Sometimes people do things without realizing they do them, like crack their knuckles or pinch their eyebrow. These little quirks and tics can make an NPC memorable.
Anthony Owens shared a bunch of them, that we can adapt for D&D.
Roll a d30!
- Carries a large coin which he or she is always playing with in their hand.
- Is a habitual sniffler even when he or she is healthy.
- Regularly looks up at the sky to check the position of the sun/moon and comments on it.
- Always knows the direction he or she is traveling.
- Corrects people when they use colloquial speech.
- Is never seen without a feather in their cap.
- Whistles a jolly tune at random times, without realizing.
- Ends declarative sentences with in interrogative inflection?
- Is a mush mouth/mumbler.
- Is an incessant fidgeter and is always touching his or her face or head.
- Is unable to digest proteins correctly and gets very ill if too much protein rich food is consumed.
- Compulsively interrupts people telling stories to interject facts about the story that he or she only knows because they have been told the story before, not because they were involved with it.
- Makes up random lies about unimportant things for no reason.
- Has a weakness for rescuing stray animals.
- Gets physically angry when people mispronounce a certain word (e.g Illinois, precedent as president, especially as expecially).
- When stressed or lying, speaks from the corner of his or her mouth.
- Profusely sweats even when at rest.
- Is unable to take advice from anyone because he or she thinks that they know it all.
- Uses mundane items as toys (e.g. bottle caps, straws, chopsticks).
- Cannot drink anything that hasn’t been blessed.
- Walks in the middle of any aisle, sidewalk, or other shared walkway causing people to have to move around him or her.
- Drags his or her feet.
- Wears only (pick a color) socks/hose.
- Has several hidden body piercings or tattoos that regular clothing conceal.
- Always stands with his or her hands behind their back, sometimes in an “at ease” position, though he or she was never in the military.
- Doesn’t eat green things.
- Has the ability to speak in a cartoon-like voice which sounds little or nothing like his or her real voice.
- Is thrifty nearly to the point of obsessive or compulsive nature.
- Is always at least ten minutes early/late to any meeting or appointment.
- Always has change in his or her pocket to give to beggars or homeless.
The World of Weirth has no “traditional” goblinoid creatures. No Goblins, Hobgoblins or Bugbears. Rather, what the people of Weirth think of as Goblins are small, clever anthropoids who like to take things apart and put them back together.
No Appearing 20-200
Armor Class 7 (due to size and speed)
Move 6” (1”)
% in Lair 40%
Treasure Type Lair C
No of Attacks 2
Damage/Attack 1-4 or by weapon
Special Attacks Mob or Unravel
Special Defenses n/a
Magic Resistance Standard
Size S (2’ tall)
Psionic Ability n/a
A “Goblin” is a small creature that looks like a Spider-monkey with three arms. They are covered in soft, short, black hair except for their faces, hands, legs (from the knees down) and prehensile tails (where the bare skin is dark gray).
Their snouts are a bit like a tapir, with a stubby “trunk”, large ears and trumpet-like sense organs above their large, black eyes. These sense organs are for communication, Goblins can sense and generate sounds far above and below normal human hearing.
The right arm is large and muscular, with an incredible grip (STR 15) and a curious wrist-lock that can stiffen the hand into a “hook”. The fingernails on the right hand are very thick and tough, almost like claws. On the left they have two arms, the upper, outer arm is longer than the right arm and has very long, slender, dextrous fingers. The inner, smaller arm has shorter fingers with “suction cup” ends, rather than nails.
Goblins have a tribal society, with elaborate social customs determining a leader, or “Goblin King”. This is not always the strongest, and Queens are as common as male leaders. They tend to inhabit underground places, or will construct above-ground “barrow” villages, often near the walls, outside a fortified Human settlement. They dislike full daylight, attacking at -1 when in sunlight. Goblins have normal infravision (60’ range).
Goblins are not exactly intelligent, they have limited language skills, but they are exceedingly clever with their hands. They can take apart and re-assemble anything, usually better than they found it. They are inborn weavers and sculptors, they are also talented wood-carvers and -craftsmen.
They will flee rather than fight, unless they heavily outnumber a foe. They will usually have javelin-like weapons, or short bows, or small knives nearby to use as weapons (rather than hunting implements). Females with kits will attempt to flee from violence with their offspring, yet if cornered, or if a kit is injured/killed, they will fly into a murderous, berserk rage. Goblins prefer to attack from range, but if trapped will attempt to swarm and overbear a foe. If a group of six or more goblins are able to clamber onto an opponent, they will begin to disassemble any armor or protective gear, having it off in 10d6 seconds. They will fight to overbear and subdue as a (number of Goblins)+2 HD creature. A victim of this subduing damage will find themselves flat on the ground, stripped nearly naked, and bound like a lamb for slaughter. Goblins have an innate spell-like power of Mending/Unraveling, it is not a spell so there is no save.
Despite their small size, a Goblin’s right arm is very strong, like a very strong Human, with a crushing grip and a specialized wrist joint that can twist to “lock” the fingers into a hook. When they do this they are able to hang by their right arm for an essentially unlimited amount of time.
Their left arms and hands are much more delicate and dextrous, able to manipulate very small, delicate items, pick locks by touch, and create amazingly detailed carvings or sculptures. With their Mending/Unraveling power they are able to fix pretty much any broken, non-magical item except glass or silver. This takes d10+10 minutes for basic items, up to 90 minutes for difficult/complex/very broken items.
Goblins often dwell on the outskirts of a human settlement, in order to collect broken items and refuse, which they will then fix, or make something new with, and secretly give to “deserving” humans later. (i.e., leaving an item on a doorstep at night)
Some Goblin tribes, possibly more advanced (or just corrupt) take coins in exchange for items they have repaired or constructed.
(Goblins are bio-engineered “technicians” of an advanced, extra-terrestrial civilization. They were crew on a spacecraft that crash-landed on Weirth centuries ago, and have spread out over most of the world.)
Journal: Quarantine day 8 Social distancing is taking its toll. I can’t stop scrolling online Social Media Apps!
Wait! What’s this? A pretty cover and Oh! some wicked creative ideas! BRB
Not having a job for a bit has a silver lining: I’m getting caught up on TONS of reading, especially gaming stuff I just haven’t had time to get to. And I have been pretty lucky. In addition to picking some really cool books (REH’s original Conan stories, The Witches of Wenshar – Barbara Hambly) I’ve been able to grab some fun indie pubs, modules and zines.
Last month I did a crappy review of What Ho, Frog Demons from Chris Kutalik. I haven’t done any kind of book review in years! So I’ll try to be more thorough with this zine review of The Phylactery, from Planet X Games.
Let me start with saying this is not a sponsored review, but I did get a “review” copy of the PDF when the Kickstarter pledges went out. Based on the quality of this offering, I am sorry I missed out on the KS, and will be trying to get my hands on a print copy shortly…
This is exactly what a zine should be, creative, irreverent, and useful.
We have great art from Ed Bickford, Lawrence Hernandez, Adrian Landeros and Je Shields (sigh, another rabbit-hole of, um, research). I thoroughly enjoy the full-page Throne of Chaos piece and depictions of various slimy, gooey creatures that are a theme of this booklet.
What’s in it?
Welcome to THE PHYLACTERY, a Kickstarted zine funded solely by the OSR community! This lil’ judy is jam-packed with all sorts of ideas, plot hooks and interesting, crunchy bits that you can use to jumpstart your heroic fantasy RPGs. We’ve tried to give it the heart and feel of the old school RPGs we grew up playing ourselves back in the day but with our own Grindhouse aesthetic.
We go in assuming you already have the core books to play your favorite games and instead jump right into as much OSR-inspired material as we could pack in here. Within these pages you’ll find new adventures, quirky NPCs, wondrous magical items, all new monsters, fell locations, relics from beyond the mists of time and all sorts of resources for your tabletop games.
Indeed. The issue starts out strong with an artifact, the Throne of Chaos. Containing some wonderful, whimsical effects, this is one of my favorite sections. Stash this treasure in a dungeon when you’re ready to mix things up for your party!
Next up, almost two dozen pages of adventure hooks based on descriptions of monsters, NPCs and magic items. “Forbidden Demon Cults from the Outer Void” reveals three new Eldritch Horrors for your campaign. There is plenty here for hours worth of terrorizing, er, challenging your PCs. I’ll be keeping this list handy for when the Rogue says, “I’m going to talk to that dude in the corner, sitting by himself.”
The zine also includes adventures ready to drop into your own campaign. “Corpse Garden of the Myconid King” has an interesting origin, and could be run either in Horror- or a Gonzo-style. I think it would make an awesome campaign-starter for some low-level (3rd-5th) characters.
“Utos, the Isle of the Shattered Moon” is a fun wilderness adventure setting that would be perfect for a shipwreck or a stop-over while a PC party traveling by sea needs to flee from some pirates. It offers a fantastic opportunity to drop in a little extra Cosmic Horror like Robert E. Howard’s The Black Stone (link to a free PDF, if you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so ASAP) or Queen of the Black Coast.
The third “adventure” is a hex-crawl map with eight locations for exploration and clever PC challenges. These are loaded with ideas for expanding your campaign setting or simply as a succession of one-shots. All of the maps are clear, professionally drawn, and have a great deal of character. The artwork in general is fantastic, which helps establish the theme and embellishes the NPCs.
The zine finishes with four new monsters, with complete stat-blocks, high-quality illustrations and descriptions. New monsters always come in handy.
Overall, I would rate this zine as a five out of five. I should really come up with some sort of categories for these reviews…
Anyhow, follow Planet X Games on twitter and check out their products on Drive-thru RPG.
Spotted a great thread on Twitter tonight: @anxietywizard
it’s actually very boring when all the features of a class relate to combat.
• pick one: authority, confidence, menace. you exude this quality and it influences all interactions you have.
• if it’s uncertain which side is stronger, for every fighter in the group add 1 to reaction rolls if that moves the reaction away from violence.
• you know the basics of outdoor survival.
• you get along with authority figures, you know how to behave (best of 2 reaction rolls)
• you seem untrustworthy in general but will get away with the first lie you tell or scam you pull on someone regardless.
• you are suspicious, reduce reactions of local authorities by 1 for each thief present.
• your superficial charm adds +1 to initial reactions by non-authorities. re-roll reactions the second time, it cannot be better than your first roll.
•you know nothing about either (outdoor survival or medicine), but know where to best steal both.
• authority figures dislike you, and you don’t get along with them. (worst of 2 reactions rolls, roll often)
• you seem like you would “know” when things are uncertain. strangers ask you for advice, and offer information freely.
• 1 in 6 chance any interaction you have leaves others with a Strange Feeling that influences future contact. Roll 2d6:
2-3: Cursed. Avoidance.
4-6: Bad Omen. Distrust.
7-9: Mysterious, Curious.
10-11: Enchanted. Fascinated
12: Prophetic, “saw you in a dream”. Blessed.
• you know the basics of folk and academic medicine.
• authority figures are imposing toward you, regardless
• you know how to party, but know less about subtle social cues.
• you do not know how to party, but have wonderful etiquette.
• you know how to party, and know how to charm, but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
I like these little “personality traits” or “generalizations”. Obviously, there could be some swaps for individual characters, as there is nothing to say a Fighting Man can’t have wonderful etiquette. This thread also reminds me of the Personae of NPCs section of the 1e DMG (page 100), with the General Tendencies, Personality Traits and personal beliefs .
The Personal Beliefs categories include Honesty, Morals, Materialism, etc. You can roll on one chart, or all of them, to get a better idea of how your NPC will react in a given situation. I like how Wizard’s personality traits are a little more mechanical, and some of them have an effect outside interpersonal interactions.
It occurs to me that you could do something with the old Secondary Skills (1e DMG p. 12) chart as well, by grouping them and making some more generalizations:
Tradesman (Navigator, Teamster, Sailor) or Craftsman (Armorer, Mason, Tailor), you could add in some Professional Class Secondary Skills too (Accountant, Merchant, Engineer, Steward)
These Secondary Skill groups could confer more prompts or knowledge in Encounters. A Tradesman might know about contracts, setting up groups or organizations, perhaps the value of a product in one location vs its value in another (iron is cheap in a mountain mining town, quite dear in a seaside village).
A Craftsman could tell the relative quality or origin of a material, its workmanship/design and relative value here and there.
A Professional might know how things work in a macro sense, such as how many farmers to feed a town of 500, how many barrels weighing X can fit in a wagon, when or by whom a building was constructed.
I had already created a space for Personality Traits in my NPC template, now I can add some other descriptive comments to help bring these characters to life.
As always, please share your thoughts in the Comments.
Ever wonder what plants are like under the ground? Some fun things for your PCs to discover while foraging.
Roll a d30!
Magical Roots and Tubers
Some are known by the name of the food-stuff made from their roots, others by the flower, shrub or tree they support. These seemingly common roots and tubers can be used in potions and elixirs.
- Ebon Potatoes – protection from blood afflictions
- Crimson Potatoes – protection from bone afflictions
- Golden Beets – curative for brain injuries
- Manioc – protects and stregthens the kidneys
- Waxpod vine – prevent connective tissue disease
- Indigo Fern – cures hearing loss
- Spinefruit – cures eye/vision-related afflictions
- Samphire – reduces swelling and pain in the joints
- Kaelenn – a leafy, green shrub-like plant with a thick, bulbous yellow root ball
- Celeriac – Cure for mucous-membrane dryness
- Sunflower – the shaggy root ball is a cure for chronic nose-throat illnesses
- Dandelion – the long, fibrous root, when boiled into a tea, eliminates respiratory disorders
- Palmetto – the creamy flesh of the thick-skinned root of this plant can be pulped and mixed with wine to stanch bleeding
- Salsify – white-fleshed root with a black covering, used to cure snakebites
- Kohlrabi – wild cabbage – the roots and stems are boiled to make a syrup that cures urinary infections
- Oca – a cream-colored root with reddish grooves, dry and powder as a stimulant
- Sedge-nuts – walnut-sized brown nodules – dry and powder for another reduction, that cures skin ailments and acne
- Sonchi – disk-shaped root ball of another sunflower-like plant – eaten raw causes restful sleep
- Tropa – long-finger-like cream-colored root with purple grooves – boiled and mashed with salt and blood, prevents drunkenness
- Uyucco – root of an orchid-like flowering plant – aids in improving vision
- Radix – a bifurcated radish-like root, with a long stem and a ball of tiny leaves on top – makes a spicy tea that eliminates body-odor
- Ochre Carrot – enhances sense of smell
- Turnip – aids vision in darkness or low light
- Parsnip – boiled and mashed with goat’s milk to make a salve for rashes
- Dogwood sapling – the root is boiled for hours until soft, eating produces sweat on the skin that repels flying insects
- Charcoal Iris – the long, worm-like reddish brown root of this plant is soaked in containers of alcohol to create a weak poison that causes minor auditory hallucinations
- Nettle – a paste made of nettle roots and lye removes bloodstains from clothing
- Scrub Oak – the dirt washed from the roots of this plant makes a poultice that is proof against infection (of an open wound)
- Wild Onion – the tiny, hair-like roots of a multitude of these tiny onions make a tea that overcomes hunger for 6-8 hours
- Truffle – shaved into very thin strips and served on food, truffle prevents infertility in males and females
NOTE: All of this information is made up. None of these effects are even Folk Remedies. DO NOT eat some of these things IRL.
“There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).”
page 7 – Dungeons & Dragons, by Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson – Edited by Eric Holmes
3rd edition, 1979
For the World of Weirth (TM) campaign setting I am going to look at re-imagining the role of the Cleric Class to fit into a global, polytheistic worldview, as well as the sub-classes of paladin, witch, monk and druid. We have plenty of examples of these classes and character roles in literature, especially Appendix N. The goal is to eliminate the Class of Cleric and turn in into a vocation, like Knight or Cat-burglar, and subsume the spellcasting abilities into the Magic-User Class. All magic will be derived from the same source, with no distinction between “Arcane” magic and “Divine” magic. That source is the crystal shard originally used to create the world by the Elder Gods.
For the purposes of this article and those that follow, we will be taking a very Old-School approach to character-class and campaign-setting design. The first assumption is that the implied setting of AD&D is that of a Post- Post-apocalyptic world. People have been writing about this for years, some of the best resources are (Rabbit-hole-warning: I am going to link several other blog posts that reference still more great blog posts. Get a cup of coffee and settle in):
There are more, I’ll probably link them in my Appendix N page (WIP). NOTE: Vital reading: Empire of the East, Fred Saberhagen
Having established the nature and status of the setting, I’ve written a Creation Story that encompasses the First Age of the world, with magic and wonders, that ends with a mighty war. The war lasts for generations, while the Elves destroy themselves and the world they built. The Humans (and some other demi-humans/humanoids, a very limited list) struggle to survive in the ruins, building a new civilization upon the wreckage of the old.
Gods are born in this Post-Apocalyptic world as an accretion of the hopes and fears of the survivors. The psychic power of faith and the natural infusion of magic in the world gave the gods power in the absence of the Elves. The gods grew in influence and control, and they warred with each other. The gods don’t know they haven’t always been there. The gods believe the destruction of the Old World was the beginning of all things. They do not understand the diminished state of magic in the world, or that their own activities serve to deplete it further.
Much that was known has been forgotten, and it is in this forgetting that magic is further diminished.
I am inspired by a couple of quotes from recent blog posts:
- The Chromatic Cauldron – Vancian Magic and World Building – “…maybe forgetting things is built into different aspect of the fabric of the world. Maybe dungeons are forgotten places that fester or are badly remembered. Maybe that magical weapons erase from their wielder memory who they have slain. Maybe forgetting the dead turn them into undead, so you have to honor the memory of the people you kill if you don’t want them to come back. Wars mean building colossal monuments to honor the dead to avoid returning undead armies. Fabricating fake memories or preserving false histories could have interesting consequences too“
- Against the Wicked City – OSR Aesthetics of Ruin – “Rather than a perfectly healthy tribe of orcs practicing perfectly functional evil magic, their ruin-settings are more likely to be inhabited by clans of mad and degenerate morlocks practicing weird semi-functional cargo-cult sorcery based on badly-misunderstood fragments of ancient knowledge that they found scratched onto the dungeon walls. They don’t just live in ruins: they have ruined bodies, ruined minds, ruined societies, and sometimes even ruined souls, as well.“
The next-to-last bit of inspiration comes from Dan at Delta’s D&D Hotspot. (And I really need to make a page like that…) He got rid of Clerics as a distinct class years ago, and lists a bunch of reasons. I think many of those reasons are very good. Dan has another post here (Trouble with Clerics), where he lays out some of his thinking, but it’s the Comments where the gold is. In particular, there is this from Frankie:
“In a world where the gods have direct involvement with men, you can be certain that *any* religion could rise to epic proportions. After all, every following could not only prove their god exists, but demonstrate that he grants miracles at the behest of his holy men! That’s some recruiting call… “
The one that REALLY gets me, though, is this one, from TPmanW:
“ the Coins and Scrolls and Goblin Punch solutions:
C&S: Cleric is a job, not a class. It comes with social benefits and obligations, but no magical powers. Mix and match with whatever class you want.“
Cleric is a job, not a class.
Anyone can be an evangelist for a god. In a world where gods are real, and sometimes take a personal interest in the goings-on of mortals, everyone is “religious”. There are no “atheists”. In a polytheistic society, the typical person will commonly call upon more than one deity for various day-to-day needs and blessings. There are assuredly “churches”, buildings or places where one or more gods are worshipped (or spirits, demons, elemental forces, ancestors, etc), according to their various spheres of influence. In the Weirth setting, magic is seemingly everywhere, and nowhere. The supernatural forces are burning it up with their squabbles. Without the Elves and the Voorsteh to cultivate and grow sources and flows of magic, it dissipates. Magic is being forgotten, and in the forgetting it dissipates.
Every year there are fewer and fewer people born with the Gift of being able to grasp the power of magic to manipulate reality. Most of the inhabitants of Weirth can’t sense the flows of magic at all. Some have Knacks, a bit of a “special power” that would seem magical if we didn’t all know how dangerous magic is. Besides, a Knack isn’t something one can control, it just happens, like when your grandmother’s biscuits always turn out so light and tasty. Or how your cousin can tie a knot that never slips, or untangle a skein of yarn by just pulling on it. The master cabinet maker who is able to cut boards around the knots in a piece of wood, then make them look like they belong in the finished piece. It’s not really magic.
Magic is an accepted and expected practice on Weirth. In fact, anything unexpected or unfortunate that happens is generally attributed to magical interference from a supernatural being. Everyone knows, and uses constantly, small charms and hexes they believe will affect the outcome of their activities, or protect them from those same supernatural beings.
There are many forms of Blessings – for food, for shelter, before beginning tasks or journeys, at night for protection from the dark, monsters, or deadly dreams. Hedge witches, midwives, prophets and zealots abound. Very low-grade, commonplace magic, sleight-of-hand and chicanery are taken for granted as supernatural power derived from gods or demons. Alchemy and the creation of protective trinkets is a booming business. Though based on chemistry or natural effects, the efficacy of these products is ascribed to that same god-blessed or demonic magic.
Priests, Prophets, Zealots and others in the hierarchy of a ‘church’ or ‘cult’ (a congregation of people that gather to worship a particular spirit, elemental force, god or group of gods) often have no magical ability at all. What they do have is the weight and force of history and tradition behind them, political power, charisma, and often a magic item that serves as “proof” of their chosen status. Even without actual magical ability, these Clerics are a very important part of everyday life as they are believed to speak directly to and with the gods (or spirits, demons, elemental forces, ancestors, etc). As such, they will have an outsized social influence. A shouted command of “Seize the heretics!” becomes a much different thing when superstition is the rule. The townsfolk will do it. No questions asked. Religious rules, restrictions and obligations are extremely important to the peoples of Weirth.
A Magic-User is just a Magic-User
The old woman who helps with child-birth, helps set broken bones, and leads the village in the Harvest Festival every year has some magic, but she’s not a Wizard. Wizards are the old, shriveled elders in the courts of the Lords. They’ve been to the Tower of Silence for training in the mysteries of magic. They’ve completed the Grand Trial and learned the secrets of the universe!
In the Weirth setting, the Cleric and the Druid are sub-classes of Magic-User, like an Illusionist (and a Witch). At low levels, the AD&D PHB class description states that Clerics gain spells just like any other MU, through study and memorization. It is only at mid- and higher-levels do they need to communicate with a supernatural source for spells and power. Well, I’d like ‘regular’ magic to work like that, too. Every mid- and high-level Magic-User needs to contact a supernatural being, whether it is a god, a demon, the spirit of a place (such as a forest or river) or a departed ancestor.
Continue reading »
An idea for Spell Failure tables, borrowed and modified from Adventures into Darkness https://adventuresintodarkness.blogspot.com/2014/10/critical-spell-failures-and-wild-magic.html
When a spell fails it will likely have an adverse effect on the caster, and possibly on those around them…
These effects will also utilize the Sanity Rules
Spell Failure Probability (DRAFT)
When casting a spell, there is always a chance of failure.
Roll a d30
A Natural 1 always equals failure.
Modifiers to d30 roll:
- Casting above level: -2 per Spell Level (Ex. A third-level MU is able to cast 1st or 2nd level spells. If they cast a 4th level spell, the roll will be at -4)
- Converting the Spell into a Ritual that takes one hour per spell level: +2
- Casting spell through a Casting Focus (wand, rod, staff, orb, etc): +1
- Casting while under the influence of raw Mother’s Milk: +3
- Casting under the influence of Transformed Mother’s Milk: +1
|d30 Result||Spell level being cast||Effect|
|1-2||L3-4||Roll on Corruption Table|
|1-3||L5-7||Roll on Corruption Table|
|1-4||L8-9||Roll on Corruption Table|
Roll a d20, subtract the Spell Level
1 – or less – Roll on Minor Corruption chart
2 – Spell fails and is forgotten for remainder of session
3 – Caster and target exchange physical locations
4 – Random monster is summoned (DM decides)
5 – Spell effect rebounds on caster (target is unaffected)
6 – Spell cannot be canceled at will by caster (or roll again if not applicable)
7 – Spell effect has 60′ radius centered on caster (all within radius experience the effect, including caster)
8 – Reverse spell effect strikes target (DM decides)
9 – All doors, including secret doors, portcullises, etc. (including those locked, Held or barred) within 60′ of caster swing open
10 or more – Caster takes 5 HP damage
On a roll of 2+ the Caster loses 2 Sanity points
1 or less – Roll on Major Corruption chart
2 – Character develops horrid pustules on his face. These pustules do not heal and impose a -1 penalty to social charisma ability checks.
2 – Character’s skin on one random portion of his body appears to melt. Like wax, it flows and reforms into odd puddles and shapes. This is an ongoing, constant motion that itches constantly and repulses others. Determine location randomly (1d6): (1) face; (2) arms; (3) legs; (4) torso; (5) hands; (6) feet.
3 – One of the character’s legs grows 1d3”. Character now walks with an odd gait. This also causes constant, chronic back pain.
4 – Eyes affected. Roll 1d4: (1) eyes glow with unearthly color; (2) eyes lose pigment, turn pink, gain light sensitivity (-1 to all rolls in daylight); (3) character gains infravision (sees heat signatures at range of 100’); (4) eyes become large and unblinking, like a reptile (with a nictating membrane)..
5 – Character develops painful lesions on his chest and legs and open sores on his hands and feet that require d4+1 weeks to heal.
6 – Ears mutate. Roll 1d5: (1) ears become pointed; (2) ears fall off (character still hears normally); (3) ears enlarge and look like an elephant’s, as big as your hand; (4) ears elongate and look like a donkey’s (character also gains braying laugh); (5) ears shrivel and fold back.
7 – Chills. Character shakes constantly and cannot remain quiet due to chattering teeth. -15% to Spell Casting roll
8 – Character’s facial appearance is permanently disfigured according to the magic that was summoned. If fire magic was used, his eyebrows are scorched and his skin glows red; if cold magic was used, his skin is pasty white and his lips are blue. If ambiguous magic was used, his appearance grows gaunt and he permanently loses 5 pounds.
9 – Character’s hair is suffused with dark energy. Roll 1d4: (1) hair turns bone white; (2) hair turns pitch black; (3) hair falls out completely; (4) hair sticks straight up.
10+ – Character passes out. He is unconscious for 1d6 hours or until awakened by vigorous means.
On a roll of 2+ the Caster loses 3 Sanity Points
Save vs Death of suffer Paranoia.
Below 1 – Roll on Greater corruption chart
1 – Febrile. Character slowly weakens over 1d4 months, suffering a -1 penalty to Strength for each month. Recovery takes place at the rate of 1 STR per week of normal rest.
2 – A duplicate of the character’s face grows on his back. It looks just like his normal face. The eyes, nose, and mouth can be operated independently.
3 – Consumption. Character’s body feeds on its own mass. Character loses 2d10 pounds in one week and suffers a -1 penalty to Constitution.
4 – Corpulence. Character gains 6d12 pounds in one month. The weight gain imposes a -1 penalty to Dexterity, and the character’s speed is reduced by 5’.
5 – Character crackles with energy of a type associated with the spells he most commonly casts. The energy could manifest as flames, lightning, cold waves, etc.
6 – Character’s height changes by 1d20-10 inches. There is no change in weight; the character’s body grows thin and tall or short and fat.
7 – Demonic taint. Roll 1d4: (1) character’s fingers elongate into claws, and he gains an attack for 1d6 damage; (2) character’s eyes turn yellow, have vertical pupils, like a cat; (3) character’s legs become goat-like, with cloven hooves; (4) small, useless wings grow from the character’s shoulderblades (bat-, bird-, or insect-like at DM’s discretion)
8 – Character’s tongue forks and their nose flattens, nostrils narrow to slits. The character is able to taste/smell with their tongue like a snake.
9 – Small horns grow on the character’s forehead. This appears as a ridge-like, simian forehead for the first month; then buds for the second month; goat horns after the third month; and finally, bull horns after six months.
10+ Character’s skin changes to an unearthly shade. Roll 1d8: (1) albino; (2) pitch black; (3) clear; (4) shimmering quality; (5) deep blue; (6) malevolent yellow; (7) ashen and pallid; (8) texture and color of fishy scales; (9) thick bear-like fur; (10) reptilian scales.
On a roll of 2+ the PC loses 5 Sanity Points, 1 is lost permanently.
Save vs Death at -2 or suffer Paranoia.
Below 1 – The Character ceases to exist. DM fiat on how this happens. Maybe they simply wink out of existence, maybe they explode.
1 – A sliver of soul energy is claimed by a demon lord. Character experiences unearthly pain, suffering 3d6 damage, a permanent -2 penalty to all ability scores, and a permanentl -2 penalty to Sanity.
2 – Decay. Character’s flesh falls off in zombie-like chunks. Character loses 1d4 hp per day. Only magical healing can stave off the decay.
3 – Character’s head becomes bestial in a painful overnight transformation. Roll 1d6: (1) snake; (2) goat; (3) bull; (4) rat; (5) insect; (6) fish.
4 – Character’s limbs are replaced by suckered tentacles. One limb is replaced at random each month for four months. At the end of four months, it is impossible to hide the character’s inhuman nature.
5 – Small tentacles grow around the character’s mouth and ears. The tentacles are maggot-sized at first, but grow at rate of 1” per month to a mature length of 12”.
6 – Third eye. Roll 1d4 for location: (1) middle of forehead; (2) palm of hand; (3) chest; (4) back of head.
7 – Fingers on one hand fuse while the thumb enlarges. After one week, the hand has transformed into a crab claw. Character gains a natural attack for 1d6 damage and can no longer grasp normal weapons and objects.
8 – Character grows a beak in place of his mouth. Transformation starts as a puckering of the lips that slowly turns into a full-fledged bird or squid beak over the next 1d12 months. Character gains a bite attack for 1d3 damage.
9 – Bodily transformation. Roll 1d6: (1) character grows scales across his entire body; (2) character grows gills; (3) character sprouts feathers; (4) character develops webbed toes and feet.
10+ Character grows a tail over 1d6 days. Roll 1d6: (1) scorpion tail that can attack for 1d4 damage plus poison (save or target loses 1d4 Str permanently); (2) scaly snake tail; (3) forked demon tail (grants +1 Dexterity); (4) fleshy tail ending in a useable third hand; (5) fused cartilaginous links ending in spiked stump that can attack for 1d6 damage; (6) bushy horse’s tail.
On a roll of 2+ the PC loses 7 Sanity Points, 2 are lost permanently.
Save vs Death at -4 or suffer Paranoia.
Books! Scrolls! Maps! Your PCs always want to know what’s in them, what are they about…
What treasure will this map take us to??
Roll a d30!
- Book of Receipts and Disbursements – a detailed ledger of the Housekeeper’s accounts. Food, drink, and other supplies.
- Aeroica’s Codex – “Poems and Fancies” – a collection of vapid, florid love poems written in an archaic and formal style.
- Flur Yannseen’s “Tales of Angels and Demons” – a bestiary of the assorted spirits that attend to the Great God of the Mountains.
- Rubehr’s Codex – written on the highest quality vellum, this book describes games of chance using dice, knucklebones and runestones.
- The Third Scroll of Sabershagg – a continuation of the meticulous genealogy of the Sabershagg family in the demesne of Shagg Barony
- The Arbitory Tablet – a clay tablet “moondial” with the houses of the zodiac and a “lunar” gnomon. This item radiates magic if Detect Magic is used. When exposed to the light of a full moon, whichever symbol the gnomon points to, depending on the season, otherwise invisible runes will appear on the tablet. (What the runes say or mean is up to you!)
- “The Joker” by Nachio Vellio – an exhaustive treatise on telling jokes at court without upsetting the ladies
- “Tales of my Grandfather” by Nachio Vellio – a hagiography of the First Councilor of the fourth Baron Shagg. There is a lewd drawing of the Baron sketched in charcoal inside the back cover of the codex.
- Map of Harborside District, Shaggport – a scroll depicting the streets and alleys of this infamous district. Areas controlled by various criminal elements have been highlighted in colored inks. There is a note on the edge about a particular service offered at Silblay’s House of Thirteen Silks.
- Map of the Temple District of Shaggport. On the back is a complicated diagram (like a flowchart) attempting to depict the political alliances of the various factions.
- Registry of Foreign Peoples, (July) CY 563 – three scrolls, tied with string, with a list of names of any non-residents of Shaggport that entered the city, including their business and sponsor (if any) in the month of (July) ten years ago. All of the names “sponsored” by Nachio Vellio are circled in blue-green ink. One name, “Antonia Arpellia, musician, poetess”, shows up three times in three obviously different hands. A margin note (in the same color ink) reads “Find Arpllia soonest!” [sic]
- A particularly long scroll, mounted on a pair of ivory-handled reading rods, “On the Cultivation of Mandrake and Darkfruit”, author unknown, but the penmanship is excellent and the drawings are exceptional.
- “A Method for Weighing Gold Jewels and Crowns”, a scroll written by Arkimallius.
- “A Method for Gaining Political Influence”, a slim codex, written in a very formal style, by Nachio Vellio.
- “The Scroll of Trade and Economics”, four short scrolls in Bindhalese describing grain harvesting and trading.
- “Her Reputation”, by Jenay Ayerie, a cheaply constructed codex filled with the shocking descriptions of the activities of a widowed gentle-lady.
- Bindhalese/Common dictionary and phrasebook
- Bindhalese/Elven dictionary and phrasebook
- “Courtly Ettiquette in Bindhala”, author unknown. Rules for dress and speech in the Royal Court of Bindhala, in Common and Bindhalese.
- A Contract for the transfer of a shipment of grain, including baskets, barrels, wagons and horses, between the current Baron of Shagg and the Ambassador to Bindhala. The payment is an exorbitant sum!
- A thick codex, bound in mahogany-dyed pigskin, magically locked. (A Knock spell will open it.) The book contains all of the research and notes for creating a Limited Polymorph spell. There are several anatomical drawings of a pig.
- A bundle of a dozen papyrus scrolls, with the holy scriptures of (the God of Safe Travels). The text includes three prayers, with accompanying diagrams of hand-gestures (the first-level spells Bless, Protection from Evil, Remove Fear).
- The tanned skin of a lion, carefully wrapped around a short spear with an elaborate point. Written on the skin is the formula for a Potion of Heroism.
- A triptych. Three wooden panels, hinged with leather strips, painted with ochre paints. They depict three scenes from the Life of Rapkar, first Baron of Shagg and Patron Saint of Oyster Fishermen. “Learning to Swim” (a baby splashing in water), “Diving for Pearls” (a youth in a blue clout swimming underwater), “The Blue Pearl” (a youth, standing triumphantly on a beach, holding aloft an enormous blue pearl, surrounded by kneeling fishermen).
- A codex covered in oilskin, with seasonal tide charts, wind charts and other nautical information.
- “Faerie Stories of Granny Swann”, a collection of short morality tales, accompanied by crude woodcut illustrations.
- “Songs of the Sea”, a collection of folk songs about sailing and fishing.
- A scroll of tightly woven razor-grass, 3 feet by 4 feet, with a detailed map of the shoreline of the Barony of Shagg and the neighboring Barony of Kelline.
- A small, pocket sized codex, that appears to be a log or journal of sorts, it has a list of dates, followed by descriptions of a shoreline and the quality of fishing at the spot. Only 18 of 48 pages are filled with a crabbed, angular handwriting.
- A bundle of scrolls showing sketches and drawings of a fishing boat, with measurements and calculations.
When D&D 2e came out, we were pretty psyched, because the new PHB had a bunch of cool new Proficiencies. Something that IIRC had been introduced in Dragon Magazine as an option had been expanded and made “official”.
We quickly discovered that by relying upon a limited number of skills that our PCs could be proficient in, we seemed to be NOT-proficient in all of the other skills and activities. Before Proficiencies, we just rolled against whatever Ability Score seemed most appropriate. Or we just assumed our PCs knew how to do a lot of things that we Modern Folk might not know about. Like how to properly fell a tree. How to load panniers on a donkey. How to tan animal hide. Basic, “Pioneer-type” skills that we don’t have, but that our “make everything for themselves” PCs certainly would.
We made a House Rule
Proficiencies became “Expert Level” knowledge. Your PC spends 2d4 weeks and some gold studying astrology with the Fortune Teller down the road, gains Proficiency in Astrology. Otherwise, “which constellation rises first in the Spring?” becomes an INT check. Gaining Expert-level knowledge of a topic became a down-time skill-building exercise like Level-training.
Looking at all of the Proficiency types, Skills, Feats, and Special Abilities that come with first-level D&D5e characters makes me feel the same way I did years ago. Because your PC doesn’t have Proficiency in one of these areas, she can’t do it at all.
A New Way to Look at Skill Resolution
From Shamgrog, waaaaay back in 2011!
The Art of Delving
A general purpose d6 roll is used for determining success or failure when undertaking various mundane tasks in the game. Refs can adjust the target 5 as needed, increasing it to 6 or lowering it to 4 or less as the game demands.
Note: It is suggested that Refs avoid simply reducing these acts to straightforward dice rolls. Encourage player reasoning and input, and reward or penalize them accordingly. The 5+ roll is a baseline suggestion, one which should be modified depending upon how the characters are attempting them, the prevailing circumstances, and the difficulty of the particular endeavor.
The 5+ Rule:
1: Absolute Failure
6: Success and roll again. With a result of 6 on the roll again, the character denotes one pip above the relevant task.
Improving with Experience: When six such pips are earned the character gains a permanent +1 on all 5+ checks with that particular task. No further bonuses may be gained in this manner for that particular task.
This would totally replace the idea of Proficiencies and give a good chance for a reasonably competent adventurer to accomplish many mundane tasks. AND it gives a player some input on how they approach preparing for and executing the task. A well-thought-out plan would get a +1 to their roll, while doing something off-the-cuff may cause a -1 adjustment.
I like this a lot, and plan to add it to the Grimdark Fantasy setting.
Please share your thoughts in the Comments.
Getting back into writing more narrative-style content for D&D adventures has led me to do a bunch of research on keeping my theme and tone consistent. Two recent resources that have been very eye-opening are Adventure Writing like a F***** Boss by Venger Satanis and Stealing Cthulhu by Graham Walmsley.
These two resources have been incredibly valuable.
One part of AWLAFB that really grabbed me was the chart Venger made called “Making Conflict More Interesting”. With categories like “The enemy is something unusual” and “The enemy has something unusual” it gives you, as a writer, a prompt to make your NPCs or villain characters different from what your players may be expecting.
While this is a great idea on its own, it occurred to me that you can use this tool to enhance characters and environments, not just to make them different, but different in a way that is consistent with the theme or tone you are working to build.
Create Prompts for Your Intended Aesthetic
What is the theme of your setting or environment? What tone are you trying to create? Is there a mood you have in mind? Using these concepts to define the aesthetic will help you to build the right kind of descriptions for monsters, villains, and environments your players encounter.
Walmsley isolated a few terms that Lovecraft uses in his writing to set a tone and create an atmosphere. I made a chart of these, plus a few more:
|Beautiful, Comely||Ugly, Deformed|
|Soft, Smooth||Jagged, Compacted|
|Fine, Delicate||Coarse, Gnarled|
Choose more of your own words that define the aesthetic of the environment you want to describe:
For the interior description of a low-rent Tavern: Stale, Smoky, Greasy and Grimy.
For a long-forgotten tomb: Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated.
The thesaurus is your friend!
Once you have chosen the words you feel best represent what you are working to convey, write them on a sticky-note and put them right in front of you while you are writing. When you get to a place in your narrative where you need to emphasize or re-establish the tone/theme, see where it fits in the chart below. “They” refers to the NPCs or villains in your description.
These descriptors can be used for an immediate description of what is in front of your characters, for a Callback – referencing something that happened earlier, or as Foreshadowing.
Using the tomb as an example:
- They are something _____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated)
- They have something ____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated)
- They know something about the _____ (environment, other NPC, Villain)
- They say something about the _____ (environment, other NPC, Villain)
- They do something to interact with the _____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated) environment
- The environment has a _____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated) feature
- The environment is expected to be _____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated), but is instead (the opposite)
- The environment’s _____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated) nature has an unusual effect on the senses
- The environment transitions from “the expected” (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated) to the unusual (the opposite or something else altogether) over time
- The environment transitions from “the expected” (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated) to the unusual (the opposite or something else altogether) over space
- The NPC/Monster/Villain is only intermittently _____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated), or only some PCs can perceive the nature of the NPC/Monster/Villain
- The environment is only intermittently _____ (Desiccated, Powdery, Exhausted, Desolated), or only some PCs can perceive the nature of the environment
Avoid getting carried away. While you want to be consistent and building upon your theme, remember to keep your thesaurus resource handy. Move from one “level” of description to another as the adventure progresses – for example from Dry to Withered to Desiccated. For example, the descriptions of the rooms may begin with a “layer of dry sand and grit on the floor“, then later “the floor and withered furnishings are covered in a film of dust, the air is so dry your nose is starting to bleed“. In the final description the room and its contents may be “nearly white with a coating of desiccated limestone powder“.
This thematic build-up can make the final encounter even more jarring, especially if, when they open that final sarcophagus, it squelches and “a moist cloud reeking of putrefaction fills the chamber! While your guts roil in disgust, a glistening claw of a hand, dripping with mucus, rises from the coffin, reaching for…”
You get the idea!
Keep in mind that you can use this technique in reverse, as well. Start the PCs in an extreme environment and move them to one more mundane. As they begin to relax in familiar surroundings, you can hit them with the next, unexpected encounter!
As always, comments are welcome. Share your thoughts! What are your favorite descriptive words for setting a theme or tone for the description of an encounter?
Hobby Progress 2019
Dec 29 - 106
Cultists and Zealots - Complete
Overland Travel Encounters - Complete
Grimdark Greyhawk and the Faerie Realm - Outline
Order vs Entropy - An Alternate Alignment System
- Astonishing Sworsdmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
- Gaming Community
- Grimdark Greyhawk
- Kings of War
- OSR – Old School Rules
- Periodic Review
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- Pulp Alley
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- World of Weirth
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