Saturday, 13 April 2019

Harry Clarke Project: The Hellrake

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I feel impelled to contribute to Cavegirl's Harry Clarke Project using this fabulous fellow (Bluebeard?) who has sat on my hard drive many a year awaiting his introduction to polite society.

HELLRAKE

Armour class: as leather with +4 magical protection
Hit dice: 6+9 hp
Move: slightly more than human
Attacks: weapon, as 6th or 9th level; spells
No. Appearing: 1, plus entourage
Morale: 4, or 9 in polite society
Treasure:  Fabulous weapons and clothing, worn jewellery, magic; nothing he cannot carry and show off
Alignment: Chaos

The parentage of this sterile nonesuch is cruel and improbable: a male-aspected devil of Hell's nobility and an elf-maid of the fey planes. Invariably male, but questionably masculine, hellrakes flaunt the improbable, reedy physique of a clotheshorse, with one or two coy devilish marks such as hooves, horns, wings, tail, talking moles, goatish features, or ruddy skin. Their anatomy only partly explains the bizarre, stiff- or bent-legged gaits they affect when making a grand entrance, for they can run fast enough if they need to.

Hellrakes are notorious, thanks to the legendary Barbramel, as fashion-breakers and fashion-setters. Other of their recorded professions include gambler, verbal duellist, procurer of succubi and incubi, black-market sommelier of potions and philtres, hired mourner, slander poet, and erotic ballet impresario. Each one will usually have the abilities of two character classes at 6th level or one at 9th: fighter, thief and wizard are the favored ones, but they are drawn to more exotic choices if available, such as assassin, illusionist, or bard. They take half damage from spells, no damage from normal weapons of iron or steel, and double damage from silver.

The nature of the breed is whimsical, ostentatious, and vain, their quirks but a masquerade upon a thoroughly rotten core. In front of those who matter, they make a great show of bravery, but when fending for themselves, they are craven. Despite or because of these flaws, they are usually attended by an entourage of 1d4 sycophants, grifters, opportunists, and pleasure-seekers from this list (d12):

1. lascivious succubus
2. coy incubus
3. fawning imp
4. hustling leprechaun
5. abrasive quickling twins
6. perspicacious drow rogue
7. ranting human devil-cult preacher
8. stolid minotaur bodyguard
9. paranoid smoke mephit bagman
10. frantic satyr hypeman
11. sarcastic talking wonder-goat
12. agile troupe of 5 homunculi

The hellrake ilk is inveighed against in a famous theatrical soliloquy of the Autumn Court literata Glingeroyce, thusly: "thou Limbeaux, thou Cocytuscombs, thou Hellsapopinjays, thou Macaro-Nicks; toffs of Tophet, preening pimps of perdition, flouncing fribble-fiends, sad cads of dire sire and glam dam."

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Steal the Eyes ... Scratch That

That feeling when you're playtesting your long-delayed megadungeon and there's a 20' high bird god idol with glowing orange eyes and one of your players -- who has in fact probably never seen this picture:



follows her rogue's instinct to climb up and see if those eyes are a) gems and b) pry-able ...

but no, they are just magic light cast on stone eyes.

In what is not really a fit of pique and more like dogged mission completion mode, she then takes hammer and chisel and chips off all the light-bearing stone, raining a shower of little half-glowing, candle-strength chips on the floor ...

which turn out to be a useful small treasure in their own right.

Confirming that it's much more fun to redraw the path of ages, then follow it.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Umpleby's Net

A 2nd Edition Umpleby.
Among the curious, little-used, and often-derided B-list of the AD&D Fiend Folio, there is a monster called the Umpleby that is tall, hairy, friendly up to a point, and can put a real hurting on you with ... static electricity from its shaggy pelt. It appeared in somewhat rough form in the source material, White Dwarf magazine's Fiend Factory (exhibit A below) and got a clearer set of rules and rulings in the Fiend Folio itself, including more detail given to its hair net weapon (exhibit B).

No relation.
The Umpleby is one of the lesser known Fiend Folio contributions that poses a weird, specific challenge, like the Aleax, Meenlocks, and so forth. It has a little bit of the mess-with-you factor from grudge monsters like the Zorbo or Disenchanter. In the editions since then, it has sometimes gotten dragged out of the attic for sheer obscurity cachet, like the Flumph but more underground. A long time ago here, I dragged it out as an example of a bad monster.

And where on earth does that name come from? Is it just a coincidence that one Stuart Umpleby was the co-founder of an early communication network -- NET-work -- in the 1970's, that used an instructional computer system called PLATO? A network that eventually failed to join up with the Internet like like ARPANET did, and almost got canned by Nixon for hosting calls for his impeachment? Is it coincidence that PLATO's terminals glowed orange? If true, this has to be one of the most obscure current events references in all of D&D. If Stephen Wood's not around to comment, perhaps a mystery forevermore.


Exhibit A:






Exhibit B:





Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Dysphoric Rituals of the Paleolithic

Why do so many prehistoric cave paintings have spray-painted outlines of hands with missing fingers?

Study based on Spanish cave art upends previous theories ...
Mundane social science interpretation: "The pain and mutilation create cognitive dissonance which justifies close social bonds"



Better: "SHAMAN FINGER BONE MAGIC APPEALS FOR SUPERNATURAL ASSISTANCE"

Shaman class ability, can amputate a finger given 1 round and a suitable tool.
Drawbacks: Take 1 hp damage per character level, and permanent -1 DEX per lost finger, cumulative, when using that hand (-3 for second finger etc.)
Benefits: Access to one spell as if 5 character levels higher, can cast it even if expended for the day. Must strip and eat the flesh from the bone to cast the spell.

Fingertip option: remove a fingertip for half the DEX penalty (rounded up) and access to a bonus spell at existing caster level.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Baroque Premises for a Game

With the doom of G+, I'm not sure whether to revive this blog or find some other media platform. Blogspot is a difficult place to hold a conversation, and the comment spam has really gotten out of hand in the past few years, with little ability to block it or completely remove deleted comments.

All the same, talking to Paolo a couple weeks back at Dragonmeet somewhat revived my interest in writing out "baroque" versions of selected pages of my 52 Pages ruleset. Previous efforts are here, and the general idea is to flip the concept of 52 Pages -- stripped down, graphics, generic -- into a specific, weird, ornate, textual mode.

So going back to the first page of the 52, here are 26 strange ideas to hack or design a role-playing game around, all of which technically can be played starting from the 52 Pages rules, or any old-school system with character levels and so on. Random generation can be had with a deck of cards (JQK = 11, 12 ,13; add 13 if red). Some are a little, um, derivative of other indie games, but all have had a personal touch added on. Click to enlarge, or read on.



      1.Each character is retelling (playing) a past solo adventure in turn. If any die, all are dead; it is revealed as a conversation among ghosts.
2.Planning a caper, characters play it 3 times with different hazards in their imagination, before the final run takes place in reality.
3.Each adventurer has a perfectionistic death wish as sole motive; GM grades their deaths on originality, virtuosity, and flamboyance.
4.GM takes all treasure from a published adventure, room by room. Players negotiate its division, may fight each other to gain more.
5.Characters inherit a dungeon, have to convince local fiends to move in, and stock enough treasure to attract marks bearing items.
6.One character may be a traitor, winning if all else die. Half secretly know at start they are loyal. The traitor finds out halfway through.
7.The characters are a set of enchanted regalia, without loyalty to their wielders, seeking to pass into the most powerful hands.
8.The world is a tiered mountain, challenges and rewards increasing upwards: at the right level you can pass up to the next tier.
9.The adventurers gain experience not for killing monsters, not for taking treasure, but for sketching and writing about these wonders.
10.You are criminals sentenced to fight through other mutated criminals, compelled to go as low as you can to take your place in the prison. Dreams of leading a revolt are natural but futile.
11.All life inhabits a braid of linear tunnels, arranged by hit dice, with humanity in the “ones and zeroes” and striving to go higher.
12.You have to put treasure back in a tomb guarded by traps and fierce defenders, to honour the terms of your realm’s treaty.
13.You already have all the treasure; use it to cajole and buy an army from the dungeon dwellers, later to fight in a wargame campaign.
14.You are all piloting a single character; GM presents decisions, character’s actions are resolved by vote. Ties mean 1 round indecision.
15.Player 1 runs a single character through a deadly dungeon, death is a “near miss” and the next player takes over. Most XP while playing wins.
16.The dungeon doors open once every 44 years for 22 hours. Gaining treasure and glory means you can marry earlier and richer, and so have more, older, better trained and equipped children for the next run.
17.The town is empty, but monsters that die in the dungeon turn back into the humans they once were. As the town refills, you have more resources, but also more intrigue and treachery to deal with.
18.You awake underground, to fight creatures whose hard parts become tools and weapons, and whose soft parts dissolve into rooms and passages shaped like the creature’s anatomy.
19.Players create a character and a monster, then write two conditions in the adventure for a character to become the monster. Monsters win by killing the party. Each player secretly draws, obeys one condition.
20.Everyone stays 1st level, gains a companion at each level. High level spells are multi-caster rituals. Adjacent companions give +1 hp.
21.“Gaining a level” means you have gathered enough treasure and trauma to retire from adventuring. Roll a new character at the higher level.
22.Characters are raiding a hell to rescue increasingly higher-level versions of themselves, and will become the henchmen of their better selves.
23.The adventure game is a metaphorical mechanism for social conflict in a series of masked balls. Hit points are reputation, melee is repartee, missile combat is gossip, and spells are appeals to higher powers.
24.Wizard magic changes the world forever—zones of sleep, illusions, death zones from fireballs—the world is full of these, and you will leave more.
25: Each of you prepares a short scenario as GM for player on the left. In turn, play through them. Player on the right of the GM prepares a description of what that play session symbolizes. Pass it back to the GM and use it as the basis of a new session. Repeat as needed.
26: Start as tiny people. Each level you gain, the scale, foes and material loot grow. 1: atomic, 2: microbial, 3: microscopic; 4: insect; 5: vole; 6: child; 7: titan; 8: continent strider; 9: planet shaper

Friday, 20 July 2018

Scylla: Henry Justice Ford Monster Manual


Henry Justice Ford Henry Justice Ford Tales Of Troy 1 Flickr Photo

Another contribution for Eric Nieudan's project. This classical creep is to me the best-imagined of all Henry Justice Ford's monsters. He wisely ignores the mildly ridiculous "dogs growing out of waist" description from Hyginus, and focuses on the grasping horror so vividly illustrated here in all stages of crew acquisition. There's no telling how many Victorian and Edwardian children were terrified witless by this "character-building" sight.

Text of this post is released under this license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

SCYLLA

Armour class: as chain
Hit dice: 15 (90 hp); daughters 12
Move: slow crawl, slow swim
Attacks: 6, grab and devour, 2d6 / d6
No. Appearing: 1
Morale: 6
Treasure: 10000, magic; daughters 5000, magic
Alignment: Chaotic

Scylla was a lovely nymph, caught up in the amours of Poseidon and cursed by his jealous wife to bear a monstrous form for all time. She dwells in a cave atop a sea-cliff, commanding the only safe passage through a narrow strait with a whirlpool. It is rumored that she has spawned parthenogenetic daughters, of like form, who have spread out to terrorize wet, dark, and desolate places in the world. 

Scylla's voice is low and harsh, speaking all the tongues of the folk who toil her sea; she barely remembers her sylvan native tongue. She smells like brine and slightly putrid slime, but her movement is sinuous and graceful, almost hypnotic.

The six ponderous heads have brutish women's faces bearded with the legs of the octopus, connected to the barrel-shaped invertebrate body and its vestigial legs by long, snaking necks. Each head attacks to pick up a human-sized foe, ignoring armor, without damage on a hit. The victim thereafter is held fast, breaking free on STR+d20 > 25, and is automatically chewed for 2d6 damage each round in her clutches. Escaping her mouth parts usually means a 10' fall onto the rocky sea below. Two heads can cooperate to pick up a horse-sized meal, if both hit. Enemies that cannot be picked up take d6 damage from her bites instead.

At each 30 points of damage taken she must check morale, and retreats into her cave if this fails. In the cave is treasure that her discerning tentacles have fished over centuries from the wrecks of emptied ships: coins, goods, and the possessions of the slain. She will only listen to parley involving revenge on the sea-god and his spouse, but her daughters may be more amenable to deal-making after a show of strength.

Friday, 6 July 2018

The Uninvited Fairy: Henry Justice Ford Monster Manual

Eric Nieudan over G+ has crowdsourced a most excellent project: to stat up monsters from the lively and terrible illustrations of Henry Justice Ford. Here's my contribution, based on what is certainly one of the weirdest designs given the title.

Text of this post is released under this license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

CARCINOS

Armour class: as plate
Hit dice: 4
Move: fast walk, slow swim
Attacks: Two claws, 2-12 each
No. Appearing: 1, possibly unique
Morale: 8
Treasure: 2000, magic
Alignment: Chaotic

Polite elfin society has named this fey pariah, for the aspect it has taken on: a massive crab, shell the color of the deepest purple bruises, that can flex its legs eight feet tall. It smells of deep loam and perpetually trails wisps of fog, clacking as it goes. It can see all spectra of energy and speaks in a buzzing, down-pitched tone.

The Carcinos Fairy haunts and lurks in dark places at the edge of sylvan idylls: the back of the grotto, the mine in the glade, the sinkhole in the swan-marsh.  Profoundly narcissistic, it would never change an iota to fit in, preferring to play aggrieved victim. It haggles with humans to the detriment of the conventional fey, hates elves, and often gathers dark and embittered minions to its cause, impressing them with magic. The Carcinos is shameless in soliciting praise for its beauty (one must be creative to comply) and ruthless in punishing any equivocation on the subject.

The main strength of the Carcinos is its magic. At will it can use: suggestion, invisibility, dancing lights, faerie fire, water breathing, stinking cloud, and fog cloud. Once a day it can use each of: bestow curse, polymorph other, charm monster, wall of ice. It takes half damage from cold and weapons, and resists all magic (even if no save) on a d20 roll higher than the caster's level/HD. Cold iron weapons do double damage to it.

If the Carcinos is killed, it slowly turns into a tall, beautiful faerie warrior clad in crumbling chitinous armour.