Monday, July 31, 2017

The HAUL Reviews: Perdition

Perdition is a book by +Courtney Campbell, detailing a campaign setting best described as hell by way of Hieronymus Bosch. Along with this setting is provided a significant corpus of house rules, enough so that the book can stand on its own as a singular game, or be sorted through as needed.

The setting of Perdition, its primary selling point, is not built with maps or lists of proper nouns, but in a minimalist, in-passing style. It is more the idea of a setting, rather than the setting itself. If there is detail at all, it will be brief (the great devils that rule the world of Perdition get a few paragraphs of description each), and more often it will be a feature brought up without extraneous comment: the equipment lists in particular excel towards this end. There are war cassowaries. You can hire gimps as hirelings. You can buy a bicycle. There is a list of hats that give you skill bonuses.

That last sentence is easily the most important point I will make in this entire review. There is a list of hats that give you skill bonuses.

All of this means that the book is geared toward relating mechanics to the setting’s core conceit (see: the rules for cutting deals with devils), rather than bogging the reader down with exposition. Perdition is not an invitation into the specific world of Courtney Campbell, but an invitation to take that idea and use it how you will. You can buy in as much as you want.

The mechanics displayed in Perdition hit a sweet spot between OSR/DIY simplicity and newer-school crunch – reading through the classes was fun, because there are both many options to take and they are all easily understood. Additions to the typical formula, such as mental HP, the wickedness stat and the spell dice system (+Arnold K’s GLOG rules are similar) are all easy to grasp.

I’ll give additional praise for the book being a complete text – classes, equipment, mechanics for magic and combat, a bestiary for both normal animals and various fiends, and everything else that would be needed to run a game.

The art is excellent. It’s not necessarily of anything specifically in the book, but it’s certainly effective at driving home the fact that people have entered the wrong neighborhood of the Garden of Earthly Delights. What more could be asked for?

On the whole, Perdition is what you make of it. For my own part, I think I would perhaps not run the setting as unrelentingly bleak as it is presented, but the light touch of the worldbuilding makes changes to taste easy. If, say, I wanted to run a more heroic campaign fighting against the darkness instead of working for it, I could do that handily enough with what is presented here. The mechanics are nourishing food for thought beyond that.

Perdition is a fine book, and I am quite glad I purchased it.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Noxalas! Notes towards a Pyre Tabletop

The Nightwing Triumvirate: Jodariel, Hedwyn, Rukey Greentail

I’ve been playing Supergiant Games’ Pyre this week, and it is fantastic. Wonderful. Stupendous. Superlative. Very, very solid. A guilt-free Day 1 purchase, soundtrack included.

You might have guessed that I speak from a position of incredible bias. You are absolutely correct. And like both Bastion and Transistor, Pyre brings to mind that most common of idle DM thoughts:

“Can this be made into a tabletop?”

After playing a good amount of it this week, I say “yes, easily”. I wish there was a proper lore/art book (I would buy it in a heartbeat), but the notepad I have been keeping ready will serve enough for this little project. Right now I just want to get ideas down and in a place where other eyes might give them a look over.

Since Pyre has RPG elements already, and those elements are not particularly crunch-heavy, translation should be pretty easy. There’s a solid amount of support for both the tactical end (the Rites) and the story-based parts (the rest of it), and even exploration / wilderness survival (making the trek between ritual sites). The premise itself fits into a campaign mold easily (you have all been exiled from your home, and have to form a group of pilgrims to compete in the Rites against other groups to earn your return home).

There are four attributes in Pyre (Glory, Quickness, Presence, Hope), and three primary abilities in the “combat” section of the game (Aura, Jump, Sprint – all with variants). Each character has a short bio, providing information of a character’s, race, background, astrological sign, crime, motive for the crime, and how many years they have been exiled.

System-wise, I find myself leaning towards an adaptation of the West End Games D6 System.  Templates could cover the eight different races, and some additional skills can be thrown in to provide some out-of-Rite usability. I’ve found myself fond of “background / identity as a skill” as found in the third edition of *Unknown Armies*, so some of the background bits might be turned into attributes (“of course I can give someone the evil eye! I’m a bog hag!”)

The “combat” system (Air quotes used because it’s not really fighting, and more like magical basketball. It’s said in-game that the laws of the Rites forbid harm towards the opposing team) is the main thing that will require some elbow grease, as in the game proper it is real-time, controlling one character at a time. I have some reservations about switching over to a more turn-based method, but it’s certainly possible.

The XP system can be kept as-is, and abilities / items will just need whatever tweaks are needed for WEGd6 (many of them won’t need it).

I’ve got outlines of all the material I’d need in the future, so I expect a preliminary version of the rules won’t be too far off.

Regardless of all this blather on my part, it’s a great game. Art, music, gameplay, story, it's all great- and it's all new. Supergiant consistently makes some of the best and brightest fantasy worlds out there, and for that I am ever thankful.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Setting: The Great Discape

While bored at work the other day, the following thoughts came into my head in quick succession.

“I sure do love Planescape.”

“Oh hey, the Outlands are a big disc.”

“I sure do love worlds that are also discs.”

“What if all the planes were mashed into the Outlands which was also being carried around on something’s back.”

“The turtle is traditional but what about whales? Bahamut needs love.”

“Also I need to do something different with alignments. Humours are good. Can work out the outer planes later.”

“I should make this a setting.”

So I made it a setting.


The City in the Center

A mobius torus of alabaster and samite, with streets of marble and pillars of oldest basalt. The homes of the gods are built here, tumbled together and layered atop each other. The passing of Time is marked by the ringing of the city’s twelve mighty bells, each a cathedral of its own. The one hundred and eight forms of Death maintain order between the gods and watch over the Great Discape below. Vast flocks of winged servants carry prayers and pilgrims to and from the city. The gods debate and feast and fight and fuck in the City’s plazas and pools and parks. The hymns of the angelic legions are never ceasing, and the air is redolent with incense and heavy with prayers.

Floating in the center of the city, above the very peak of the mountain Vüngelbraeskilnük, is MANA YOOD SHUSHAI – the creator of the gods, the creator of the Great Discape, the First and Only, he who is worshiped by the gods alone, who slumbers forever in the center of all things.


The mountain in the center of the world, reaching up all the way to the City in the Center. Its slopes are pocked with the caves of the night-gaunts, studded with the palaces of the ice giants, engraved with switchback pilgrimage paths. Vast-winged eagles that never land to nest fly cry keening songs in the crystalline air.

In the temple at the mountain’s ice-capped peak lives Skarl the Drummer, whose heart-shaped drum and its constant beat keep MANA YOOD SUSHAI lulled in his slumber. Were Skarl ever to stop, the world would cease to be.

The City Below the Center

A ring-shaped metropolis around the base of Vüngelbraeskilnük, where peoples from all over the Great Discape come together in chaos and argumentation. It is a city of streets like broken fingers, of canals coughing up technicolor sludge, of buildings built like tumors.

The City Below is ruled by 36 Arcarchs, each ruling over a ten-degree slice of the city. Theirs is a restless life, attempting to balance the machinations of both the criminal guilds and the other 35 Arcarchs. But there is progress being made: the days before the abolition of slavery are fading memories in the minds of the grandfolk, there are more schools and hospitals opening up, the city guard has been mostly cleaned out, and one can occasionally find a legitimate business with only a little bit of effort. For all the chaos within the City Below, the atmosphere is one of optimism.

Environment Types of the Central Humorous Low-Land

Sanguine Savanna

Blood-and-gold grasses appear as waves of fire under the wind sunlight. Clusters of acacia trees and baobabs break the horizon. When the rainy season comes, the storms bark with laughter and the newborn lightninglings leap between the thunderheads. The inhabitants follow the rains and the herds of cup-headed russeceroses in an eternal cycle. Territory is marked by stamping down patterns in the grass, to be seen from above by tribal balloonsmen.

Choleric Desert

A cracked expanse of off-yellow grit and salt crust. Everything smells faintly of urine, and any moisture has long since been baked away. Anything living that finds itself in these lands will find itself dead in short order, and shortly thereafter animated by whatever sparks of hate that might still jump between its desiccated neurons. The deserts are rich grounds for mining salt and antiwater (it looks something like bismuth), drawing the crazy or desperate from afar. The local inhabitants, mummified ages ago, sit in their spiteful spires and bicker. The hateful dead have nothing better to do.

Phlegmatic Forest

Temperate rainforests, perpetually shrouded by mists. The wildlife is placid and lonesome – the larger beasts stride through the silvery mists with moss growing out of their fur and birds nesting in their antlers, while the smaller creatures scurry in the ferns beneath. The trees are like towers, their thick bark carved by growth and elements into a story of the years. It is a place for meditation on the bank of a mirror-pool. The inhabitants live in seclusion, their settlements hidden in the mists. They have emptied themselves of noise and bother and worry, and might offer a clay bottle of it to those who come to them

Melancholic Bog

Black, cadaverous swampland. Half-rotted trees, peat pits, ghost-fires, brackish water, clammy cold. Chemical vents belch smoke and haze skywards to be trapped by the bordering hills. It is the domain of bugs, slimy things, and misshapen creatures. Things sink into the bogs – slowly, ever slowly. Everything sinks and does not rise again. In the pits that the peat miners dig they find the past in layers. Bog Cake, they call it. The inhabitants of this place have hunched backs and downward-cast eyes. Their pale skin oozes black ichor, sucked up from the guts of the blind catfish fish they eat.

The Rim Lands

Towards the edge of the Great Discape, past the Lands-In Balance, the land takes different shapes and the people different forms, breaking away from the trends of the Humorous Low-Lands. They will not be elucidated upon at this time.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Old School

You walk now on sacred ground. Go lightly, and do not speak.
There’s magic out there older than books, older than bricks, older than bread. Magic so old it’s hardly magic anymore. Magic woven of golden savanna mornings when the apes looked up to the sky and named the sunlight itself. It is the magic of a master’s hands, the burning breast of the journeyman before his test, the tottering steps of the infant.

When you’re four years old and step into your grandmother’s kitchen, it is the old magic you feel.

Wizards hate talking about it: the old magic strips them of their star-spangled hats and gold-leaf diplomas and forces them to admit that there was a time before wizards, and that those poor unenlightened souls of the past weren’t so ignorant and superstitious after all, and that when wizards and all their universities have passed from the world the old magic will remain.

The old magic breathes and lives and burns in mankind – there is no one among Mother’s children, no matter how wretched or ignorant, who could not learn these arts. The wizards sneer and the moralizers wring their hands and the hateful spit bile, but the old magic lives.

The spells listed below are the most common expressions of the Humble Art. The majority of practitioners are ordinary common folk (making the old magic fairly unpopular with kings and tyrants), and they can be found in all but the most remote pickets of the world. Those who make a profession of the old magic go on to become hedge mages and witches.

Several of the following spells are less common or less popular in the modern era, and several more have been co-opted by mainstream magical traditions, but all are still known.

It is important to note that the old magic is significantly more hands-on than academic magic, and the lines between magic art and mundane craft can become blurred.

by Zdenek Burian

Spells of the Old Magic

Call upon the Folk

The Folk are always out there in the wild places: watching, waiting, listening. A man who shows the proper respect can call upon them for aid through the old magic, and they will answer.


The mind opens up, and there is a moment of awareness beyond what the senses can normally grasp. The spell can be amended to nearly any specialized end, but the old forms tend towards animals, evil, the Folk, people, place, poison and disease, time, and weather.


A spell to reveal enchantments and hidden names. In the basic form, it might reveal the components of a simple spell, or the common name of an unknown thing. If performed by a master, or by the aid of sympathetic components, it may reveal hidden identities or even true names.

Hunter’s Mark

Each hunter has a sign, used to mark a beast as sacrosanct. No hunter will touch a creature bearing another hunter’s Mark, for fear of a curse falling upon their interference. It is reserved for beasts deemed worthy adversaries, and is not to be wasted on simpler game.


The position of an item, person, place, or beast is burned into the mind as long as the spell remains. This art is dependent upon maintaining sympathy, and will not work at all without the appropriate components.


A boy is charged with a task and sent out. If he succeeds, his geas is fulfilled and his father welcomes him home. If he fails, a boy he remains. Some die before their task is done, and the mantle of manhood remains unclaimed.


One of the three most common spells in the world (the others being Produce Flame and Women’s Work), and friend to housewives, craftsmen, and busybodies. But, be warned: Mend a thing too much and it will stop mending right. Consequences are not meant to be dodged, no matter how well one can recover from an accident.

Purify Food and Water

Wizards love to decry this spell as simply boiling water and cooking meat. They are correct to a point: beyond that point the practitioner might draw out disease and poison, even rot and heavy metals. Doing so will result in dry meat, limp vegetables, and rotball sprites that must be dealt with, but the food is safe.

Produce Flame

Mother stole fire from the dragons and led us through the snows by its light. All it takes is a snap of the fingers or a soft breath into cupped hands.

Spare the Dying

One cannot delay death, but the pain of the dying might be lessened by a measure. The pain must go somewhere, however. Without release it becomes a poison worse than death.

Women’s Work

A collection of skills, spells, medicines, and clever tricks that form the basis of witchcraft. There are many parts to women’s work, but the four central pillars are easing birth, menstrual maintenance, contraceptives, and proconceptives.

by E. Irving Couse



Omens are notoriously difficult to wrangle at the best of times. Haruspicy and nephomancy are the most reliable methods (+10% chance of a relevant answer for every HD of the creature sacrificed or hour spent watching the sky)

Contact other Plane

There are worlds besides our own, invisible and overlapping like grease on water or a smell on the air. Like children tapping on the aquarium glass, we are, attempting to glean the fish in the dark water beyond.

Control Weather

A misnamed spell. Even with magic, weather can only be guided. This ritual requires at least a dozen practitioners and a ritual taking up at least a full day. Wizards have generally taken over most of modern meteorology, but the rain dances continue. It's a good excuse for a party, if nothing else.

Magic Circle

Runes traced in dirt, written in salt, or carved into mighty standing stones – boundaries are laid out, blocking who may enter and who may leave. Most common as a defense against evil spirits and malicious Folk, most useful around the places where the space between planes is rubbed thin. Some circles are never broken, and what remains inside them has lasted to this day.

Passing the Torch

A ritual a lifetime in making. This is the greatest power of mankind: not even the dragon lords considered that they might pass on their fire.


There are several languages still spoken and read whose alphabets had their beginnings in cloud-hieroglyphs. It is an essential skill for those living on the plains. Settlements will often have permanent cloud-signs above them, offering hospitality or warning.

Speak with Dead

The dead we have loved cannot speak, but for a few moments, they can listen. There is time left.

Weave Tale / Weave Song

The translation of reality into fiction into reality again. The creation of that which fills the mead halls, of what muses sing and bards dream. Old stories grow heavy, grow strong, pull life along in their wake. What is history, but a story? What is life, but a song?

Artist unknown

The Oldest Trick in the Book

For those wondering, the oldest trick in the Book is Gassy Lass, a cantrip that makes the target fart. The second oldest is Agharan’s Copper Spike, which is a method of keeping someone alive for several days after impaling them from anus-to-mouth on a copper spike.

The Book itself is doing quite well for itself, though it is about ready to outgrow its second library. It might have also recently eaten a graduate student.