Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Picture Pong with Semiurge #4

Semiurge has sent me this picture, in order that I might explain it to him, "if [I'm] so great." You see, we have this humorous rapport where I write droning articles about mythology or GMing and he cuts me down to size with a hip Epstein reference before launching into media-relevant fiction and worldbuilding. There's nothing left to do now, except play my part.  

 Giorgio de Chirico

Look at these things. These people with towns for torsos. Puts one in mind of the cover of Leviathan or other depictions of social organism. In the context of roleplaying games, they also remind me of a useful lesson:

Apply Existing Tools in Creative Ways

Think of these giants on a random encounter table. Suddenly, you get to use any rules or preparations you made for shops, rumors, and other town matters at the drop of a hat. Now you have access to more of the procedures you wrote, allowing you to fill time as you desperately come up with something interesting in the meantime.

Use random loot tables as random room tables, and to determine what loot the the trap you rolled on your random trap table looks like. Use random encounter tables as reaction roll tables. Figure out how to repurpose procedures, maybe swapping which attribute gives a bonus to the odd roll. I once tried to use an existing d12 astrological sign table as a reaction roll table. That failed, but hell if it wasn't a good instinct. You can take the instinct too far, but think of the elegance of how D&D likes to define one magical effect by analogy to a well-known spell.

And if all your campaign-specific tables and procedures reinforce your campaign-specific themes (as they should), repurposing them will maintain whatever themes you're shooting for in the first place. I wish I had written urban encounters for my weekly Okucenza game, but by reinterpreting the wilderness encounters it means I can still hit on miraculous phenomena, religious figures, and the legacies of war I'm trying to hit on.

Just my thoughts, Semiurge:

Friday, December 25, 2020

Religious Schism Generator

 Automating Dan's adaption of religion in Crusader Kings, with some tweaks, to randomly generate faiths for fantasy settings. Each faith will have several "heresies", a broad term including varying degrees of difference between different groups. These different groups have a small chance of treating the same generator results as differences, in which case it is the DM's job to explain how our way of accepting witchcraft is superior to their way of accepting witchcraft.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Picture Pong with Semiurge #3

 Semiurge (which is the name of a blogger, not just the feeling you get when your cousin eats a banana) has sent me this picture, in order that I might explain it to him. 

Scantly and meagre are provisions on the stilt-houses of the lake Pelimer, and little better is the provender found in the forests of the Freeborn Men. But the fruitful border between, for the border between two ecologies always exceeds either exclusively, must always remain undeveloped. For it is a liminal space upon a liminal space. It is where the lake meets the forest meets the mountains meets some otherwhere.

Pantry fare is a serious business, and outsiders may well notice that the floors of the pantries, kitchens, and fanes of both the stilt-houses and the Freesteads are of a different grain from the rest of the communities, which are liable to be cut from the standard oak of the forests, at least half an acre away from the lake. If you ask why, most will offer some hollow excuse, but children will offer their guesses and thereby the truth. It is because the border trees respect each other's domain, and will not harm each other, even when one is turned into boards. So by using the wood of border trees to protect food for the living and the dead, they can avoid the fate that befell the Pelimer bog wizards.

Chantry business is beyond the concern of most, and the esoteric reasons that the Wizarding Circle of St. Bheumes to locate itself in a marsh were never shared with the layfolk. In that bog, where border trees mingle near-indistinguishable from dead wood, the litany of prayers were constant, begging the Adversary to relinquish the immortal soul of Bheumes from his imprisonment. Looking into the burst and overgrown chantry-hall and the submerged chambers beneath, one wonders if the wizards should have spared a prayer for themselves.

Gantry-builders bustle in from the capital with each dry season and with each monarch's accession. In each case, the aim is to make a vantage point from which to spot forest fires. It is said the border trees don't grow from the ground but merely slide further out, like a worm from the mud. They lay themselves in whatever pattern may serve their caprices, and the histories of Very Serious Statesmen claim that the trees have extended as far as the capital to fight for claimants and cessionaries.

Polyandry, it is believed, was practiced by the Kodyad trees who granted their branches as wands to the first alewives and their fruits to the spawn of gods. The men they took as husbands offered their own flesh and blood as dowry, and became border trees. Since the Kodyads were cut down to burn witches by the churches, folk have said the miserable loneliness of their widowers has caused the animosity between these border trees and common folk. To this, abbots ask how this can be, when new border trees are sometimes formed along the lake? Surely they cannot have married a Kodyad after they were all exterminated? In any case, these impious tales will have their end when the Circle of St. Derugwhen finally perfects their breeding of the Gemabore Moth to kill those freak trees without getting too close to them.

Your turn, Semiurge. This is your assignment. Let's see if you can churn out another miracle from this:

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Picture Pong with Semiurge #2

 Semiurge has sent me this picture, in order that I might explain it to him. 

(Note the two figures in the bottom-right. This warrior is big.)

When the Titanomachy came, when Ulasth and Samyazaz and all the giants of the world were slain, enslaved, or degraded, it was not the end of giants. Those giant men sometimes born among us mortals are not half the height nor the tyranny of their atavis. 

Yet, some true titans remain. Prometheus, Enoc, and Cyclops have been spared imprisonment by virtue of their collaboration, transformation, or nepotism, respectively. And the children of each, nearly-titanous, stride across the lands humans traffic with the same reckless daring that they stride through the places where we dare not tread. They perform deeds of service to the gods, in the hopes that they will win freedom for their suffering uncles and aunts in Tartarus.

A premise: your adventuring party wants to rob a dragon of its hoard, but fear its retribution. You know that an Ettin-Paladin is on its way to slay the beast, which you could not do yourselves. When it succeeds, it will seize the hoard for its own as a tithe to the gods, and so you must thread the needle, robbing the dragon's followers at about the same time that the giant arrives. Naturally, if their battle spills into the section you are raiding it will be twice as dangerous as the mere presence of a dragon or giant, for neither care to spare your life and both wield terrible powers.

A premise: you have been sent with tribute, to beseech the Ettercap-Charlemagne of Adder Hill for aid. This requires you to carry an arc across miles of rotting demons strung up and filled with terrible maggots, through the boneyards of vanquished evils, and around the ancient traps of shattered dark towers.

A premise: you have been tasked by an angel with arresting one of these godlings. Good luck.

Your turn, Semiurge. This is your assignment:

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Picture Pong with Semiurge #1

Semiurge has sent me this picture, in order that I might explain it to him. 

A Request Unseen

You hear a voice in crowded spaces,
tinged tenebral with lack of light.
It asks for "a blade, something sharp please."
Its pleading's too piteous to shirk from its plight.
You try the glimpse the unseen creature
but its shrinks back, light and small it seems,
inspecting the shearing knife you offer.
"That's okay, but might you sharpen it please?"

As you drag the heavy metal
'cross the stone with your naked hand
you glimpse its white-stone cope and pelage
as it cranes to appraise the brand.
Shaking as the thing emerges,
you offer the blade, acute as hell.
Embarrassed by the ache of its keen desire,
it takes the knife. "This will do well."

And with a hungry, easy gesture,
It begins to carve the flesh away
Until the web of its living gristle
is bared to the frame in strange display.
Where the giblets are discarded
maggots many marble the meat
"Stranger for your honest kindness,
I offer a fate as free and sweet."

Timid Gore-Ladden
HD 1. Sneaky and indistinct. Prone to grudges and gratitudes. Consuming its blood causes flesh to fall from it, and it uses this to punish those who have wronged it. If granted its wish of a truly sharp implement, it will shed its flesh. Any who have helped it will be granted a boon: they ignore the negative effects of parasites and their skeleton will hatch out of them upon their death. Flesh-denuded Timids gain +1 HD. If multiple are encountered, consider rolling some variations with this table.

Your turn, Semiurge. This is your assignment:

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

On the Importance of Rest

 Nickorish of SteppedOnAD4 asked me to write a bit about how it is that eight hours of rest can heal a good deal of hit points in most versions of GLoG.

  1. It reminds players that their characters have basic needs, such as sleep.
  2. It acts as a wish-fulfillment fantasy. These are people who consistently get a full eight hours of sleep in!
  3. It forces time to pass and sets things to a sensible duration of days and nights.
  4. It offers an opportunity to linger just a moment on the sensation of rest. Pleasant sensory experiences such as eating, drinking, and sleeping actual can enhance a game, if you give them a modicum of focus.
  5. HP damage doesn't represent actual wounds. We may not feel great the day after a work-out, but the rest is still necessary to keep going.
  6. HP damage totally represents actual wounds. Regenerating overnight reminds the players that while their characters aren't superheroes they exist in a mythic milieu that supports the genre of derring-do they've come to the table for.
  7. HP is a trick to make players think they have some slack before they start getting dismembered, when really it will be gone after one good hit. Frequently replenishing this resource encourages glorious/vainglorious attempts by PCs.
  8. Sleep is a useful contrivance for GMs to give information and atmosphere through dreams, nocturnal wildlife, camping conditions, and downtime.

Monday, December 14, 2020

A Beard, a Tower, a Weird, a Power: GLoG Wizard Generator

 "Realm spells" are Birthright-style spells that can affect a large area, like summoning a fortress or calling down a plague. Starting equipment taken from Vayra’s microclass generator here:

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Ten Fictional Modern Faiths

These are 

-Fictional in the sense that I made them up. No guarantee that others have not had the same idea before.
-Modern in that they are set in the real, contemporary world and no more supernatural or world-breaking than anything else is.
-Faiths in having customs or beliefs shared among a group, related to the divine. Many of these religions would be considered sects or denominations of nonfictional faiths.

Attention has been paid to tying these faiths to aspects of real-world histories and belief systems, and to their most notable aspects. This is to facilitate recognizability and ease of integration in play.

Serena Malyon

  1. Elatenism, an Abrahamic faith that holds Biblical Moses and the Pharoah Akhenaten to be the same prophet of the sole god. Its temples and churches typically feature a brass or copper idol depicting God with a notably coptic inflection, and uses Passover as its new year. An early schism in its modern founding was led by its original leader from his own organization, leading to the creation of a more explicitly Christian branch based in Alexandria but drawing tithes primarily from Europe and the United States.
  2. Khaganal Sinirism, a politically-involved faith associated with certain cultural groups in southwestern Russia. Though known externally for being the avowed faith of multiple attempted political assassins, Sirinist life is domestically notable for burying their dead in dried river beds, for complex traditions related to the interpretation of dreams, and for cryptic references to Buddhist meditation practices. The characteristic political cause of Sinirists seems to be advocation for strict term limits, which has earned reprisals not only from the current Russian governments but multiple neighboring states.
  3. Arcadianism, a self-titled pagan faith with no formal structure. Acknowledges many deities but centralizes Pan, and mourns his death as a result of a cosmic struggle with Christ. This is notably marked by heavy drinking and ritual screaming on the first day of winter.  Distinguished from most forms of Paganism in that it ascribes notable power to Christian rites, and is denigrated by some pagans as "Self-hating Christianity." [Insert quip here]
  4. Mathasian Negationism, which western theologians often sweep away as a dualistic form of Hinduism. Based in certain monasteries in the state of Karnataka in India, it boasts of clergy which are said not be alive at all. Upon rare occasion in which outsiders have been allowed to inspect these clergy, it has been observed that they speak, move languidly, and eat a kind of vegetable paste. To explain this, the Mathasians simply refer to historical precedent, and to the mercy of gods.
  5. Kititulo No Teishutsu, a strident and nonliteral association of Lovecraftian Mythos, Babylonian spirits and deities, and traditional Shinto practices. Expressed in humanistic, optimistic, humble digital comics describing the fictive hierarchy of such beings. This faith without hierarchy beyond clout and appreciation for literary and artistic ability is intensely interested in the relationship between obscure deities while not stating outright that they literally exist. This plus a jocular tendency in writings, as well as essential texts lacking translations or lacking sufficient translations between Japanese, English, and Spanish render the faith ("KNT") opaque to all but the most interested.
  6. Reformed Baalism, a self-styled "Abrahamic faith without Abraham." Bases its cosmology in the Baal Cycle and worships both Baal and the god of the Old Testament. Baalist apologia claims that Baalites described in ancient myth were slandered for commending miscarried children to their god, for family planning, and for martial virtue. Currently has no notable temporal community, but has successfully managed to lobby their way onto mainstream lists of Judeo-Christian faiths and denominations.
  7. Gaiic Christianity, which hold the Earth to be the fourth part of the trinity quaternity, and that the crucifixion of Christ was to redeem Her-- "for God so loved the world." Tension currently exists among the Gaiic parishes along two axes. The first regards support or condemnation of a nonpartisan group that leans heavily on the suggestion that pollution is literally sacrilege, and that the vast majority of the world is damned to Hell for its complicity. The second is the strained relationship between church heads in Annaba and its bishops in Europe and Canada.
  8. Koreshan Judaism, that holds Cyrus the Great to have been the final messiah, and that foretells his eventual return at the end of all things. Mystics of this faith tend to emphasize the tripartite phases of all things, and debate the cosmological significance of Cyrus's rebuilding the Temple. Koreshan temples are notable for political participation, endorsing candidates for secular office and issuing bulls on how its members should participate in their communities.
  9. Tulayhawatism, which contends Muhammad to be the penultimate prophet, succeeded by Tulayha of the Banu Asad ibn Khuzaymah tribe. This faith reveres the Quran as well as the Atttestations of Tribes, an account of the occult teachings of Tulayha as well as a revisionist version of his relationship with the elder prophet. Based in Nahavand until the Iranian Revolution, the traditions of the original priesthood have split between separate followings in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Though these branches generally hold each other to be righteous, the values and rites upheld by each have slowly drifted out of sync.
  10. Etilism, a Christian "heresy" known for its argument that the true role of Christians is not to make themselves more Christlike (impossible, bland) but to make Christ more human-like (achievable, based). This ranges from ceremonial litanies that exhort God to indulge in hedonistic vices to depicting Christ as a severe sinner or in the act of relieving himself. The Temptation of Christ is considered the holiest part of the new testament and Satan (though not Lucifer or the Devil) is said to be an angel of mercy.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Book of Similes

We put monsters in games because they are cool. They excite the imagination and our visceral reactions to viscera and reaching tendrils. But it can be difficult to mesh the mechanical demands of monsters with the storytelling promise of such creatures. As always, it is a matter of what we want to emphasize. I don't want to retread the concerns Skerples goes over in his philosophy concerning the Monster Overhaul

I have been impressed by an article by Dan at his blog and a collection of monsters written by Cavegirl. In addition to being good pieces, they both lean into the potential for monsters, and therefore the stories in which they appear, to create artistic affect through metaphor and parable. Mythology and folklore are full of strange creatures we can choose to understand through the lens of symbolism. A vampire symbolizes sexuality, or fears about death, or the inherited power of aristocracy, or whatever really. 

Interestingly, the creature doesn't need to have a specific meaning to feel meaning-laden. Consider the Peryton or the Jabberwock, which are memorable despite being gibberish. Dan's tiger is a notable real-world example. By centralizing its cause as British Colonialism, we impart it with a retributive aspect, and make the natural phenomenon of starving tigers into the symbolic phenomenon of a national spirit wronged and vengeful. Yet the contemporary tiger-hunters, who presumably did not consider this analysis, decided that the tiger was meaning-laden in totally different ways. These interpretations are purely instrumental. Dan's metaphor is better for stories about how British Imperialism is bad; a big game hunter's metaphor might be better for stories about how great imperialism is, (citation needed).

To be conscious of the potential for meaning in monsters is not to bind them to a blatant interpretation. I tend to think of such things as simile. The cruel king is like greed incarnate. The dragon acts as death personified would. This way, if players don't clock the specific symbolism they don't feel like they're on the outside of a joke. The simile helps the person running the game to figure out a creature's intent, interesting hooks, vignettes, resonant moments and interactions.

Therefore, I offer the Book of Similes. It is divided into twenty creatures: ten "old" similes, which act as ciphers for the concerns of the pre-modern societies most fantasy games emulate, and ten "new" similes, which stand in for anxieties of the current zeitgeist. Some are pretty simple, the sort of thing that's appropriate to an entry on a random encounter table. Others make for interesting features in a dungeon or to round out other adventures. Some are adventures all in themselves. For each, I've offered some suggested hooks, places, items, and/or encounters to stimulate creativity and establish how I imagine them working at the table. Click the eye below to read.

Click Me

All art by Renegade of False Idols.

Further Godparents


    Expanded from my previous post here. Since it is likely only one or two godparents would be needed in even a long campaign, and since the original article suggests you select a godparent randomly, I would recommend using these to replace godparents on the original list that are not as suitable to the milieu of your campaign.
  1. The Monkey King
    Considers you a servant, but too proud to command you. Loves a good jape.
    1. As-You-Will Gold-Banded Cudgel, a +1 iron staff that can shrink to the size of a needle or grow to 20 feet long.
    2. Quick sutra to repel demons. Also, a blanket 1-in-6 chance that a random encounter is actually a demon in disguise.
    3. Phoenix-feather Cap. Wearer can jump as far as they wish, but the cap does not offer protection against velocity or void.
    4. One of 72 magical transformations. Starting with you, each member of the party names an animal or object, then the DM selects one. You can turn into that entity and back at will.
    Benedick Bana
  2. The Dark Lord
    A lover of towers, and of towering.
    1. Over the course of an afternoon you are summoned to a high place, to see all the lands of the world. Your godfather then points out where his hibernating minions are buried. Such caches are always within 1d4-1 days travel from you, and unearth 1d4 minions. They are warlike, cowardly, and factious, and can only be held in line by threats and clear goals.
    2. Glassy orb, ancient and dangerous. Allows remote viewing and psychic intercourse with those who possess similar objects, but opens the wearer to psychic attacks.
    3. Oversized titanium flail. -2 to hit, but +2 to damage and can break iron forged by country smiths or bandit wrights.
    4. Torc with jet decorations at each end, carved to resemble ravens. The wearer is invisible to mundane folk and animals, but seems like blazing beacons to the supernatural. While worn, the raven heads utter calumnies only the wearer can hear.

  3. Cats
    Feuding and fickle. Kind and condescending. Gifts recharge after ten minutes of sleep in a comfortable place.
    1. Nine-headed whip. Try something profoundly stupid, and if you would die, a head of the whip disappears and you are instead totally fine, back where you started. Remember, this only works for the direct result of follies and only if it would kill you.
    2. Summon a rodent and ask of it a favor. The rodent is bound to do your favor, but will try to do so maliciously.
    3. Afternoons spent practicing the hunt finally pay off. +1 damage when you bite or scratch, and if you grab onto someone you can discharge you gift. If you do, it is impossible to pry you off them.
    4. Suddenly appear anywhere in a crowded place or messy space within 300 feet of you. Any melee with six or more participants counts as crowded.

    Arthur Rackham
  4. The Ancient Wizard
    Would be an angel, if he had a sense of right and wrong. It has been replaced with a sense of necessity and a frustration that he cannot act more openly. His gifts do not need to recharge, but fade and fail with the age. Nothing for you to worry about in this, your youth.
    1. TO MY WILL, a +1 longsword that glows red in the presence of magics opposed to your godparent and white in the presence of magics aligned with your godparent.
    2. Wand that contains 1 MD and the spells circumvent curse, will o wisp, and summon steed.
    3. Cloak of no particular color that contains 1 MD and the spells transfer disease, mundane seeming, and argue with birds
    4. Chain shirt that contains 1 MD and the spells stone to bread and old fruit to oil flasks.

  5. Eternity
    Friend to death, but too often kept in Heaven.
    1. Once per person, take their hand and your godmother will show them a vision of the afterlife that awaits them. Regardless of their fate, this should stun them for at least a moment.
    2. Robes or gown of gossamer. When standing still, allows you to blend into areas of stone or dewy grass. Mundane animals and unicorns will treat you as harmless.
    3. Service of Aghstain, an itinerant warrior. They have been plucked from the end of time for the homage rendered to your godmother. Treat them as a barbarian of your Godchild level.
    4. Once, trade lives with someone. The consequences are vague but dire. You cannot trade lives again until you have rendered sufficient service to your godmother.