Tuesday, January 17, 2017

blades of grass

a 5e monster for weird florida. Been thinking about Pearce's Monstrum 1 and Monstrum 2 posts, and while I haven't faithfully applied those principles here, I wanted something that didn't immediately and obviously fit into the D&D taxonomy (in some ways it doesn't matter if your kobolds are dogmen or lizard people or birdlings or shivering clouds of diamond dust if players know that it's a fodder enemy in the same genus as goblins and bullywugs).
you might think it's a coyote at first when you see it running down the trail--its skeleture is right, and it has that canine posture on all fours, but then it rears back on its hind legs and then keeps going, sprinting like a human, reaching for you with its sharp fingers. it looks more like a person up close, but its mouth is a little too wide and its teeth are far too sharp, and when you cut it, its blood is pink and viscous, like real blood mixed with milkweed sap.

medium fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 15
Hit Points 7
Speed 40 ft, 60 ft on all fours, 30 ft climb speed           
STR 8 (-1) DEX 14 (+2) CON 10 (+0)
INT 10 (+0) WIS 14 (+2) CHA 10 (+0)                    
Skills: Stealth +6
Senses passive Perception 12
Languages unknown
Weaknesses radiant damage, makes their blood burn like wet sodium
Graceful. Can take the Disengage or Hide action on each of its turns
Hide in the House. Has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks when hiding in grass
Grass House Walker. Moves through palmetto, tall grass, and natural difficult terrain silently and without penalty                                                                 
  • Claw. Melee weapon attack. +4 to hit, 1d6+2 slashing damage
  • Green glass blade. Melee weapon attack.+4 to hit, 1d8+2 slashing damage, breaks on a roll of maximum damage.
  • Weird. The dweller can cast one of the following spells per short rest. Use WIS as spellcasting ability score. Its spell save DC is 14 and its spell attack bonus is +4
    1. as entangle. The dweller gently palpates the ground; if it is stone it flexes like soft flesh, if it is dirt or sand the dweller reaches below the surface and manipulates something unseen there. Slender pale arms churn through the ground, delicate strong hands with opalescent fingernails drag down whatever they find.
    2. as fog cloud. The dweller scores the earth deep with its claw and black smoke boils up out of the gash.
    3. as unseen servant. There is the faint smell of cut grass and open earth, pollen and tiny insects hang in the air.
    4. as thunderwave. The dweller throws back its head and roars like a thousand thousand cicadas, it's the worst sound you've ever heard, you can taste it in your teeth, feel it blast through the fine bones of your jaw and ears.
  • Pact. Once per day: Three dwellers within 5 ft of each other can use their action in the same turn to summon a demon if they are outside in a wilderness area. Roll or choose based on situation, all have fiend type. Demons have their own initiative and act in the interests of the dwellers unless separated from their summoners, in which case they act of their own free will.
    1. sunstroke demon (as yellow faerie dragon) a ragged coyote corpse leaking mirage-shimmer from the rents in its hide, running weightlessly across the ground, flitting from branch to branch as easily as a crow.
    2. palmetto demon (as imp) scuttling mass of palm scrub detritus: palm fibers, browning fronds, broken roots, sand clods. It doesn't change shape, but just shows you what it's been all along, changing from spider to rat like an optical illusion resolving itself
    3. anhinga demon (as spectator) has a 60 ft swim speed. it coils through the air like an eel through water, braided serpentine bodies throwing off coils and wings that dissolve into black feathers as fast as they form. its conjoined heads are spotted with angry red eyes, each stare carrying a different curse.
    4. ash demon (as azer) it could almost be a charred corpse and often disguises itself as one, but its skin is thick like charcoal. when roused the red glow of its internal flame can be seen through the cracks in its skin, and its breath is heavy with smoke.

There are dwellers in other houses, too. The Petal House Dwellers have the character of both spiders and moths, and their magic is white and filamentous. The River House Dwellers are hulking and patient and make familiars of toads and crocodiles. There is a Pure House, too, a House long ago and far away and high above, with dwellers of infinite beauty and cruelty, who drink up the creatures of the earth, who would pull apart the world like a ripe fruit and eat it if they could.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

the earth does not want you

hey guys. it's certainly been a while. i've been thinking about a weird fantasy florida, recently, out in the palm scrub, where everything is mean and sharp and unfriendly and unnavigable and really kind of beautiful in a careless sort of way.

her flesh moves like fire on her bones, her hair roils like a plume of smoke from her head, her feet barely touch the water as she strides across it and you smell the black magic in the air: hot metal and raw meat and ozone.
  • Each sinner knows a random cleric spell with a level equal to their HD. They can cast it at will.
  • Sinners cannot cross lines of salt or enter holy ground or consecrated buildings like churches, and they must flee the sounds of church bells and calls to prayer as if they had failed a Morale check.
  • Sinners can walk on water, walls, and ceilings; they are supernaturally light when it suits them, and any surface or structure that can support the weight of a crow will also support a sinner.
they are pale, luxuriously dressed in black veils and black lace, they move in groups of two or three, they dart about close to the ground in the edges of your vision. they never seem to be what they should, seeming to be very large and very far away, or else very small and very close; you always have to reach farther than you think to strike them with your weapon, but they can just raise their hand and touch you all the same.
  • Each corpse can cast a random magic-user spell with a level equal to their HD. They can cast it at will.
  • If a corpse sees an open grave (dug for the purposes of burying someone, at least 6 feet deep, a burial marker at the head of the grave), it must climb inside and lie down. If it hears properly recited funeral rites (INT check and a round of effort), it must make a Morale check. Corpses cannot cross lines of salt.
  • As long as nobody can see its point of departure or arrival, a corpse can teleport to any location in 120'.
palm devil
a figure standing at the edge of the pines, a little too tall to be human, the contours of its body beneath its ragged coat too long and slender, it's holding a palmetto frond in front of its face, and when it turns to you, all the leaves on all the trees as far as you can see rattle, malicious and filled with volition
  • a palm devil's face is indescribable; should anyone see it they must Save vs Magic or become Feebleminded. They will transform into a sinner by midnight of the following Sunday unless restored by Remove Curse.
  • Can cast Gust of Wind, Move Earth, and Plant Growth twice each per fight.
  • Can fly by riding its palm frond.
  • In a palm devil's hands, a palm frond functions as a vorpal axe and can easily cut through any mundane substance.
venomous augury
someone has nailed a huge rattlesnake to the trunk of a dead pine tree at regular intervals, tied lengths of red silk to each nail head. it looks at you with wet human eyes and tells you something horrible.
  • the venomous augury knows everything, probably. A player can ask it anything and it will give them the true answer. This can amount to a wish--ask it where the elixir of eternal life it, and it will tell you, whether or not there was an elixir before you asked. However, every answer introduces an evil equal in influence or power to the wealth or knowledge being sought. Ask "where is the woman who will save the world?" and the augury is liable to answer "in the house of the man who will one day destroy it"
  • once someone has asked the augury a question, it forevermore appears to them as a stinking dead rattlesnake grotesquely nailed to a tree.
prophet of mud
a huge hairless face emerges from the muck in front of you. it does not bother to turn its head, but swivels its bulging yellow eyes towards you as it begins to hum a hymn
  • the prophet of mud is a third level cleric and knows Bless, Command, and Augury and can cast spells from its head or its hands.
  • the prophet can emerge from any body of mud. it can reach its hands up from any body of mud or murky water that is contiguous with the mud it head is in.
  • the prophet's head and two hands get their own turn in the initiative order. it can only see what its head sees, naturally, but will feel things out with one hand to help the other.
  • the prophet can spend a round singing hymns to cast Rock To Mud at will.
there is a mother deep beneath the earth, she once had a shell of many hard plates and swam with many sharp legs and saw with a constellation of many watchful eyes. she died long ago, when this land was still a sea, but she is still here, she is a hollow in the bedrock far below, a long spiral in the dark. sometimes she tells the land what it used to be, and when she does it listens.

photos by me

    Wednesday, August 10, 2016

    out in the swamp where the water is dark

    monsters in dungeons and dragons can feel very taxonomical, as if some fantasy Linnaeus separated the ghoul from the ghast and the wight from the specter. In practice, it's just palette-swapping. However, I like the idea of monsters that suggest an unusual and inscrutable method of specifying one kind of creature from another.

    by Tim Waters
    distributed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    However, I also want there to be something of a blur between kinds of monsters. Monstrosity is something afflicted or achieved, it is a political category, a caste, a title. Bluebeard and Christman Genipperteinga are as much ogres as men; Elizabeth of Bathory was a woman, witch, and vampire. Monsters and witches can and should step on each other's conceptual turf, just because neither are wholly one thing. 

    witches with beautiful hair
    Such a witch keeps his or her hair in a long braid, ornamented to look like a snake. A single strand of it, teased free and tied around the finger, wrist, or neck of a victim, ensures their compliance in all things; so long as the strand is still attached to her head, the witch can command it to sever the member around which it is tied. Neither distance no scissors are protection against this; a witch's hair can stretch across oceans or over mountains, and no conventional means can cut it.
         Witch-hair is exceedingly fine, but a watchful witch-hunter can follow the hair from victim to owner. However, the witch can always use his or her victims as hostages no matter how far they may be, or even blackmail them into fighting their would-be rescuer.

    blood-swallowing witches
    A witch of this ilk has learned a very beautiful song that summons great swarms of mosquitoes. The witch then disperses them across the countryside to collect blood from her neighbors. When the mosquitoes return, they vomit the blood up into the witch's pots and pans, which the witch then brews into vile liqueurs. Some are fatally poisonous; others simply delicious, while the most coveted restores a measure of youth to the drinker.
         A witch-hunter knows a blood-swallowing witch by their love of music, by their hidden or strangely stained pots and pans, and by the barrels they keeps but never seems to tap. Imprudent enemies of a blood-swallowing witch might find themselves exsanguinated by a storm of mosquitoes.

    witches whose shadows have eyes
    The most mysterious kind of witch. shadows cast by these witches have eyes, as if their owner had two holes in their head and light was streaming through. Their shadows do their bidding, rising up off the ground, gaining strength and substance. A witch's shadow crawls about unnaturally, like a person trying to walk on all fours, but runs as fast as a horse and possesses the strength of two.
         These witches can only be caught by close examination of their shadow, or by their shadow's absence when they have commanded it to run off and perform some wickedness. Witches whose shadows have eyes have been known to hide their nature and rise to positions of great power and prestige.

    witches who live under the mangroves
    These witches can hold their breath as long as they please. They carry heavy cudgels and live out in the mangrove swamp, where they float facedown in the waterways or thrash like a drowning swimmer so that they can bludgeon their rescuers unconscious and carry them away to a half-submerged larder. When they are not hunting, these witches sleep in the dark waters between mangrove roots, thinking black and briny thoughts and trading secrets with passing crocodiles.
         Witches who live under the mangroves are betrayed by the mud in their mouth, which they can never quite spit out and which prevents them from speaking well. The eldest witches of this kind are trapped below their mangroves, transfixed by slow-growing roots over the course of their century sleep. They are easy to destroy if discovered, but their mgic is powerful and filled with venom.
    by Guillaurme Schaer
    distributed under CC BY NC 2.0

    Monday, August 8, 2016

    upon the ancient shores of albion...

    A Most Thoroughly Pernicious Pamphlet has received an Honorable Mention in the distinguished 2016 Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming, an honor I will treasure until my dying day, and one I will clutch in my bony fist long after.

    I've decided to lower the price of the Pamphlet to $2, so if you've been holding out in hopes of a lower price, your day has come. You can get it here. If Gumroad gives you any trouble, which has been known to happen, let me know in the comments of this post or over on Google+ and I'll get you a copy.

    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    New Barbary Session 1, Delivery in La Habana

    I ran New Barbary/La Habana yesterday, and it went very well.

    The perpetrators:
    • An amnesiac Castilian deserter with a talent for fighting and a real gift for lying. He still remembers that the fort he was assigned to (Castillo de San Marcos in La Florida) is threatened by a mysterious curse or god.
    • Sol, A mysterious maskmaker practiced in botany and superior pact-making skills. She had a hard time lying and a nearly supernatural ability to get people to tell her the truth. She was contracted by a devil to repair its mask, which was destroyed by the same entity that threatens the Castillo de San Marcos--or so the devil says.
    by Christophe Meneboeuf, distributed under CC-BY-SA license
    They owed their cantankerous one-legged landlady 100 pesetas by the end of the week or she was going to sell off all their stuff, evict them, and alert the constabulary. They decided on approaching the Red Hibiscus Society for work, and were led to the bathtub-bound towering ex-bandit who led the Society: Uncle Yusuf. He told them to pick up a package from the House of Honey and Salt and deliver it to a dead drop location at the Old Royal Park.

    On the way, they evaded a pack of coyotes gnawing on a body in the abandoned urban areas around the Souk, and tripped over the body of a (extremely stabbed) courier. The letter clutched in his hand was addressed to Frederico Buendía, the owner of the biggest distillery in Cuba, warning him that the infamous pirate Sayyida al Hurra had stolen a major molasses shipment, which would cost him an enormous sum of money and drive up the price of rum catastrophically.

    Bearing this in mind, they pick up the package from the Saints. It's pretty disturbing--they are told not to open the package, get it wet, breath heavily around it, or spend much time touching it. Sol asks for an extra blanket to wrap around it, and pretends she's carrying a child. On the way out, she notices it's a bit warmer than body temperature and might even be moving subtly. 

    On the way to Old Royal Park, they notice a man with a hat pulled low over his face following them. They set up an ambush and successfully capture him, forcing him to reveal he works for a rival gang (the Ivory Palm Guild). The Deserter knocks him out, and they steal his machete, a flask filled with a floral-smelling liquid, and a brick wrapped in paper--possibly a decoy for the package they are trying to deliver.

    They reach the Park without complication, hide the package, and successfully flee a group of Ivory Palm Guildsmen, including a limping figure clutching his head. However, while running away they stumble into two sorcerers who manage to catch up with them, helped by a dimly seen creature that blinds the Deserter. It's a man and a woman--Rosa and Rodrigo--who Sol guesses correctly work for the Klatch. They were trying to prevent the Saint's package from being delivered to the Red Hibiscus Society, but now that it already has been, they want Sol and the Deserter to figure out where it is being kept. They agreed, realizing the Saints and Society were probably up to no good and also recognizing that Rosa was probably going to shoot them otherwise.

    They return to the Red Hibiscus Society's headquarters and receive their reward from Uncle Yusuf, with a small bonus for fending off the Ivory Palm Guild. Then they alerted Frederico about the impending rum-market disaster. He gave them a small award and agreed to let Sol and the Deserter join his expedition to get the molasses back (the Deserter lied about his Navy experience, and since Frederico thought he possessed "the steady gaze of an honest man", he let them join). It would leave in a few days.

    The next day, the party, wanting more money so they could outfit themselves for their coming adventure, asked for more work at the R.H.S. They were told to deliver a sealed cask to the bastard Castilians, but on the way a mysterious, ragged man named Jorge asked if he could poison the cask, with the promise that it would only "cause digestive distress" and that his days as a smuggler would let him tamper with the seal without chance of discovery. They were very hesitant, but as Jorge enjoyed a cigarette they decided to let Jorge do it if he and his "many friends in lofty office" agreed to search for the R.H.S.'s hidden and guarded package. Jorge poisoned the cask, and the bastard Castilians took it without even looking Sol and the Deserter.

    Flush with cash, they went the Souk and bought themselves a rusted breastplate and a suit of tattered leathers for armor. Sol purchased some sacrifices so she could form a contract with one of the Souk's Mercenary Gods, and settled on The Beast Among The Lilies, a jaguar-spirit that could strengthen the Deserter or fight on its own.

    We ended the session with Sol and the Deserter ready for the hunt for the pirate Sayyida.

    Lessons Learned
    • Vornheim remains the most useful rpg book I own. I went into that session with my blogposts on New Barbary and the following prep. Everything else I scribbled in during breaks or generated/rolled up from Vornheim.
    • This WaRP hack is going very well. The Klatch sorcerer that blinded the Deserter was just "Rodrigo: spirit of darkness 3D, 10 HP" and he did everything he needed to do.
    • D&D has a lot of granularity and mechanics I don't really use because of the types of games I tend to run. If I were to run San Serafin has a hard dungeon crawl, I would definitely use D&D, but WaRP seems to work quite well for what I want to run right now.
    • San Serafin is still a location and the players actually laughed out loud when I said they could go there to look for treasure.
    • The players really like the shrines of Mercenary Gods at the Souk.

    Saturday, August 6, 2016

    things to do in La Habana

    It occurs to me that jinetero is a perfect term for adventurers, even if it doesn't perfectly match the real-life contemporary definition. Anyway, here's the lowdown on some of the player-adjacent factions in La Habana.

    Red Hibiscus Society
    A social club/trading consortium/gang based in La Habana. Their affinity for bypassing the Emir's taxmen has made them natural allies of the Castilians of La Florida.

    The chief of the Red Hibiscus Society is Yusuf, a colossal ex-bandit who has given up direct robbery for the relative ease and comfort of running a medium-sized crime syndicate. He always smells of violet water, and is rarely seen outside of his bath--he's had a porcelain clawfoot tub installed in the Red Hibiscus Society Hall where he conducts most of his business so he doesn't have to get out even as he works.

    The Society regularly employs vagrants, vagabonds, and soldiers-of-fortune to carry out its interests, both legitimate and illegitimate, with at least one layer of plausible deniability.
    1. Deliver a sealed cask to the bar next to the Castilian embassy by the Docks. Expect trouble on the way, and do not open the barrel.
    2. Retrieve a package from the House of Honey and Salt, and deliver it at a dead drop location at the Royal Park. Wash your hands thoroughly with hot soap and water afterwards, do not breathe heavily around the package, and do not get it wet.
    3. Yusuf's step-daughter is attending the Emir's birthday and he suspects some pencil-necked egghead at the College is going to ask her to attend it with him. Explain to him why this is not a viable decision, but don't do anything worse than breaking his knees.
    4. That bastard Admiral is holding out on Yusuf--the Castilian has, through various semilegal channgel, acquired Gran Morado, violet water made from the purest and most fragrant violets, said to restore vigor lost to age, bring good luck, grow your hair back, whiten your teeth, dispel melancholy, etc etc, but now he won't sell it to Yusuf as promised. Help the Society seize some La Florida-bound shipments of fine liquor to help the Admiral see reason.

    Saints of Honey and Salt
    A religious order of sybaritic assassin-surgeons who operate out of hospital-brothel-temple-laboratories called Houses of Honey and Salt. They're the best doctors in town, but also the best murderers-for-hire, so everybody needs them and nobody trusts them. Their influence is mostly a network of debt and favors--if you don't owe something to the Saints, you owe something to someone who does. Everyone agrees they are Up To Something, but nobody really knows what it is.
    1. The Saints need a jaguar for their experiments. Definitely healthy and whole, preferably alive, but with a minimum of injuries if that isn't possible.
    2. One of the Saints makes weekly rounds in Old Habana, giving free care to the sick. An upstart guild of sawbones have begun to threaten her and interfere with her work--guard her  this upcoming Sunday.
    3. A deliriously ill patient undergoing an experimental treatment has broken out of the House of Honey and Salt. Find them before the metamorphosis completes their illness gets the best of them.
    4. There was a pirate raid out east two days ago, and the Saints are expecting an influx of patients. Secure an emergency shipment of bandages and laudanum from the Castilians--and you don't have to be friends with them afterwards.
    The Klatch
    A loose society of brujas, brujos, shamans, sorcerers, exorcists, theologians, and philosophers who frequent La Habana's coffee houses and salons and who maintain correspondence with practitioners across New Barbary. They tacitly and informally police the supernatural community (such as it is) of La Habana, ensuring that devils, the dead, and hostile gods cannot hunt unchecked by more mundane authorities.
    1. The La Habana chapter of the Klatch believes a devil has taken up residence in the city. A reward of 50 pesetas to anyone who brings information leading to its banishment.
    2. The Emir's favorite dancer has been possessed by a malicious spirit, and it's taking most of her caretakers' efforts just to keep it under control. Take a trip out to the Hungry Grandmother's shrine and ask her for a purgative.
    3. An ambitious young thief has found a a djinni (again). His first wish was for a king's fortune and his second was for 100 wives. Since you can surely imagine how well that's going, get that brass ring off of his finger before he causes another international incident.
    4. The New Barbary Trading Company of Castile wants to build a warehouse and offices on what the Klatch believes to be the tomb of Blood Dews Upon The Lilies, a sainted ancestor liable to wake up again if disturbed. They aren't listening to a bunch of witches, but perhaps you can find a way to be more persuasive?
    The Souk
    Almost any merchant in the Souk will part with goods or services in return for a favor. You can buy most things there, but here are a few of the odder services you can get:

    • a nice hot meal. 10 pesetas. A hot meal and a rest fully heals your HP, though you might have lingering injuries, depending.
    • ingredients. 5 pesetas. If you have the skills, you can cook a hot meal without paying a premium for it, and you can do it out in the jungle or bush if you bring the right equipment. 
    • snack. If you take 10 and eat a snack, you recover 1d6 HP. You can only do this 1/day OR 1/genuine hazard faced.
    • emperor ghost spider. The most reliable form of transportation in New Barbary, these colossal spider spirits are bound and trained to carry passengers and cargo. Their castle-sized carapaces are hollowed out: the abdomen holds lodging and cargo storage, while their handlers work in the thorax and head, where the blood of their animal sacrifices propagates through channels carved into the spider's chitin, and where the handler's soothing prayers can more easily heard. The largest emperor ghost spiders can traverse across the shallower parts of the Caribbean, their legs long enough to reach the sea floor. 
    • magot porter. New Barbary macaques are big enough to stare a draft horse in the eyes without getting off all fours. They aren't particularly fast, but they are strong enough to carry a person and all of their gear, and can traverse dense jungle and mountainous terrain. Overall reliable, handy, and peaceable, but if you do manage to anger or spook them they can pull your arms off without trying very hard. 
    • sedan chair. Mostly used in the city of Otra Tétuan. They have a faintly sinister reputation, since devils and the dead can use them to travel unseen, and powerful brujas will travel on sedan chairs carried by zombis. The spouses of Dead Ixe are infamous for being carried by their husband's mummified servants. Normally, though, it's old money, D-list royalty, and regular joes willing to pay a little extra for some swift and discrete transportation. 
    • cars. rare, expensive, loud, smelly. They drive spirits crazy, and most cars require apotropaics from front bumper to back just to keep ambient divine rage from shutting it down. Beloved by the nouveau riche and Flowerland industrialists. They can be rented. 
    • Competent mercenaries and guards will work for 50 pesetas a day, plus danger pay.
    • Hooligans, desperados, and ne'er-do-wells will work for 15 pesetas a day, and might try to squeeze danger pay out of you if they think they can get it.
    • Minor ghosts and spirits will work for 50 pesetas in sacrifices a day, though they are more erratic than the living and might demand further favors.
    • Godlings, loas, orishas, and the like don't really have a pay rate--you have to negotiate on a case by case basis, and you usually have to find a medium in good standing with the entity to want to call on first.