Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Prayers of Ways and Means (Shrine Procedure)

 Sometimes, when I'm writing up a shrine or other location where PCs might encounter the image of a divine figure of some sort, I feel like I want a standard procedure to handle any attempts to gain the favor of that divinity. So, here is basically what I end up reinventing every time.

  1. When the PCs interact with a shrine, make a reaction roll, using all the normal bonuses and penalties. Add an additional +1 if a PC is a cleric of the divinity or an allied divinity, and -1 if they're profane before the divinity. Extra -2 if the interaction that causes the reaction roll takes the form of robbing or breaking the shrine. You can infer from these relatively minor bonuses and penalties that divinities are fickle.
  2. On a negative roll, consult the divinity's d6 Means Table and apply an immediate penalty. Save vs spell or be cursed, summon a hostile animal, whatever makes sense. On a positive roll, give the party a d6 Orison Die. On a more neutral roll, err on the side of the divinity's personality-- did they make an offering? Might the divinity slam into their minds and make them promise to do something for it? That kind of thing.
  3. You can only have 1 Orison Die in your party at once, and it goes away after a week if you haven't used it. To expend the die, pray to the divinity for help with a specific problem and roll on the Means Table. Whatever the means, it will be conjured with the intent of helping you with that problem. If you pray for help doing something that would offend the Divinity, treat it as a negative reaction roll.
A divinity's Means Table will be a combination of concrete and abstract. 

Example Means:
1. Snakes
2. Mercy
3. Blindness
4. Temperance
5. Knives 
6. Healers

Imagine you have prayed to a divinity with this table, asking for help convincing a cruel king to let you into his city. The divinity is not insulted by this request, and you roll a "1". Perhaps this summons a giant snake you can use to threaten the king with. It could be that you didn't want to risk threatening a powerful man, and the help you've received could potentially make things worse. Imagine instead that you are trying to reach a high ledge and don't know how you will do so. Your friend suggests spending the Orison Die, but you think about it and decide that many of the means on the table aren't likely to be all that useful. You've just exercised judgement.

Here's three more example Means Tables. As an added bonus, the varied tools in a divinity's tool belt are a good way to remind you to design less one-note gods, if that's the kind of thing you're into.

1. Writing
2. Birth
3. Deafness
4. Endurance
5. Grandparents
6. Boats

1. Sun ray
2. Arrows
3. Horse
4. Messengers
5. Funeral
6. Distrust

1. Mice
2. Pit
3. Barbituate
4. Doctors
5. Plenty
6. Call of the Void

Friday, March 15, 2024

Adventuring Tavern Generator

 In Wuxia storytelling, the term "Jianghu" refers to a rustic otherworld, a secondary society at the margins of the official and the regulated. It is a backwater where all the interesting characters can be found dueling, gambling, drinking, and meteing out vigilante justice. The comparison to many old-school RPGs is clear.

Use this generator to set the scene of a drinking hole in such a scene, where village locals may find themselves rubbing elbows with haughty adventurer types.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Setting Seed Generator (Cairn 2e WIP)

Yochai Gal recently pointed me to a tool he has been working on for the warden's guide of Cairn 2e. It's a procedure for generating a setting using a combination of dice-drops and d20 tables. I noticed that I could repurpose a lot of his tables to brainstorm regions in the country-as-dungeon adventures I've been playing around with, so with his permission I made an automating tool to do a lot of the rolling for you. 

In fairness I should note that I used an early WIP of Gal's tables, so they might lack the glimmer of his later improvements. I tried to keep tweaks to a minimum, but I did go ham with some synonyms for different kinds of terrain, and I inserted a nonsense word generator for some of the names. As usual, I prioritized novelty in naming over elegance. Don't blame him if your region has a name like "Colorful Cuu" or "Ummo Rag."

Gal's original procedure asks you to make tweaks as you go, according to your taste. Please do not let the fact that my generator spits out a complete list discourage you from doing likewise.

Made with Spwack's wonderful list-to-html generator.

I trust you to decide how to connect the locations, by what paths, and including what sorts of water features and weather.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Location: The Geas Years

Fifteen years ago, the wizard Oqamun Thendris excavated an old ruin and made peace with its undying cultist occupants to serve as his base of power. He used strong magics to bind a local tribe of gnolls to serve him. Six years ago, the wizard passed away from a heart attack induced by the side effects of a drug he was taking. Since then, the gnolls have attempted to break the spell binding them to what is now his tomb, but to no avail. They can march out to gather supplies or waylay travelers, but must ever return to guard the place.

The Hag-Son is a dutiful man, a younger half-brother of the wizard, who lacked the knack for study. He looks down on the gnolls, but is penitent about his stake in the wizard's cruelties, though in some sense he is himself a refugee of his brother's edicts. Once his conscience is discharged, he imagines that he will become a wise and respected leader of a community.

The Genius is reaching his middle age. His love of mechanisms, diagrams, and the fitting together of shapes in his mind's eye has made him a lonely gnoll. But to get them through the Geas Years he has affected a messianic zeal, and because he had already been set apart from them they have bought into his vision and commandments.

The Lamplighters are animating, undead spirits fueled by a literal flame that sustains them in the depth of their devotion, but by now they've largely settled into the total Jingoism of an old-timey beat cop. And they're grumpy.

d6 Random Encounters

1. 2d4 gnolls (any with 10 or more HP are Flinds: +1 MOR and make two attacks with metal nunchaku for 1d6 damage)

2. 1d3 Peers (2 HD heraldic pests, two 1d4 beak attacks, flammable. Watch you with glittering eyes in the dark and attack when you're distracted)

3. 1d4 fire beetles

4. 1d4 gnolls and 1d4 jackals.

5. 1d8 Lamplighter (as skeletons carrying torches which burn for 1d6 damage, slain if separated from torch)

6. The Hag-Son (as harpy, no song, knows two 1st-level and one 2nd-level spells)


The walls are smooth limestone, reinforced periodically by arches in any hallways.

The doors are rounded arches with thick oak panels.

The air is moist and musky.

The stairs are cramped and worn.


  1. Entry Staircase. mosaic of a civil trial. Tobacco ash litters the ground. +1 reaction roll with humanoids here, as they're likely here for a smoke. Some loose tiles near the judge's bench conceal a hidden niche where four 100-g.c. emeralds are stored.
  2. Burning streetlamp. A sack of 500 gold coins hanging off it. Hidden on the sack is a metal thread, and if weight is taken off the streetlamp it will start spewing fire, the thread pivoting it to face whoever is holding the sack. The thread extends up to 25 feet. Small circular mirrors have been installed in the walls, letting the firelight glimmer and shine.
  3. Narrow Duct. 2' across, 4' high. Slows travel, gives -1 to hit per 6' of length of weapon. At the descent spot marked "T" on the map, there is a shaft falling 20 feet down into area 11. The duct continues under the area 1 stairs to area 5.
  4. Wizard's Mancave. Comfortable furniture now mildewy and dank. Allegedly collectible figurines and posters fill the space, now valueless. In the center of the room is a pile of torn-up textbooks repurposed into a nest. 
    1. Hiding in a mousehole along the south wall is Belch, a miniature dragon that served as the wizard's familiar. Intelligent, but you have to speak in a funny voice when playing it. If convinced to serve as another magic-user's familiar, it will serve loyally. (Stats as hawk, speeds spell learning, gives 15% discount on magical research, amusing antics.)
  5. Hag-Son's Lair. Locked! Key is in area 12. Clothing scattered everywhere, expired magical ingredients littering shelves, chest full of puzzles and novelties. Strips of paper, cut into star shapes, have been enchanted to glow and stuck to the ceiling. Charm hanging over bed to induce sleep paralysis (as this is how he stays in contact with his mother). Fallen between the wall and the bedframe is the Wizard's spellbook:
    1. Contains the spells Charm Person, Ventriloquism, Knock, Curse, Termagants, and Geas. However, the book is bound like three silver spiral-bound notepads stuck side by side, and written in such a way that each pad contains a third of each spell, mixed up in a random order. When the wrong pages are matched up, the writing has a nonsensical meaning. If someone carefully studies the spellbook, they will realize that there is an extra page in each pad that doesn't correspond to any other spell, and can be cast from as a scroll. If used in this way, it curses the caster to be sexually impotent.
  6. Teleportation Chamber. Materials sometimes appear in the center of an arcane circle. This is an out for the DM to explain how the gnolls get some of their supplies, so it's things like shaving straps, buckles, pots and pans, salt, and other things they can't find from foraging in the surrounding areas. 
    1. The gnolls suspect that the materials are sent by other servants of the wizard in a different part of the world, but they have no way of sending any messages back, since the teleporter is one-way. 
    2. In a desk near the entrance of the room is a 10" wand of polished rubberwood, magically connected to the ring in the Garderobe. If activated by the ring, make an encounter check roll, as the sound of the wand rattling in the drawer may alert anyone nearby.
  7. Gnoll Pub. Six gnolls cleaning out cups in a half-barrel of soapy water, straightening chairs, and stocking a bar. Barrels of sour beer are stacked in the center of the room. Behind the bar is a broadsword and 750 gold coins in a lockbox. The bartender, a gnoll called Blackjack, wears the key on a necklace. Stairs down to area 9.
  8. Repurposed Kennel. Straw and old dog beds pushed aside as four gnolls attempt to follow the Genius's blueprints to make his devices and models of his vehicles. Most of the blueprints have some fatal flaw, like a batwing apparatus and submarine, but there is a schematic for a circular tank vehicle that can fly high into the air by setting off successive charges of saltpeter, and if a safe form of descent can be engineered it shows promise.
  9. Lamp-lighter's Circuit. A procession of ten lamp-lighters walk in an eternal clockwise circle, wearing the floor smooth. They must stoop to cross under the aqueduct (area 10), and brook no attempts to stop them in their rite. Stairs at the south lead up to area 7.
  10. Waterfalling Aqueduct. Fed from an underwater stream, it carries the water from west to east, spilling down into area 16. It fills the upper third of the hallways of area 9 where it passes through, and someone could climb into it, though they would have to crouch to continue along it. In the east, it has a hidden offshoot leading to area 14.
  11. Flooded Basement. Water roughly 15 feet deep, with rough debris in the bottom. By custom, all torches of the Eternal Light that are extinguished by disaster are disposed of here. A shaft in the ceiling leads up to area 3.
  12. Workshop. Empty cauldron. Depleted potion supplies. A key to the hag-son’s lair sitting on a work table. The magically-inclined who study the work done here can deduce it is being used in an attempt to break the gnolls' curse. Notes can also be found describing the nature of the Eternal Light (area 19) but not its location.
  13. Deep Staircase. Along the wall is an intricate mosaic of the Eternal Light, a pair of initiates placing their blackened hands into it. On the middle landing are a pair of ferns in ornate granite plant stands carved to resemble surprised-looking faces. There is a 2-in-6 chance of stepping on a pressure plate that causes one face to spit flammable oil and the other to cough out a cloud of sparks. 
    1. Dungeon denizens like the lamplighters are aware of this trap and easily avoid it unless distracted by combat or similar issues.
  14. Shrine Duct. A narrow duct running off from the aqueduct opens to a vent shrine built around a hearth. This chamber serves as an occult connection with the surrounding area. If a fire is started here, it doesn't burn out and the terrain for 3 miles around becomes a volcanic plan. If the hearth is filled in, a mountain forms over the dungeon. If it is watered, the hex floods. Etc.
  15. Flue Duct. This narrow space comes to a shut flue damper in the ceiling. If opened, acid pours out of it, causing a save vs breath or take 3d6 damage. Further investigation after the acid has emptied reveals that there are four glass bottles secured to the walls of the flue—  two random potions, a treasure map leading to a nearby hex, and a faded cursive description of the duct shrine.
  16. Flooded Street. Half-covered in a scenic carpet of algae, but it is disturbed on the west side where water falls in from the aqueduct on an upper level. Narrow wooden beams along the perimeter of the street serve as walkways. Those who investigate the water see that the street has fallen into a large underground lake, and it is very deep. For every minute spent near the edge of the water, there is a 1-in-6 chance of a giant fish attack. There are four rubbery red shark-sized cave fish, but only one will go after someone near to the water at a time. Stats as giant weasels, but they swim.
    1. If PCs wish to explore the underground lake, they will find it is large and deep enough that they will need some way to breathe underwater. It eventually connects to more underground caves, so this could serve as a connection to another dungeon. However, scattered at the bottom of the lake are coins, gems, and treasures worth about 7,000 gold coins.
  17. Sanctum. A nest of pulleys, ropes, and pallets of tools, gizmos, and struts. Here the gnoll genius Esaludda (HD4) and his two sons (one tall and one short) brainstorm ways out of their predicament.
    1. If needed, the tall son will resort to the Rope-Blade, an enchanted +1 arming sword with a chainsaw-like fitting for a hissing, fast-running oiled rope that ignites anything it touches with pure friction. The sword wears down about 30 feet of rope per fight.
  18. Funeral Mosaic. Tile mosaic depicting the wizard in all his glory, imagining his death preparations in a tile thought bubble, with eyes of circle-cut emeralds. 
    1. Attempting to pry the emeralds out activates a Claymore-style directional explosive in the part of the mural that resembles the wizard's sternum (5d6 damage in a cone, save vs breath for half). 
    2. Pressing one of the emeralds causes the mosaic wall to click open to reveal a well-preserved, beautiful polished walnut coffin with gilded handles (worth 500 gold coins, with a scroll of levitate object inside), as well as an ornate staff (1/day, cast summon servant), a folded up set of black silk robes and conical hat, and an unlabeled vial of deadly emetic poison.
  19. Eternal Light. White fire burns without fuel in a brazier in the center of the spartan chamber. Those who are burned by the flames must save or become a Lamplighter. If not dead yet, they lose the ability to see except by firelight, but fires they carry don't go out. They fail all saves vs spells but automatically succeed on saves vs wands. When they die, they return as an undead wretch, bound to the service of the Eternal Light.
    1. If the Lamplighters ever capture someone, they will take them here to induct them into their fellowship.
  20. Divination Room. Circular table covered in a green cloth, with a 10"-wide orb of swirling black, brown, and purple glass in the center. A chest stands against the west wall, and a fecal stink comes from the eastern door. 
    1. If the orb is touched with bare flesh or focused intently upon, there is a 3-in-6 chance of psychically contacting the Hag-Son's mother. On a positive reaction roll, she will offer a boon to a member of the party if they promise to aid her son (may tap once and make a save vs spells in place of an Open Doors roll). On a poor reaction roll, she will force a curse upon them (save vs spells or recoil from all glass).
    2. The chest contains a collection of tin soldiers and hand-crafted miniature creatures, including a dinosaur created by sanding the wings off of a dragon model. At the bottom can be found several pieces of a dollhouse and pinecones glued to stands to represent trees.
  21. Garderobe. Wizard's remains, covered in a blue dust, slumped over. His wizard viagra will give off spores if the body is disturbed— spell save or your heart explodes due to increased blood pressure. On a successful save, feel a rush of blood and headache which subsides in 1d4 hours. 
    1. The wizard wears a ring which magically connects to the wand in the Teleportation Chamber— rubbing it clockwise causes the wand to vibrate with increasing force, and counter-clockwise causes the vibration to subside.