Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Road to Pandemonium (+ A Bonus Poem)


Carl Ludwig Beutler

I had floated the idea of a pilgrimage hellcrawl using Ultraviolet Grasslands some months ago.

The good news is that this is that post.

The bad news is that this post is unnecessary. UVG in its default state requires so little actual modification for a proper hellcrawl. Just minor changes in aesthetic and name. My original plan of having lists of find and replace terms is undone by the sheer amount of material that does not need anything changed at all.

But, people want the post, so the post they shall have.

Phlox of Whose Measure God Could Not Take beat me to it.

This Hell is not the Hell I have written of before.

The Climate of Hell

The infernal regions are dominated by two primary biomes.

The Highlands are frigid desert plateaus, stripped nearly bare by biting winds and oxygen deprivation. A few hardy species can cling to life up here, but even then it is mostly razor-edged bone grass. The Highlands are the only source of clean water in hell (though it still has a strong sulfuric taste), and those oasis springs are the only way of surviving long-term in the region.

The Lowlands are unbearably hot, humid, and muggy. They are choked with fungal forests, corpse-mud fields, and dark, slow-flowing rivers. The air is heavy with spores and the omnipresent smell of rot. Here is where the bulk of the population of Hell is found. Life overflows here, and all of it in some way is dangerous.

The soil of Hell is scab-red and chalky, though in regions of great erosion bands of white, purple, orange, dun, and deep brown can be seen. It can harden into the consistency of concrete if water is added and it is swiftly baked dry. Close inspection will reveal fragments of compressed bone throughout; particularly dense deposits of the damned will be compressed into opalescent soulcoal.

The water of Hell is dark and thick with scum. A greasy sheen lies atop it, no matter how many times it is boiled or filtered. Even in its drinkable states, it is unpleasant, and bears an overwhelming taste of sulfur.

The sky of Hell is an angry red bruise, lit by the artificial sun Ixion. The black clouds grow thicker and last longer into the day as one approaches the Black City. When the clouds clear, it is possible to glimpses the corpses of angels, fallen and lawful alike, hanging in the emptiness between the crystal spheres.

The Peoples of Hell

Humans from Nations Beyond

Hell is, technically, unclaimed territory in these days. Nations of the outside world send their armies and agents into Hell, prospectors attempting to make it rich, the desperate come in droves for there is nowhere else to go.

Humans damned to Hell 

There aren't many any more. The last damnation was long ago, and those who bear the yoke will, in due time, grow so old and slow and still that they will cease animation entirely and sink into the ground to be compressed into soulcoal.

Humans born in Hell

Not much different from humans from nations beyond, save for their cracked grey skin and ember-colored eyes.


Exposure to Hell's environmental magics can lead to drastic changes in form and mind if one invites in the local powers. The most common ones are those inhabited by multiple demons working together as a sort of collective-mind.


The original inhabitants of Hell, before the angels cast from heaven came.


An incredibly indirect term. Can be used interchangeably between actual fallen angels (rare), vomes (inaccurate) or the malicious spirits of the dead (probably the most accurate).

The Pilgrimage

There is a black sea where the corpses of the fallen angels rest. On a spur of rock jutting out over that depthless water, there is a tiny chapel of Our Lady. It is the sole place of true rest in all of Hell, the one place of respite and deliverance from the weight of the world. But the way out is through. To reach that sanctuary, one must journey to the very center/end of the world - The Black City of Pandemonium.

Pilgrims will start in the city of Pilgrim's Progress, in the east of Hell along the coast of the Basin of Dis. The climate is mild enough here, the wall thick enough and the cats vigilant enough, to maintain a city-state of some size, though it is as far away from Pandemonium as it is possible to be. Some semblance of life as it was before Hell is possible here.

Once pilgrims pass through the Wicket Gate just outside the city, they can truly say that they have begun their journey.

From here, the hack is primarily a matter of find and replace names and aesthetics as you see fit.

The Pilgrims

  1. The Knight  - Scarred veteran of the Order of St. Lazarus.
  2. The Squire - The Knight's son. Head-in-the-clouds idealism.
  3. The Yeoman - Laconic hunter in the Knight's employ. Addicted to 4-Thieves Vinegar.
  4. The Prioress - A commanding figure. Romantically connected with the Friar. Pregnant.
  5. The Nun - Assistant to the Prioress. Niece of the Priest. Tired of being pushed around.
  6. The Priest - From the far north; a foreigner twice over in Hell. Uncle of the Nun.
  7. The Friar - Romantically connected with the Prioress. Knows what lies ahead.
  8. The Merchant - On the run from a past they will not elaborate upon.
  9. The Florentine - A neurotic poet of dreamlands and phantasms.
  10. The Sergeant at Arms - Eyepatch. Cigar. 3 bars and a crown on the sleeve.
  11. The Canon - An ordinary church bureaucrat, a dabbling alchemist and occultist.
  12. The Physician - From far away, taught by books most scholars thought lost.
  13. The Maid - Instructed by angels to pick up a sword.
  14. The Cook - Shady, shady fellow. Best not ask where meat comes from, in Hell.
  15. The Wife of Bath - Four ex-husbands, on the hunt for a fifth.
  16. The Miller - A large, crude individual, more clever than he lets on.
  17. Hanged Man - Killed three priests, escaped three nooses.
  18. Ratcatcher - Wherever there is plague or hunger, a ratcatcher's services are always is demand.
  19. Summoner - Laughably corrupt and obnoxious. Court summon, demon summons, package deal.
  20. Confessor - Exorcist and investigator. Dour. Silent. Waiting for someone.

Bonus Poem

Included because it is tonally relevant. No title that I could find, would have been initially written in 2014 for an assignment. Original version lost, though I don't think edits were made to the copy and the only changes I made from that to this are restructuring one line and replacing another. I know the assignment involved writing something using lines from other sources but I'd be damned if I can recall which ones I picked.


Fairest flower of gloomy Dis

in a gown of phoenix feathers

putting gunpowder in her tea

sitting on blue weirwood steps

on a slum-town stoop

watching the doughboys clean up the river

    of sludge that flows through the Cut

        where the barnacles and bonebriars and firelillies

            and flesh-bulb trees

        crowd around clap-board shacks and

        squat brick shithouses and

        canopies of shed-armor from the backs of


It is today that she polished her horns and

    painted herself red-on-grey

        and put a lily in her hair

            as the doughboys clean up the river

                that flows through the Cut,

    though the fumes would burn through their lungs

    if they ever took off their masks

        so even if they might be good men

        a long way from home

        she has never seen their faces

        though they always take time to wave as

        they pass by on their way to clean up the river

            that flows through the Cut.


Saturday, November 14, 2020

d20 Anomalous Media


"Family Reunion 1994" - Damaged VHS tape. Contents unrecoverable for the most part, save a seven-second interval. Four adults seated at a picnic table are startled from their seats by a fifth, running into the frame from the right.

Woman 1: What?

Man 3: It's in the woods!

Unidentified Voice 1: [Indiscernible]

Woman 2: [yelling] Shit!

The cameraperson swings the camera towards the tree line to the left. A vague grey shape can be seen in the distance, as well as a smaller shape believed to be an adult wearing a yellow shirt, but the camera's movement and poor focus renders the scene indiscernible for the half second it is on screen.


"The Subway Manuscript" - Untitled handwritten manuscript recovered by late-shift worker at a Subway restaurant in Newark New Jersey in November of 2010. ~446000 words, classical Arabic, describing an immense and elaborate personal cosmology through the form of erotic Supernatural fanfiction.


"Real Spiritualist Vampire Alien Spirit Psychic Secret Psychic Truth" -  Angelfire website recovered from private archival. Contents are, on the whole, incoherent nonsense, save for a section that accurately predicts (though does not name) the papal elections of Benedict XVI and Francis. Further investigation and extrapolation has indicated the document contains further predictions, including a five-month period wherein 14 different pontiffs are elected, one reference to giving birth on the high altar of St. John Lateran, and cutting off mid sentence after the 2088 election.


"The Exorcism of Emilia Brown" - CD-R with 16 music tracks. Single male vocalist playing acoustic guitar. 14 of the songs are connected to the titular event, describing the circumstances, lead-up, and event from different character perspectives. Track 15 contains two minutes one second of crickets and rustling grass. Track 16 consists of a low polyphonic drone (judged to be asemantic) with no musical accompaniment.


"three Deer Decomposing on An Ugluy (Sic) Couch" - 83 hours of sfootage of three adult deer, deceased, decomposing on top of on a sagging, foam-green couch. Shot on stationary camera. The glow of a television illuminates the scene, through the entire length of the recordings, but the screen cannot be seen from the camera position and the audio is muddled and indiscernible. At 54:09:34, heavy footsteps can be heard from off-camera, accompanied by clanking chain and the slamming of a screen door.


"The Invasion of Elwood City" - Two-episode arc of Arthur detailing the arrival of a virulent alien organism in Elwood city, and the subsequent quarantine and evacuation. Despite subject matter, presentation and characterization do not radically differ from typical episodes. The "Now For A Word From Us Kids" interstitial of both episodes is replaced with static.


"The Spearpoint Video" - Field recording of paleontology dig. All speech is in Mandarin Chinese. Unidentified researcher points out the exposed femur of a juvenile sauropod, then focuses on what is clearly an obsidian spearpoint embedded in the fossil. Researcher calmly says "Listen closely, wait, and do not forget." before walking away from the digsite and out of sight over a ridge. Camera turns to watch, but operator does not follow.


"IhaveSeentheDoor" - Defunct Youtube channel. Only remaining evidence are screenshots dated to August of 2007. Channel description presented as "Readings from the Book of Gaub." Four videos are listed, all with <100 views: "Misaligned Components (Revised)", "The Delegation to the Court", " I Have Seen the Door" and "Teeth".


"Crisis on the Cursed Planet!" -  Episode of Captain Video and His Video Rangers centered around a space colony beset by an alien creature that devours memories. As the settlers lose their memories they grow increasingly paranoid and aggressive towards each other until fighting breaks out and the colony is destroyed. Episode ends with a new colony being founded as the creature watches from afar. Episode contains spliced-in western footage to pad for time typical of the series.


"The Drive Home" - 48 minutes of dashcam footage depicting a solitary drive at night. No oncoming traffic or signage is seen for the entirety of the footage. The driver (believed to be a man of middle age) speaks occasionally. Twice in French and the rest in Norwegian, with topics including repairs to a workshed, a new prescription for blood pressure medication, and complaints about American tourists.

At 43:20, the driver pulls over to the side of the road and exits the vehicle, leaving the engine and lights on. At 46:34 he emerges from the woods dragging a struggling nonhuman entity (seen to grow and absorb at least five limbs during this time) and shoots it four times with the revolver he is carrying. Entity lets out a long, sonorous wheeze. Driver fires two more shots and drags now-still entity out of sight. Dull thump heard, presumed to be the corpse heaved into the bed of a truck. Driver returns to seat and shuts off camera.


"The Dead Men" - Three heavily-damaged 10-inch 35 mm film reels. Reconstructed segments are primarily from the middle of the film, which portrays a military campaign against an unnamed, implacable, and seemingly inhuman enemy force, with characters hoping to rech a fortified city on the other side of enemy-held territory. Setting appears primarily late medieval period but has no direct reference to any historical places or people - all notable cultural markers seem to be diegetic. Characters are all either soldiers or camp followers in an ensemble cast. No actors can be identified. Brutal depictions of violence. Uses a constructed language for all dialogue, accompanied by English subtitles throughout. Estimated full run time 2 hours 48 minutes.


"[REDACTED] Chinese Food Stuffing On Back Porch" - Amateur fetish video linked to a terminated Clips4Sale account. Majority of runtime is taken up by recitation of the complete Secret Gospel of Mark in Koine Greek.


"Sermon 54" - Audio cassette tape of American Evangelical preacher performing revival service. Peppered throughout with references to recent events that do not match with consensus chronology, including "The Great Clean-Coming of '74", "Josiah who ate the Serpent", "Casting Down at the Sin Market", and the election of the Lord of the Flies to position of President of the UN General Assembly.


"The Sphinx" - Footage of an enormous black cat-like creature with an androgynous, bright red human face, grooming itself. The surrounding room is dark, but it can be determined that it is sitting in a corner on top of a pile of books, with shelves on either wall. At the end of the 3 minute 10 second video, the creature will present one of 108 different riddles to the viewer.


"frog_fractions4.exe" - 1.3 TB executable file found among the former possessions of one [REDACTED], who had taken up a solitary ascetic life in a mountain cabin some six months before discovery of the file.


"Lavender Town Anomalous Experience # 458" - A Pokemon Blue cartridge containing a multilevel subterranean complex beneath Lavender Town. Total extent unknown, maximum depth reached is level 43. All wild Pokemon encounters are portrayed with the ghost sprite, each with a unique type combination and moveset. Trainer encounters are difficult and likewise feature nonstandard mechanics.


"Lupae" ("The Wolves") - Papyrus scroll recovered from the villa of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus in Herculaneum, containing a period-appropriate adaptation of Mean Girls for the stage. Specific cultural references have been exchanged for more appropriate content and stage directions have been added, but the remainder of the work remains intact.


"2020 RNC Video Hijacking" - Unidentified woman wearing a rubber rottweiler mask sits in swivel chair, feet on desk, playing a Nintendo Switch. Second woman's voice heard from off screen. lines in angle brackets was later identified as a mix of Ojibwe and Uzbek.

Woman 2: <The camera's on.>

Woman 1: <You sure? Doesn't look on.>

Woman 2: <Little green light, right near the bottom.>

Woman 1: <Ah, shit, there it is.> [Looks at camera, clears throat. Sings in English while clapping hands, to the refrain of the Battle Hymn of the Republic]: "It's a motherfucking brown note, it's a motherfucking brown note, it's a motherfucking brown note, I hope you brought spare pants!"

Versions of the video taken from live newscasts of the event include the mass expulsion of fecal matter by all present. 


"" - Video file of three doctors operating on cadaver of adult male. The following organs are removed from the cadaver's abdominal cavity over the course of the footage: four lungs, five livers, eighteen kidneys, three gallbladders, three spleens, one pancreas a stomach, an estimated 45 meters of intestinal tract, and a heart containing a second trimester human fetus.


"Episode ####" - Episode of Sesame Street wherein Big Bird, Grover, and Snuffy investigate rumors of a stranger who has arrived in the neighborhood, described as being very tall, very thin, wearing a very nice suit, and not having a face. The being is seen in the background of multiple scenes prior to its full reveal, where the trio come to realize that they have nothing to fear from the strange, tall man. Content is generally tonally consistent with non-anomalous episodes, save an instance where Big Bird emphatically reinforces the importance of knowing your family's fire plan, not wandering in the woods at night, and always asking before taking photographs of strangers. The tall stranger remains silent throughout the episode, though other characters act as if they can hear him speak.

While the tall man is clearly a puppet, it performs several maneuvers (including one scene where it must contort itself through a doorway) beyond even the ability of the Jim Henson Company.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Play Report: Ironsworn

Third of my solo game experiences is Ironsworn. (See also Barbarian Prince and 1k Old Vampire.)

For my first run-through, I am playing things rather by the book (ie, not doing anything crazy with the setting). These printouts were an absolute lifesaver and I absolutely recommend you use them if you don't have a hard copy of the book, and maybe even if you do.

Prenthetical roll notations should be read as ([Move type] d6 + modifier vs d10 & d10). The goal is to have the d6+ modifier be higher than one or both of the d10 challenge dice.


I will be playing Garum, a fisherman from the barrier islands and a descendant of the Red Heron family that was part of the great exodus from the old country four generations before.

I only settled on two Truths for this demo run

  • There was a mass exodus from the Old World during a period of societal collapse. No ships have crossed the sea for the last three generations.
  • Civilization is mostly small village circles

I have 5 Health, 5 Spirit, 5 Supply, and 2 Momentum. My assets are:

  • Skirmisher (Good with spears)
  • Waterborn (Good with boats and aquatic things)
  • Storyweaver (Good with storytelling and oral history)

Beginning the Quest

Garum has heard from some of the other fishermen of a shipwreck further down the barrier islands - a vessel of a kind no one has ever seen before, flying under the image of a red heron.

We open when Garum lays eyes on the ship, half-shattered and torn by the sharp rocks, but high enough up that the waves and tides can't yet dislodge it.

The ship sits broken on the rocks, out of reach of the waves and tides for now. The red heron of Garum's ancestral family He calls out in case there might be some survivors, but finds what he expects: nothing. The ship had been wrecked for over a week at this point and it's unlikely any of the sailors had survived.

He attempts to bring his little fishing boat safely to the ship's side 

(Face Danger 9 vs 5 & 6. Strong Hit, +1 Momentum, current 3) 

and succeeds. He won't be able to for long, but long enough to search the ship.

There is, unfortunately, not much left. The typical detritus of a ship, all tumbled around and broken. But, in the back cabin, he is able to find a family banner, a book wrapped in oilskin, a few trinkets, and a jasper idol of the red heron. He tucks these items away in his pack. He is intrigued by the book, but cannot read more than basic words in the local script - this calls for wiser eyes.

Garum swears an iron vow to see these goods back to his family's home circle in the Havens.

(Swear an Iron Vow 6 vs 4 & 1. Strong hit, +2 Momentum, current 5)

But that is a very long way away.

The first step will be to reach to coast. Whitebridge is the nearest fjord-circle and has a well-maintained road. Garum sets off immediately - it will be several days still. (This journey, crossing the sea from the barrier islands to the fjordlands, will take 5 steps to complete)

(Undertake Journey 6 vs 6 & 1. Weak Hit, -1 Supply, current 4)

Garum is able to reach a waypoint island, and attempts to push on and knock out another leg while the sun is still up.

(Undertake Journey 3 vs 4 & 7. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 Spirit, current 4)

A sudden squall forces him to remain on the islet and take shelter under an overhang for the night.

(Make Camp 7 vs 5 & 3. Strong Hit. +1 Spirit, current 5, +1 to next Secure an Advantage)

With the dawn, Garum makes careful preparation in reading the wind and weather.

(Secure an Advantage 8 vs 9 & 7. Weak hit, +1 Momentum, current 6)

And sets off

(Undertake Journey 4 vs 1 & 8. Weak hit. -1 Supply, current 3)

(Undertake Journey 7 vs 6 & 1. Strong Hit.)

(Undertake Journey 4 vs 10 & 10. Critical Miss. Pay the Price. -2 Supply, current 1)

On the last stretch, catastrophe strikes. A sudden squall drives Garum off course, and rough waves wash much of his supplies out into the sea. The goods from the ship remain intact, but 

(Undertake Journey 3 vs 8 & 7. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 Supply, current 0. -1 Spirit, current 4)

The storm does not let up, and Garum's nautical skills fail him. He crashes upon the rocky shore, with nothing but the oilskin bundle, his fishing spear, and his sodden clothing.

Garum is now Unprepared.
He attempts to forage for food in the storm's aftermath, but finds nothing

(Resupply 3 vs 4 & 3. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 Health, current 4)

After a few fitful hours of sleep, he heads south down the coast, towards where he believes Whitebridge to be.

(Undertake Journey 6 vs 7 & 9. Miss. Pay the Price. -1 health, current 3.)

Lost and starving, Garum stumbles through the hills

(Undertake Journey 7 vs 6 & 6. Strong Hit. +1 Momentum, current 7.)

But fate smiles at last, and he reaches Whitebridge. He is finally able to rest in safety and, pawning off a few of the minor trinkets that may not have any actual connection to his family, put himself back on his feet.

(Sojourn 6 vs 3 & 5. Strong Hit. +1 Supply, current 1. +2 Health, current 5)

The next day, Garum devotes himself to making more preparations for the journey. He tells of his quest to folks in the marketplace, to find sympathetic ears and to get guidance on the path ahead. His storytelling gets him many listeners.

(Secure an Advantage 9 vs 3 & 8. Strong Hit. +1 Momentum current 8)
But they are not all friendly. Local gossips spread word of the mad fisherman babbling on about the heritage of the Old World before Garum is able to even explore town that day, and he has to put all of his ability and focus into fighting away the rumors.

(Sojourn 3 vs 4 & 6. MOMENTUM BURN. Strong Hit. +2 Supply. +2 supply. Current 5)

With supplies replenished, it is time for Garum to set off on the overland part of his journey.

But that's a different time, as this is the end of my demo play.

Final Thoughts

  • Sweet baby Jesus and on his cute little tricycle why do I keep starving in these games.
  • I don't like how Momentum was presented - either I forgot that I could use it, or I was confused at what exactly happened when I did use it.
    • While writing this review I found someone on reddit saying that you can ignore the verbage of "cancelling challenge dice" when you burn momentum and treating your action die as = your momentum when you burn. This, I feel, is much more sensible as a descriptor.
  • I don't think I like the background vow element. This is likely just part of how it is framed, because it's both very large and not tied to any specific moves.
  • The lowest difficulty combat or quest doesn't divide evenly among the 10 progress boxes (as you mark 3 boxes per stage) and that annoys the hell out of me.
    • Edit: it was later revealed to me that it is not necessary to fill out all 10 boxes, a fact I likely would have caught had I been reading the normal pdf instead of the summary.
  • "Sojourn", should be renamed to "Business Around Town" or something like that.
  • There's no way (in the rules as written) to translate "boxes of progress" into time or distance on journeys. I defaulted to somewhere around half a day to a full day of travel. This would be alleviated if I was using a hex map and handwaving it to parasangs.
    • Honestly, having a set map feels like it would be a marked improvement in the proceedings.
    • I should have written up a map with waypoints.
  • Pettiest of complaints: I don't like the default setting. This will cease to be an issue in a short amount of time but I feel it should be said that part of my reluctance to actually play this game (other than the pdf size) was the faux-norse setting
    • However, I do very much like how the game gives a chapter for the player to determine the truths of their particular version of the setting, whether premade choices or their own devising, cleanly separated into important topics. This is good, more games ought to do this.

All this complaining hides the fact that I actually very much like this ruleset and concept. It's very much in the strict, video-game like mechanics of Barbarian Prince, just approaching from a different angle. In some places I like Barbarian Prince a bit more (the set map), even with its clunkiness, but in others the dial slwings back to Ironsworn. It's good stuff, I would like to do more of it, with a few tweaks here and there. There's a lot of potential out there for setting hacks and playing around with lists of Truths. 

Or playing around with the beta material for Starforged, the upcoming sci-fi version.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Class: The Wudu-Wasa (5th Public Conversion Project)

(Diregrizzlybear suggested OSRfying 5e subclasses over on their blog. Lacking drive for any other posts, this is precisely what the chirugeon ordered.)


Class: Wudu-Wasa

HD: d10 
Saves: as Cleric
Starting Equipment: Staff, sturdy clothing (as gambeson), medicine bag, oral tradition

You are one of the forest folk, specifically one of those tasked with maintaining your people's relationships with the outside world. You wander between deep country villages both as doctor and shaman - setting bones, stitching wounds and delivering babies, but also dealing with troublesome spirits, tending to the shrines, and making sure that the great and delicate order of things is upheld. 

Class Abilities

The Big Picture: You have a deep knowledge of the environmental cycles and systems of your homeland, and can identify any living things within it. 

Medicine Bag: You have at any given time (and know where to look for more), herbs for alertness, for sleep, for pain reduction, for disinfecting wounds, and for birth control. See Fungi of the Far Realms for other things you can add to your bag while tramping through the woods.

You may also use the contents of your bag to perform Cure Light Wounds, but will need to dedicate time to replenish your supplies after each usage.

Broad of Shoulder - You have item slots equal to twice your Constitution.
Wood-Arts - You have an innate sensitivity to dedicated ground, the presence of spirits, enchantments, and the aftereffects of worked magic cast since the last sunrise or nightfall.
To Go Unseen - You make make yourself  not invisible but easily overlooked in when in a forested area, tall grass, and with some effort a city or crowd. This ability does not make you invisible or prevent detection, but it will make typical passersby look past and ignore you. The effect will be broken with speech or sudden movements (attacking, running).
Green Speech - You can be understood by animals and plants, though they cannot make themselves understood to you. 

Spirit-Work - You can perform the summonings (calling forth) exorcisms (driving out), propitiations (appeasing), and channellings (inviting in) of spirits, according to the table below (stolen from Donn Stroud's The Lesser Key to the Celestial Legion)

When attempting to perform any of these works, roll 1d20 + your current level. (No rolls are needed for a propitiation if you have the correct offering - you only need to roll if you are trying something else.)
Any given spirit has (as per Arnold K) a sensory premonition, a manifestation, and a unique propitiation.
  • Ghost - The lingering spirit of a dead being.
    • Minor / Typical (DC 13), Major (DC 15)
  • Nature Spirit - Spirit of and bound to a place, ranging from geographic features to individual trees, stones, streams.
    •  Minor (DC 13) Typical (DC 15), Major (DC 17)
  • Demon - A chaotic unbound spirit.
    • Minor (DC 15), Typical (17) Major (18)
  • Herald - A spirit directed by the authority of a divinity
    • All (18)
Using 1 unit of holy water or incense will give +1/+2/+3 to the roll, depending on quality. Knowing the spirit's true name grants an additional +3

Monday, October 26, 2020

Babel Unmanutha (An Adventurer's Conlang) v.1


This originally came about from a twitter post by Luka Rejec, which was mostly about how the existence of unquestioned clerical magic leads to theocratic totalitarianism and how PCs would be folks on the fringes of society. That didn't pan out precisely as I had wanted, but it got me to fall down the rabbit hole of Conlang Critic and Biblardion so it's not all bad.

This isn't meant to be for a specific setting, though since it originated with some words I use in Mother stole fire, there's at least a small bit of my personal idiom for flavoring.

1. Phonetic Inventory 

Vulgar is a great tool for this.

The consonants are not particularly out there - the only one that isn't found in typical English is the rolled r. G is always hard. Th is unvoiced (as in myth, rather than that)

Vowels are the standard 5, for simplicity's sake: a (ah), e (ey), i (ee), o (oh), u (oo). There are no dipthongs, so if you see two vowels next to each other, they are pronounced separately.

Syllable structure is (C)V(C).

2. Syntax

  • Word order is Subject | Verb | Object, because I am a basic babby, but I don't think SOV is too big a stretch or difficulty.
  • Nouns are head-leading, so adjectives follow the noun they modify.
  • Compound words are common, and typically drop some letters from the middle syllables.
  • Adjectives can be used as nouns themselves, with or without a suffix. (i.e. "big" with no noun to modify would be "a big thing".)
  • Adverbs don't really exist on their own - adjectives are simply placed after the verb as they would be after a noun (so there would be no difference between "quick" and "quickly"). Prepositions are treated the same way.

For a practical example

"Joseph's large brown dog jumped over the frozen creek"

would be rendered as

"dog large brown [of, belonging to] Joseph  {evidentiality] jump [tense marker] over creek frozen"

3. Grammar


By default, nouns are ungendered. If specification is desired, prefixes are added: a- for female, e- for male. o- may be used for specifically nongendered, but this is typically (but not always) reserved for specific priesthoods.


  • Two things: -e, -pe
  • Some things: -in, -n
  • Many things: -atha, -tha

There is no strict rule as the difference between "some" and "many", but the dividing line is generally whether or not it can be counted on the fingers.

Connection and Possession

 "Of" might be rendered in two different prefixes attached to the possessing noun, which followed the possessed noun.

  • Connection or relation: Adi-
    • Used to denote a non-possessive relationship - familial bond, citizenship, etc.
  • Possession: Un-
    • Used to denote possession of an object. Never used when the subject is a person.


Pronouns use normal plural endings.

  • I / Me: Ji
  • We / Us (Inclusive): je, jin, jatha
  • We / Us (Non-inclusive): ije, ijin, ijatha
  • You (sing): Ki
  • You (pl): ke, kin, katha
  • They (sing): Ri
  • They (pl): re, rin, ratha
  • It (sing): Ni
  • It (pl): ne, nin, natha


Tense is marked by adding an auxiliary after the primary verb. While these originated as individual words, they have been since turned into suffixes, though sometimes a separate word is still used..

  • Present - (/)
  • Past - desh, -esh
  • Future - eo
  • Potential - una, -na
  • Habitual - ota, -ta


These are special words used to specify the source of information, which are added as a prefix to the verb.

If the prefix is left out, it is because the information is either completely trivial, obvious to all present, or direct experience where specificity would not be needed (ie: "It's cold today", when one can see their breath)

  • Via direct experience: zef-, ze-
  • Via inference: aji-, aj-
  • Via hearsay (trusted): ibi-, ib-
  • Via hearsay (not trusted): mur-, mu-


Inquiry is marked by the inclusion of "ena" at the beginning of a sentence, plus tone and context. This can be modified for more specificity.

  • Enam - a question about a person
  • Enaj - a question about a place
  • Enash - a question about a thing
  • Enap - a question about time
  • Enaz - a question about purpose


Suffixes added to the ends of words

  • Practitioner of: -t, -et
  • Inhabitant of: -do, -ido
  • Tool that does: -cha, -acha
  • Place of noun or verb: -je, -aje
  • Noun -> Verb (to act like a): -s, -as
  • Noun -> Adjective (characteristics of): -n, -an 
  • Verb -> Noun (the act of): -lev, -ev
  • Diminutive: -fio, -io
  • Augmentative: -zar, -ar


A (very, very very very inadequate and in-progress) word list can be found here. It's barely a thing, it's certainly not speakable, I am going to brute-force a lot of words with Vulgar...but it's fun all the same.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Troika Background: Radical Anarchist Catgirl



Many apologies to everyone, especially David Prokopetz, whose game I am shamelessly ripping off. 

Lexi beat me to my own post, but I am okay with that. I was playing Outer Wilds at the time. Plus, I like this better as a Troika background.

Unlike most other Troika backgrounds, this one is put together in pieces, and you assign point values to the skills as you go (I am presuming a default of 9-10 skill points)

Background: Radical Anarchist Catgirl

You are a catgirl. You are also a radical anarchist. The world's gone right to shit. You have taken things into your own hands. L'Internationale is on your lips. The way is lit, the path is clear. It's ride or die time.

Why do you have cat ears? Precisely what anarchist band do you belong to? Who gives a shit, there's work to be done.

(Important to note that catgirls may be of any gender, of course: catlad and catenby are perfectly valid descriptors for those who choose them)

Starting Possessions 

  • Go bag (burner phone, painkillers, caffeine pills, disinfectant, water purification tablets, flashlight, emergency flare, pepper spray, cash, baggie of recreational drugs of your choosing, revolutionary pamphlets, handcuffs, etc)
  • Weapon of your choice
  • Fistful of Sharp (ie your claws, as a knife)
  • Idiom-appropriate casual outfit
  • Tactical vest / tactical gambeson (as modest armor)

d66 Personal Idioms

This is your deal, your gimmick, your essential distilled character archetype.

11) Team Mom

  • Gain Diplomacy, Wrangling, or Danger Sense
  • You have a bag of snacks and something someone else forgot to pack. 

12) Chonk

  • Gain Adorable.
  • You have a disarming, easily-underestimated demeanor.

13) Stronk

  • Gain BIG AND STRONG.  
  • You have immense quantities of protein shake.

14) Magical Girl   

  • Gain a Spell of your choice. 
  • You have a transformation sequence and an animal sidekick.   

15) Goth

  • Gain Secret Dark Knowledge
  • You have a notebook of dark poetry and occult tattoos. 

16) Bookworm 

  • Gain Overabundance of Trivia
  • You have a large book. In fact, you have entirely too many large books.

21) History Buff

  • Gain Period-Appropriate Knowledge
  • You have several period-appropriate artifacts and a bitter rivalry with another historian.

22) Punk

  • Gain Fight the Power.
  • You have spray paint and a camera-fooling haircut-makeup combo.

23) Heavy Metal Queen

  • Gain Real OG
  • You have a killer sound system and permanent hearing damage.

24) Delinquent

  • Gain Ruffian Persona
  • You have cigarettes and a pompadour.

25) Maximum Tsun

  • Gain Intimidating as Shit.
  • You have a supportive letter from your friends at anger management counseling.

26) Ice Queen

  • Gain Withering Gaze
  • You have a university education and  designer sunglasses.

31) Space Cadet

  • Gain Loopy Loon Logic
  • You have an astronaut helmet, and a big book about space.

32) Bright-Eyed Newbie

  • Gain Air of Innocence
  • You have a birthday card from someone back home.

33) Scarred Veteran

  • Gain War Stories
  • You have many scars and the fragments of many languages.

34) Runaway Nun

  • Gain Mission from God.
  • You have a stolen saintly relic and a book of liberation theology.

35) The Chipper One

  • Gain Talk About Anything, Forever
  • You have boundless enthusiasm and endless hyperfocus.

36) Lazybones

  • Gain High-Inertia Semiliquid
  • You have sweatpants

41) Alcoholic

  • Gain Alcoholic Savant 
  • You have a bottle of strong booze.

42) Witch

  • Gain a Spell of your choice. 
  • You have a pointy hat, sturdy boots, and a shamble

43) Tech-head

  • Gain Grey Hat Hacker
  • You have a high end computer and a porn hoard.

44) Pirate

  • Gain High Seas Nautical Chicanery
  • You have an astoundingly impressive hat and a actual goddamn ship cannon.

45) Arsonist

  • Gain Pyromania.
  • You have a box of matches and a can of oil.

46) Driver

  • Gain Drive Like a Lunatic
  • You have a car. It is not, currently, on fire. 

51) Beggar Knight

  • You have a broken sword and a begging bowl.

52) Battle Cook

  • Gain Meal out of Anything.  
  • You have a ominous cleaver and a heavy apron. 

53) Artist

  • Gain Dsicerning Eye.  
  • You have a work in progress and a completed work. One is good and no one else likes it, one is bad and everyone else likes it.

54) Prima Donna

  • Gain Eyes on Me
  • You have an immaculate voice and a lawyer. 

55) Ninja? Sure, I guess

  • Gain Master of Stealth
  • You have a bright orange jumpsuit and a special move name for everything.

56) NEET

  • Gain Terminally Online
  • You have an army's worth of ramen and a body pillow of yourself.

61) Pop Idol

  • Gain Song and Dance Routine
  • You have at least one crazed fan and a bodyguard named Big Leroy.

62) Actual Cat

  • Gain Perfectly Ordinary Domestic Cat
  • You have a feathery toy and an unceasing hatred for all life beyond yourself.

63) Cyborg

  • Gain Cyberbrain.
  • You have a robot arm and a baggie of anti-rejection meds.

64) Blaseball Star Player

  • Gain Eldritch (Splorts) Knowledge
  • You have a blaseball bat and a miniature black hole.

65) Manic Pixie Dream Terrorist

  • Gain Homemade Explosives
  • You have a penchant for sudden, dramatic entrances in the lives of strangers.

66) Abomination in the Eyes of God 

  • Gain Anathema
  • You have a deconsecrating aura and the terror of angels, demons, priests, and cultists. There is no visible outward reason why.

Combat Expertise: Pick one of the following skills.

  • Tactician - Making sure everyone goes where they need to.
  • CQC Specialist - Right up in their face.
  • Reconnaissance - Scouting behind enemy lines
  • Wetwork - Covertly getting your hands dirty.
  • Cyber-Ops - Fucking around with computers.
  • Sniper - hitting small things from far away.
  • Heavy Weapons - More dakka.
  • Tank - Hits hard, takes hard hits, draws aggro
  • Field Medic - Bite the bullet this is going to get unpleasant
  • Frontline - This catgirl kills fascists.

Weapon Skills: Pick one. Refluff according to taste, as all you really need to care about is the damage range and handedness.

Basic Skills

Pick any number of the following to fill out the rest of your character.

  • Swiftpawe - Quick reflexes, falling gracefully
  • Eyes and Ears - Extended senses.
  • Suss Out the Fash - A finely-tuned field of Detect Authoritarian Intent
  • Mother of Improvisation - Cobbling together solutions from items on hand.
  • Crowdwork - Getting people marching in the right direction
  • Political Theory - Someone needs it, probably.
  • Anime Bullshit - All-purpose style over substance.

You are now ready.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Further Alien Beings

Brent Hollowell


Previous installments can be found here and here.

They have names now!


Hunchbacked hairless bipeds evolved from migratory herd omnivores. Cream colored underbelly, red-rust tortoiseshell dorsal pattern. Four huge black eyes, bracketed by bone plates, dominate an otherwise-featureless head. Retractable feeding apparatus. Language sounds between flute and pipe organ, can communicate easily over significant distance. Larger clades use a knuckle-walking gait. Climate shifts early in their development left them in an environment bereft of apex predators, but also subject to extreme seasonal variation, resulting in a tendency towards long-term planning, evenhanded resource allotment, and inter-communal cooperation.


Large, sessile radiotropes similar in structure to barnacles. Thick metallic shells provide armoring against predators and radiation. Vast fuligin petals absorb as much radiation as possible. Excess energy is transmitted out as shortband radio signals used for communication. Evolved on the meridian of a tidally-locked world orbiting a red dwarf: Those adapted for other worlds will require supplemental sources of energy, and have been used as radioactive waste containment in certain settlements.


Colonial nanotechlife existing as two-dimensional images inhabiting solid surfaces, typically the walls of buildings. Forms and colors are variable, ranging from abstract to realistic. Colonies regularly migrate. Can perceive third dimension through visual, auditory, and electrochemical senses, but must communicate through displayed text.


Similar in shape to a stocky, eight-limbed otter. Hundreds of known coat patterns and styles. Possess little in terms of material culture or tool use. About as intelligent as a small child, but capable of following complex directions without error and gifted with learning languages. Instinctively form strong social bonds with juveniles of other species. Believed to be a neogenic or uplifted species, or the descendants of one, used as pets or household guardians.


Self-replicating fast food chain restaurant. Subterranean modules of the machine organism are devoted to food production, with above-ground levels used to host guests. Can grow to encompass up to half a dozen above-surface levels and host up to a thousand individuals at any given time. Will clone and cyborg staff from the local species.


Predatory bipeds from a low-gravity world. Wedge-shaped heads, very long limbs. Can keep up a loping stride with low effort over long distances at a steady speed. Nocturnal: enormous eyes and ears, both extremely sensitive. Hollow bones - flexible and light, but easily broken. Silent. Deep blue-black coloration.

*Bottom Feeders*

Pallid, eyeless, sluglike beings about the size of a walrus, their lumpy heads an eruption of. manipulative tendrils and feeding gills. Feed off marine detritus and abyssal chemical vents. The necessity of a high-pressure environment means that unmodified populations will always be at considerable distance from other species, some shallow-water and even amphibious clades have been engineered.


Dome-shaped crustacean-analogs with a heavy metallic shell, about a foot and a half across. Scavenger-generalists. Capable of both swimming and digging to avoid predators and the common solar flares of their homeworld. When interacting with other species, they will typically use a vaguely-humanoid robotic body operated by an individual riding in the stump of the neck.


Shards of artificial diamond strung together by a network of gold smartmatter filaments. Will take forms of trees, crystal matrices, the vague shapes of animals. Have made no direct network links with any other machine intelligence, preventing any observation of their internal mental organization - communicate instead by vibrating components to produce sound waves. Typically seen on board the vessels of other species. 


Wear human form like ill-fitting clothing, seemingly on purpose - corpulent bodies, stick-slender arms with too many joints and too many fingers. Broad, elongated faces poke out from beneath silken hoods. Skin the white of curdled milk, studded with shards of precious stones. Merchants of a sort, buying and selling unique goods of immense value and obtuse purpose.


Clade of interplanetary vessels. Narrow profiles. Sharp, angular hulls. At the center of each vessel is a large, fluid-filled chamber containing the organic component of the ship; an immense being appearing somewhat like a fetus with an elongated, serpentine abdomen, measuring from 20 to 80 feet from head to tail-tip.


Tall, muscular bipeds that have retained the sturdy chitinous plating of their crustacean-analog ancestors. Abdominal swimmerets repurposed into mating displays. Inflatable throat pouch to produce intimidating noise. Six of eight arms are vestigial. Victims to a runaway militarist monoculture that has utterly destroyed both their home biopsphere and most traces of any earlier cultures. Not particularly good at war, due to the monoculture doing its best to undermine logistics, medicine, and tactics.


Rubbery wormlike beings possessing a cartilaginous endoskeleton, allowing them to grow to several meters in length at the largest and pursue an amphibious lifestyle. Dorsal surface carpeted with waving tentacles covered in paralyzing nematocysts. Typically hosts and protects smaller aquatic creatures in exchange for pest removal. Will rear up to display underbelly coloration (usually for attracting mates or threatening rivals) and mouthparts when interacting with other species, as this best approximates a face. Longer manipulatory and sensory cilia make up the anterior end and drape down the back when in raised stance.


Shuffle about on three stumpy legs. Grey-blue skin sags in wrinkles and folds, as if it is too big for the creature. Cartilaginous crests flush with color to display emotion. Immense eyes. Six delicate arms and hands, arranged radially, slip in and out of hidden pockets. tend to wear computer screens displaying smiley faces when dealing with humans. Symbiotic, droplet-shaped machine-life drones nest on them Three sexes: two male and one incubator that, while sterile, gestates and gives birth. Males can transition to incubators as they age, or when needed by population pressures.

*Red Queens*

Immense oceanic creatures filling a similar niche to terragen whales. Bright red in coloration, similar to the waters of their homeworld. Pods ruled over by the largest and oldest females. Males are much smaller, faster swimmers, and have a shorter lifespan. Initial observations were colored by an early instance of a leading female breaking away from the pod to bite the head off of of a male from another pod, for reasons still only presumed.


Machine-life derived from adaptive virtual-reality consoles. Host simulations designed for therapeutic use by providing a safe outlet for aggression. Most common variant is a single-occupant capsule. Generally spring up in clusters in urban environments. The actual intelligence will rarely appear within the simulation, and in those cases will take forms and methods of communication appropriate to the participant. Tend towards stable tripartite organization.


Pallid, vaguely humanoid vacuumorphs. One to three head-analogs on sinuous necks - no outward features, packed with exotic sensory organs. Immense bodies clinging to the sides of spaceships with even greater wings stretching out a dozen times their bodies length, black on one side orange on the other. Planet-bound varieties perch on buildings like gargoyles.


Squat quadrupedal bodies with glistening, greasy skin and wide mouths filled with flat, grinding teeth. Thick coats of cilia. Enormous, luminous eyes. Bury themselves in mud to avoid the heat of the day. Accompanied always by a small, brightly colored flier covered in tufts of proto-feathers. The exact nature of the symbiosis is yet to be determined,


Three too-thin legs, black. A small, round body, rust-red. A long, curved, bony false-head like a bird’s beak or mosquito proboscis. A loop of bone atop the fake skull. The brain and true organs are all compacted into the central body. Skittish, tend to flee at high speed when startled. Are starlted by most things.

*[Nomen Pending]*

A large, fleshy blob, roughly spherical, 20-30 feet in circumference. skin covered in flexible, ceramic scales as if a mosaic. Patterns of blue, white, and gold, swirl across flabby flanks. In lower-gravity environments they might fill their inner chambers with buoyant gas and float above the ground - these clade possess manipulator tendrils on the ventral pole. Will use members of other species exclusively as proxies for communication.

*Echidna Machines*

Derived long-ago from aquatic echinoderms, now used as surrogates to provide multi-species reproductive and modification services. Instrumental in the standardization of microbiomes and genetic modifications for species that share living space (for such a thing is impossible on a large scale without mass intervention over generations). The smallest individuals have six incubation chambers and weigh about a quarter of a ton - the largest known specimen covers a square kilometer.


Biologically immortal. Progress through a repeating life cycle of 6-10 stages depending on clade, each stage lasting 50-200 years. Some memories and personality traits are maintained through metamorphosis, though fading fully after 3-4 transitions. Stages are generally bipedal, though some with longer metamorphosis times can more radically alter bone structure.