Friday, 13 December 2013

assorted dungeon horns

Horns are usually trouble.  At best adorning simple animal or capricious fey.  More often, the weapon of monster, mutant or infernal being.  Yet that won't stop them being converted into musical instruments or other useful items.  Roll d12 to get the horn.
  1. Alphorn of pinewood carved with zig-zagging mountain patterns and star symbols.
  2. Carnyx made of black curling horn with bell carved into demonic head.  Makes a frightening bellow if played.
  3. Ear trumpet of curved goats-horn which if held to the ear improves the ability to discern sounds.
  4. Gunpowder horn with brass cap and lid; holds 1d6+4 doses of powder for primitive firearms.  The horn keeps the powder safe from fire, water etc.
  5. Ivory drinking horn with etching of warrior spearing a boar and braided red and indigo velvet carrying strap with fancy tassels.
  6. Kudu horn used for sacred rituals; spiralling, dun-coloured and painted with flecks of gold leaf.
  7. Mead horn made of gargoyle horn.  Slate-grey and triangular.  Can drop from most any height and not break.
  8. Ox horn knife handle.  Striated lines on pale horn, fits a human, elf or dwarf hand well.  Carved to fit a short-bladed knife.
  9. Rack of twelve-tined antlers on gold-inlaid bassinet.  Worth at least 100gp to the right people.
  10. Twisted reddish dragon horn with brass mouthpiece.  Tall as a halfling, used as a signalling horn.
  11. Unicorn-horn dagger with short hilt wrapped in pale leather.  Strikes as a +3 weapon.  Unicorns, elves and all sylvan folk are hostile to the wielder.
  12. White rhino horn mounted on ebony handle as a ritual dagger.  Bound in red and black leather thongs matted black with blood.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

five hundred and getting back in the saddle

Five hundred.  Which took a lot longer than expected   If you've been under a rock or wandered off, there's been...
  • more inns & taverns, including a third PDF.
  • a whistle-stop tour of the evils of the damned city.
  • the recent addition of unlikely treasures, including a PDF as extemporalising loot in tabletop RPGs isn't everyone's cuppa.

Today is the agonia of Septimontia and International Mountain Day.  As rams were the traditonal offering and associated with mountains, consider this a virtual gift.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

unlikely treasures - now in PDF flavour

Sometimes, random doesn't quite cut it - there, I've said it.

You need something to grace a hoard that may be of value beyond the price tag.  Or your improv doesn't run to bling. 

So, for your delectation...

Unlikely Treasures 1 PDF
  • Tables of twelve treasure items for each tier of art object.
  • Additional tables for: 
    • alchemical loot
    • faux magical jewellry
    • literary treasures.
  • Mixture of useful and more challenging items for murderhobos.
  • Notes on aristocratic trappings, the psychology of bling and the upper limits of swag.
 It's Creative Commons Sharealike Attributable, so what are you waiting for?  Fill your boots!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Into the tridimensionalplaneboxmegacrawlathonsandhexamagig

Over at Monsters & Manuals, meet the Tri-dimensional Planebox Megacrawlathon SandhexamagigTM!  The simplified premise - take one hex map.  Copy it three times.  Assign each a different genre and populate according to genre.  Irradiated post-apocalyptic badlands become burning desert wastes, fortified dragon lairs become starports.  Flip or mirror-image building maps.  Provide strange methods of moving between.

Black ziggurats, eerie ships, forgotten gates, strange artifacts, multidimensional tunnels or shantak rides are fair game.  Recycle certain NPCs but with a twist.  A loyal soldier in one is a serial killer in another.  The old werewolf miner with a limp becomes a wolfoid silt pirate on crutches.  And so it goes. Then run the whole glorious mess, moving between settings as game circumstance and group whim demands.

Allowing for bleedover gives spice.  It allows for things like:

Among the encounters for each setting, sprinkle in oddities according to taste and availability of tranference mechanisms.  If you're atop a 'hellmouth' spewing postapocalyptic mutants, this'll skew demographics - you might also consider moving.  Locals will react to anomalous phenomena.  Some build walls, others build inns - a few may forge empires built on the mechanism.

One thing's for sure.  You'll never be short of material.

Friday, 21 June 2013

inns & taverns: the dwimmerglister

The sign of a bronze death mask glows with purplish-white foxfire at night-time.  This bizarre sign contrasts with the drab exterior of an alley inn tucked between closed scriptoria.  The word 'Dwimmerglister' is etched in gilded leaf into the building's stone lintel.  Back-alley alchemists, tinkers and trinket sellers lurk outside.  Only the emboldened drunk or gullible meet their eye.  Outside, the Dwimmerglister seems a badly-placed, fading inn with eerie sign.
Inside, it is well-appointed.  The main bar has a muted ambience. Dark-stained oak furnishing support a solid slab of verdant marble for the bar.  Atop the bar, three crystal ewers brimming with coppers.  A small plaque bids guests to toss a copper piece into one then guess the number of coppers there.  To date, nobody has guessed right.  Divining magic on the ewers is misdirected to the caster's own coin purse.  A door to the left reveals a snug lounge.  The far wall is panelled in  octagonal slates of dwarven canon.  Ceiling-high pillars of copper-plated dwarf skulls stained with verdigris flank the wrought-iron hearth. From the lounge, a staircase rises to four iron-bound locked doors.  These are the staff private rooms. 

A door right leads to dismal stairs with two doors at the bottom.  To the right an earth closet walls festooned with graffiti.  There is a 14% chance something insulting about the viewer is visible at eye-level.  Left is the cellar, lit by cold-flame candles.  Drunkards taking a wrong turn claim their vintage is bottled for resale yet no proof exists.

The house speciality is Nine Rat Cider.  This fearsome, cloudy brew seizes you by the throat, imbalances the humours and leaves you ruined.  Regulars lament the previous night while drinking the next.  A passable small brown beer is available and favored by visitors unnerved by the infamous cider.  Those preferring wine face Glister's Sweat.  This pungent golden wine has tart tones of nitre and molasses, provoking trips to the privy.  It's an acquired taste yet few last that long.  Bar snacks include wedges of hard blue cheese, pickled walnuts and small terracotta pots of fish garum.

The Dwimmerglister is between landlords.  Soros Ilthravit, an authorative, wrinkled dwarf of few words and impeccable honour keeps bar.  Staff are a mix of dwarves, halflings and humans.  All are capable, close-mouthed and well-paid.  The bar runs like clockwork.  The prior landlord left under sinister circumstances.  The regulars mutter about debts, something Soros quells by shouting "The matter is SETTLED!" at the speaker.  Those seeking to continue this dialogue are barred.

The lounge may be hired for 20 gold a night but no bedrooms are available.  Soros is firmly against women of negotiable virtue and recently closed off the four guest rooms.  He claims renovation work is being done.  Renovation usually doesn't take that long for dwarves or halflings so something is amiss.  Rumours he is building a treasure vault persist.  None of the staff will be drawn.

The Dwimmerglister's fortunes took a beating yet many still visit, eager for obscure or valuable lore.  The scriptoria nearby handle manuscripts of all kinds.  Scriveners are thirsty by nature and alcohol or coin loosens tongues like few other things.  Some secrets however are well-protected.  Whispers of well-heeled assassins using the lounge to interview prospective clients persist despite angry denunciations.  Elves find the inn offputting but certain gnomes prefer the ambience for quiet drinking and plotting.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


No. Enc.: 1
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 4+4
Attacks: 1 (scythe)
Damage: 1d10 + 2
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: Nome

The falcassin is a magically-created automaton made from a suit of plate mail and armed with a war scythe.    The falcassin is not truly alive or sentient and cannot be affected by hold, charm or sleep spells or poison or gases.  The falcassin cannot be harmed by ordinary weapons as a creature of magic.  Created by wizards as implacable killers, they are instructed by being given a personal possession or lock of hair from a target, which they wear as a knight wears a favour.  The falcassin can unerringly find a target with a favour, though it must still travel there.  If this is damaged or destroyed, the falcassin must rely on normal means.

Friday, 31 May 2013

assorted dungeon talismans

Bling courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons
Roll 1d8 for your minor magical jewellry.
  1. Blessed talisman gives +3 bonus to reaction rolls with good creatures. Evil creatures refuse it taking -1 to hit and AC if forced to wear it.
  2. Friendship talisman gives wearer a +1 bonus to reaction rolls.
    If it changes owner, a new owner must polish it to gain the reaction bonus.
  3. Healing talisman adds 1 hit point for every 8 hours rest. If it changes owner, a new owner must put a drop of their blood on it.
  4. Invisibility talisman gives +10% to hide in shadows checks. If it changes owner, it must be washed in wine to activate it's power.
  5. Luck talisman allows a re-roll for one attack roll or saving throw once a day. The re-roll is binding and only one re-roll is allowed.
  6. Magic talisman gives wearer a +1 bonus to saving throws vs. spells and this increases to +2 on nights where there is a full moon.
  7. Protective talisman gives +2 bonus to AC vs. missile attacks. If it changes owner, it must be washed in holy water to activate it's power.
  8. Vile talisman gives +3 bonus to reaction rolls with evil creatures. Good creatures refuse it, taking -1 to hit and AC if forced to wear it.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

yowling spirit

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d6 in lair)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 5
Attacks: 1 (cat shift)
Damage: 1d6 + fever (see below)
Save: F5
Morale: 11
Hoard Class: X

Yowling spirits are undead dwelling in ancient ruins and squalid cities.  They appear as a unkempt woman in a patchwork shift made of hissing and wailing cats.  Like other undead they are unaffected by sleep, hold or charm spells.  They are not hurt by non-magical weapons and silver only does half damage.  A yowling spirit's shift lashes out at those near it, exposing the spirit's body underneath.

The undead cats that form a yowling spirit's robe have sharp teeth and claws.  These inflict a horrid fever (a save vs. poison is allowed) which prevents normal healing.  Worse yet, the sufferer is at -2 to hit and damage due to feverish debilitation.  Death follows in 2d12 days but a cure disease will remove this effect.  Those dying of the fever exhale a foul lambent yellow mist.  This flies to the nearest yowling spirit and becomes one of her cats.

The yowling spirit is a creature of unnatural lust, seeking to lure the unwary into it's embrace.  The cats jealously lash out at anyone nearby.  Harming the cats harms the yowling spirit who harangues the attacker.  This tirade may attract wandering monsters.

Thursday, 16 May 2013


No. Enc.: 0 (1d4 in lair)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60'/(20')
    Fly (120')/(40') for 1 round.
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 (claws)
Damage: 1d4/1d4 + see below
Save: F1
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: None

A giant feathered bipedal frog with clawed wings and feet, the xenoptryx is thought a wizard's experiment that escaped into the wild.  It has a limited ability to fly for one round but must forego any attacks to do so, flapping it's arms furiously.  It may also fall safely any distance if it's wings are free.  In combat, the xenoptryx claws at it's prey using vicious wing claws.  If both claws hit, it kicks with it's rear claws like a cat, for two extra attacks causing 1d4/1d4.

Friday, 10 May 2013

and then... unlikely treasures

Roll 1d12 for the loot.
  1. Armoured brocade tunic with mail panels of grey-green metal and nine purple gem buttons (6000gp) - Suitable for a tall human.  Weighs 20lbs, adamantine mail panels grant +3 to armour class and reduces damage from all attacks by 1 point. Purple gem buttons are amethyst (100gp each). 
  2. Brooch of seven-rayed solar disk in rose gold and mithral filigree inlaid with seven yellow faceted gems (5500gp) - The gems are yellow topaz (worth 500gp each).
  3. Coat of snow leopard fur (5000gp) - Suitable for a short human female; fit for nobility.
  4. Diadem of platinum with triad of deep-blue gems over the brow (5000gp) - The gems are sapphire (1000gp each).
  5. Engraved golden greatsword with ornate hilt of two coiled dragons with inlaid red gem eyes and iridescent orange-gold gem pommel (5000gp) - Weighs 12lbs. Blade is solid gold, worth 600gp and limited use in battle (-2 to hit, -1 damage).  The hilt is worth 2000gp, the dragons' eyes are four small red garnets (100gp each) and the pommel is a fire opal (1000gp).
  6. Figurine of a knight riding a destrier bearing a spear and pennant in platinum (5000gp) - Weighs 25lbs.
  7. Gold triptych of three sacred kings inlaid with opaque black gem panels sparkling with oily haloes in light (5000gp) - Panels are rainbow obsidian (worth 600gp if removed).  The triptych is worth 4000gp by weight.
  8. Hunting cape of sable-trimmed panther fur and ornate gold dragon brooch with two small iridescent white jewels for eyes (5000gp) - Suitable for a tall human, fit for royalty.  The cape is worth 2400gp, the clasp is worth 2600gp.  The jewels are opals worth 500gp each.
  9. Intaglio seal carved into a black jewel with yellow highlights set in a simple gold handle (5000gp) - The seal is carved into a faceted black sapphire and weighs 1lb. 
  10. Jade cinerary egg engraved with ancient glyphs containing ashes (5000gp) - This ornate egg weighs 4lbs and is 3 inches wide and 4 inches high.  The ashes are of a serpent man hero (roughly 150 cubic inches of ash) and the glyphs record the names of their pantheon.
  11. Kerchief of white brocade with silver wire hemmed with forty pink gems (4500gp) - Weighs 5 lb, is a three-foot square.  Each gem is a 100gp tourmaline.
  12. Longsword of adamantine with ornate silver basket hilt inlaid with red gem (4000gp) - The hilt is worth 250gp and the gem is a 500gp spinel.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


No. Enc.: 1d2 (1d4 in lair)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 3+1
Attacks: 2 (bite, tail lash)
Damage: 2d4/1d6 + see below
Save: F2
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: VI

The tesonke is a pony-sized carnivorous iguana with serrated spikes studding it's spine and radiating around it's tail.  They live in caves, coastal marshes and mangrove swamps.  A successful tail attack will knock down a man-sized or smaller foe who may not attack the same round this occurs.  Tesonke hide is used by locals as it creates a durable leather once the spikes are removed.

Friday, 26 April 2013

yet still more unlikely treasures

Roll d12 for the loot.
  1. Bandolier of black dragonhide trimmed in leopard fur and dragon buckle in gold with red gem eyes (1200gp) - The buckle is worth 520gp and weighs 2lbs.  The eyes are garnets (100gp each).  The bandolier has 8 (empty) pouches.
  2. Coat of silver fox with snow leopard trim and four blue-white ovoid gem buttons (1100gp) - Suitable for a tall human, fit for nobility.  Gems are cabochon-cut moonstones (50gp each) on silver wire settings (6gp each). 
  3. Dagger of mithral with carved jade hilt and white pearl pommel (1000gp) - Weighs 1lb. Hilt is worth 275gp, pommel is worth 100gp.  Counts as a silver weapon.
  4. Embroidered indigo silk robe with cloth-of-gold panels, blue gem-beaded sleeves and mink trim (1000gp) - Weighs 20lbs.  Beads are lapis lazuli (5gp each) and there are 50 on each sleeve.  Suitable for a large human female, fit for nobility.
  5. Five identical ebony statuettes of horned men with carnelian eyes (1000gp) - Each is worth 200gp and weighs 5lbs, their eyes are 50gp each and ruin the statuettes if removed.
  6. Gold statuette of a reclining succubus (1000gp) - Weighs 40lbs.
  7. Head-dress made of a snarling winter wolf's head (1000gp) - Weighs 3lbs.  Bound to annoy any winter wolves or other wolf-friendly types.
  8. Iron astrolabe (1000gp) - Etched with longitude, latitude and astrological markers.  Can be used to determine date and time at night under an open, clear sky in 1 minute.  Gives a +2 bonus to checks to avoid getting lost.  Weighs 6lbs.
  9. Jet necklace on a fine gold chain (1000gp) - Weighs 3lbs.
  10. Keg holding 10 gallons of sweet dessert wine (1000gp) - Weighs 80lbs.
  11. Laboratory reagents and supplies (900gp) - Suitable for use in an arcane laboratory needed to cast certain spells or create certain monsters.  Weighs 30lbs.
  12. Mirror of polished silver (800gp) - 4 feet by 18 inches. Weighs 24lbs.

Friday, 12 April 2013

yet even more unlikely treasures

Roll d12 for the loot.
  1. Codex Castigo (600gp) - This weighty illuminated tome (20lbs!) covered in blocks of petrified pine with a tough leather spine holds histories, letters and prophecies.  If consulted for 1d4 hours, it gives one of the following (reader's choice)
    • +1 bonus to the next 1d6 initiative rolls.
    • +2 bonus to the next reaction roll for local nobility.
    • +2 bonus to the next reaction roll for any lawful official.
  2. Darkwood treasure chest with 15 crystal bottles of green liquid and three drinking cups made of silver-dipped humanoid skulls (550gp) - Total weight is 54lb.  The chest is worth 100gp (weighs 25lb),  Bottles are absinth worth 20gp each (weigh 1½  lb each).  The cups are worth 50gp, weigh 2lb and appear to be made from small humans.
  3. Effigy of naked barbarian with spear in silver (500gp) - Statuette is 2 foot tall and weighs 30lbs.
  4. Folding triptych of three warrior-saints in painted red maple (500gp) - Weighs 5lbs, exquisitely painted and initialled with the letters Z.S.S.
  5. Gold-plated greatsword of quality with carnelian pommel (500gp) - This two-handed sword has a +1 non-magical bonus to hit.  The carnelian pommel is worth 50gp.
  6. Housecoat of yeti fur with silver fox trim and carved ivory fastenings (500gp) - Suitable for nobility.  Fits a slender human or tall elven female.  There are 10 ivory fastenings (4gp each).  
  7. Ingot of platinum (500gp) - An unmarked 1lb ingot that be useful dealing with unscrupulous sorts.
  8. Jacket of fox fur trimmed with ermine with gold knotwork buttons (500gp) - Suitable for royalty, fits a medium-build human .  Has 6 large gold buttons (5gp each).  
  9. Keg of good medium red wine (500gp) - 8 gallon keg which weighs 80lbs.
  10. Limb wrappings of embroidered linen and jar of unguent (500gp) - Suitable for creating a flesh golem.  Cannot be re-used once the task is completed.  
  11. Magnificent black longbow with engraved silver inlays (450gp) - The bow is made of darkwood and is a joy to use.  Arrows fired from it gain a non-magical +1 to hit.  The inlays can be removed by a bowyer, weigh 1lb and are worth 25gp.
  12. Nacre-coated bottle of rare perfume (400gp) - The empty bottle is worth 10gp as a curiosity; there are 39 doses of perfume within.  Weighs 5lbs.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

assorted oils and ointments

 Table XV: A dozen oils and ointments.
  1. Almond balm in blue enamel tin
    When smeared on face and hands, gives +2 on saves against cold damage or penalties.
  2. Bitter chrism in tiny crystal vials.
    When applied to brow, gives a +2 to saving throws vs. charm or possession.
  3. Dark oil in clay bottle for taming unruly hair. 
    If applied to the hair, reduce any Charisma reaction penalty by 1 due to grooming.
  4. Herbal paste in black pot 
    Enough blade venom to poison a single-handed blade, spearhead or five arrows or crossbow heads.  For next 1d4 hits, save or take 1d4 extra damage.
  5. Liniment in small copper bottle.
    Heals 1d4 Strength damage when rubbed into muscles (takes 1 turn).
  6. Oil with pickled spices within.
    Makes any food cooked with it most excellent.  Worth 2d6 gp to connoiseurs.
  7. Ointment in red wood jars.
    Helps soothe pain.  Each jar heals one hit point in a 24 hour period.
  8. Pungent paste in sealed clay jars.
    Negates ability to track by scent for 1d6 hours due to persistent odour of rotting violets.
  9. Sweet salve in yellow wax jar. 
    Made from royal jelly, applied all over a naked body it reduces physical age by 1 year.
  10. Unguent in white clay bottle.
    Adds +1 to Charisma for 1d8 hours when rubbed into face and hands.
  11. Urn of exotic oily scent.
    Negates bad smells and gives +1 on reaction rolls with humans and humanoids.
  12. Witches ointment in a black clay jar. 
    Whoever anoints their naked body can fly (as spell) for 1 turn.

Friday, 29 March 2013

still more unlikely treasures

Roll d12 for the loot
  1. Hauberk of gold-plated chainmail (300gp) - A steel chain shirt covering torso and shoulders in superior gold-plating which resists blades or corrosion.  Functional and aesthetically pleasing.
  2. Intricately-engraved steel breastplate fitted with silvered armour spikes (275gp) - Those attempting to grapple or constrict the wearer take 1d6 damage.  Suitable for a dwarf or small human.
  3. Jarrah-wood coffer with fifteen paper-wrapped packets of saffron (250gp) - Each packet holds  a pound of saffron (worth 15gp).  The coffer is worth 25gp and weighs 5lbs.  Weight is 20lbs.
  4. Khopesh-shaped letter opener in platinum (250gp) - Novelty item and material component.
  5. Long coat with hood made of tiger fur (250gp) - Might raise a few eyebrows... particularly if there are weretigers in the immediate vicinity.  Suitable for a human or half-orc.
  6. Maroon leather bound navigator's chronicle with star charts (250gp) - A weighty tome with star charts that if consulted against a clear night sky grant an Intelligence check to determine rough location and season.  It also contains a navigator's chronicle which if consulted for 1d4 hours prior gives a +2 bonus to any navigation checks to avoid getting lost. 
  7. Necklace of cabochon-cut aquamarines (250gp) - Low-quality stones on a silver chain. 
  8. Owlbear-fur jacket with feathered mantle collar and carved ivory buttons (250gp) - Worthy of royalty, the feathered collar and shoulders make it distinctive.  There are ten carved ivory buttons with ornate skull icons (5gp each), lost buttons decrease the garment's value.  Suitable for a human.
  9. Portrait of elven maiden smiling enigmatically (250gp) - Ornate frame and canvas weigh 10lbs.
  10. Repeating light crossbow with lever-arm action and magazine of 5 bolts (250gp) - If there are bolts in the magazine, the crossbow can be reloaded without losing an action or movement.  Loading a magazine onto the crossbow or loading a magazine with bolts takes a full round.
  11. Simple ring of white gold (225gp) - May have been a wedding band once.
  12. Tarred box containing equipment for forgery of documents (200gp) - A box holding diverse inks, quills, styli, papers, sealing waxes, seal blanks and small knives.  This grants a +2 bonus to rolls to forging documents.  Has d6+4 uses left. Weighs 6lbs.

Monday, 25 March 2013


No.App: 1 (2d4)
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d4 + possible disease
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

These flightless, filth-caked giant bats grow tall as bears grazing fungal forests like emaciated giant sloths.  They navigate dark areas with clicking sounds and excellent vision.  Waddling on hind legs, gorilla-esque arms and webbed fingers scoop fungi into mouths and smear filth.  Their stench is part brimstone, part latrine.  This evolved as a defence against predators and also helps nourish their food supply.  They are usually peaceful but attack if provoked.  Brutyarasa carry disease, their bite has a 10% chance of infection, a save vs. poison is needed.  Failure means death in 1d6 days.  Success leads to incapacitating sickness for 30 days, with 25% chance of death.  A cure disease spell is effective against this infection.  Brutyarasa dislike water and try to avoid it.

Friday, 15 March 2013

even more unlikely treasures

Roll d12 for the loot!
  1. Jacket made of seal fur (120gp) - Will keep wearer warm and dry in wet weather.  Selkies will not be your friend and may wish to do something about this fashion choice.
  2. Knotted rope made from giant spider silk (100gp) - This 40' rope (50' unknotted) is three times as strong as normal rope and gives a -4 penalty (-20%) to escape or breaking attempts. Weighs 4lb.
  3. Leather bound small box containing common remedies against poison (100gp) - This gives a +3 bonus on checks to treat poisoning or a new saving throw at +3 against an afflicted victim who isn't already dead yet.  Weighs 3lbs and has 1d6+4 uses.
  4. Maroon silk vest with six obsidian buttons (110gp) - The buttons are polished to a mirror-shine (worth 10gp each) and this item is sized for a large human.
  5. Neck guard of steel-backed black sharkskin with silver spikes (80gp) - Wearer gets +1 AC bonus against neck attacks (e.g. vampire bites, decapitating attacks). Anyone biting or grappling the wearer's neck takes 1d4 damage.  Suited to a human or dwarf wearer.
  6. Ornate brass signet ring in coiled serpent design with two freshwater pearls for eyes (90gp) - This ring has a poison pill compartment (empty alas) needing a pick pockets/sleight-of-hand check to use unseen.  Finding the compartment is as easy as finding a secret door.  The seal is of a reputable house of artisans.  If the eyes are removed, each is worth 10gp.  
  7. Pennant of crimson silk with white starburst edged with freshwater pearls (100gp) - There are twenty-four poor-quality freshwater pearls, each worth 1d3gp.  Removing these will ruin the pennant.
  8. Quartz-studded cloth-of-silver dancing girl's outfit (100gp) - Suitable for a human or half-elf with thirty-two pieces of poor-quality rock crystal , each worth 2gp.  Removing these will ruin the outfit.
  9. Religious text bound in supple pale leather covers (100gp) - When consulted for 1d4 hours, character gains a +1 to their next saving throw vs. death having commended their soul to a higher power for the next 24 hours  DM is encouraged to include one or more clues about mysterious holy sites that may involve a dungeon.
  10. Silvered short sword with bloodstone set in cross-piece (90gp) - Flanges on the cross-piece means the bloodstone (50gp gem) can be removed or replaced with a gem of similar size (DM's fiat).  
  11. Tiara of silver filigree with five tiger's eyes set on tines to resemble eyestalks (100gp) - Odd non-magical jewelry commissioned by odd magical people.
  12. Unholy symbol in solid gold (100gp) - Exquisite craftsmanship makes this very valuable despite only weighing 1lb.  If melted down, worth 50gp by weight.  If purified or destroyed by a good cleric, paladin or similar worthy, this act is worth 100xp.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

inns & taverns: the wool and wolf

The Wool and Wolf is a south-facing tavern famed for wine and tell-tale scratches.  Lovers know few superior locales for rendezvous.  A short ride from town on a worn track reveals the Wool and Wolf and it's stables.  Sometimes music drifts through the air.  A white lamb and black wolf nose to tail with each other adorn the red sign.  "Wool and Wolf" is etched beneath. 

The tavern is rectangular, two-storey with flat brick roof, spacious porch and vine-laden iron trellises.  Roses are grown at the corners.  At the back is a single-storey stone stable that can hold five horses in comfort.  A neat orchard of apple and cherry offers shelter.  Individual trees are decorated with strips of cloth. 

Inside reveals a former hunting lodge with beams and paneling carved with hunts and courtly love.  Trophies of wolf, bear and boar are prominent features.  Folding screens of linen over wicker conceal lovers' seats from view in dim corners and alcoves.  Three eight-seat trestles dominate the common area.  The tavern can seat another two dozen in alcoves, corners and nooks suitable for close couples.

The Wool and Wolf sells brown lambic ale, crisp cider and sweet cyser at four copper.  A silver buys strong mead or excellent kriek.  A bottle of good red wine is 2sp, an excellent red is also sold for 10gp.  Cold winter nights see mulled wine and lambswool (spiced mulled cider) served and the orchard wassailed.  A variety of food is offered.  Boar sausage, pigeon pies, honey bread and goat's cheese are available for a handful of silver.  All are expertly cooked and spiced.

The landlord Hericio is a stocky fortysomething.    His elf-locked tawny hair, silver tongue and burly frame were swooned over ten years ago.  Age and revelry took a toll.  Now eloquent and well-heeled mentor to lotharios, his youth is fondly recalled in a brewing retirement.  His bodyservant (and business partner) Plannear facilitates.  Older, fatter, bumbling yet penny-wise, Plannear keeps wealth rolling in by deals and discreet help.  Olwin and Thena, a garrulous brother and sister cook.  Four maids serve ale and clean rooms, finding suitable matches or opportunities within two years.           

The Wool and Wolf has five intimate suites for 2gp a night with warm goosedown comforters.  The common room is 5sp.  For 20gp a night, lovers of luxury can enjoy a sumptuous honeymoon suite with a banquet.  All guests get warm blankets of wolf fur.  Hericio will offer the blankets to common room guests but stays close-lipped on their origin.

A quiet trade is done for those suffering from lycanthropy.  A tour of the 'famous cellar' for two silver is offered.  Beneath the cellar is a secret door hidden in a cobwebbed hogshead with a dubiously clean front.  Opening the front of the massive barrel reveals a ladder.  Descending it reveals two rows of five cells.  Each iron-bound cell door is barred and deadbolted in the floor, all on the outside.  In each cell are silvered manacles and cot.  'Guests' are locked up, given a skin of drugged wine and locked in for the night.

Hericio and Plannear have experience in dealing with lycanthropes, their families lost to packs of werewolves.  They not only advise romantics but also werewolf hunters.  This has led to ties with certain families and churches sworn to cure or destroy lycanthropy.  This has helped the Wool and Wolf maintain respectability when scandal raises it's ugly head.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

assorted dungeon ceilings

Roll 1d12 if you're redecorating.
  1. Billowing suspended drapes lends an opulent air.  The drapes are neatly repaired canvas in strong colours and treated to resist flames.
  2. Dome with shaft of light coming down from cupola (circular hole in the top of the dome).  The cupola might rarely drip with water.
  3. Dripping ceiling with water drops splashing 1d6 party members each round with icy-cold, dirty water and staining their cloaks or shoulders.
  4. Fresco resplendent with fine artistic interpretations of maidens, heroes and the gods.  Artwork is uplifting and inspires wonder in it's viewers.
  5. Glowing cracks in the ceiling emit heat and light equal to a coal fire though light provided is greenish-white and flickering.
  6. Hooks set in the ceiling at regular intervals (d6+4 feet apart) for the suspension of objects or chains; the room may have multiple purposes.
  7. Illusion of night sky with strange stars and 1d4 moons.   Some constellations are familiar but seen from a different perspective.
  8. Kaleidoscopic mosaic that shifts in slow geometric patterns.  Distracts the weak-willed and gullible (add Wis penalty to initiative).
  9. Netting hangs in long hammocks capable of supporting bundles of items large enough to stay caught in the mesh of the net.
  10. Painted ceiling showing maps of neighbouring nations with location of dungeon at the map's centre.
  11. Racks suspended from ceiling holds selection of equipment in readiness for use.  Arms and armour may be typical, climbing gear is less so...
  12. Strange sculpture of metal and glass casts shadows of leafy boughs on the upper walls when lit by torchlight.

Monday, 25 February 2013

yet more unlikely treasures

Roll d12 for more loot.
  1. Foppish men's wig in periwinkle blue, needs repair (42gp). Worth 50gp if repaired.
  2. Green silk parasol with embroidered silver flowers (60gp).  Perfect for shading from strong sunlight, needs one hand to shade a man-sized or smaller creature.
  3. Helm with full-face visor of mirrored steel (50gp).  Has a 20% chance of reflecting certain gaze attacks back at the creature.  Needs polishing for 10 minutes when it is worn or loses it's effectiveness.
  4. Ingot of gold (1lb) without mark of provenance (50gp).  Useful dealing with unscrupulous groups.
  5. Journal and letters of local noble (50gp). Example letters of introduction and commission will if consulted for 1d4 hours beforehand grant a +2 to reaction rolls when dealing with a noble's court, lawful bureaucrat or city official.
  6. Kite made of purple linen with embroidered silver eagle (55gp).   A toy fit for a noble-born child, weighs 2lbs.
  7. Lynx-trimmed goldenrod vest decorated with floral embroidery (42gp).  Suitable for a slim human, half-elf or burly elf.
  8. Map case of engraved ivory containing a smudged map (46gp, 40gp empty).  The map (DM's discretion for location) is water damaged (60% legible) but still accurate.
  9. Necklace with heart pendant containing dose of rare perfume (40gp, 30gp empty).  Pewter necklace and pendant with secret compartment containing perfume suited to court.
  10. Orcish battle standard of skulls and eye surrounded by iron spikes (50gp).  Six-foot long staff topped with skulls and spiked eye emblem grants a +2 bonus to any attempts to intimidate a man-sized or smaller foe or a +1 morale bonus to any allied orcs or half-orcs.
  11. Paired silvered hand axes balanced for throwing and etched with dwarven blade runes (50gp for pair, 22gp each).  Not magical but may prove effective against certain creatures.
  12. Quiver with 20 bronze whistling arrows (41gp, arrows 2gp each).   The arrowheads keen when fired.  Audible within 400' feet of the arrow's flight path and may increase wandering monster checks accordingly. If fired at a target, they break on a natural 1 or natural 20.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

inns & taverns: the fool & hounds

The Fool & Hounds, refuge of rogues, thrives in the shadows of a hard market town.  Most honest folk avoid it.  A three-storey longhouse without ground-floor windows, it's long walls have six laughing-face plaques.  These spew stale air and wisps of smoke.  The stained long walls form scarred, narrow cartways haunted by black flies to a butcher's yard.  The painted sign creaks on iron chains, a florid-faced jester with two dogs, one biting his posterior.  This creaking punctuates the hubbub from it's door.  The west-facing doorway is well-kept with wooden plaques showing links to merchant houses and street gangs.  The cobbles reek of old blood, ordure and yeast.  Shuttered casements on the second and third floors remain closed at all hours whatever the weather.  The back door has trapdoors to the cellar.  The cartways at night are lightless.

Inside, the ground floor bar is gloomy and cool.  A U-shaped bar dominates the room, four doors to the left lead to privies.  Tables orbit the bar with antechambers before doors.  Candles at each table hurl shadows at dingy booths claimed by assorted ne'er-do-wells.  Boards with prices and risque artwork line the walls.  In daytime, the bar is quiet, chill and dialogue is hushed.  At night, a more raucous atmosphere takes over.  The place fills with drinkers and rogues who warm the air in the bar.  Dogs work the room, fed scraps by patrons. 

Beyond the bar's right arm is a gambling den, the hearth and candles lit only at night.  Five tables with checkered tops and comfortable chairs await.  Chess, cards and table games are popular with regulars.  The only dogs in here are illustrated on boards.  A darkened mirror hangs on the south wall, etched in silver with a jester's grinning head.  Beyond the bar's left arm is a corridor leading past an ascending stair.  This opens into a back room redolent of a ship's deck complete with locked hold doors.  These descend into a pit for animal fights.  Crushed hops and sawdust are strewn on the floor after fights to conceal the blood.  Upstairs leads to staff quarters for the landlord, his partner and the cellarman.  The top floor is the subject of conjecture, odd lights at odd hours are the least.  Whispers of a rogue wizard persist.  Clanking chains on moonless nights suggest they have company.      

The inn keeps mediocre ales at best.  Regulars favour Dunbarrel, a muddy brown quaffing ale or  Baldegard, a coppery ale in clay bottles.  Dark rum or sloe genever are also available.  Those eager to flash coin buy Mo'zaat, a spiced salt beer irrestible to orc and kin.  Food here is portable and/or meat-based.  Beef jerky, smoked sausage, fried pork rinds, pickled walnuts and hard cheese are sold from jars.  The staff are not skilled chefs.

The inn changes barmaids routinely with few permanent staff.  The current landlord, Zarick is distinctive.  Slim, slinking and hollow-eyed, his half-shaved head is adorned with scars and topped with blonde ringlets.  His feral smile and foppish breeches, high boots and fleece-trimmed embroidered vests cut a dash.  Nobody sees the silvered razor until too late.  Skynah, his leman is pale and pretty, favouring crimson chemises, leathers and silver.  Her rasping voice and ready daggers deter casual advances.  Their relationship fuels gossip with a trail of broken hearts, bodies and minds yet remains strong.  They watch the bar, letting the staff serve.  Brune, a hulking, hirsuite half-orc with dueling scars, muttonchop sideburns and stained buckskins tends cellar.  His presence is solid yet silent.  Everyone else lasts at most a season.  Better pickings are found if Zarick and Skynah don't break them. 

The Fool & Hounds has no accommodation.  Falling asleep means being vulnerable to other patrons.  Instead the door is locked at midnight, opening to eject patrons until Zarick or Skynah closes up.  Drunks blundering into the fetid cartways risk their lives.

Needless to say, opportunities await.  Zarick and Skynah are famed for tempestuous arguments, passionate reconciliation and tag-team seduction of willing suitors.  Brune is more calculating in his advances.  Gambling ranges from genteel games of cards to cruel dog fights.  Ex-barmaids  whisper horrible stories of Zarick's pecadillos.   The cartways offer liaisons, mugging and murder with a choir of black flies.  Yet the inn is busy most nights.

Monday, 11 February 2013

more unlikely treasures

Roll 1d12 for more unlikely treasures...
  1. A jangling bracelet of tiny golden bells and fine-toothed cogs on crimson silk rope (25gp), suited to a small wrist interested in intricate mechanisms.   
  2. Blue glass finger-bottle filled with dark fluid (11gp as is, 1gp empty).  10 doses of floral scent that stains red any skin it touches for 3d6 hours.  The scent vanishes in 2d6 +1 hour per dose used.
  3. Charm bracelet of silver chain with five shield-shaped charms (20gp).  The shields have various religious icons for luck.  Has dried blood on it so the previous owner wasn't that lucky.
  4. Dagger with copper wire wound around hilt and cabochon malachite pommel (15gp).  The sort of thing that plays well in rural courts, missing it's scabbard.
  5. Engraved light steel shield with spikes (20gp).  Ornamental vine decorations around spikes, if used to bash a foe, it does 1d4 + Strength damage.
  6. Foot-high statuette of bronze man with mouth open (15gp).  This statuette is hollow and if part-filled with water emits a musical humming if placed near heat sources equal to a brazier or campfire.
  7. Noblewoman's caul (hairnet) of slender silver chains (10gp).  This delicate array is best suited to those of dark hair.
  8. Ochre leather bracers decorated with silver studs (10gp).  These are detachable cuffs used by hirelings in temporary service to nobles whose coat-of-arms includes red and silver or white.
  9. Painted riding saddle decorated with white roses (24gp).   This saddle of black leather is suited to a minor noble or lady-in-waiting.  
  10. Quartz chess set (blue quartz and nacre) (20gp).  Each chess piece is worth 5sp and the board of lacquered wood is worth 4gp.  A threadbare cloth pouch stores the pieces.
  11. Red-stained leather-bound chapbook (10gp) with information on local brothels and gambling dens in a large city.  If consulted for an hour, it gives a +2 bonus to reaction rolls in dealings with these establishments or employees.
  12. 1d12 silver spoons of assorted quality and size (1d6gp each).  Stolen from various reputable houses whose crests are engraved into the handles.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

inns & taverns: the wanton trout

The Wanton Trout is a solid, stone two-storey tavern in a port known for endurance against all comers.  It's owner, a soldier turned bard and pacifist made it famous by his verses etched in it's windows as a customer.  While the port is cold, foggy and grim, The Wanton Trout keeps up a warm welcome on the corner of the crossroads leading to the main marketplace.

The stonework exterior is dappled grey and russet blocks.  Corners and lintels are black granite.  The roof is green-grey slate and the whole structure exudes permanence.  The sign is a study in suggestion.  A pair of slim, pale hands tickling a fat brown trout encircled by "The Wanton Trout" in gilded runes.  An aroma of cooked oats, peat, pine, wax and grain alcohol teases passersby from green-stained oak shutters and south-facing double doors.  A stable suitable for twelve steeds flanks the tavern to the north.

The interior is cream plaster walls, etched with viridian vines bearing pink grapes.  The main lounge is cruciform with a great hearth of wrought iron and granite blazes with burning peat and popping pine cones in the eastern arm.  Iron pots and skillets are tended by sweating youths as oaken tables and benches groan under clientele and wares.  The corners are separated by granite pillars and woven wool drapes in elaborate checks.  Beyond these are more seats and the windows.  Around each window, the plaster is black with crabbed script, pored over by minstrel and scholar.

The northern arm is dominated by a staircase befitting a noble's hall, leading to a balcony.  On one side are six booths for private meetings.  On the other, a dozen doors lead to cosy rooms with shuttered windows with more writing etched into the plaster.  Patrons must carry their own ale, a trial for the hanger-on with many friends or drink-worn.  Food is brought on request by the youths at the hearth who expect some compensation.  The western arm houses the L-shaped bar and stairs to the cellar.  A trio of barmaids hold court, dispensing ale and cheer.  Woe betide the over-amorous, these ladies are ready wits skilled in deflating oratory and more physical advances.  A shout will bring two brawny cellarmen armed with shillelaghs to their aid.  Wooden racks behind the bar hold clay jugs of sealed spirit and ornate pewter tankards inscribed with fanciful decorations.

In the long spring and brief summer, a warm russet ale is sold for a copper quartet.  In autumn, a toffee-coloured ale with hints of peat and caramel is sold instead until spring. In winter, a superior black porter ale is sold for five copper.  Throughout the year, whisky is sold in 'thistles' for two silver.  These tumblers narrow at the top.  Water is served with the whisky to taste, most locals add a little water.  Fortified blackberry wine, cloyingly sweet is sold by the jug for 1 gold.  Food is sold at the hearth.  Salted porridge for a copper, sweetened with honey and hazelnuts for another copper.  Haggis, dark bread and roast turnip is sold for three silver.  Luxury is found in trout baked in butter and herbs for five silver.

A bald-shaven, bucolic fellow, Kriell O'The Dale is a former leader of the watch.  His twin talents for diplomacy and brawling make him a natural landlord.  The youths that cook, cellarmen, stable boys and maids defer to him.  The same is less true of the three barmaids. Eilen, Mora and Shiel who nettle him constantly.  Staff are fiercely loyalty to each other, for every blue moon, the owner shows up incognito. This poet, orator and drinker known to nine worlds demands a room, whiskey and trout.  He and Kriell discuss business in private, sometime coin is exchanged.  The rooms are kept clean by three maids.  Clad in simple dark livery, they are acolytes of a local temple, sworn to chastity.

The rooms upstairs provide private accommodation for the princely sum of 4 gold a night.  The common corners provide a frugal experience for a mere five silver.  The rooms upstairs are good quality and limited availability, 1d12 are already booked. Their windowsills are darkened by more verse on the virtues of love, sleep and warmth.  Each has a simple feather bed and covered chamberpot.  Scholars may try to bribe or persuade guests to let them in to study the verses.  Women travellers are told to raise the alarum if disturbed more than once.  Men are told to resolve the issue informally.

More considerate scholars club together to hire a room, studying the verses until the morning.  Their muttering in meter may alarm nervous guests.  An influx of trade on holy days and rooms smelling of incense suggests some muttering is incantatory. There's been no trouble yet. The maids are vigilant for chalk circles.

Friday, 8 February 2013

anatomy of an apocalypse - part 2

In part 1, we left things after a series of surgical nuclear strikes and civilisation reeling from ten years of nuclear winter.  Millions died in nuclear fire, millions more from fallout.  Famine claims the greatest number of victims.  Most supermarkets last nine days before food runs out in conventional situations (extreme weather or fuel shortage).  Panic buying is not uncommon.  Extreme situations yield food riots, laws against hoarding, rationing and military support of law-enforcement. Most survivalist food plans expire in five years, halfway into the decade without summer.

When the food ran out...
...all hell broke loose.  Rioting met brutal responses from armed police with military support able to fight a recognisable threat.  The more powerful civic leaders and military commissioned research regarding creation and preservation of food. Production was a top priority.  Farms had to meet intensive quotas.  Heavily guarded bio-domes and hydroponic warehouses use sunlamps to grow through the dark seasons.  This isn't the only option.  Evidence of cannibal communities is hidden by horrified civic leaders. 

Symptoms of kuru and amyloidosis are identified by medics.  Despite all the death, too many mouths need feeding.  Secretive purges of individual serial cannibals and growing cannibal gangs are led by pro-establishment brainers. Yet cannibalism appears in cities and rural communities. Food caches of MREs and freeze-dried goods are treasured secrets, used only in dire need.  Shifts from increasingly scarce food stores to sustainable food supplies means tightening belts.  Horror stories of cannibal cults led by charismatic leaders become more prevalent.  Society begins a slow-motion splintering.

Listen to the voices... 

The psychic maelstrom is a product of the millions of dead.  Yet pandemics claim equivalent body counts without forming a worldwide miasma of psychic energy.  And if they do, they're rarely as informative as this one.  So why are the dead so damned helpful?  Consider the gutting of a worldwide infrastructure due to the Cull's EMP and burning cities out.  Surviving engineers are kept busy.  Some rebuilding occurs and there is nothing like necessity to breed invention.

Satellites require significant investment and connectivity breaks.  Nanoscale networking is a different approach and worldwide production nodes may reconnect people.  Imagine a communicable personal nano-network linking you to the Internet.  Pre-Cull brainer tech like implant syringes or violation gloves (amplifying signal or rapid processing) makes this less of a leap.  The resulting noosphere mixed ingenuity and horror in the last two years of the Decade Without Summer.  Cryogenic stasis became a reality. Leaders of men and entourages enter bunkers to sleep away their troubles until the land is renewed again.

Introducing... the Burn.

So what stops satellite-assisted human ingenuity and the nanoscale Internet?  Irony demands a solar event. 2012 saw increased awareness of coronal mass ejection.  CME events reach peaks every 11 years. Heralded by solar flares, powerful CME events weave auroral displays, burn out satellites, disrupt electronic and power networks.  A global Carrington event electrifies power lines, phone lines and pipelines. Transformers blow, satellites burn out, electrified lines go down and fuel pipelines experience electrical fires.

Blackouts again and fewer engineers means longer downtime.  The noosphere dies and panic ensues again as electronic controls fail.  Eventually the nanoscale network reboots.  Things are different, inexplicable sensory impressions, voices whispering.  This glitch births the psychic maelstrom and over forty years, it transcends it's original form.   The gifted and strange attune to it.  Information is lost, corrupted or transformed into formats man was not meant to know.  Insanity spikes among noosphere users, what seemed salvation is risky.  Those with latent psychic ability become gifted.  Nobody knows how or why.

Colony collapse disorder

In the wake of The Burn, civilisation finally splinters.  Famine rears it's ugly head as the farms lose power.   This time, mere anarchy prevails.  Authorities retreat or are overthrown.  Holdings form at power stations, factories, hospitals and military bases.  Mirroring declines in bee population, people abandon cities after looting them.  Those who remain carve out niches.  Cannibalism, insanity and mutation - the last from exposure to environment, radiation, pathogens or psychic maelstrom grows more prevalent.

Sustainable farming and hunter-gathering becomes the norm.  Communities disperse or form around working power sources.  The adoption of biogas from waste products and traded generators means cars can run and electrical light is possible.  Communities shrink out of necessity.  Trade in oil, petroleum and gas still occurs. Money becomes meaningless - barter now makes sense.  In time, skills are lost and memories of the world before the Cull are told to children. The omnipresent psychic maelstrom whispers equal education and confusion.  Things get a little scrambled in the re-telling.

In the absence of government or corporate interest, infrastructure decays.  Roads crack, sewer systems and flood defences are compromised.  Those with skills effect small-scale repairs. Larger problems are left to fester.  In addition, culture begins to erode.  Magazine celebrities become archetypes studied by manipulators.  Savants and operators ply their trades. Names lose meanings in the struggle to live - those who die are remembered and sometimes eaten. Fifty years after the bombs exploded, this world is bleak.

You are here.

Monday, 28 January 2013

anatomy of an apocalypse, part one

Apocalypse World.  Helluva game, as has been remarked by various people.  Having recently run a six-session game for new players, here are some setup experiences and points on the learning curve from the group (myself included).  I prefer recaps and summaries to actual play reports, some play decisions will creep in here as they reflect learning points.  The nature of the apocalypse is open-ended and this is one of the first decisions an MC needs to consider.

The rules imply certain common elements.  It's fifty or so years after the event.  Burned-out cities, a night sky of murky twilight, scarce food and water, fear and ignorance as the norm.   Society is broken down gangs cleave to personalities or holdings.  No Internet, working electronics are precious, bullets and fuel are still plentiful.  Cultural identity is annihilated, names have lost meaning.  In the ruins gifted individuals survive and bond.  The psychic maelstrom whispers secrets and lies to the strange and desperate.  High technology enhances psychic abilities yet little working infrastructure remains.

Choose your own damn catastrophe

The book refers to burn-flats, suggesting to me nuclear exchange.  You may prefer asteroid strikes, runaway virus, esoteric rapture or alien invasion.  Knowing how things got so bad means backtracking to identify the nature of the catastrophe.  The vast majority of characters won't have been around when it happened.  And if someone wants to play a grizzled bad ass, one question you must ask is "How did you escape the apocalypse?"  Open questions are key to a good game.

The footprints of the disaster are useful.  They help identify threats, give context to fronts and flavour for moves against the player characters.  Crossing a burn-flat, irradiated water, decontamination rituals by cultists and packs of mutants are fair game.  Fleshing everything out isn't desirable but a cheat sheet of ideas will help with session prep.  As MC, you'll have questions to answer yourself.  In the first session (and after), players will provide plenty of ideas.  Incorporating them into the game makes for a better game and gives them investment into the game too.

Deciding what the hell happened. 

I thought about The World Before.  Like our world but with brainers armed with high-tech - a setting worth investigation.  With the number of cities and megacities, the body count would be immense, a cull of humanity.  Research on this topic and sites mapping a nuclear explosion on Google Maps gives you a point of reference.  To reduce the population to those levels might need a nuke in every city with a population over, say, 1 million... roughly 500 cities.  So where do you find 500 nukes?  Not as hard as it sounds.

A simultaneous nuclear strike in every major city would shake the pillars of civilisation without worldwide annihilation of life.  These surgical strikes would prevent other nations taking control until nuclear winter sets in. The initial destruction and the following consequences are sobering reading.  Reading around the TTAPS study and supplementary research, I chose 340 kiloton devices.  Seeing the words cull of humanity in my notes, suddenly a conspiracy trying to control world population who get it horribly wrong appears - motive and method.  Now to work out the opportunity and events from The World Before to The World After...

Introducing The Cull

On the 5th November, 500 simultaneous nuclear strikes rip out the heart of every major city.  Millions die instantly, world stock markets shatter with telecoms and media hubs gutted by EMP, firestorms and gamma radiation.  Plumes of smoke, irradiated dust and carbon are borne aloft.  Some falls as black rain.  Some enters the stratosphere, sowing seeds of nuclear winter.  Fallout scourges metropolitan areas and nearby cities driven by prevailing weather.  Civic infrastructure screams, buckles and shatters.

Civilian complacency is rewarded by rolling blackouts and hastily-invoked contingencies.  Those who can flee, those who can't either barricade themselves in or riot in the streets.  Governments reassert control despite collapsed markets, catastrophic damage to population centers and crippled infrastructure.  Rural communities face a 'golden horde' of looters and refugees, military units are mobilised to keep order.  In some countries, martial law is imposed.  In others there is insurrection.  Political instability, aggressive stockpiling and public dissent increases.

A manifesto is released via multiple channels, justifying the strikes as preventing an overpopulation crisis.
The conspiracy is swiftly hunted down and dismantled.  Interrogation combining conventional and psychic means reveal extensive conditioning.  Copies are adopted by fanatics and demagogues.  As the month comes to an end, radiation poisoning claims more lives.  Economic negotiations are convened and fail to rebuild the markets desperately needed to supply food to the cities.

The Decade Without Summer

Then winter bites down hard.  Stratospheric dust opaque to infra-red but not harmful ultraviolet radiation shades the Earth from sunlight.  With targets near the equator, both Northern and Southern hemispheres experience chilling weather, spoiling harvests.  Black snow and ice storms wreak havoc.  The Northern hemisphere loses sunlight through the first winter, the Southern hemisphere has overcast days with searing ultraviolet light which blinds and burns unprotected animals and humans alike.

Multiple bombs detonated in Brazil, Africa and South East Asia punch holes in the ozone layer and chill the oceans further.  Hemispheric separation of wind currents means the Northern hemisphere bears the brunt of the winter.  Spring, such as it is, is worse.  Ozone depletion increases due to reflected sunlight heating stratospheric nitrates.  Agriculture is decimated, lack of sunlight and cooler temperatures leads to widespread famine.  Deaths follow after, stories of food riots and cannibalism are suppressed by remaining governments.  The next five years, global rainfall decreases by 10%.  The winter lasts for ten long years.

After a decade, enough dust has fallen out the sky for the worst to dissipate.  Lasting temperature drops of a few degrees centigrade worldwide remain by the time the players play.  The ozone layer is damaged so UV exposure is a threat.  Food and water are scarce now and millions have died of famine.  We have another forty years to work out.  Questions about the psychic maelstrom, whether civilisation would survive the decade without summer, how things got from here to The World After still remain...

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

inns & taverns: the starveling goat

The last inn on the barrens road, half a day from the nearest village or croft.  The Goat is known for frugality. Dwarf pine, scraggy juniper and blackthorn eke precarious existences in the barrens.  Harsh land does not breed wealthy watering holes.  Worse, the Goat's first landlord died violently and was dragged to the Hells for his misdeeds.  Luxurious travellers spin yarns of the Goat's miserliness and add to it's evil reputation. Bandits avoid the barrens, preferring richer pickings.  

The Goat is a sprawling drywall bungalow, set in a hillside by the road.  Waist-high drywall corral half-feral pigs and skinny, black goats.  Smoke rises along the brow of the hill. The only window is shuttered and barred.  The sign is a wooden, white shield with black goat rampant chained to the roof timbers.  The land around is desolate, open country.  Wolfsong echoes in the hills and ravens announce kills.

The bungalow opens into a low-timbered hall with paired long tables and benches to sit sixteen.  Their arrangement as an aisle leads to a hearth flanked by hanging hides.  From behind these, the staff bring ale. Most food is prepared at the hearth, the remainder brought through from the hide-hidden rooms.  These are the landlord's quarters, a brewery, pantry and smokehouse.  The hall's floor is strewn with sawdust, dwarf pine needles and malting floor chaff to soak stains.  Hints of pine and burnt grain disturb dusty air soured with sweat.  Of the sixteen chairs, up to eight are occupied by poor goatherds, itinerant tinkers or travellers.

Customers favour watery pine ale with floral notes for three copper served in clay goblets. These usually accompany a goat cheese patty on toasted bread or thick malt porridge for sixteen copper.  Quality is barely better than the prices suggest.  Spendthrifts prefer sloe genever at two silver a jug or a thin broth that mixes goat, boar, juniper and sloe.  The house speciality is smoked boar sausage at four silver, a tasty alternative to iron rations.

Augus, the landlord is sallow, wrinkled and hunched.  His patched smock reeks of malt, pine and woodsmoke.  His energetic hands are ever polishing, pouring or checking stock.  His bloodshot green eyes fix on distinctive details.  Augus has an extended family of six working as staff, two spinsters and four bored youths.  The family could run the Goat but Augus has insider knowledge that serves him well.  He talks to the air sometimes - and it replies.  Augus has unseen help in an imp grooming him for greater evils than running the Goat.  For now, the imp is content.  All fear Augus enraged, his eyes glow and those restless hands are versed in both knife and cudgel.

Rooms are not available here.  For two silver, you can sleep near the hearth.  On cold winter nights, the goats are ushered in as well.  On these nights some guests hear the hearth sizzle and fluttering wings.  The staff will mock any sharing this insight. Guests are moved on regardless of need.  Laggards are expelled at dawn unless they buy breakfast.  Few people dare to stay a second day and night.  Nobody knows of anyone who has done so.

One of the spinsters has found love and plans to elope with her beau, a local goatherd.  Needless to say, Augus is less than pleased.  The hapless beau may find his fortunes soured, or face worse consequences, without some heroic help.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

assorted dungeon statuary

There is always a need for strange statues in a dungeon.  Don't blink.
  1. Alabaster elfmaid with mouth open in song fills 30' radius with unearthly music, calms 2d4 hit dice of listeners to inaction.
  2. Bronze bull with sharp horns gives +1 to AC for 9 – level hours if an offering is made to it.
  3. Copper wizard with staff lights unlit torches within 10' every 2 hours by harmless electrical discharge.
  4. Crystalline woman in court dress when not looked at to reflect the mood of those within 30 feet.
  5. Gem-eyed demon bearing a brazier illuminating up to 90' radius in torchlight.  Gems are 100gp each. 
  6. Golden child offering blessing gives +1 to all saving throws for 9 – level hours if offering is made to it.
  7. Iron warrior woman with battleaxe gives +1 to hit for 9 – level hours if an offering is made to it.
  8. Leaden, shapeless many-eyed thing causes nausea in observers, irresistable to oozes or slimes.
  9. Many-tentacled horror causes dread in observers.  If given to an undead they leave with it. 
  10. Marble angel with elephant head gives +10' movement for 9 – level hours if an offering is made to it. 
  11. Silver youth with snakes in hands cures 1 hit point every 2 hours resting within sight of the idol.
  12. Verdigris man with octopus head gives +1 to damage rolls for 9 – level hours if offering is made to it.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

food as set dressing

Peasants breaking bread (Wikimedia)
Over at Cirsova, a food and fantasy blog carnival runs until the 21st. Food can evoke emotion and conjure sense memory.  Responses to those emotions and sense memories are typically visceral. Dietary habits for people are primarily beholden to environment and agriculture.  Culture and religion may shape this further.  There are other factors involved of course.
  • Exploration, conquest and trade may introduce new food.
    The popularity of garum (a pungent sauce made of rotted saltfish) among the Greeks, Romans and the Byzantines enabled trade across the Mediterranean and as far as Roman Britain.  The New World brought potatoes and tomatoes to Europe.  Chocolate (chocolatl) was another export that found favour with the Spanish.  Wars have been fought over salt and pepper inspired epic exploration.
  • Immigrant populations may bring their own foods and spices
    The popularity of curry in Britain, or variations in Minnesota lutefisk follows immigrant influence; if your game has an invading population or a neighbouring culture, their food and drink influences yours. Elven baklava may be served with coffee and a pipeweed hookah in a free port tavern where halflings and elves have neighbourhoods in a Moorish-based settlement.
  • Wealth and status brings a better class of food - usually.
    Access to certain ingredients (salt) and spices may require wealth.  Peasant staples are transformed by quality of ingredients.  Breads may have finer flour or more wheat.  Now add to this other dishes.  Laws mark foods (rabbit or venison) as noble perogatives.  Roasted meat means fresh good-quality meat, more likely noble fare.  Some noble delicacies however, are less than desirable.
In some settings, there is sufficient civilisation to ensure fine fare.  Courtly food may be about theatrics as much as taste.  Serving swan to royalty is mostly ostentation.  A high-fantasy equivalent may serve dressed cockatrice to nobles.  Magical augmentation of the meal is another option.  These combinations create meals worthy of fairytale.  A truly imaginative chef may have opportunities for extraplanar travel.

Other locations may have limited opportunities for the gourmet adventurer.  The dungeon expands culinary horizons out of necessity.  Roasted cave fish, select mushrooms and dwarven spirit may keep you happy (and off iron rations) for a little while until the wood runs out.  In the deeper underworld, your host might serve chilled goblin brains served in a trephinated skull.  Similar perils face those in desolate wilderness.  Arctic glaciers and burning deserts are not plentiful larders and eating sentients is an occupational hazard.

The discovery of exotic foods and drinks made fortunes.  Enterprising adventurers may find themselves in wars over spices.  If they inspired Marco Polo and Vasco de Gama to cross half the world, your lot might go some distance.  Royal charters, trading company monopolies, dragons with alternative hoards - all can provide unique adventures for characters. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

eggs is eggs, innit?

Czech decorated eggs courtesy of WikiMedia

Table V: A dozen dungeon eggs
  1. Alabaster egg plays magic tinking chimes for 1d6 rounds when sat on it's end and spun clockwise.
  2. Cock's egg laid by an enchanted rooster, this tainted item spawns a basilisk if incubated by a snake.
  3. Duck's eggshell grenade filled with powder.  A successful to hit roll on a foe with eyes blinds them for d4 rounds.
  4. Goose eggshell holds magic dust that reveals invisible objects, turning them pearlescent for 9 rounds.
  5. Jewelled lacquered egg crusted in semi-precious stones worth 1d6 x 100gp.
  6. Painted ceramic egg with formula for a 1st-level wizard spell in tiny writing.
  7. Pitted egg of smelted iron, weighs 3 lb, workable into iron or steel or a meal for a rust monster.
  8. Puzzle egg of brass and iron (needs Open Locks roll to open) contains a gem worth 100gp.
  9. Quail's eggshell filled with a dose of dust causing inhaler to breathe water as air for 9 – level rounds.
  10. Rubbery black egg useful as diversion.  If thrown, it does 1 + Strength non-lethal damage.
  11. Tarnished silver egg contains 8 ounces of high-quality snuff (8gp) kept in perfect condition.
  12. White, smooth egg, left to it's own devices a baby amphisbaena will hatch in 1d6 hours.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

the joys of public domain day

May (Eric Ravilious woodcut)
Apart from being New Year's Day, with resolutions, regrets and recaps of the last year it is also Public Domain Day.  A celebration of the commons is vital in this time of litigious technologists.  Victor Hugo, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables argued passionately for the promotion of public access to works.
This is because the public good is our primary concern, and I declare this [as an author], the people’s rights come before ours.
      -- Victor Hugo, Discours d’ouverture du Congrès littéraire international (tr. Kerton) taken from The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture

 Among those entering the public domain this year are:
  • A.E. Waite, writer and occultist (co-creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, said to be inspiration for Ephraim Waite in Lovecraft's The Thing at The Doorstep) whose works on western occultism and Freemasonry survived a feud with Aleister Crowley.
  • Ernest Bramah, who is credited with the quote "May you live in interesting times." and whose Kai Lung and Max Carrados stories are wonderful inspiration and whose Secret of the League inspired George Orwell's 1984.
  • L.M.Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and numerous short stories.
The beauty of the public domain is that it offers a wealth of resource for creators to use.  It's worth taking a look to see what inspiration may be found.  The idea of detective mysteries with occultist themes and red-haired orphans in Victorian times does appeal.  Wonder what you'll find?
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