Monday, October 25, 2021

Poetry in the World

I think people are pretty hungry for simple joys. We don't walk in the woods as often as we like, or eat a hunk of bread in flickering candlelight, or study the play of light on a stream, in a crystal, or in motes of dust in the air. We aren't hungry for woe and sorrow, but even those can affirm the meaningful and set our lives into focus compared to the cruel monotony that hums through work floors, grocery back rooms, kitchens not our own, and endless hallways in need of cleaning. 

Stories of adventure or horror or romance need these simple sensations to land. They need little beats of contemplation where the characters sing on the road or brush aside cobwebs or stare at a cluttered table while someone is away. Poetry can be helpful, but poetry is inane without a subject we can feel or sense. The way a sentiment like "she was tired from marching and the cheese tasted nice and the place by the fire was warm" is phrased may intensify the feeling if put well or weaken the feeling if put poorly, but even at its simplest these kinds of sentiments need their space in a story.

The sentiment does not need to be original. It does not need to be fresh. Bog-standard fantasy, say, is flush with the lush and lurid. It's easy to forget an old man with a long beard and pointed hat and stars-and-moons robe is a powerful image because it is familiar, but do not let it be forgotten. Put emotive intensity in the description, as though the sentiment was truly original! Have characters react to the strange! If all else fails, straight-up tell "the way he dresses is striking!" We are putting finite words into an infinite world and all performances are fleeting, ever-wearying. Editing is for now-right-now. 

Once you have the sentiment, give it action. The man's manner of dress is striking? He should say something striking, or light his pipe with an orc tooth. If you're on your game you can support the sentiment with second-order expressions. Maybe he expresses remorse that a more mundane character has been endangered by the otherworldly that the wizard represents. "I am sorry this has happened to you." How often do your characters seem unsure of themselves, or regretful or overconfident or melancholy? Maybe he's ashamed to be so weird?

So many stories are obsessed with what is happening in the moment. Between crises, we should have time to recall what happened last chapter, last session, last year. We should miss those who were lost and reflect on how we've changed.

So many stories are obsessed with what is happening in the moment. Between crises, we should have time to ponder what we will do once this current task is done. If we live long, how will we manage old age? What will we do with ourselves.

When the story is done, we should cherish the remainder. Study the book you just finished for a few minutes. Roleplaying games are great for this-- their ghosts lay across notebooks and sheets and maps, hopefully in sketches or little songs we wrote or in tables and generators waiting for new purpose.

Ask, for each story and each part:
What is beautiful?
What is strange?
What is missing?
What has changed?
What is meager?
What is great?
What is its evoked emotional state?

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Testing out Saltygoo's Fantasy Land Generator

 Salty Goo, of Gooed GLoG fame, recently produced a "Fantasy Land Generator". It describes a region by hex-size, biome, and notable features, as well as drawing from many bestiaries to suggest a couple of monsters one might encounter in the area. I decided to fire it up and quickly sketch out my own little fantasy land:

(I want to be clear that this is not necessarily the intended procedure, but I was intrigued by the possibility that it could be done. The regions were assigned arbitrarily, without much thought on my part. What follows are the descriptions as they were given to me, with no changes except some formatting.)

(Commentary in italics)

1. This five-hex forest is known for its colossal menhirs. Beware, for there are moss patches that were placed by lumberjacks in the area. It is inhabited by sacred Copperback Snakes, and also sacred Magpies.

Already a neat, inspiring hex. The menhirs and sacred animals seem like they'd be at odds with the lumberjacks, but maybe they have some kind of agreement. The only thing I'd struggle with if I generated this on the fly is the moss you must beware. Maybe it's spread to encourage tree growth but can cause some fantasy illness or ritual uncleanness.

2. This nine-hex cold region is known for its ice-covered power stones. Beware, for there are pagan idols that attract goblins in the area. It is inhabited by thunderous Cave Bears, and also winter-loving Blue Dracopedes.

This hex highlights two quirks of my method with Saltygoo's generator. By taking the first ten results, I might make a region that doesn't make sense next to other regions. This arctic waste is right next to cacti-covered hills in region 3. Another quirk is that there's a lot of obscure monsters in this generator, and I don't always want to look them up. 

3. This six-hex grassland is known for its fern-covered hills. Beware, for there are cacti that could make you trip in the area. It is inhabited by peaceful Starlings, and also migrating Cassowaries.

Weird. I would consider putting a secret feature here, so it seems benign when first encountered, then gains a new character later.

4. This six-hex swamp is known for its oozing remote tavern. Beware, for there are tangles of roots that are very painful in the area. It is inhabited by Calytaurs who hate all the gods and are obsessed with hygiene, and also clever Aqraseths.

"Oozing remote tavern" is not a winner for the random generator, but at least it has character. Maybe we'll reinterpret it as the home of alcoholic ooze beverages. Google tells me Calytaurs are pigmen, which is pretty delightful. An Aqraseths is a heron-croc dinosaur. This would be a cool place to put important guides, mercenaries, and hirelings, to help the players come up with reasons for their PCs interact with the godless pigmen. Getting past the unfamiliar monster names, this region rocks pretty hard actually.

5. This five-hex mountain range is known for its overflowing gas vents. Beware, for there are rivers that are treatcherous in the area. It is inhabited by diurnal Vultures, and also Airwalkers who offer training to whoever can race them.

(sic). Racing airwalkers is a fun encounter. Maybe the vultures use the gas vents as thermals? We should see them sometimes in nearby hexes, sometimes following a predator. This would be a great region to put a dungeon.

6. This five-hex jungle is known for its murky canopy. Beware, for there are peppers that are scalding hot in the area. It is inhabited by a Sorcerous Cabbal that agressively fights all trespassers, and also a Sorcerous Cabbal that agressively fights all trespassers.

(sic!) Love the rival cabals. The adventure hooks practically write themselves. Flesh them out and differentiate them barely. For economy of factions, we can feature the calytaurs and goblins from elsewhere in the cabals.

7. This six-hex jungle is known for its turquoise ponds. Beware, for there are nervous Parrots that could make you fall asleep in the area. It is inhabited by a sacred Basilisk, and also lumbering Dingoneks.

A lot of the random animals feel appropriate to medieval bestiaries. Parrots that make you fall asleep? Players will want one! They'll want to interact with them. The basilisk reminds me of the copperback snakes from region 1, so it gets to be a copperback basilisk. Dingoneks are apparently armored dinosaurs.

8. This five-hex swamp is known for its fern-covered thickets. Beware, for there are dying animals that could rot your food in the area. It is inhabited by Athachs who herd sheep while being manipulated by fairies, and also haunted Blindfire Vines.

Athachs are three-armed giants. Alright. Swamp sheep? Sure. I don't think this adds to much, but it's perfectly fine. The worst case is the party making small talk with a giant while they barter for food, then run into a carnivorous plant.

9. This hex holds a city known for its surveiled slaughterhouses. Beware of the corrupted officials that restrict movement there. Its streets are roamed by wizard-owned Animated Rugs, and also witchy Tressyms.

Back to kicking ass. Feels like a legalistic government whose scholars are primarily magicians. Maybe they surveil slaughterhouses because they fear blood sacrifice. Tressysms are flying cat familiars. This seems like a reasonable settlement to form a recurring base for PCs, and it has real character. If we're imaging this to be a border outpost it's odd, but we can lean into that. Maybe disgraced or underachieving members of a more frenetic magocracy are sent here? Maybe it's worth fleshing out other notable settlements so it doesn't feel like it sticks out. My at-the-table fix would be to emphasize how there's heaps of villages and towns around the city in the same hex.

10. This five-hex rocky land is known for its gravelly war camp. Beware, for there are hidden pit traps that could slow you down in the area. It is inhabited by Cyclopskins who tend to a primeval temple and are afraid of the sky and birds, and also Goblins who hide in tunnels and are organized like the mob.

Luckily, we mentioned that goblins were attracted to region 2. I guess this is where they come from! The standard interpretation is probably that the cyclopskins and goblins are forces of chaos massing to destroy the city of region 9, but we can imagine other dynamics. Maybe they want to make war on the sacred magpies of region 10, or seek the magical aid of the city's magicians. In any case, they have some pressure to apply to any road out of the city.


I want to run this! I want to drop in Harpyshaft and TotSK and Wild Man's Grave and make this a properly cozy sandbox. Keying with small regions feels very nice, and means I can fill in individual hexes as I desire. A milieu of pigmen and cyclopses and mages and various sacred birds and serpents. It's all random but with a little work could take on a solid identity with a considered theme.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Kastromancy: a Convenient Art (GLoGtober #3)

In a case of nominative determinism, this piece is by "Chase Stone"

Beloved one-page dungeon the Skyblind Spire includes a brief piece of lore-- the impossible architecture of the tower and the magic it generates is the result of "Kastromancy," apparently a discipline for discerning how to use strange layouts to create potent magical effects. This is an elegant inversion of the usual admonition of the "funhouse dungeon", which is that if the contents are fantastical, you shouldn't expect them to be laid out in a reasonable way.

Kastromancy can be extended to be more useful to gameplay. If a structure is applied to the foundation of the art, it can be employed by high-level magician PCs to build their own dungeon spaces, to understand dungeon master rivals, and to create valuable resources to seek out, destroy, refine, create, and treasure. 

Domain-level play through the establishment of keeps, construction of trade guilds, and nourishment of congregations is helped along by the basis normality of such things. They are real things, with countless examples in the real world. Domain-level magic, and magical projects generally, lack a real-world analogue. If a magical problem lacks a mundane solution, the magical solutions a player thinks of is only as good as the fictional magical framework established in the setting.

The two rudiments of kastromancy are physical room layout and kastromantic arrays, and they must work in tandem. Anything weird or "unrealistic" about dungeon layouts are a result of kastromantic principles-- octagonal rooms, gridism, 10-foot-wide doors. Most kastromancers find it easiest to arrange their lairs underground or in tall towers, where the base functions as a magical nexus. Students of the Convenient Art use random architecture oracles to discover new principles.

Kastromantic arrays are made of certain magically-resonant stones. Their type determines their general effect, while occlusions or details affects their expression and their cut affects how they can fit together in an array. A kastromancer may rejoice to find a heart-cut clouded fire opal, since it just fits so well with their tear-drop pure emerald in the strict mathematical edicts of their array diagrams.

A dungeon that has been sufficiently cleared out to be made safe can be thoroughly searched by a magician to sniff out where the array is held, buried at a central location or hidden in a clever chamber. It might have 1d4 stones for each level, plus one for each weird magical effect in the dungeon that must have come from kastromancy. If you're reading an old module that explains how a fountain was filled with ever-flowing acid due to a wish spell, this is likely the module author dutifully concealing the Convenient Art from mortals. Kastromatic stones are found in the possession of dungeon masters, on the wizard black market, or sometimes in the possession of mining and jeweling enterprises. Wizards generally try to keep the existence of kastromancy from mine-rowdies and industrialists for this reason.

General Shard Types

  1. Divination. Might let a dungeon master know when trespassers arrive, let them look around with disembodied eyes, or project their spirit as a massive glowing head to yell at rival adventuring parties.
  2. teleportation/impossible geometry. See the link to the Skyblind Spire above.
  3. impossible weight-bearing. Build ever-down, minimizing support structures, and last for countless ages.
  4. Pacts. Summons monstrous humanoids of various sorts. A one-time calling, but prevents normal turnover. The magician reliably knows what kind of group they are calling, but not the specific group or how long it will take them to arrive. Does not assure loyalty or prevent coups.
  5. Anti-gravity. Also anti-friction and other physics tricks.
  6. Shrinking/growing, and its remedy. Some allow for more terrible transformations, such as the famous "Dying Breath to Dire Boa" transformation.
  7. Preservation, either a temporal stasis or a reprieve from age.
  8. Haunting, soul capture, and spookums.
  9. Boundary stones. Keeps monstrous denizens in their assigned rooms.
  10. Bullshit antimagic. "Teleportation effects in the dungeon instead teleport the user to the elemental plane of fire." "All attempts to charm the statue make the caster permanently insane." "Speak with dead now makes you shit yourself and bite your tongue at the same time."

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Goo (GLoGtober #2)

 Slimes and puddings are often deployed to great effect as monsters or traps due to their liquid property. But the stakes are too often life or death. Whatever happened to vats of goo and their serious consequences? Here are some life-changing results from exposure to goo.

d20 Effects of Exposure to Vats of Goo

  1. Seem to die. After a couple hours, save-- on a success, you have 1d4 HP and serious burns all over your body. On a failure, your clothing is garish, you're chaotic evil now, and you acquire a criminal compulsion.
  2. Seem to die. After a couple hours, save-- on a success, you are liquid at will. On a failure, you are sometimes liquid. Test your constitution to deconstitute, and spend 1 HP whenever you try.
  3. Seem to die. After a couple hours, emerge in a degraded future of the world you knew.
  4. Affected area acquires a rigid metal sheen. It cannot flex at all, but may function as armor.
  5. Dyes the affected area a random color (d6 ROYGBV). It is impermeable to objects which are that color.
  6. Makes the affected area magnetic. Save vs metal poisoning.
  7. Preserves the affected area. Do not suffer for injuries to that spot, short of dismemberment, but it cannot be later enhanced.
  8. Desanguinate. The affected area's blood dries up, and may die (separately from the rest of the body) unless drastic measures are taken.
  9. Affected area secedes. It is controlled by another player (not PC). If the player is not there for a session, the area is unresponsive.
  10. Affected area blooms with animal alternatives (deer hoof for a hand, etc.)
  11. Affected area becomes adhesive. Advantage on keeping things attached to you, disadvantage on letting go of things.
  12. Affected area becomes hydrophilic and buoyant. Makes it very hard to swim, but also very hard to drown.
  13. Affected area becomes far more flammable. With a controlled burn, spend 1 HP every 10 minutes to shine light as a torch. In uncontrolled fires, the affected area is incapacitated.
  14. Affected area acquires an olfactory affectation. A random type of creature will consider you one of their own.
  15. Particular part performs preliminary perception. Gains eyes, ears, or some other sense organ. An earlier, now redundant, sense organ goes dormant.
  16. Affected area dissolves totally. If this would normally kill you, only seem to die. Your ghost body is fully intact, and if your original body is dissolved you can possess a foe of lesser HD.
  17. Affected area goes out of wack. Other parts of the body weaken as this part is nourished. Use a random hit location chart every day to see what part withers, giving disadvantage to all rolls involving it. Once every other part is withered, the affected area detaches, crawls into a dungeon, and turns into goo.
  18. Parasite convinces you that you really should settle down and reproduce with your old flame as soon as possible. Save every 24 hours to avoid making that huge mistake.
  19. Acquire a dark side. When a fight breaks out or when otherwise aggravated, test your charisma or reverse your alignment for ten minutes. True neutral characters become more annoying instead.
  20. Displace mental recognition. The affected person can now distinguish (d4: magic items or valuables or religious symbols or traps) at a glance but saves or becomes faceblind.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Brewing Bears in my Stomach (GLoGtober #1)


The ancients knew that bear mothers licked their young into shape. (So do dragons by the way, which is how humans force captive dragons to make dragonborn.) The substance we call bear cubs is malleable. They too can be licked into a humanoid form, but the bears will not do this themselves.

Hex #2131- Fort Bitterfruit

d8 Signs of the fort:

  1. Huckleberries
  2. Signs: "KILL A BEAR? LOSE AN EAR"
  3. Traders wearing bells, stowing by hanging them from a tree
  4. Bearcatchers returning to the fort
  5. Long scratches along trees
  6. All the good firewood has been taken
  7. Old bottles and tobacco ash
  8. Local tribal humanoids at ease, friendlier than normal
The fort is run by a frontier alchemist named Pheloc the Brewer. It is his merry project to learn how to ferment bears by swallowing bear-cubs and certain other ingredients. 

d6 He has had certain successes:
  1. He has brewed a bear in his stomach and licked it into the shape of a woman, his "daughter" Bela. He doesn't know it, but this is actually quite close to how bugbears first came about.
  2. He has brewed three "green-bears", silent and camouflaged predators who understand his commands.
  3. He has brewed two riding bears, and is breeding them.
  4. He has brokered a partnership with local tribes on this "borderland," actually fostering the closest thing to harmony between "civilized" and marginalized folks for a thousand miles.
  5. He has a steady supply of bears coming in from all over the area, all the better for his militia to drink their children.
  6. His chemical knowledge is a boon to frontier life, and folk from miles around come to him for remedies.
d6 He has certain problems:
  1. His daughter wants to see the world, but he is far too attached to let her have her own life.
  2. He actually brewed a fourth green-bear, but it disappeared after he struck it.
  3. He can't actually get his riding bears to bang.
  4. Strange creatures are emerging from a hidden underground tomb, threatening to displace his local allies.
  5. Newcomers keep stirring shit up with the locals, or worse yet kill a bear in the wild.
  6. He is running out of weird superfoods to experiment with in the bear-fermenting process.
  • This could be a random feature in a hex, with many hooks to hang existing material from your hexcrawl.
  • It could be the home base for a dungeon crawl.
  • Pheloc could run some antagonistic operation for PCs to thwart.
  • By the same token, he could be a frontier ally for the players to flee to.