Friday, June 30, 2017

Gobs and Hobs

by Jesper Elsing



Oi me boys, me hobs and me gobs
We got us some jobs ta do!
The gangly big blokes have got swollen heads
And need to get knocked down a few pegs!

Down to the town, me gobbos, me hobbos
Joke and jape away an’ afar!
Spare no one the sting
Give ‘em a zing
And turn the damn pile on its head!

What has it got in its pocketses?

  1. A piece of string and a dead rat
  2. Five wedding rings
  3. A colorful caterpillar collection
  4. Mushroom sandwich
  5. Flask of moonshine
  6. Flask of moonshine (literal)
  7. Handful of sheep’s eyes
  8. Pet lint spirit
  9. Saint’s stolen fingerbone
  10. Loaded dice (always come up 1 and 6)
  11. The deed for a large bridge, legitimate
  12. Gigantic tricorn with ostrich feathers (folds up neatly)
  13.  Emblem of one of the lost goblin kings
  14. Firecracker grenade
  15. Ruby the size of an egg, is actually a type of fruit
  16. Receipt from the Market for kitten whiskers and maids’ tears
  17. Pipe, tobacco, cleaning kit
  18. Bottle of Dr. Lugubrious Hob’s Miracle Tonic
  19. Rust-dust from a hero’s sword
  20. A very confused badger

What are they planning?
  1.  Maiden flight of bovine-powered aircraft
  2. Weasel-Stomping Day
  3.  Flood local schoolhouse with ice cream
  4. Kidnap local prince’s bride-to-be, replace with troll
  5. Re-instate fish dueling in the courts
  6. Curse everyone to talk backwards
  7.  Bringing powdered wigs back in style
  8. Operation: Emperor’s Got No Clothes
  9.  Introducing democracy by means of everyone throwing rotten vegetables at everyone else
  10. Instituting the Diet of Worms
  11. Steal everyone’s left shoe, hide them all at the tops of trees
  12. Stand on each other’s shoulders, wear overcoats and sheets, descend upon townsfolk
  13. Mass chaos and disarray, with explosions
  14. Drag races
  15. Replace king’s crown with live groundhog during dinner
  16. Wide scale protests for / against topic they refuse to tell people about
  17. Seduce the youth of today with their hippity-hop big-band ragtime music
  18. Found Church of the Great Cosmic Pierogi
  19. Countywide spellcheck graffiti campaign
  20.  Something completely different
Who’s your broodmother?
  1. Famous opera singer and notorious Munchausen
  2. Hidden from sight behind spider-silk veils, crossword fiend
  3.  Permanently out to lunch
  4. Dreams of exploring, collects maps instead
  5. Lives in and moves about by a Rube Goldberg machine
  6. Biggest fan of the local sports team
  7.  Friend of giant eagles, skydives regularly
  8. Amateur comedian. Not good, but willing to take criticism.
  9. Maintains a 30,000 strong live butterfly collection
  10. Has organized the entire warren as a living musical show.
by Ariel Perez

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The HAUL Reviews: Yoon-Suin


+David McGrogan’s Yoon-Suin is a southeast-Asian inspired build-your-own campaign setting with more tables than an IKEA. It is a campaign supplement of a very specific sort, enough so that I can't think of any others in the category.

Yoon-Suin is adaptable: it could be used on its own, in whole or only in parts, but it could also be thrown down in nearly any other D&D campaign without any great change at all: A mysterious ship has arrived in a nearby port, bearing exotic goods from an isolated, faraway land. Apply a hook as needed and the players are off to be strangers in a strange land.

The book itself is split into different chapters by region, plus a bestiary and appendixes. Each chapter is, rather than maps and lore and Important Personages™, filled with tables for DMs to construct a campaign. There are things that are always true about Yoon-Suin (the castes, the broad details of each region, the importance of tea), but near everything else is up to the dice.

The Yoon-Suin tables cover the width and breadth of things DMs might need: there are tables for factions, locations, lairs, NPCs, plot hooks, rumors, hirelings, poisons, treasure, drugs, teas, and things that are none of the above. Some of these tables are shared between regions, while others are unique to a specific location – Cockroach clans are native to the Yellow City, dwarf fortresses come into play only in the mountains of the moon, brothels can be found anywhere.

The introduction of randomly-generated social spheres for the party is probably my favorite part of the tablery in the book. It’s a matter of five minutes to make some rolls and start drawing connections between them.

We’ve got a criminal band whose second-in-command is involved in adultery and the whole bunch is warring against another group. Then we’ve got a club-fighting troupe whose head trainer is doing something immensely foolish and thieves raided their treasury...”

The stories knit themselves together with minimal elbow grease, which is absolutely worth a gold star.

All of these tables provide ample material for modification as one sees fit (I’ve got a friend who would use them to make a weird Korea in a heartbeat), or just serve as a model if one wants to work on something of their own.

It is important to remember that this book provides the sandbox, not the castle. Someone looking for complex lore or pre-made epic quests in Yoon-Suin will probably find themselves a bit disappointed. People who love tables and fiddly bits have far, far worse choices they can make.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Bakunawa and the Seven Moons



(This was brought on by reading through the excellent Book of Creatures and its entry on the Bakunawa of Philippine myth)
 
The world used to have seven moons. This is common knowledge among anyone who has studied astronomy, and can occasionally be stumbled across in folk tales, children’s games, and nursery rhymes. Among average folk it would be equivalent to knowledge of non-Pluto trans-Neptunian objects.

There’s only one moon now. Here’s how the story would be told:

Long ago, but not so long ago that men and gods do not remember, the great gray serpent Bakunawa lived in the eastern ocean.  In those days there were seven moons, as brilliant and beautiful as gems on a velvet cloth, and Bakunawa rose from the sea each night to watch them pass over his head; He loved beauty and beautiful things. Each night, he loved the moons a little more, and in time it came to be that he loved the moons so much that he wanted them for his own.

On a summer night, when the air was still and the Folk played with the lightning bugs and the moons were bright and full, Bakunawa rose up from the depths and flew up into the sky. He flew higher and higher and grew bigger and bigger until he soared above the sky and could be seen by the whole world like a silvery ribbon. He opened up his great whiskered mouth and GULP! He gobbled up the first moon.

The people below saw all this, and were frightened. They rushed out of their homes into the streets and fields, shouting and stamping their feet and banging on pots and pans, trying to scare Bakunawa away. But the great gray serpent did not hear them down on the ground, and gobbled up the second moon, and right thereafter the third.

The people cried out to the gods, saying “the great Bakunawa is eating the moons one by one and we cannot scare him away! Come to our aid, O gods of man!”

The gods heard the pleas of the people, and a great number answered them. The gods went forth above the sky to deal with Bakunawa, but by the time they arrived, the great gray serpent had eaten all but one of the moons!

The gods did battle Bakunawa then, and they fought through the night. No matter how hard he was struck, he would not spit out the moons. But he was so full from his meal that he could not fight the gods off. Bakunawa was chased out of the sky and back into the depths of the ocean, so deep that the gods could not follow him. There in the darkness he coiled around himself and fell asleep. He sleeps there still, dreaming of the moon that escaped him.

If you ever see his shadow come forth a-gobbling, run out into the streets and shout and stamp your feet and call on the gods to scare his shadow away.

  • The First Moon (Gold) – A city-world of kings and crowns. Its mummified inhabitants know the true secret of Royalty.
  • The Second Moon (Mahogany) – A puzzle box of a trillion wooden pieces all shifting and locking and turning about in a constant computational dance.
  • The Third Moon (Porcelain) – A most beautiful orchid-world of purest white. Rivers of blue and red form traceries on its tectonic petals. The prisoners are too tall and too sharp by half, and their hands are like knives.
  • The Fourth Moon (Verdant) – A tangled jungle of twisted helix-towers gone green from verdegris. Electric arcs between copper flowers, acidic mists turn to rain. The inhabitants bottle lightning in their electrocytic tumors.
  • The Fifth Moon (Blood) – The sunward side is a scabrous slurry, the nightward is jagged spikes of flash-frozen ichor. Leukocytic colony mats bob atop the ocean, sailed by proboscis’d natives.
  • The Sixth Moon (Blue) – A world of lapis lazuli monadnocks, migrating sapphire dunes, methane thunderheads. Its inhabitants were nomads, each tribe chasing a beast it would never catch.
  • The Last Moon (Gravedust) – A gray tomb, scarred and broken from the battle between Bakunawa and the gods. Bears a massive, twisting wound across its daylight side. Empty moon beast hive-cities cling to crater rims. The ulfire towers of the New Gods spread slowly across its airless surface.
Visiting the Moon

Currently, the only way to visit the moon is by taking the ship Diamondwing out of Meredat. The ship’s captain, the archmage Balathrysti, is an agreeable but utterly barmy fellow (not particularly surprising, considering he is both a wizard and a natural philosopher) and is willing to take passengers to and from the Moon for a reasonable fee of magical items and spellbooks.

It takes 1d4 days to reach the moon via the Diamondwing (one must take into account the solar winds, radiation currents, perigee/apogee and astral parasite migration patterns). As it is safest to land on the moon when it is full, the Diamondwing will depart an appropriate number of days before the full moon, with its cargo of magical supplies and pilgrims.

Descent takes less than a day, as falling down a gravity well is relatively easy.

Moonshadows

Time and space being what they are, the six prior moons are not completely gone. Physically they rest in Bakunawa’s stomach, but metaphysically they still cast shadows upon their old orbits. They phase in and out of entanglement on their own, seeming to replace the Gravedust Moon but rarely appearing for more than a few minutes at a time. A high-level wizard sufficiently trained in quantum metaphysics could potentially anchor one of the six devoured moons in place long enough for the Diamondwing to land upon it.

Moon-Deniers

There is a school of conspiracy that claims that, not only have wizards never gone to the moon, but that there has only ever been one moon at all and Bakunawa does not exist. Their primary argumentative points (as found in their literature) include:

  • Wizards, being wizards and thus not caring for things like ethics, would have no compunction about lying to the masses to inflate their ego.
  • Woodcuts of wizards on the moon can easily be faked.
  • The gods use it as a cover story to hide the horrible truth of their grand murder-orgy.
  • Space travel in a magical universe breaks cosmic narrative conventions.
  • The entire hoax is just projected illusions by the New God Order, which lives on the moon.

Bakunalings

Spawn of Bakunawa will occasionally rise to the surface, to terrorize coastal villages on the eastern sea. These spawn are of animal intelligence, and act so out of hunger or curiosity.

Bakunalings are found in groups of 1d6, and are equivalent to a dragon wyrmling. Instead of a breath weapon, they may swallow an individual whole (Player may avoid on a successful save). Those swallowed by their starless inner void take existential crisis damage every turn. Killing a bakunaling will allow the unfortunate individual to be cut out of its stomach and rescued.

The Serpent Itself

If Bakunawa were to wake, he would rise from his abyssal home and make way towards the moon. Upon emerging from the water, he would be equivalent to an ancient dragon with a swallow attack. Those swallowed will feel even greater existential dread, and take damage accordingly.

Bakunawa will most likely ignore attacks and head onwards to the sky. If critically injured, he might turn his attention to anyone attempting to stop him.

After five turns, Bakunawa will double its Hit Dice and size. This will repeat every 5 turns / 30 seconds, until he has reached proper moon-devouring size.

It is very important to make sure that Bakunawa does not wake up.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Darvatius the Eternal

"Plague" by Stephan Alexeev

Born Vircir Inotem Tolius Xenvi, he ascended to the throne at the age of 17 upon deposing of his impotent and opium-addled father. The body of Tolius III had barely stopped swinging from the Bridge of Crowns when Tolius IV became Darvatius I, and he made his goal known to his people: to be the greatest emperor the world would ever know.

He would succeed.

The guard was changed immediately. His father’s bootlickers were removed swiftly and quietly, the ancient invertebrates replaced by a new circle of advisers. Fresh faces arrived in the capital; Younger men with sharper minds, pulled in with a broader net than the old order: Radical philosophers, heterodox military minds, mages returned from exile, apocalyptic clerics, anyone who might be of use.

Darvatius’s main support was among the lower classes and military, a base he had built since he first entered the public eye as a prince. He played to the fears and desires of those who had lost the most under his father’s haphazard policies, to great success. Offer a working man enough coin to keep his children alive and he will follow to the ends of the earth. Besides this, he was new, driven, and respectable in ways his brothers and father were not. His was the largest faction, but still an overall minority: If any of the major noble factions banded together he would be finished.

The executions followed. Anyone among the aristocracy who would have supported his older brothers was murdered swiftly and without question before they could organize against him. Midnight raids and public deaths threw rival factions into disarray. To this day, cities in what were the empires core territories still possess a major causeway named Crucifixion Street.

For a time, the empire ran red. Peasant uprisings, military coups, assassinations, a foaming chaos with Darvatius at the helm.

His brothers he spared from death, for reasons never adequately explained by historians or propagandists, though he left them both lobotomized eunuchs.

The older of the two, Heiron, was stationed at the Rock of Ienila as keeper of the lighthouse. He was the smarter and stronger of the two, but was more fit as a poet and harpist than as a king. By secret arts he remains at Ienila to this day, and sailors who trawl the route past the Rock often claim to hear his distant songs on clear nights.

The younger brother, Vanirem, was a reprehensible scab of a man, and was given to the care of a particular sorcerer of the court, with the instructions that “he is to be cared for, and his desires met”.

Vanirem died less than two years later in a disease-ridden villa outside the capital. His corpse was found with vaults filled with obscene, obscure erotica (worth a fortune for deviants with disposable income), a harem of twenty-one succubi (the bindings on which were never loosened), and a twelve-foot prehensile cock.

A year passed, and another, and the violence faded. Any significant threat posed to Darvatius was dead or exiled, and the government was filled with his supporters, promoted up from his troops and low-born loyalists. Stability was restored, and the empire seemed, for the first time in years, to be moving somewhere that wasn’t total destruction.

"Imperial Immortal", also by Alexeev


The wars, naturally, came next. For four and a half decades, there was no peace at all, and the empire flourished. Darvatius’ army went out and conquered all the eye might see or the mind might imagine.

To the north, he brought the squabbling barbarian clans to heel, paved over their burial mounds with roads and put their children in his schools. In the south, he drained a swampy sea for farmland, cut down the plague forests, and smashed the Schixold priesthood on the steps of their ziggurats. To the west he built the Golden Cities atop the wreckage of the mage kingdoms of Tarn Bornem. In the east he toppled the Kingfisher and united the Mead-Halls of the Flowered Hills. At home, he struck where needed to keep his nobles in line. Campaign after campaign, conquest after conquest. Cities sprung up from the earth, monuments rose like forests. The sword of civilization cut through the fabric of the world.

The Folk withdrew to the wild places in those years, and Darvatius did not pursue them; So long as they remained neutral, he had no need to waste men and money in the attempt. The gods too he held to this agreement. Toleration, so long as they remained distant. His focus was on the murder of men.

A dreadful day drew near, and then arrived like some horrible, yawning gulf, eating up the dawn.

The last free sovereign was the Golden Goddess of Pa-O Pa-O: a perfectly ordinary six-year-old girl without a touch of magic, from a tiny island in the furthest south-west. When the legionnaires landed on the white shores of Pa-O Pa-O, she greeted them with the sun-yellow flowers she had picked from the volcano slopes, thinking that they were just more pilgrims come to visit. She loved visitors.

The beaches of Pa-O Pa-O are no longer white, the water no longer clear, the trees no longer tall, and the flowers have gone away. The great stone heads of Goddesses past are silent, their faces stained by the shit of ragged black seagulls. Of the girl, the few that remain on the island now believe that, after signing over her nation on a treaty she couldn’t understand, she went back to her mother and lived out the rest of her days in peaceful obscurity.

They believe, though they know it is certainly not true.

At last, peace. There was peace, silent and terrible. The legions marched home. The wars were over, for there was no one else to war against in all the known world – the peoples of each land from horizon to horizon knew the rule of Darvatius. They spoke his language, paid his taxes, followed his laws.

And in a moment, the animus that had driven Darvatius and his empire evaporated. The mighty emperor, king of the world, was brought low by a power he had not conquered – existential crisis. He returned to his glorious capital in troubled triumph, and the celebrations of the world’s conquering continued for months without him. Darvatius retired to his palace, and the guards whispered of his wordless pacing of the columned halls or lonely sitting upon his marble throne.

Just before dawn, on the day of his final triumphal parade, he saddled his horse and rode out of the city.

And he began the war anew.

Darvatius raised a new army – from where, no one might say – and tore apart his empire, piece by piece, year by year. His people, too used to plenty and safety were slaughtered in their panic. By the time there was resistance the people were hurt and fractured, and had begun fighting among themselves as the mad emperor tore them further apart. He buried his capitol under a cloud of burning ash, laughing.

By the time he was finally killed, decades later, Darvatius had shattered civilization across the world. He was impaled on a spear by a woman whose name and nature have now faded to time. He was alone at the end. His body was pecked apart by crows, and his bones lost.

The Empire Today

The empire of Darvatius does still exist, in the form of the a thousand bickering claimants holding on the crumbling ruins of the empire’s third capital, Hispir. The city is a place of bandits and criminals now, with the Imperial Heirs incapable of even maintaining their own walls. Entire neighborhoods are swallowed up by anarchy. A fragment of Darvatius’ throne passes from faction to faction like a ball in a game.

The Imperial Tongue

The imperial language was once universal, but fell into disuse in the wake of the empire’s collapse. The development of the more easily-learnt Babel reduced it further to a dead language, fit only for dusty histories and wizards’ spellbooks. It is now mostly spoken by the Hispirians, scholars, and lawyers.

The Truth

Darvatius became a god. He died at the battle of Fendol Kaj, as all the histories agree, but at that moment a god was born. Ninety years he had carved the world in his image, and now the world responded in kind. This was not a proper apotheosis, nor was there continuity of identity, but that matters little. Man makes gods, and this was the one that sprung unbidden from the mind of humanity.

He sits now in Hell. He has stolen back his soul, his body, his legions, and all manner of demons are held under his hobnailed boot. He waits to march again.