Monday, August 27, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Lamentations 2 Playtest and Knave

Lamentations 2

I don't hate it. I've heard plenty of grumblings about it so far, but I don't hate it.

I'm fine with having nearly everything be bundled into attributes. I'm fine with the change to saves. I'm fine with weapons all being one die. I'm okay with all that to some extent. But I have a pressing question:

Why are there still classes?

With clerics and demihumans gone, only fighters, specialists, and magic-users remain. With VAM/EC magic in place, the only actual difference between these classes is whether they get +1 attack bonus, +2 skill points, or +1 spell slot when they level up. That's it. Daniel Sell's scoundrel class allows people to pick one of those three very things, my traveler class is much the same, except clumsier, Maze Rats is built around that system, and I don't see why that shouldn't be the default method. You could go straight down the line in either of the three ways, but if that's the only differentiation, go classless.

When looked at that way, as the baseline for a classless OSR game, I go from not hating the rules to actually kinda digging them. The ease of class creation was a major part of what brought me to the OSR / DIY scene to begin with, sure, but a big list of backgrounds a la DCC is just as good. In terms of avoiding confusion and choice paralysis among new players, even better.

Luke Thompson's recent posts on adapting the playtest rules for space have me very excited to see where that line of thought leads, as well. I never much liked classes in space.


Moving from "should probably be classless" to "actually is classless", we've got Knave. Mechanically, it's a lot more tweaks to the formula than a complete reworking.

 I'm picking up some Shadow of the Demon Lord influences (always a plus) with how stats and modifiers are determined (modifiers are stat - 10, for example. Stats are lowest of 3d6 + 10) and with how there is a standardized roll-to-beat (15 rather than 10, in this case). Advantage and disadvantage rather than boons and banes, but hey, that's cool too. Could add boons and banes easily enough.

Everything here is based around managing your inventory slots (which are just "equal to your strength", which I like far more than LotFP's encumbrance points). No skill system, but it doesn't need one (again, a big old background list is just waiting to be used.)

Some interesting diversions from tradition in which stats apply to what: ranged weapons are now effected by WIS, pickpocketing is INT.

Level-less spells, also a good move and good call.

Grand props given for adding even more good tables to use with those found in Maze Rats, and for making it Creative Commons.

No one has yet adapted it to space. This shall be remedied by some party in due time.

Extra thoughts

You know how Camus said that we must imagine Sisyphus to be happy? Apply that to fiddling around with RPG systems for me. Doesn't matter that there's no destination, the constant pursuit of just right is fine enough for me. House rules are like shoggoths: amorphous and perpetually mutating, always on the hunt for new genetic material to assimilate. Good stuff to be had here to that end.

I've got a RL game night upcoming and I heard some whispers that Star Wars was a hit when I last ran it. Perhaps I will test out Luke's hack with that...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Taking a Look at Video Game Megadungeons

I've been returning to some of my favorite video games recently, and surprising no one there's a lot of dungeon-delving involved. So here's a comparison of maps for those who want to sneakily stock a large dungeon that's already set up.

Darkest Dungeon

Starting with the simplest here. This is the megadungeon by means of just having multiple separate dungeons in the same general area. There aren't any real connections between areas in the game as-is (a situation easily rectified in adaptation) which brings with it the core gameplay loop of returning to the Hamlet after every delve, no matter where you choose.

Enter the Gungeon

Straightforward, the Gungeon is. Town on top, five main chambers beneath, three secret levels with access requirements, and a hidden sixth level for masochists. No major choices, no loops, no crossing paths.

Bonus points for the end goal: find the Gun That Kills The Past. Perfect for setting up a bit of character drama. no one comes to the Gungeon without some ghosts in the closet.

The Binding of Isaac

Still pretty simple stuff: two columns that you can cross between with a fork at the bottom. The  weirdness between floors four and five turned out nicely symmetrical, and provides the main real choice in the delve: Spend time and resources fighting the Hush in ???, or skip ahead to the fork? Cathedral or Sheol?

The b-series levels are taken from the Antibirth mod, on the grounds that it's better than Afterbirth+. They all have entry requirements, so you might be able to get into one of them and then kicked back into the main column when you clear that level.

Nuclear Throne

Again, pretty linear design. The main shifts from the norm are the Crown Vault and IDPD HQ, both of which can be accessed from any other level (the latter is only accessible after the game has been looped), and the fact that you can loop yourself back to the beginning after defeating the Throne.

Dead Cells

With all that out of the way, it's time for the good shit. Forking paths, multiple paths, paths that meet back up, a layout that maps itself to a real space way easier than the others on this list. (Prison on an island, town on the coast with a clocktower, castle on the hill above). Notable on this list in that it is primarily lateral in layout rather than vertical.

Hollow Knight

I lied, this is the good shit. A tangled, interconnected mess of tunnels and caverns to wander through. The occasional friendly face or traveling merchant. Stag stations to unlock and make inter-area transit easier. Lots of optional areas completely separate from the critical path. Absurdly complex, lots of effort required to translate to tabletop, but worth it if it can be managed.

Final Thoughts

  • I would be most likely to adapt the Dead Cells or Darkest Dungeon maps.
  • The "single descending column" format seems to be pretty standard for roguelites.
  • Dark Souls 1 goes without mentioning, which is why I did not mention it.
  • Darkest Dungeon as megadungeon is the easiest to throw together by far.
  • Mark Brown's Boss Keys series is a super-good and far more in-depth look into video game dungeon design. Season 1 is Zelda, Season 2 is Metroid.
  • Hollow Knight is so good, people.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Some thoughts about Kings of the Wyld

Kings of the Wyld is, as far as my experience has yet taken me, the epitome of post-D&D fantasy. Normally I would use that phrase as a signal to run for the hills as if the Martians themselves have arrived, but here I bring it up in the less pejorative sense: It is a book about Dungeons and Dragons.

A fitting end to a month that began with "Lean Times in Lankhmar" and ran on through The Hobbit with great enthusiasm. From Appendix N to an OSR love-letter.

The premise: four old grognards (two fighters, one thief, one wizard, one barbarian), long-retired from days of monster-slaying, treasure-hunting, and rolling on the carousing table, are back for a final gig: the rescue of one of their daughters from a besieged city. I can picture the character sheets in my head, scattered across the table where miniatures roam.

There is not a single original bone in the entire body of this book. Not a one. Put your hand on the core AD&D books, inhale deep your memories, and you will have Kings of the Wyld. Add two or three bits from Final Fantasy to taste. There are owlbears and ankhegs and legally-distinct murlocs, for heaven's sake.

OSR loveletter it might be, a paean to the DIY ethos it is not.

If there is a single original bone in the book's body, it is this: the mercenary bands of Kings of the Wyld are treated as we in the mundane world would treat rock bands. They go on tour, they take gigs, they have managers. They dress up in face paint and play in arenas and have band names. I was quite fond of the idea.

Don't take this all as particularly damning criticism of the book. It kept me engaged and entertained, and it is a very swift read regardless. I always give bonus points for works that know what they are and attempt to do as best they can, and by that criteria I'd judge the book is a success.

There are some jokes that fall flat, quite a few moments of clumsy exposition, some plot points a touch too convenient, some references clunky in their bald blatancy, some moments that skimmed too close to weird modern tweeness that will date them hard. But never enough to where it wobbled in the danger zone - the book is much too swift for mis-steps to do that much damage.

As an aside here, I feel like I should mention a particular bias of mine: I normally can't stand modern fantasy that is so blatant with it's D&Disms. Bring the topic up and I turn into some bizarre parody creature; half grog longing for the old days, half a weirdo desperately demanding something novel and new. Mentioning litRPGs will most likely send me into foaming paroxysms. 

Aside over, all you really need to take away from it is that I'm getting to my finale.

Kings of the Wyld copies D&D whole cloth, but I found myself enjoying it because it is about D&D (and specifically OSR D&D at that), a category of mine that currently only holds Dungeon Meshi.

Dungeon Meshi is a series about Dungeons and Dragons through the lens of the characters interacting with a complex, reactive dungeon environment. Kings of the Wyld is a book about Dungeons and Dragons through the lens of getting together with your friends and having a good time, until you're scraping the upper levels, your characters are going grey, and your players are moving away and getting married and having kids.

This is the strongest aspect of the book, the part where there is sincerity and heartfelt emotion underneath really come through. Rough as it is, credit where it's due. It ain't high literature, but it's honest. I like honest.

Now then, off to the next book. Shall the Lord of the Rings re-read continue? Or shall it be The Princess Bride? Or more LeGuin? Who knows? I certainly don't!

An indecisive bastard, am I.

Addendum: There is one point that gets muddled over the course of the book, and that is the treatment of the "monstrous" beings. Here and there I ran across moments brushing against that barrier, where the conflict is presented in terms more equal and humanity is stripped of its self-righteousness (the arenas where monsters are enslaved and murdered in mass in the arenas, the besieged city-state of Castia rose to prominence by, you guessed it, murdering and subjugating the locals who were there first, the several allied monstrous side-characters, even Clay's constant questioning if he is to be the monster or the man), but those moments are fleeting, passed over for big climactic action. Emmy Allen this is not, and the book is weaker for this part of its faithfulness, to point questions at this aspect of the D&D experience but to not follow through.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Play Report: "Look, Ma! I Joined a Cult!" (Danscape Ep. 2)

Previously in the Danscape: The Kadesh Club is ruined by a very angry aboleth, Corrin Shen vanishes in the chaos, and the criminal underworld is thrown into disarray.

Playing this episode were:
  • Waterblossom, eladrin magelander (Michael K)
  • Eric, kenku necromancer (Type 1 Ninja)
  • Ed, Sasquatch fighter (Sam P)
  • Rob, corrupted anti-mutant (Max Cantor)
Blake and Gavel were, of course, celebrating their newfound gambling wealth by flying around in the Divided Survival Power and getting high as fuck.

Waterblossom, on the other hand, took a passenger liner out to a resort cylinder for some well deserved R&R. It was here that he met Eric Ed and Rob, who were likewise visiting the resort.

(According to the players, this particular cylinder was notable for its quiet atmosphere, the odd geometry of the buildings, the great variety of people, and the general belief among them that cats do not exist.)

While drinking at a lakeside pub late into the evening, the quartet takes to watching green glowing spheres shoot up from an island in the center. they dart about a bit before dropping into the water and fizzling out - other patrons, when asked say that it's just some will o'wisp activity and not worth much thought. The island's closed off to visitors anyway, some sort of environmental hazard.

There are thoughts of renting a boat to go investigate the island when the party is accosted by a friendly looking elf with a shaved head and white-and-purple robes, who is handing out earnest but poorly made pamphlets advertising a tent revival for the Society for the Elevation of Universal Cosmic Consciousness later that night.

The boat and spheres are quickly forgotten as the group heads over to the nearby park where the revival is being held. WB bonds with some cultists over their shared dislike of organ farming. The others help themselves out to the space buffet.

After a time, the cultists call for everyone to attend and the Grand Master guru Mundap takes to the stage. He gives a stirring sermon on the values of peace and harmony and unity and self-improvement, finally crecendoing in praise of the great Glow Sphere (just as one rises above the lake).

The congregation is led in a stirring rendition of "A Mighty Fortress is Our Glow Sphere". Afterwards, the quartet head right over to the signup table and put their names down. They've instructed to arrive at a cabin on the other side of the lake the next morning.

Some time later...

The four reach the cabin with a few other candidates, and are greeted by the firbolg Ters, whom they had met the previous night. They are taken into the cabin and oput through a series of personality and aptitude tests for hours. Rob flunks out, and lingers long enough getting snacks to attempt and fail to steal a small shard of whitish-orange stone that caught his eye.

The other three are not flunked out on the first pass, and are told to come back tomorrow to see what their final situation would be. They head back to town and meet up with Rob, in time to see the island shooting up more glow spheres (and faster) than they have yet seen.

The boat idea is brought back up, and they head out onto the water. There's no animal life to be found or heard on the island, but rippling shadows at the edge of lamplight have them all on edge.

They emerge in a clearing which holds a tower of the same kind of stone as the little idol in the cabin, and next to it a sort of squat pyramid with a wide, sigil-marked circular depression on one face.

At this point the shadow attacks, lashing out with sharp tendrils and injuring Rob, crippling his leg. WB uses his spell Soothe Open to open up the hatch in the pyramid and they clamber down before the shadow-fog can close in. Rob slips on the ladder and falls flat on his back dazing him.

The group find themselves in a small, nondescript room with a door. WB uses Soothe Open again, and after a few minutes persuades the door to open, just in time for them to see a humanoid figure in a bathrobe, with an ammonite for a head, pointing a gun at them.

There is an ineffectual firefight as everyone misses and Mr. Ammonite jumps behind the couch. Peace accords are made, weapons are put down. The complex is looking more and more like a bachelor-bunker. WB burns his last spell die trying to mind-meld with the creature and learns that it is has been here a crazy long time, and is pretty crazy himself. Mr. Ammonite latches his tentacles onto WB's skull and absorbs enough language to say DON'T PANIC via telepathy. Rob is laid on the couch and treated for his fucked-up leg.

From here there's some exposition. Mr. Ammonite has indeed been here for quite some time: the glow spheres are the harmless waste product of his power reactor. He has a crystal-uplink to the Overmind, but rarely uses it due to the whole thing being taken up with arguments about stupid elf cartoons like One Punch Elf and My Elf Academia. The cult outside seems to have knowledge of the Overmind, in some bastardized, secondhand way. Mr. Ammonite's people, the Cephalopodicephs, were once at war with the aboleths, long ago.

Driven by his guests, Mr. Ammonite logs into the Overmind for the first time in over a decade. The session ends with a map of remaining Overmind hubs displayed via projection. One of them, not too far away from the site of the Kadesh Club disaster, is glowing a bright, bloody red.

Beloch's Questions

  1. No one has properly done them wrong at this point. Blake and Gavel are a different story.
  2. The cult does not know that they have trespassed on the holy island.
  3. The cult seemed pretty eager to have them involved as new members.
  4. No one died this time.
  5. They are on the cult's radar now.
  6. The aboleth-flayer war seems now to be sputtering back to life.
For a session whipped up over lunch break with no sleep the night before, I'm happy with the results.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Unicorn Meat: Hooks and Factions

Another week, more Unicorn Meat. This time it's going to be the hooks to get players out there, and the various factions among the carvergirls. As a bonus, I threw in the David Sugars-suggested 80-word summary.

Opening Crawl

The last unicorn farm rots away deep in the festering backwoods. The adults vanished into the swamp in a single night, leaving the girls trapped in its ruins. White-Eyes and her buchas rule the farm with a brutal hand, but it frays at the seams under the strain of old rivalries and impending starvation. This is to say nothing of the monsters in the swamps and the whispers of some great Beast lurking in dreams of the deep night.

How You Got Here

Hook 1: Colonel Tim Fisk 

For campaign openers and one-shots

A mutual friend from back during your time in the army is cashing in a favor. He’s sending you out to follow up on a kidnapping case that went cold half a decade ago, back when the war was in full swing. In his typical amateur spymaster fashion the coded letter is loose on details, but he's able to tell you this much.
  • A young girl was recently found dead in a field a few miles from the swampland edge. No one claimed or identified the body before burial.
  • He believes that the girl is one Maddy Aberdeen, who vanished five years prior at the age of eight. Furthermore, he believes the case linked to others he has been investigating.
All the rest is directions to a location deep in the backwood swamps.

Fisk wants the job done discreetly. Get in, gather as much information as you can, get out. There’s a fat under-the-table payday in it for you once you dead-drop the evidence with one of his go-betweens.

Hook 2: The Map 

For use in a pre-existing campaign

The corpse can't be older than a day or two when you find it in the roadside ditch. A girl of twelve or thirteen: emaciated, wearing rags, curled up in a ball. There’s blood caked all around her ears, eyes, mouth, nose. A jagged wound stretches across her forehead. The leather pouch clutched to her chest contains some soggy crumbs and a crumpled scrap of paper: “We are dying. Send help. Do not trust White-Eyes.”

A crude map is drawn below the shaky text, leading out into the backwood swamps...

Hook 3: The Girls 

For one shots or campaign openers

The adults vanished during the night, White-Eyes and her Buchas are stomping on our necks, and the rest just twiddle their thumbs waiting for the end of the world.

Fuck that shit.

Getting Yourself Situated

Regarding All Carvergirls

  • The youngest are around four, the oldest are nearing twenty. Most are in the middle. Malnutrition and poor health makes it difficult to tell.
  • Visitors will be met with suspicion. Trust in adults decreases with age.
  • They are more hardcore than you, and they know it.
  • They wear orange jumpsuits and ratty, patched-up hand-me downs. Scars, lingering injuries, and crude tattoos are everywhere.
  • Each one is tattooed with a block of vertical bars on their forehead and on the back of their right hands. They received these when they came here.
  • They all have thousand-yard stares. They have seen some shit.

Scrunts and Carvers

The foundational divide on the farm. Everyone is either a scrunt or a carver. No exceptions.

Scrunts are the youngest and least-experienced of the girls, right at the bottom of the social ladder. They typically roam about underfoot in packs or latch on to a group of bigger girls for protection. When the farm was still running, they were employed mostly in the sweatshop or pastures. Many of them only speak cavehtung. The most trusting of adults. An insult when directed at anyone else.

When a scrunt has bloodied her hands enough to look out for herself, she becomes a carver. Sometimes her gang members will present her with a gift to commemorate this. In other cases it is just a change universally known but never acknowledged: the girl is a carver now, and that is settled. Carvers form gangs naturally; nearly every one is part of a gang, even when affiliated with a larger group.

Some legendary carvers might be called Old Bloods. An honored title, and not used lightly. The most recent was


White-Eyes wasted no time assuming control after the adults vanished. Her buchas, all hardened veterans of the killing floor, swiftly took over the factory for their own use.
  • Leader: White-Eyes, acting through Greythorn.
  • Wants: More unicorns for the slaughter, to wipe out the Church.
  • Brutal in the enforcement of their rule, secretive inner workings.
  • Does not currently consider the Big House a threat.

The Big House

The opposition party against the buchas, headquartered in the manor from which the name is drawn. Large number of scrunts seeking protection, with a few hunters among the group's carvers.
  • Leader: Pugs
  • Wants: To wrest control of the farm away from the buchas, to escape.
  • Sometimes used to refer to just Pugs and her lieutenants, other times used for everyone who isn't a bucha, depending on the speaker's factional leanings.
  • Does not have the numbers to directly challenge White-Eyes. Pugs is attempting to get more veteran gangs on her side, to limited success.


They paint their faces with chalk and charcoal and weave crow feathers in their hair. They cut out their tongues and sit perched in high places through the night. They keep the monsters at bay so you may sleep quietly.

  • Leader: #23
  • No one messes with them, everyone listens to them.
  • Skilled in rootwork and other minor magics unique to their vigil.
  • Can't speak, but know sign language and most can write.
  • Necessary protection if one goes out at night.


With the pastures and pens empty, unicorns have to be brought in from the swamp itself. Hunters have always been an eclectic and eccentric bunch
  • No unified leadership: each team picks their own chief. Lots of internecine conflict.
  • Know their way around the backwoods: necessary to navigate the swamps.
  • Has heard talk that the buchas mean to replace or crack down on them: not pleased with this.
  • Usually has some members of the nightwatch around for expeditions.
  • Somewhat insular, lots of strange traditions.

The Church

Separatists holed up in a half-sunken church deep in the swamp. Raid the farm regularly for supplies or leave warnings of impending apocalypse.
  • Leader: Crazy Angel
  • Wants: Complete destruction of the farm and the institution of unicorn farming. To preach repentance, for the coming of the Beast is nigh. 
  • Hostile to all other factions and outsiders. 


There are some carvers that don't properly fit into a gang of their own or any of the major groups. Some are listed here.
  • Birdie - The oldest girl on the farm at 22. Simpleminded. Kept around the Big House to help out caring for the scrunts. Sweet and very literal-minded.
  • Stitches - What passes for a carvergirl doctor. Bones set, wounds stitched up, tattoos made to request. Once sewed someone's head back on (so it is claimed). Dry and dour.
  • Tessel and Grudge - Keep watch over the shrines in the barn and the equipment stored there. One is always on duty. Might as well finish each other's sentences.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


(David McGrogan brought up the wonderful minimalism of the Zangband monster entries, Michael Bacon suggested blog posts, I need only the flimsiest of excuses to do mini-bestiary entries.)

Antiwarrior, Orc - Powered by a pacifism so potent it ignites on contact with its violent counterpart.

Broskavoska - Something like a bear, something like an ox, something like a wolverine. Smells like whiskey, has a face only its mother could love.

Cannonball Slugger - A big club and a lot of muscle is sometimes all the artillery you need.

Cardguard - Cheap, disposable, less-than-effective protection. A pack of 52 comes with four companies, NCOs included.

Floodcaller - Tall, dark blue, armless, columnar, drooping faces like a great bone trumpet. Always travel in packs of six, will call the waters after settling into a few days of silence. Head for high ground.

Ghost-Faced Killer - Hollow hole for a face, ghosts nest there. The favored knives of necromancers.

Humdinger - Something like a stork with a beak like a bell. Very nasty around mating season, you can't miss the call: Hmmmmmmmm-ding!

Lilithic - Demoness with a head like a screech owl and a calcified womb. All the monsters she mothers are born into stone and need blood to hatch.

Loan Shark - The gold teeth aren't just for show: just ask anyone who falls behind and gets tossed into the university moat.

Procrastinating Beast - Tiger-striped and fat round the middle. "Eh...I'll attack you tomorrow."

Pumpkin Ooze - This is what happens when you leave those Jack O'Lanterns out on the porch for too long past All Hallows.

Snipe - A cute little wading bird never seen without its trusty anti-tank rifle.

Tatterdemalion - A demon that loves clothes, but never takes care of them. Rotten garments slough off and are replaced with regularity.

Walking Tank - Instead of treads, it has four-to-eight humanish arms. Popular with orcs, typical crew consists of pilot, gunner, spotter, and healer.

White Wizard, False - The beard, the hat, the staff, the robe, it's all a ruse, a big skin-sack. The real thing is a dust-bunny with all the legs like hair and big yellow eyes that lives in the head.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Play Report: The Kadesh Club

Playing tonight in the wonderful world of the Danscape Planejammer, we have:
  • Waterblossom, eladrin magelander nee organ farm escapee (Michael K)
  • Blake, a face-stealing traveler and former gigolo (FM Geist)
  • Gavel, a traveler who just oozes everywhere. (Martin O)
We open to find the three crewmembers of the Divided Survival Power in a terrible pickle. They've been trying their hand at running tea and opium out of Yoon-Suin, but the most recent shipment ended up stolen to the last gram by one of Blake's many trysts.

The Lady Sidris, drow matriarch and crime lord, is not pleased with this at all. She wants her money. But, she decides that calling in a slave cleaning the floor of blood would be too much of a hassle - the trio is given a shot at clearing their debt: go to the Kadesh Club, and steal a book from its proprietor, famous genasi businessman Corrin Shen. "You'll know it when you see it, they are told."

Before they leave, Gavel and Blake spend all of their remaining money on opium. Gavel's species leaves sticky ooze everywhere, and so ends up outfitted with a Harkonnen gravity chair, after Blake persuades a lobster-alien dockworker to help them out with a bit of seduction and some drugs.

The Kadesh Club is a place for rich people to go slumming and engage in some war tourism. Being that it orbits around the gas giant Charnel House, where devilish and demonic fleets meet to do battle.  Unfortunately, the war has lulled for a bit, so no fireworks were on the docket.

A casino resort filled with rich people is Blake's natural habitat - he swiftly integrates himself into the posse of the rightes, strongest looking individual in the atrium, a golem anmed Donson who looks like he came right out Renaissance Florence. With WB and Gavel are volunteered to act as servants, Blake handily begins flirting with the golem, and everyone goes to the nearby Valhalla Bar.

(Yes, the one from the game. To complete my horrible reference hackjob, they all witness the manager tossing out Space Dandy and Meow.)

Drinks are had and information is gathered. (The drink list and descriptions from VA-11 HALL-A come in very handy) The crew learns that Shen is a collector of rare art and artifacts, and appears on the casino floor every night to welcome the guests.

The crowd moves on to the casino floor, and the trio start scouting out options. Shen's quarters are seen to overlook the floor, with a single guarded entrance on the stage. Gavel joins a blackjack table and a wins a small amount of money. Waterblossom mind-melds with a guard to steal information and learns that Shen is late tonight - the attempt to act as a desperately-needed crystals-and-chanting healer falls on deaf ears. Blake accompanies Donson to the dice games and scopes out the staff entrances.

Gavel finally finds himself in a horribly complex game that he only manages to survive in because WB gleaned info from the octopoid dealer, and then mind-melded with his fellow ne'er do well. One of the other players gets shot. A discussion with an elf about the benefits of terribly impractical clothing are had. Gavel finishes out his hand by cheating with one of his mutations, a micro-teleport, swiping an extra card and taking advantage of an obscure loophole to walk away with 1000 gold pieces.

At this point the lights go down, the spotlights hit the stage, and from the elevator comes the man himself, dressed to the nines. He gives his speech and goes about shmoozing. WB passes by and gleans images of an angry woman who looks something like a tropical fish from Shen's mind. Blake convinces Donson to buy them a suite in the resort, heads through the doors, meets a salamander lady, and does drugs in the bathroom with her while discussing their life story and hip new fashion tips.

As Shen makes his rounds, Gavel uses his spell-tumor to cast Resounding Command at a vat-cloned halfling creature, forcing it to push him directly into Shen. What follows is a grand display of bellyaching and faked injury the likes of which FIFA players would be awestruck to see.

A doctor is called for, but no need! Shen is, in fact, a doctor! Swiftly Gavel is grav-wheeled out of the main floor and past a staff door.

Meanwhile: Blake has decided to set up salamander woman higher up in the social world to have a contact for the future, and gives helpful fashion tips to get the most out of a wardrobe.

With nothing working, Gavel hands Shen a sending stone phone and groans that he must have his special doctor to have any hope of survival: one Dr. Muffin Glitterhammer.

The call distracts Blake from his fashionable dreams, but gets him swiftly whisked over to where the others are. Blake immediately goes whole hog on being a fake doctor, and we are treated to one of the greatest lines I have yet recorded as a DM.

"Cocaine gives me a bonus at being a doctor."

Blake demands an isolation room, far away from the peasants and their germs - Shen, displaying a great amount of generosity, volunteers his own quarters. The four take the service elevator up. WB is zapping Gavel all the way there with his color changing cantrip.

Shen's apartment contains a great many expensive art pieces, a ghost security system named Bauvert,  a large fish tank containing black water and abyssal icthians, and most importantly, the book.

Blake requests obscure items for the appropriate holistic treatment (blue cat milk, a ball of solid gold, 2 liters of plasma) while manuvering Gavel's gurney around to take a better look at the book. Thick as a DCC core, bound in blue leather, recursive MC Escher occult symbols all over, and claw marks from the inside.

Know it when you see it indeed.

With the materials delivered, Blake declares that the evil has been taken out of Gavel's body. Gavel uses this opportunity to feign a horrible seizure, driving the other three to be whisked away into another room.

Unfolding his handy boarding axe, Gavel smashes the book case as if by accident. Bauvert (who is basically just Poe from Netflix's Altered Carbon adaptation) descends from the ceiling and starts a banshee wail, summoning Shen. Gavel tosses his axe at the fish tank, leaving a large crack.

Something moves in the blackness.

With no time to waste, Blake sweeps Shen into the elevator for safekeeping as the cracks enlarge and more water pours out. WB and Gavel grab the book just as the tank shatters; dark water floods the room to reveal a fucking aboleth.

"It's like if AM was a jawless fish." - Me, describing the aura of said aboleth.

WB whips out his holdout blaster and shoots out the window. The two go flying out, using the gravchair as a way to slow their fall.

On the stage, Blake hands the overwhelmed Shen to some guards, telling them to get him to safetly. Looking up he is able to catch the descent of his two compatriots, followed by the emergence of the aboleth in a cloud of psychic force fields and unbridled abyssal hate.

Blake empties his gun at the creature, abnd while a few bolts manage to break through the shields, the aboleth is unaffected.

Needless to say, they get the fuck out of there.

Amidst the panicking throngs they do manage to spot the salamander lady stepping up and orchestrating emergency evacuation procedures. The manager of the Vallhalla bar is out front screaming "YEAH! RIOT!" and suplexes a fleeing noble on principle. Blake grabs seven gold pieces out of his pockets.

They bang up some other ships on the way out fo the parking garage, but Blake blames it on one of Donson's followers who was giving him the stink-eye.

Upon return, Lady Sidris' guards immediately take the book from them and declare the matter settled. The guard captain is persuaded to look into some backup IDs in case things go south.

And with that, Waterblossom collapses into a weeping, traumatized heap as Blake and Gavel do more drugs.


  1. Who did them wrong? Some of Donson's syncophants were definitely plotting something.
  2. Did they do anything stealthily? Hell no. But also yes, in that no one knew it was them.
  3. Who benefitted? Lady Sidris. Shen's other rivals. The Aboleth.
  4. Aftereffects of death? Hundreds of the cosmic rich are now dead, meaning tabloid sales are UP, power grabs are UP, and worker revolts are UP.
  5. Did the characters attract attention? A whole lot of it, but not exactly directly to them.
  6. Desires / interests to hook players in future? Socialite nonsense is ace, use it.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Unicorn Meat

Nikolay Karelin

“The unicorns shall come down with them; their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”

It sits in the backwoods beyond the black stump, in the dark and steaming place where civilization never took hold. The plants grow up thick and twisted and sick in the poisoned creole soil. The sun bleaches the life from the leaves, boils the mud into dust, turns water into salt, peels the skin away. The cruel air does not move, does not break. Time is stillborn.

There are no gods out here, no help this far from home. The backwoods sent law and light crawling back to lick their wounds in the safety of lands less sickened. The backwoods can tear out a man’s soul, eat it raw and wriggling.

Among the razor grass and arthritic black trees, amidst those bottomless pools of murk and mud, wrapped in the chains of creeping moss, under that evil sun...

Look here, the rust-eaten sign...

"Sunny Smiles Unicorn Farm"

So what's all this then?

Mostly system-and-setting-neutral dungeon module tentatively titled "Unicorn Meat". You've already seen a glimpse of it with my carvergirl class, and it's been coming along nicely enough that I thought that I might as well drop some of what I've been working on for this year's #diy30-slash-#rpgaday. (Or at least the first week of it.)

It's like LISA: the Painful plus Lord of the Flies plus a bit of True Detective plus some Silent Hill and all wrapped up in a neat package of slavery, capitalism, apocalyptic millenialism, a whole lot of blood, and the world's most hardcore pre-teens.

Day 1: Colonel Timothy Fisk

An old friend from back during the War. He's always been a fixer, sticking his nose in places where he can make connections and pulling your bacon out of the pan. Now he's calling in a favor.

Appearance: Tidy uniform, square shoulders, right leg lost below the knee.
Voice: Deep, calm, doesn't stand out much by intent.
Wants: To unravel the conspiracy built up around this kidnapping case.
Morality: Reliable, ruthless, realpolitik to serve idealistic justice
Intelligence: Has the making of a spymaster or investigative journalist.

Day 2: Factory Entrance

Cavernous, shadowed. Smells of dust and rust and heavy, wet air.
  • Forest of pastel-colored tallow candles spread out on the floor. Few remain lit.
  • Mural on the opposite wall: A red dragon with seven serpentine necks, fighting a carvergirl.
    • Four necks have golden heads, three do not. One head will be filled in each day before dawn, counting down to the end of the ritual. To accelerate things, add more heads.

Day 3: Orgone Suppressant

Orgone is a metaphysical energy that develops alongside the hormonal changes of puberty. Humans can't detect it without specialized equipment; unicorns can't stand the stink of it, and so will either flee or fly into a frenzy when they pick up the smell.

One of these small green pills can suppress the body's generation of orgone for 12 hours. It can mask one's scent enough to sneak up on one of the creatures, and will prevent a unicorn from flying into a frenzy.

Repeated use of suppressants result in permanent suppression and sterilization. Save vs poison for every dose taken in excess of five days of usage.

Day 4: The Shrine

A corner of the barn has been converted into a shrine to the three primary carvergirl deities. Offerings have been placed at the foot of each icon. Maintained by Tessel and Grudge.
  • Bloody Mary
    • Blood-stained wedding dress, broken hand-mirror, tangled, ratty hair.
    • Danger, survival, cruelty, kindness. 
    • Offer her glass shards, milk teeth, white flowers, all with a drop of blood.
  • Brother Bones
    • Red coat, straw hat, skull mask, dark glasses, hunting rifle
    • Death, crossroads, backwoods, mysteries, abandoned places.
    • Offer him bullets, cigarettes, moonshine.
  • Lily Black
    • Charcoal skin, goat horns, honeygold eyes, smoldering pipe.
    • Pain, endurance, twists of fortune, vengeance, getting even.
    • Offer her pennies, nails, nightmares. 

Day 5: Totem Field

  • Dozens of unicorn skulls on sharpened stakes facing the factory entrance
  • Totems, mojos, and root talismans everywhere 
    • Stealing one gives a -2 to a random roll (to hit, damage, single attribute check, save type) until the mojo is burnt, the curse is shifted to another individual by burying the talisman on their property, or it is broken by a caplata of the Nightwatch.
  • H.C. ( a member of Nightwatch) is napping in a gibbet cage. She has no tongue (as is typical for members of that faction), but carries a slateboard and chalk to write out responses.
    • She hasn't seen anything particularly out of the ordinary, save that White-Eyes has been exiting the Factory less and less recently.

Day 6: Loading Dock

  • Concrete platform with a wooden roof, abuts the railroad.
  • A crocodile suns itself on the dock, blocking the door to Packaging.

Day 7: Pugs

De facto leader of the carvergirls living in the Big House. Most of her followers are scrunts and a few hunters. Rival to White-Eyes.

Appearance: Dark skin, checkered red bandanna, 'Happy Satan Instant Ramen' t-shirt.
Voice: Self-assured and confident 14-year-old chain smoker.
Wants: Take the farm for herself out of bucha control, keep her girls safe, to end her waking dream.
Morality: The sleepy, friendly exterior isn't an act, but not above a healthy amount of backstabbing.
Intelligence: Bright, but overlooks the flaws in her plans.

Bosun Red and Pebblemouth,
sittin' by the fire
Bosun Red told Pebblemouth
"I'm gonna set your shit on fire"