Monday, May 9, 2022

Monster of Intuition

A lot of good monsters in stories and games are those that are easy to grasp. They have striking concepts, even when they lack total coherence. Medusa (if we want to call her a monster) has snakes for hair and turns people into stone. Iconic. The connection between snake hair and petrification could be posited, but is actually unnecessary. A manticore has the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. It’s clear why it’s scary and we can guess how it acts because we know what a man, a lion, and a scorpion are. 


Unknowable monsters are uninteresting on their own. They need a good story to go into. But a cowardly little guy with a dog face and scales makes for a good story all on his own. 


Usually a good monster is pretty simple, but a major exception is the “Weird Guy” category. Your vampire, your wizard, your cat lord. They often have a loose theme under which they may have a dozen or more features and quirks. But note how many of those features are themselves striking and simple. Dracula can turn into a bat (and we know what bats are), drink blood (and we have strong associations with blood), hypnotize people, command wolves, climb walls like a lizard, get burned by crosses, flee the sun, be unkillable, and other things you don’t need to explain.


Some intuitive monsters:

  • Hollow bronze statues that walk around and stab intruders with spears. There’s a circular hatch in their back that’s sealed with wax, and if it’s knocked out they die. They’re powered by bees, who fly out of their back if they’re killed to spoil and pillage.
  • Peacock with a fiery tail that burns your house down and spits smoke.
  • Looks like a woman, but full to the brim with rats who can pop out to bite you, though their tails root them inside the body.
  • A turnip that rolls around as though in the wind, and every time it rolls a circle around you, you age by a year. You get your youth back if you eat the turnip.
  • Goat that pretends to be lost livestock, then later turns into a wooden cage with wheels and carts you off to Hell.
  • Wolf that leaves a trail of black sand wherever it goes, and when it dies the sand combusts.
  • The head of a hyena, the legs of a giraffe, and the body and tongue of a frog.
  • Teen with a skull for a head, that drools acid
  • Bat that turns inside out and summons angry mobs
  • Little guy that does favors for you, but then can command you an equal number of times. He lives in an orchard.
  • Evil millstone that rolls around crushing people, especially those it heard gossip about.
  • Sorcerer who turns you into a tree and then chops you down.
  • Huge monster that looks like a tower with a big lion head. Encases everything around it in crystals, then has its minions shatter people.
  • Talking goblet that teaches you spells and rituals designed to backfire.
  • Beaver, but if it uses a part of your house to build its dam you become its slave.
  • A tiger no one else can see or acknowledge.
  • Evil pair of horses pulling a carriage. Revolvers are held out to shoot at anyone the horses don’t trample to death, and if you make eye contact with the thing inside, you die. This is all one creature.
  • Super-strong man with a sponge for a head, and when you squeeze it milk comes out and he gets confused.
  • Looks like a boar, but its belly opens up and there’s an army of angry women with spears.
  • Horse, but most of its face is just a hole to nowhere. If you fall through and lose your grip on it, you’ll fall forever. 
  • Person with wooden insides. If you disobey any of their requests or commands, you explode.
  • Weird guy with very reflective eyes and constantly wet hair, who can float in the wind, send copies of himself that pop when punctured, speak Dutch, become invisible to the mundane and tawdry, brew poison, and sing to change the weather.
  • Weird guy who makes trees grow overnight, causes the dead to rise, track those who have stolen from him, turn into a beetle, run really fast, and make locks and latches shatter on command.
  • Weird guy who vapes underground by day, resembling a mundane geyser. By night, he spits lightning and kidnaps people. He can summon rats to do his bidding. Vinegar kills him, milk makes him lose his powers, and honey makes him obey your orders.


Some things people intuitively understand

1. metal

2. wood

3. wax

4. water

5. goo

6. fire

7. lava

8. fog

9. flesh

10. bone

11. insects

12. stone

13. one thing divided in two

14. one thing inside another

15. one thing entwined with another

16. sizzling

17. fuming

18. decaying

19. sponge

20. one thing through another thing

21. plants

22. crystal

23. dirt

24. void

25. faces

26. sounds

27. hands

28. webs

29. fabric

30. leather

Friday, April 29, 2022

Location: the Poison Woods

The Deltora Quest book series portrays a remarkably grim and perilous fantasy world where danger is often ameliorated by simple riddles and logic puzzles. Each book would generally involve the heroes searching hopelessly in a dangerous locale for one of the magic Gems of Deltora and on the way becoming increasingly baffled, battered, and bad-tempered. I wanted to try my hand at making an adventure location in that style. This entire module could fit in a single 6-mile hex, but has enough adventure in it to last at least a session.

This location will be written up with the assumption that this is the backwater of some evil empire, and the PCs have learned to actively avoid attention of the dark lord’s forces.

art by Michael Handt

Rumors
1. Stalmark is the outpost from which the dark lord’s forces send out expeditions. (T)
2. Gilhaven remains free from the dark lord’s influence only in seeming; changeling spies report everything back to the empire. (F)
3. The woods are full of children who serve monstrous plants. Do not trust them! (T)
4. The streams in the Poisoned Wood are deadly to drink from after they pass through the heart of the forest. (T, the result of the pesticides in the Master’s plantation)
5. Deep in the woods, a reclusive estate offers clean water and safety from the hazards of the forest. (T, but only at a cost)
6. The lord of the land retreated to the depths of the forest with a treasure called the Stone of Romra, and calls himself the Master now (T)

Random Encounters on the Road
1. Tom Anguish (see Gilhaven section) and 1d6 porters. -1 reaction but always seems friendly
2. Talkative old man. Offers rumors and good company
3. Team of 2d4 gardeners, led by a hedge knight. Keeping the roadside free of evil vines
4. Band of 2d6 Granouses (as hobgoblins). Seeking to capture victims and force them to solve riddles, eating a finger or toe for each wrong answer
5. Patrol of 2d4 Imperial Goons (as orcs, with special +1 blistering slingstones that lose their potency in a day)
6. Roll a random encounter from the settled land encounter table.

Random Encounters in the Woods
1. Evangelina (see Stalmark section). +1 reaction
2. Evil Vines (as 3 HD giant leeches)
3. 1d4 children (attempting ambush if reaction roll is hostile)
4. Renthen (see Renthen section)
5. Stream (leads to the Master’s Plantation, 50% chance it’s downstream and therefore deadly poisonous)
6. Roll a random encounter from the forest encounter table.

Granouses, by Marc McBrinde

Hex XXXX- The Poison Woods

Each two hours outside of civilization, there is a 50 chance of an encounter.

The road running along the edge of this hex splits. One branch leads to Stalmark and the other bypasses to Gilhaven. As a juvenile brain teaser, someone has uprooted the square-faced sign pole that point out which way is which, but a clever child might note that since the different signs point in three directions (Stalmark, Gilhaven, and wherever the PCs are coming from), there’s only one valid way to orient the sign. The same prankster has put the icon of the dark lord on the sign for Gilhaven, though any local could tell you that it’s Stalmark that is allied with the empire.

Stalmark is a town of 2,500 people, ruled by mayor Frederick, who wears a medallion with a left-facing head on it. He’s a coward who’s easy to push around. Imperial goons patrol the heavily-regulated bazaar, and outsiders are pushed around and questioned. PCs who end up here should have a bad time. The sole helpful person is the tavern’s juggler, Evangelina. Treat her as a Thief 3 with a knife penchant. Her daughter was turned into a slug in the woods and she often goes out to visit her. The youngest PC reminds Evangelina of that daughter, so she will take a risk to keep them out of trouble.

Gilhaven is a town of 3,000 people (but no children), ruled by mayor Tomaso, who wears a medallion with a right-facing head on it. He’s a fool who instinctively disbelieves inconvenient things. Suspicious and hysterical citizens patrol the parochial market square, and the outsiders who come to trade where the empire won’t see them are seedy and vulgar. PCs who end up here should have a hard time deciding who to trust. The only devoted servant of the dark lord is an opportunist trader named Tom Anguish. He’ll clock the PCs as subversives he can take in for a bounty pretty quickly, offering them a ride to wherever they're going in his cart before stealing their supplies and coming back with imperial goons or misled mercenaries. If they distrust him, he’ll track their movements and be a constant thorn in their side, such that passing through this hex has a big impact even if they don’t seek the Stone of Romra or enter the Poisoned Wood.

The Poisoned Wood dominates the rest of the hex. Its unique ecology works thus: Renthen preys on runaway children, who help feed the evil vines, which constantly struggle to invade the plantation at the heart of the woods, kept at bay by poison applied by slaves who need to be constantly replaced by the Master.

Renthen is something like a man (stats as bugbear), living with his son in a small steepled building on top of a small hill. He will act like a kind, rustic host, but if he gets someone alone (or if his son gets another child alone), he will lead them to a remote gully, strap them to a slab, and force feed them filth and worms. This magically prevents them from leaving the slab, and they are fed more filth from stone chutes running down into the gully. Sometimes a child’s parents will visit them, unable to break the curse but able to roll food down the chutes to give them some small reprieve. After months, a victim will gradually look more and more like a maggot until they burst into new filth. Buried in Renthen's steeple is a chest with a strange lock, unpickable unless two medallions with face inscriptions are rotation in the front of the chest to face each other. Inside are the souls of 40 children and a spellbook.

Runaway children came from Gilhaven. They believe the Master has a stone that stops the empire from messing with him, and they seek it to protect their families. To achieve this, they’ve somehow made a pact with the Evil Vines of the Poisoned Wood. These kids are vicious. They’ll slash you unprovoked and let the Vines sniff you out. It is conceptually horrible to be stabbed by a murderous child, and remember the people of Gilhaven will ostracize anyone who kills one of their young. The wicked youths congregate in a cave whose opening looks kind of like a horse's head, trading marbles and toys.

Evil Vines are ambulatory plants, with grabbing ropey appendages arranged radially. Sometimes they “walk”, rolling through the woods and keeping their center held high. Evil Vines can smell fresh blood from very far away, showing up 1d3 Turns after any wound incurred outside of a battle with another Evil Vine. Stats at 3 HD Giant Leech, but afraid of fire.

The Master’s plantation of 200 people reeks of chemicals, ringed by dead fume-soaked plants. There is a single bridge of square tiles over the dangerous poison perimeter, with a fence topped with horse-head ornaments and a gate on which is inscribed  “Walk ye knight’s path and no evil shall stain you.” If the tiles are traversed as though by a chess knight on a chessboard, they are safe. Otherwise, a wrong step results in the horse ornaments shooting poison darts at the trespasser.

The plantation itself is an irregular polygon of maize fields surrounding the Master’s estate and slavehouses. Stumbling around the fields are slaves in varied states of deteroration as the pesticides they constantly spread take their toll. Each says the Master won their service by beating them in a game of riddles, and some claim that he cheated in their game. Trespassers are treated as prospective hires.

Day-to-day operations are conducted by four members of the Master’s former court:

  • wizard Melina (magic-user 5), who is paranoid of spies for the dark lord
  • seneschal Randol (thief 3), who mourns and mourns and mourns
  • herald Zanzer (cleric 4), who seeks an end to the plantation even if it means serving the dark lord
  • Captain Ermen (fighter 4), who has settled into comfortable rum-slicked cynicism
Stored in various places on the plantation are: 2,000 silver coins, 400 gold coins, a platinum puzzle box worth 100 gold coins, a wand of illusory vim, a treasure map to a cache far away, and a music box that summons the ghosts of the recently deceased.

The Master (fighter 13) was made out of a good man. He would be a wizard if he had any numinous quality. He comforts the afflicted, but persists in afflicting them. The slavehouses are well-kept and handsome, and frequent breaks and festivals are mandatory. All he does is done with an air of indulgence, and his twinkling eyes wink from behind his russet beard and unkempt hair. Magical attempts to influence his mind backfire, and arcane attempts to detain him will not be noticed.

When a trespasser is brought before him, the Master will demand a game be played. He will pose a riddle that they must answer to his satisfaction, or else become his slaves. If they succeed, they are allowed to go double or nothing, posing him a riddle. If he comes up short, he will grant them any one favor they wish, offering as examples the Stone of Romra, ownership of the plantation, or his own life.

Good Master-riddles include:

  • I have jumped into a cloud. How can this be? He jumped into a pool whose surface reflected the sky.
  • I was bitten by a spider with only seven legs. How can this be? He plucked a leg off of a normal spider.
  • What is my true name? His intended answer is simply “the Master,” but if the trespassers somehow learned the name he used before becoming the Master he will demurely accept it.

The Stone of Romra, a lump of polished malachite, is incorporated in a diadem he wears when he wants to relive his glory days, and it will be retrieved from his bedchamber’s wardrobe if won. It provides protection like a shield even when unaware of danger, as well as +1 to all saves when worn. Additionally, it prevents other authorities from claiming dominion within three miles of any stronghold you rule.

If the Master is asked to grant a favor that involves surrendering the plantation, he will do so casually. The new owner will morph into him over the course of 1d4 weeks. The same thing will happen if he is asked to grant a favor that involves his death. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

B/X Class: Human

 The OSE Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome has a racial class both for elves and half-elves. By doubling the difference between elves and half-elves, we must surely be able to deduce the human class that they forgot to put in all the books. For instance, an elf's maximum level is 10, a half-elf's is 12, and therefore a human's is 14. ezpz.

Human

Requirements: none
Prime Requisite: INT and STR
HD: 1d6
Maximum level: 14
Armour: Any, including shields
Weapons: Any
Languages: Alignment, Common

XP: as thief
Attack: as fighter
Save: as half-elf, -1 at 13 and -1 at 14.
Attack: as fighter
Spells: Memorize a 1st-level spell at 3, 5, and 13. Memorize a 2nd-level spell at 7 and 9. Memorize a third-level spell at 11.

Using Magic Items: may use items that can be used by arcane spellcasters.

Detect Secret Doors: 2-in-6 chance of success when searching.

Infravision: 60 feet.

After Reaching 9th Level: may build a barony as a fighter.

After completing this experiment, I have to note there were a few points I had to fudge. There was no way to extrapolate from the attribute requirements, and the resulting class would have leveled up even faster than a thief. The saves were fudged as well, since they were identical for the elf and half-elf but didn't go high enough.

The resulting class is obviously a little off. For one thing, it's much stronger than the fighter and levels more quickly. For another, there's still too much of the elf in it. If you got rid of the infravision this could be a good upgrade to the sometimes maligned B/X fighter, letting them get in on magic item use. I might pitch this as a plucky protagonist of folklore destined for greater things.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Loch and Phlox present: Lizard Blocs Lock Box (GLoG Location)

 Once, I saw a tumblr post about a dream the writer had, in which the new D&D rulebook had a frog person class but you could only play it in a campaign if you survived a punishingly difficult, long solo dungeon first. Inspired by that idea, I approached Locheil with the proposal to collaborate on a smaller-scale, more reasonable challenge. 

You can read the class we made together on his blog, Nothic's Eye.

Below is the short dungeon we made together. It is intended to be a difficult dungeon for a single GLoG PC, but if they survive they will be hopefully be a very interesting PC indeed. While it is intended to be tricky to get through, the DM should use all the typical reaction rolls and other contrivances of chance that they normally would.

Lizard Blocs Lock Box

First of all, the DM should roll a d12 to see which area the key to the door in area 12  is hidden in. They should also move some things around if the player has read the module, and generally add some unhappy surprises.

Unless otherwise stated, assume that lizard people have lamps or torches near to hand in the rooms which they inhabit. The walls are finely-cut sandstone, and willy-nilly excavations risk small cave-ins.
(circular chambers off of 4 represent spiral staircases)
1: Narrow platform in the center of the room, surrounded by a moat of animate snake-skeletons. You awake on the platform, your current predicament a punishment for trying to flee lizard society. The moat is five feet deep.
2: Warehouse, guarded by a gullible lizard-guard bailiff. They had the manifest for all these confiscated goods, but they ate it. There are twelve barrels, and which barrels have which contents are randomly determined:
  • 1. Key to the hole in area 7, flower-patterned silk robe
  • 2. Trio of candles and oil lamp. (Moving the barrel upsets the lamp)
  • 3. Stick of dynamite disguised as a candle, crowbar, 10 copper coins.
  • 4. 30’ feet of coiled rope, sling, 1 ration of mushrooms
  • 5. 20’ feet of sleeping snakes that resemble coiled rope. (Moving the barrel upsets the snakes)
  • 6. +1 Terbutje that shatters on crits, ring of obligate blood-drinking
  • 7. Knife, wineskin, 20 silver coins, 1 ration of dried meat
  • 8. 6 iron spikes, block and tackle, 1 ration of fruit leather
  • 9. Wooden 10’ pole in three screw-in parts, potion of poison in a copper flask.
  • 10. 4 throwing stars, treasure map, 1 ration of dark bread and mustard
  • 11. Sack of four, flour-covered helmet, 2 gold coins
  • 12. Trapped. Removing the lid snaps a wire triggers a mechanism that slices off the foot of anyone standing nearby. (Moving the barrel sets off the trap)
3: Room identical to area 1. In the moat is an immense, lazy gila lizard with a poison bite. On the narrow platform is a level 1 lizard person prisoner with her hands and feet bound. She says she was punished for trying to flee lizard society. 35% chance she is a liar and a spy of the lizard ecclesiarchs.
4: Landing with three spiral staircases leading up and several hammocks. A lizard-person bailiff guards the area but in truth he really can’t be arsed if you want to escape. He wears four golden armbands and wields a banded club, and carries a magician’s spellbook he was trying to decipher.
5: Dark cave mouth inhabited by Daur Darkdimmer, an unbelievably goth drow mercenary. Lining the walls are motley glass bottles, each containing a colorful venomous snake. In the far left corner is his cabinet, in which he stores black clothing, a wavy dagger, drow brandy, and depressing poetry comparing his hidden feelings to the secret door in the southwest of the room. Indeed, a hollow spot in that section can be pushed back to find a grimy ladder up to area 12. Daur came to this dungeon to find some cooler snakes. In combat, he will use his very shiny magic wand of snakekinesis to throw the snakes from the bottles onto his foes.
6: Huge sandstone cavern sunken about ten feet down from all the entrances. Along a shelf of the cavern wall in the north, a level 2 lizard-person bailiff sits admiring her three rings— one of gold, one of silver, and one of copper. One of the rings is a cursed ring of lycanthropy, and one is a ring of protection +1, but exactly which is left up to the DM to keep the fun for the player who read this dungeon.
7: Doorway between areas 6 and 7 is locked, with a bloodstained wrist-sized hole in the door. Inserting your wrist severs it but unlocks the door; inserting the key from area 2 unlocks it. This hallway is full of dripping stalactites, as well as an injured mountain lion. If befriended, she will follow her new friend as far as area 12 if able.
8: Deep pool, home to a pair of albino crocodiles. A narrow strip of sand allows passage from area 6 to 7. In the bottom of the pool is a shiny silver chain, a pair of large rubies carved into crocodile heads, and a sapphire carved into a sphere wrapped by snakes.
9: Hall of false doors. 1-in-3 has a haphazard dart trap or gas trap. Flooded to the ankles, due to proximity to area 8. The true door in the western wall has a subtle air current detectable by tasting the air. Hanging from the ceiling in her boots of spider climbing is the unbelievably bright and cheery drow mercenary Thim Bulthwip. She is an enemy to Daur in area 5, and came to the dungeon to mess with him.
10: Lizard shrine. Cluttered with idols and gewgaws. Disturbing it risks a save vs. lizard curse, in which the trespasser slowly transforms into multiple conjoined lizards. Such an affliction takes place over the course of 3d4 months. A section of brick wall conceals the entrance to area 11.
11: Cache, guarded by an angry Deep Bull that attacks anything which isn’t red, a fact that any dungeon denizen could tell the PCs if they had a mind to. The treasure itself includes a black fingerless glove that turns your index finger into a snake, 300 silver coins, a cool silver ring with a black gem, a stylish bicorne with a cockade, and a shortsword with a brass hilt carved to resemble a gecko.
12. Exit, guarded by Godscale, a very very strong and pious(, and gullible, and pyrophobic) level 3 lizard person. Would just love for a prisoner to make his day by trying to escape. The door itself has a sturdy lock (its key in a randomly determined room, remember), but any PC who manages to get through it counts as having successfully completed the dungeon, and may play this PC in the DM’s game. For future characters, the lizard person class is available to that player, using the starting equipment the DM deems appropriate.
13. Blade shrine, its altar displaying a silvered katar before a peacock feather fan. Its hilt resembles a crocodile head, and if wielded it bites down on its user’s wrist and never lets go. Gets +1 to hit and damage, increased to +2 when used against mammals. Every time it takes a life while uncharged, it becomes Charged. The wielder can discharge the blade to make it weep poisonous tears that cause the next foe it wounds to save vs devices or suffer convulsions and visions for a round.
14. Mold dragon shrine, the lizard peoples’ inaccurate name for this giant snake with a symbiotic fungus colony living on it. The room is full of 3d10 unpleasantly wet silver objets d’art. Interacting too closely with the snake causes one to save vs breath or lose a language spoken and gain a new one.
15. Excess weird jar closet. Each jar is of a different color, and when uncorked has a different effect: 
  • 1. A snake will excrete from the jar every ten seconds without fail until it is destroyed. Recorking the jar is ineffective.
  • 2. Health potion that restores 2d6 HP.
  • 3. Health potion that restores 1d6 HP, refilling every week. Smell, taste, and consistency of mayonnaise.
  • 4. Sweet bitter deathly poison.
  • 5. Causes anyone who drinks it to gain 1d12-6 inches in height.
  • 6. Fills the room with acrid smoke. Anyone who breathes the fumes for more than a minute saves vs spells or is transformed into an anole lizard.
  • 7. Caustic solvent.
  • 8. Frees an efreeti princess. In her gratitude, she will grant three wishes, which all must take the form “Please burn that structure, O Blazing One!”
  • 9. Releases a water weird.
  • 10. Liquid gold, immediately gilding any one object or creature it is poured over.
  • 11. Ignites on contact with air.
  • 12. Really nice gravy.

Friday, April 15, 2022

OSE Hexcrawl Generator 3

 Apparently, I can't stop working on these. Added more terrain modifiers, more monsters, and many more town issues. Made otherworldly portals half as likely, replacing some with other odd sites. Now generates monster numbers and treasure. If a monster is listed with "(Treasure: )" that means that the generator rolled for treasure but they happen no to have any. If a group is especially small, you are normally told to reduce the amount of treasure. Don't come crawling to me if psuedo-dragons, ropers, and giant wasps have weird treasure results.

As ever, glory to Spwack and ktrey.

Generator: