Level 1                   1d6-1 HD total
Level 2                   2d6-2 HD
Level 3                   3d6-3 HD
Level 4                   4d6-4 HD
Level 5                   5d6-5 HD

*And these ones happened to be gimped, because I forgot they were meant to be hard to hit.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Of the Piscine Dimension

Haven't posted for most of the week, naughty me. Hope this makes up for it:

Sustaining Infinity of the Piscine Dimension
Level:  2 (1 with access to plenty of water)

The spell conjures up a head-sized ball of water that can float in one place or rest on a surface at the caster’s wish, and which can be carried in hand if held gingerly. There are 7 fish inside the ball which can be removed one by one and which provide a random effect when swallowed whole:

1-10 Sustenance for an entire day, eater regains 1d6 HP. Can't eat another one until next day.
11-13 Heals 1d6 points of attribute damage or 2d6 HP.
14 Save or magical sleep for 2d6 hours, cannot be awakened. Dreams and visions give (possibly cryptic) answer to one question. If save successful, drowsiness for 1 hour, -1 to all rolls.
15 Ability to speak to aquatic creatures for a day.
16 Hair- and featherless beings become friendly to character, beings with hair or feathers become hostile.
17 Save or go blind. If successful, see in darkness for a day.
18 Racked by pain, cannot attack, defend, walk, or perform any action for a day. Save or lose 1 point from random Attribute.
19 Immune to all (harm- or helpful) effects caused by the waters of the Piscine Dimension.
20 Poison, save at -4 or die. Even with a successful save the victim falls in a coma which can only be cured by water from the Piscine Dimension.

Once all fish are gone, the ball disperses.

Critical failure but confirmation roll succeeds: all fish have negative effects:

1 insatiable hunger
2 stomach cramps: -1d6 HP
3 muteness (1 day)
4 blindness (1 day)
5 scaly skin (-2 CHA, armour chafes, 1 day)
6 can only breath water (1 day)
7 crippling pain (1 day)
8 poison

Lightless Infinity of the Piscine Dimension
Level: 3

The spell turns a pool or well into a gateway to the Piscine Dimension. Anyone jumping into the waters will be picked up by a random current, affected by its magic unless he saves, and delivered to a distant location attuned to that current. Those secured together by a rope or holding hands and succeeding at a STR save will be delivered to the same place. If the receptacle for the spell is prepared in advance with materials at least 1 Bizants' worth, the magical effects of the waters will be negated.

Name of currentLocationEffect
1Water of the True Olm RiverLair of Olm Astral+1 WIS, -1 INT permanently; the character might be accepted by the Olmsfolk as a prophet
2Draft of the Unlit ChannelThe Unlit Channel, in the Dungeon, near the Mask Hall of Barathrón AsterghysSave or flee in fear from all enemies for a day; 5% chance of automatically detecting moving stonework and hidden passages for a year (needs to concentrate to activate ability)
3Zyzlex BileThe FunguspherePoison: -(1d6-1) from random ability, -1d6 HP; 5% chance of poison immunity for a year
4ArkanoxonPool of Blinding Radiance, on the Shining Plain+1 INT, +1 CHA, 4 in 6 chance of blindness, 5% chance of +2 to spellcasting rolls and magic saves for a year
5Derelict WatersPalace of the Pale PrinceAbject sorrow for a day: -2 to all rolls except damage
6NihixSomewhere in the Frozen Hell-2d6 HP from the cold; 5% chance of fire immunity for a year
7Trail of StarsHeavenly Waters+1 WIS, +1 CHA; 25% chance of receiving the Mark of Horrors
8Fasthold CurrentDarkness of Bars and Chains
9YagrachanLake of Dust, in the heart of the Grey Khanateunquenchable thirst for 3 days
10The UndercurrentHunter's Abyss
11Seeper Through the Bright CrackOther Side of the Mirror (roll again to see where exactly on the Other Side
12Current of Blue WaterHeart of the Piscine DimensionRoll a WIS save: Fail - turn into an aquatic creature
Succeed by 5 or less – turn into an elemental creature of water while retain your identity
Suceed by 6+ - gain +1 WIS, permanently able to breathe, speak and fully operate in water, speak with intelligent aquatic creatures

Grand Malediction
Level: 5
The sorcerer utters a curse upon a single victim, prescribing either an ongoing state (such as blindness, wasting disease or poverty), or a singular event (death of all sons, loss of family heirloom etc.). The sorcerer does NOT get to dictate when this state should set in or this event occur, only what is to happen.

In its own time, the curse becomes true. No resistance, no saving throws, nothing. It becomes true.

The uttering of a Grand Malediction is immediately noticed by the Astral Horrors, the Blood Demons and the local god of the land.