Monday, April 29, 2019

Selmati Verse and Writings

When I began my Holy Selmat campaign, one of the players requested a small collection of sayings and writings that they might be familiar with related to the ever-important faith of the party. I was reminded of it while reading this Coins and Scrolls article. It's a neat trick to include textual artifacts like that, especially if you find yourself apt to it, especially if it slots nicely into a campaign theme of textual research.

I won't post most of the readings I offered my players, in part because many of them are blatant rip-offs of Hebrew and Persian sayings or some slightly altered poems. However, below you will find some of the remainder. If the campaign ever concludes, I'll put together a post linking to all the summarized texts that the party has studied. In writing those I got to grapple with the lore in the setting that most interested me and which informed much of what the party has interacted with, though indirectly and changed by years.

The following represents works made in Holy Selmat, as well as by those who left to the continent of Niv, and as such spans a variety of styles and contexts.

(See also Riddles of Holy Selmat and In-Character Monster Manual)
“A man may fall many times and get up, if the Translator shall help him. But if he shall attempt to stand on his own, he shall remain fallen and not know why.” -Harlan, prince of Sikoly

“The number 17 is a slanted number, like the roofs of rain-slicked climes, in the style of those who live there. We derive this from the sum of 10+7, where the stability in ten removes some of the potential of the seven, but also from 20-3, where the imperial number (see section 20,) is deprived of an essentializing element. A scholar also sees here 15+2, 12+5, and even 7+7+3, where the power of essentially low-glancing numbers adds into something that is grand without raising its glance. But in these we see also no humble mien. It is a watchtower number, not a penitent. It is a witness to crime...”
-the last section of the uncompleted manuscript of the Book of Aderyn.

"It all fades and falls away
Night-ink seeps through frabjous day
Where all are touched, when all cry out,
The tears, the tearing, the clout of fray.
Each mother bears a smaller child
Each city sacked grows dry and wild
Tongues confuse, all fusion fails
Covered idols rise, profane, defile.
The names of God run thin and strange
Fools the shibboleths exchange
None know the alien, ally themselves
Against forgotten forms, they change."
-Tradition, by Jehu of Jamarta

“10 Beetles and justice are hidden.
Beetles and justice are myriad.
Often are truths occulted
Beneath the rock and the root.

11 Beetles and justice are hidden.
Beetles and justice are many to be forgotten.
Often are truths hidden though they sun on rocks
And serve as roots.”
-The Fates of God, 21:10-11

“315. With one hand you grab at your fresh wisdom, and with the other you grab at your brothers’ throats.”
-the 2,000 offenses against Who Has Forgotten

“The good you do today will not excuse you tomorrow.”
-Harlan, prince of Sikoly, recited at all Sommelier meetings

"An old cat’s stare, a spider’s hair,
The grease from a witch’s frying pan,
The facts and sums from slates of scum
Is how one makes a chemic man.
You need a sad and empty heart
You need a sad and scary plan
To ask the devil for his chart
He made to make a chemic man.
You need a will as strong as God’s
Unaccounted in his plan
The fuzz from pregnant belly buttons
To make that cruel and chemic man."
-To Make a Chemic Man, child's song

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Some Magic Weapons; d10 plucked organs

The Rose: a stylish, silvered rapier. The basket hilt has a clip to hold a flower like a corsage. Impeccably balanced, and a wielder counts as having a shield.

Weeping Blade: a dull, sturdy haudegen (or "walloon.") When wielded, the sword exudes water. If held by someone who is sad, the water will be saltwater. The hilt is cunningly slicked and shingled to keep the hand dry.

Emptor: an ornate, sharpened takoba. Whenever you trade a magic weapon for a fair price or better, you may imbue this weapon with a duplicated magical effect of the weapon you just sold. If you ever sell another weapon for more, Emptor gains that weapon’s abilities instead.

Timely Bow: a smooth, handsome flatbow. It fires arrows five seconds into THE FUTURE.

Canopic Savior: a chipped, refurbished khopesh. When its blade is dipped in the blood of the recently deceased and a quick prayer uttered, the soul of the deceased is interred in the khopesh. This is actually somewhat cozy, and the spirit can communicate with the wielder telepathically. Only retains one spirit at a time.

Onerous Stroke: an impossibly heavy dagger. It deals damage as though it were some two-handed sword or greataxe. Its owner wakes up fatigued.

Lerato’s Plucking Iklwa: an aged shortspear. When it rolls maximum damage, it plucks an intact organ out of the target’s body. (roll on the table below.) This does not negatively impact your foe until you specifically damage the organ. Hit location does not matter; this thing will suck out your brain through your side.
  1. Your tendons, in a curling web
  2. Your esophagus and tongue, vibrating in wet agony
  3. Your stomach, spilling half-digested food
  4. Your intestines, spilling digested food
  5. Your liver, punctured of bile
  6. Your lungs, deflated
  7. Your bladder, : (
  8. Your ovaries and/or testes, clacking weakly
  9. Your heart, manically palpitating
  10. Your brain, as a feeling of disorientation rushes past  your temples.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Un-Mystery: A time to keep silence, and a time to speak

My weekly Holy Selmat game is basically just a sneaky way to get my players to write a book report. Their characters have been sent to the holy land to catalogue an accurate account of the lives of the saints, the moral law, and other relevant religious truths. As such, they are resolving dozens of little mysteries. Here's why I'm making so many things un-mysterious.

Un-mystery is at least as useful as mystery for a GM. Of course players are always going to take some things for granted, but when the world definitively tells them that something is true which might otherwise be in doubt, I find it really helps them get into a new mindset.

An example: gods in this setting definitely exist, and they are the source of moral law. The classic D&D character who acknowledge powerful figures like Pelor and Llolth as gods without thinking that fact will personally matter to them would have a hard time adjusting to this world where "evil" is not a cosmological measure so much as an expression of affiliation to one god or another.

Another example: the afterlife exists, and we know what it's like-- some tomes even have political maps of its various nations and features. This lifetime is understood by every faith to be merely the warm-up to what really matters, and iron is used to sever the souls of those we fear facing again in the second life.

These choices help to focus the theme of the setting. It organically encourages characters who are grappling with the implication of serving a definite force they don't fully understand, rather than with apprehension that it might be a lie. This focus isn't because one theme isn't worth telling stories about and another is, but because the investigation and reinforcement of a small handful of themes creates resonant, contemplative stories.

Deception and red herrings are overrated. Most of the documents found in Holy Selmat's libraries are accurate or at least earnest, yet the difficult task of understanding the past offers a rich problem for the players. Lies and schemes offer the possibility of complete solutions; once you find out who is lying, you can work backwards from why to how to learn what actually happened. But when your problem is not the result of malice so much as your inability to correlate a full account of a centuries-long story, you have to accept that some things will never be known to you, and you have to decide for yourself when you have enough of the answer to stop searching.

Oh my, that makes it sound like their research parallels the campaign themes we set up with our un-mysteries. How odd.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

(table) The 36 Names of Angels

Angels are servants of the god Occulat, who created the Earth and the Optical Focus (or "sun" as humans call it.) Her angels send messages, offer tutelage in optics and architecture, and protect the commandments. They are figures of light, fire, and reproach.
They do not save. They know your life is important, but trust that you will be vindicated in the afterlife. The mission is too important. An angel can explicate the meaning of the world, but lack words like "compromise" and "gravity."

Table: d6/6 Angels of Occulat
11. Axiel
12. Refractiel
13. Aspheriel
14. Apeturiel
15. Convexiel
16. Menisciel
21. Planoniel
22. Attenuel
23. Etaloniel
24. Boriel
25. Harmoniel
26. Coheriel
31. Collimiel
32. Illumiel
33. Vitriel
34. Diffusiel
35. Resonael
36. Fociel
41. Polariel
42. Irisiel
43. Nodiel
44. Lumeniel
45. Lucentiel
46. Prismiel
51. Magniel
52. Vertexiel
53. Retinael
54. Convergiel
55. Scopiel
56. Quantumiel
61. Parallaxiel
62. Moduliel
63. Curvaturiel
64. Divergiel
65. Reflectiel

66. Deflectiel

Monday, April 15, 2019

Astral Projection; d6 astral servants; d10 things nestled in the void

This is the method employed by the sufficiently sensitive. You can’t choose this as a character option. It’s the sort of thing that is lent to you by another sensitive, or endowed once you become a true prophet. Maybe you roll under your destiny while meditating in the Holy of Holies to achieve enlightenment and open the gate.
When in a meditative trance, roll a d10 and add your wisdom modifier. If you exceed 10, you slip into your astral form. Get a bonus equal to the number of successful slips you’ve achieved so far, and after 3 this becomes an automatic success.
What time of day is it? If it’s around noon or midnight, you watch the planet tear quickly along, gradually falling away from you. If it’s around dawn, you are enveloped in darkness as the planet moves through you. If it’s around dusk, you watch the planet move directly away from you. Luckily, your new form is amazingly fast. You can orbit the sun in an hour— 8,766 times faster than the movement of Earth.
You are a spectral thing, translucent, and like a colorful outline of yourself. Your most salient features are slightly exaggerated, as the form is like a metaphor of your waking self. Synesthesia is a common side effect.
If you go to the moon, you find many other astral dreamers, for it is their agreed meeting place. Most do not speak your language, but about a quarter have learned Antediluvian as a trade-tongue for philosophy and wisdom. The dreamer’s society is like a cross between a nootropics discord and r/politics. Loose, yet elitist, argumentation norms are enforced by practitioners who have learned recipes to dream in their waking life.
If you go to the afterlife (on the exact opposite side of the sun from Earth,) you are likely to be intercepted by a servant of one of the 89 gods. This ranges from something boring like an angel or a demon to these weird servants:

D6 weird astral servants:

  1. A school of nebula-rats, devoted to Fur-Brazen Rill
  2. A bar-juchne bird, destroyer for Rule
  3. Zo-Suzo company, an army of liquid men paid by Earl Vozidar
  4. An intelligent parrot who plays harbinger to Pyzuvanog
  5. A thin ash golem comprised of used-up magic scrolls, adjudicator of Fisochol
  6. The Concept of West, koan of Guva

The technicolor norns of Kulywosyf

If you can get down to the afterlife below, you can float down to one of its many countries. The complex geopolitics of the afterlife are complex, and would require a very good map, but as an overview Gods rule from their capital’s throne and fight a constant war against their foes. The largest nation has no god, but the Devil is its president. Occulat and a few other gods are absent from the afterlife at any given time. No one in the afterlife is immortal— when you die, you go on to the Next Great Trial, something that all the gods seek to avoid for themselves and their followers until they have conquered the afterlife and prepared for the journey. The gods’ servants on this planet can kill an unprepared astral dreamer, and it is a dangerous place for them. Anyone who has ever died has a good chance of residing somewhere on the planet. Most places have no poverty, though there is privation at the battlelines. You could run an entire campaign in the afterlife; the exiled god Noryawes under a centuries-long siege from his family, the prophets of Rektrine and Occulat composing messages to the Earth, demons leading their legions against the faithful, city-states where tenuous cease-fires are offered by reflective lotus-deities.
But the void contains many strange things all its own. The scholars among the moon dreamers say that it should take only five years to reach the nearest star, yet while many have voyaged out to them none have returned. Perhaps it is impossible for someone to sleep for ten years, even with all the magic and gigre available to the most high. But even the space between the world and the afterlife is wide, and many things hide in that massive scale:

D10 things nestled in the void:

  1. Mehmora the Pious, contemplating eternity. Once a powerful wizardess, she knows many magical secrets but suspects that action is a lie
  2. A seemingly mundane bird, flying through the void
  3. A weird astral servant! See above table
  4. The skeleton of a vast and heaving lizard— 1d6. 1-2 dragon, 3-4 snake, 5-6 leviathan’s wife
  5. Nemesis, a tendril-beast that directs asteroids of iron towards Earth
  6. The phylactery of a terrible and evil sorcerer
  7. An observatory the size of a cottage
  8. A skeleton in an uncontrolled trajectory
  9. Two gods in secret negotiation
  10. A space-shark!

Probably not like this

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Raising Up What you Can't Put Down

There are three channels to binding demons, and they correspond to the three essential forms: magic, word, and matter. They are generally used in combination with each other.
The demonic form, void, is on the right.

Magical bindings are the works of powerful magic users or the will of prophets and the Most High. Spells can summon a demon of a specific rank, but not a particular demon. So you can learn a spell called “summon marquis demon.” There are also more specific spells like “hold summoned demon” or “demoniokinesis.” Finally, a cleric’s ability to rebuke can be used to move their summoned demons like a marionette.

Word bindings, or “nominal science” in the parlance of high-level practitioners, is the work of powerful rhetors. It implies the use of precisely-formed circles, invocations, and arguments. The ritual for summoning each demon is different, and requires writing out their name or an epithet with clarifications that trap them in Borgian. So if you summon the demon Valefor, you might write “Summon-bound-and-amenable, Thief-Friend-who-shall-not-catch-me-in-traps-nor-exploit-weak-points.” This sentence is written in the circle, and it is unclear the precise formulation that is required for success to all but the most erudite scholars of the nominal science. You must also speak an invocation inviting the demon, naming it unambiguously and describing its domain. The formulation is not important but it requires specific knowledge of the demon in question. Finally, you must bargain with it to secure its services, an apparition of the demon arriving in the circle to bargain.
Material bindings are the works of anyone clever enough to bring them into play. They imply the construction of vessels that cause echoes or feedback, or somehow generating strong material pressure in the form of weight, force, pressure, and the like. Strong pressure is likely beyond most people’s means, but should be kept in mind in case someone somehow manages to Rube Goldberg their way into a superpowered press.

A demon has a power score determined by its rank. It also has a set number of domains, as well as the potential for other abilities. Strength, dexterity, and such generally hover around 9+their rank. Demons cannot be harmed except by holy items and iron. Typically, they possess a host or act as shades unless they are manifested, which requires a ritual they must teach to their followers. Rituals for low-ranked demons might be simple, like sewing together five hands and having a maiden sleep with them under her pillow without noticing, or tying two people together and draining their blood from their heels and drinking the blood.

Each time a summoner uses a demon for a non-trivial task, have them roll a number of d6s commensurate with the task, limited by the power of the demon. Reroll 1s. Each 1 rolled is considered a failure, and the command will be imperfectly executed. If two 1s are rolled, the demon may also take an action that is not explicitly against its master but is wicked. If three or more 1s are rolled, the demon is free from the summoner. If the bindings are not re-applied, it will do as it wills. If three or more 6s are rolled, you gain a permanent demonic boon with some kind of physical manifestation.

Table 1: Example Commensurate Tasks (and max power by rank)
  1. (Worm) An action that an unskilled human could do in an day.
  2. (Cruciamentus) An action that a skilled human could do in a day.
  3. (magus) The revelation of lore; tutelage, an action that requires not only skill but specialization within a field.
  4. (minor power) An action that a mob of unskilled humans could do in a score days.
  5. (count) An action that a guild of skilled humans could do in forty days.
  6. (marquis) A minor physical miracle that no number of people could do.
  7. (duke) A miracle that no number of people could do.
  8. (prince) A major physical miracle that no number of people could do.
  9. (king) A wish.
  10. (president) d10% of immanentizing the fraud-eschaton over the next week.

The maximum power cannot exceed 4 if the demon has not manifested. Roll one fewer die if the task is strongly associated with one of the demon’s domains.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Sweetheart D&D Masterpost

Daniel Romanovsky
(Note to Anni: you have shared my table with me, and so I prevail on that acquaintance to beg you to be kind with these my early works. When I put this together I was two years younger than I am now, and thus a fool. I have never played a game such as this article describes. I had not found a confidence of voice or basic understanding of the blogging format. I leave these to show my progress, as you say that is part of your analysis. But worry yourself not with explaining the depth of the depths I’ve crawled up from. )


optional Feats


Ultimate Punch

In old 3.5 parlance, "initiator" referred to three classes from the Tome of Battle. They were martial classes
that used stances and maneuvers that they studied like spells. Proponents appreciated that they could play
a strictly nonmagical character with interesting options. Detractors, among other things, said the classes felt
like cheesy wuxia or anime characters who called out their attacks before connecting. The initiator class
below somewhat embraces that, while also subsuming classes like 3.5's spellblade and duskblade, and
Pathfinder's magus. It can lean into magical moves or be purely mundane.

INITIATOR (warblade, magus, spellblade, crusader)
Technique, Armor Focus (light)
Second Magnitude, attack +1
Armor Focus (medium)
Third Magnitude, attack +1
Minor Resistance
Fourth Magnitude, attack +1
Armor Focus (heavy)
Fifth Magnitude, attack +1
Cut Down
Sixth Magnitude, attack +1
Starting Skills: Any one expertise, acrobatics, and one other.
Technique: You train in a martial tradition to refine dueling techniques. Every level, learn a signature move that you can integrate into your repertoire. Unlike spells, signature moves can be performed any number of times per day. You can learn additional moves with a relevant skill test, either by training with a master or studying a fighting folio.
Armor Focus: You can concentrate on moves while wearing light armor, and at later levels can concentrate while wearing medium and heavy armor.
Minor Resistance: Choose a peril on the table below or roll randomly. Add half your level to rolls to resist it (rounded up.)
Table 3, again: perils
  1. Fear
  2. Poison (including alcohol)
  3. Pushing
  4. Cold
  5. Heat
  6. Charms
  7. Disarming
  8. Tripping
Cut down: You can slay lesser combatants with a thought. As a free action, you may slay any character with fewer than half of your hit dice. They must be within range of one of your attacks and susceptible to it. You may do this multiple times in a round, but the total levels of characters slain cannot exceed your own.
Daniel Romanovsky
The signature moves of an initiator encompass several fighting traditions: the formal techniques of duelists, the stances (or wuxia special attacks) of martial artists, the showmanship of gladiators and luchadores, or the spells of the fighting mage. All signature moves require concentration. While some signature moves are magical, they are unlike spells in some respects. For one, they do not require spell slots to use. Rather, they can be used as often as the initiator gets the opportunity. Magic users cannot learn signature moves, nor may initiators learn spells. Finally, many moves do not requires an action, instead augmenting attacks.
However, moves which are, in fact, magical, should be treated as such. They cannot be performed in an anti-magic field, for instance.

In broad strokes, signature move magnitudes have the following structure to give them a “combo” feel:
  1. 1. General, minor
  2. 2. Specific, inflict condition
  3. 3. Payoff based on condition
  4. 4. Counter interference, set up next step
  5. 5. Specific, inflicts severe condition
  6. 6. Finisher

Move Name
Agrippa’s Mechanical Supremacy
If an adjacent opponent would test a dexterity skill, they roll with disadvantage. If they fail, they are knocked prone and disarmed.
Bear Brunt
You gain one point of DR for each point of attack your opponent has less than you.
If an adjacent foe is prone and unarmed, you may demand their immediate surrender. If they don’t comply, your next attack against them is an automatic critical. If they comply, you must treat them fairly.
Bonetti’s Defense
Ignore the negative effects of difficult terrain.
As a free action, you may slay any character with fewer than half of your base strength. They must be within range of one of your attacks and susceptible to it. You may do this multiple times in a round, but the total strength of characters slain cannot exceed your own.
Burning Blow
Magic. Your attacks are fiery, and deal an additional 1 point of damage. This can also start mundane fires.
Capo Ferro
When you make a free attack for an opponent’s movement through difficult terrain, you may also make a free combat maneuver.
Chill Touch
Magic. You may take -2 to hit. If you do, a damaged target gets -2 to dexterity tests and -1 to hit. This does not stack with itself.
Creative Knots
Reduce the dex skill penalty of your armor by two. Also, you’re really good at tying knots.
Drag Down
If an adjacent target would knock you prone or stun you, you may make a free combat maneuver check to do the same to them, for at least one round.
Drill Break
Ignore a stationary target’s armor bonus to AC.
Eggshell Footwork
Anything within reach of your weapon counts as difficult terrain for your foes.
Engram Maneuver
You may spend a round winding for a sweeping strike. Until your next turn, you get a -4 penalty to AC. Then, when it is your turn your first attack also deals 1d6 temporary strength damage.
Engram’s Focus
You automatically detect the source of any apparent non-charm spells within 30 ft. of you.
Magic. When damaged, you may burst with magical energy. If you do, you and everyone within 15 ft. take 2d6. Others are blinded for 1 round. They may test constitution to ignore the blindness and halve the damage.
For one round after you attack a target, if they target you with a spell they must test dexterity or fail.
Float like a Butterfly
As long as you move more than 10 ft., get +1 to AC until your next turn.
Forceful Arms
Magic. When you disarm a weapon, you may magical send it into another foe within 40 ft., rolling to hit and damage as normal.
Formation Stance
Whenever an ally makes a free attack against a target, if you haven’t already since your last turn, you may make one as well.
Grab Blow
If an adjacent foe would attack an ally, you may redirect the attack to you, with +2 AC. If the foe damages you, your ally may make a free attack agains them.
Groundless Stance
You hover a foot off the ground, and cannot be tripped or affected by most difficult terrain, etc.
Harry Hand
When you damage a foe, until their next turn they incur a point of fatigue if they use a hand for fine manipulation, such as casting a spell.
If an opponent would charge you, you may go prone to evade their attack, instead allowing them to run past you.
Karoma’s Brilliant Blowback
Magic. If an unarmed foe is knocked prone, you may send them flying back 50 ft. If they hit something before that distance, they take 1d6 damage for every 10 ft. they had to go.
Lunging Swan Strike
If you don’t move on your turn, you may extend the reach of your weapon by five feet.
Mercy Stroke
When you strike a stunned opponent, they must test constitution or gorily die. They get a -4 penalty if they half less than half of their maximum hp.
Whenever you deal unarmed damage, the foe must test dexterity or be moved 5 ft. in one direction of your choosing.
Oozing Wound
Magic. When you damage an opponent, the area around them bursts with gore, making it difficult terrain until your next turn.
When you damage a fatigued foe, gain one hp for each point of fatigue they possess (maximum 5.)
Once per combat, you may reduce the damage of an incoming attack by 1d12.
Phoenix Finish
Magic. When you would die, you may test constitution. If you succeed, you lose one constitution and stand up at 1 hp.
Pressure Points
Your unarmed attacks deal 1d6 damage. When you roll a 5 or more on an unarmed attack, the enemy must test strength be stunned for one round. They get a penalty on this roll equal to the number of times they’ve been damaged by your unarmed attacks.
Recurve Dance
Magic. When you damage a foe wearing sundered armor, get a bonus to damage equal to their armor bonus. Additionally, shattered fragments of their defenses begin to float around you, giving you +2 AC with a further +4 AC against ranged attacks.
Reverberation de Laroch
If an enemy hits you but deals no damage, their turn immediately ends and they get -2 AC until their next turn.
Ring the Bell
When you damage a stunned opponent, they must test constitution or be knocked out. They get a penalty on this roll equal to their armor bonus.
Roland’s Bowl
You get a bonus to combat maneuver checks equal to the AC bonus of your armor.
Get +2 to combat maneuvers to sunder armor. If you fully sunder the armor, its wearer must test dexterity or be stunned for one round.
Shocking Slash
Magic. When you attack a target you may take -3 to hit. If you do, they and adjacent foes must test dexterity or take an additional 2d6 damage.
Spirit Dash
Magic. You may fly through the air when charging, which allows you to charge straight up or at angels from the ground. Ignore half of the fall damage incurred when charging.
Sting like a Bee
If you hit a target who is wearing heavier armor than you, they get -1 AC for every 10 ft. they move, rounded up.
Talhoffer Doctrine
Once per round, when you hit an opponent with a manufactured weapon, deal an additional 1d4 unarmed damage as you add a quick jab, elbow, headbutt, or knee.
Thibault’s Dart
Whenever a foe would make an attack against you during your own turn, you may test acrobatics to negate the attack.
Tiger Waits
When an opponent steps forward 5 ft. to attack you, get +3 AC.
Valenzetti’s Blatance
When you hit a blind opponent, it is automatically a critical hit.
Vampiric Touch
Magic. When you successfully damage a foe on a charge, they temporarily lose 1d4 constitution and you gain that much temporary constitution.
Wide Guard
If you do not move on your turn, you may get -2 to grant adjacent allies get +2 AC.