A selection of mildly – to – moderately cursed items to add some brightness to your PC’s humdrum lives.
- A jeweled statuette of a sphinx that constantly oozes pus from its mouth.
- A bag that won’t hold metal items (they just fall right thru).
- A codex that only allows each page to be read/written on once (turn a page, it stays turned).
- A bejeweled, dragon-skin sword sheath full of carbon dust, gets all over when weapon drawn, won’t wash off for 2-5 days.
- A quill that writes without ink, but causes cuts on the backs of your hands and wrists. It does not write with ink.
- A pouch that is literally freezing cold inside, and is constantly dripping with condensation (except in very dry locales).
- A Ring of Shocking Grasp that does 1d6 damage to the wearer and makes the wearer’s hand smell like burnt oil.
- A Ring of Swimming that attracts leeches to the wearer. (2d6 leeches attach to the wearer while swimming in fresh water, damage of 1 HP per turn until ring and leeches are removed)
- A Ring of Canine Control. Any dogs, wolves, jackals, etc. within 1/4 mile are attracted to the wearer. They will obey verbal commands (except to injure themselves or attack each other) except Sit, Stay and Play Dead. If the canines are not actively performing a task/command, they will gather around the wearer, jumping up and trying to lick their face.
- A silver bracelet with a single chrysoprase stone in a setting, inlaid with ebony mosaic. The bracelet confers Invisibility on the wearer, but not their clothing, anything held in their hands, or the contents of their gut.
- A wide golden armband carved with eels and sea stars, that adjusts to fit any sized arm it is placed on. It will then slip loose when the wearer is engaged in any active motion (running, fighting, swimming, etc) and slip down to the elbow where it will get stuck, holding the wearer’s arm straight. The armband will stay wrapped around the elbow joint for one hour, when it will then loosen and be able to slip up the arm. Not down towards the wrist, the forearm will have become swollen. Allow 2-5 hours for the swelling to go down, then the armband can be removed.
- A set of four silver bangles that have small silver bells attached. Whenever the wearer engages in any active motion (running, fighting, swimming, etc) the bells will begin to ring loudly and incessantly. The ringing can be heard for 100 yards. the ringing cannot be muffled or stopped. The bangles can only be removed by the wearer cutting themselves for 3 HP damage per bangle, or a Remove Curse spell.
- A necklace of silver and lapis lazuli, causes the wearer’s voice to come out in song, a high falsetto. The wearer believes they sound normal. The necklace can only be removed by the light of the full moon or by Remove Curse spell.
- A pair of golden hoop earrings with inset diamonds, quite valuable. Wearing these pierced earrings causes a double ear infection and conjunctivitis. The infections begin after 24 hours of wearing the earrings, reaching their peak six hours later. The wearer will be deafened and blinded by swollen ears and eyelids. The eyes will leak pus for 12 hours even if the earrings are removed. The deafness will persist for 48 hours.
- Amulet of Forgetfulness – Wearing this amulet causes people within 30 feet of the wearer to forget about the presence and location of the wearer! They will be unable to remember the wearer is nearby. It the wearer is unable, or unwilling, to call attention to themselves by speaking or waving a limb, they will be effectively Invisible to others within 30 feet for as long as they remain silent and motionless.
- Cursed Lock I – A lock on a door, chest or book can be cursed by this spell. The effect on one who opens the lock without speaking the correct password is a puff of dust in the face. This dust causes an allergic-type reaction, resulting in a runny nose that cannot be stopped except by Remove Curse spell.
- Cursed Lock II – A lock on a door, chest or book can be cursed by this spell. The effect on one who opens the lock without speaking the correct password is a spray of fine mist in the face. This mist causes an allergic-type reaction, resulting in severe acne and running sores on the skin of the face and neck that cannot be removed except by Remove Curse spell.
- Cursed Lock III – A lock on a door, chest or book can be cursed by this spell. The effect on one who opens the lock without speaking the correct password is a tentacle-like ovipositor that wraps around the neck of the victim, then forces its way into the mouth and down the throat. This ectoplasmic extremity injects a quail-egg sized larva in the abdominal cavity of the victim, before dissolving into a mist. This larva will attach to the blood stream of the victim, and begin feeding on their blood. The victim will become very anemic, losing one point of STR and one point of CON per week until one of the ability scores reaches zero. And death. This blood loss cannot be stopped except by Remove Curse spell.
- Boots of Climbing – the wearer of these boots can climb vertical surfaces (cliffs, buildings, columns, etc) with no penalty, however, within 24 hours of putting these boots on, one of the wearer’s legs will grow d3″, causing a limp in their walk, chronic back pain, -1 DEX and -1 to hit.
- Crystal Sword – This blade appears to be forged of the highest quality. It radiates magic. When drawn from it’s sheath it glows with a pale blue light in a 5′ radius. The first time the bearer rolls to hit with the sword, they get a +4 bonus and cause maximum damage. The second strike will count as a miss, as the sword strikes the opponent’s weapon/armor and shatters into a thousand crystal shards. Everyone within 10 feet takes 1d6 HP damage from flying shards. All that remains of the sword is the hilt.
- Vampire Lyre – A musical instrument of surpassing quality and attractiveness, this instrument has a rich, beautiful tone. Anyone playing a song feels a certain confidence and the music seems to come effortlessly. The curse of this item is that once one begins to play, they cannot stop. As they play their fingers begin to chafe, then bleed. The dripping blood is absorbed by the lyre. The player must play for a full turn, losing 2d4 HP in the process. At the end of a turn they may stop, and it will take two days for their fingers to heal. Until then any spellcasting is +10% to the failure roll and any combat is -1 to hit.
- Poke of Keeping – a medium-sized bag, 1’x’1’x6″ deep, with a shoulder strap and a drawstring closure. The bag can hold 6 cubic feet of material (nothing sharp, no other extra-dimensional containers like a Bag of Holding). Each time a PC attempts to retrieve an item stored in the bag there is a 30% chance the item has been consumed by the bag. If the owner of the bag attempts to remove everything at once, by dumping the bag upside-down, roll a d20 for each item in the bag: arrange the items by number, largest first; any items that roll a “1” are consumed by the bag, also, the very last item (the one with the lowest number other than “1”) is lost. If it so happens that all of the items in the bag are consumed (for example, three items in the bag, roll three d20: 7,1,1 – two items with a score of 1 are consumed, as is the final remaining item), the bag will disgorge 1,000 cubic feet of foul-smelling mud, turn inside-out and consume itself.
- A silver salt cellar – holds 1/2 cup of finely ground pink salt. Adding this salt to any contaminated or spoiled food acts as a Purify Food spell. Anyone eating any food so purified is nourished and refreshed as though they had rested for a full day. The salt is instantly addictive, and must be consumed at least once per day or they will not be able to sleep at all. (Use effects of exhaustion) There is enough salt in the container for 6 human-sized creatures for 14 days. The effects of this addiction can be stopped by a Remove Curse spell.
- Ring of Regeneration – works as a typical magical ring, though once it starts to regenerate wounds the wearer begins to smell like rotten meat. Every 10 HP regenerated creates a one foot radius of this sickly sweet odor. After 50 HP have been regenerated, the miasma has grown to a five foot radius cloud of nauseating stench that causes a -2 to hit for any creature in the cloud (except the wearer). The wearer’s CHA is reduced by two. After 100 HP have regenerated the cloud is a 10 foot radius (the maximum extent) and the wearer’s CHA is again reduced by two points.
- Spyglass of Staring – a magical spyglass that enhances vision to 5x normal range. Any creatures spotted by someone using the Spyglass know they are being looked at, and from which direction, a tingle in the back of the neck.
- The Heedless Compass – this compass does not point North, it points in the direction of your heart’s desire. Unfortunately, it points you in the direction of the most dangerous route.
- Cloak of Thorns – this cloak is literally woven of thornbushes and the hair of a Dryad. It gives the wearer the ability to Pass Without Trace (as per Druid spell. While traveling so, the wearer is nicked and pricked by the thorns, causing 1d4 HP damage every turn. If the wearer is seen by any Dryad while wearing this cloak, they will become the Dryad’s sworn enemy, as the hair was taken by force.
- Hangman’s Rope – this 30 foot long hemp rope was once used on a gallows, and has hung many men and women. It is approximately 1 inch in diameter and can hold 600 pounds weight. Any knots except for a hangman’s noose tied in this rope have a cumulative 10% chance of coming undone each time it is used. Usually at the worst possible moment.
- The Skull of Augury -The skull of a small woman, inlaid with silver wire and an enameled blue eye in the center of the forehead. The bone around the eye is stained dark and smells of iron and sulfur. Drip one HP of blood onto the enamel eye, and ask a question out loud to receive an omen from an otherworldly entity about the results of a specific course of action that you plan to take within the next 30 minutes. If one attempts to use the skull more often than once per day, the spirit will become angry and attempt to possess the questioner. The DM chooses from the following possible omens (the blood-spirit will ALWAYS answer) :
- Weal, for good results
- Woe, for bad results
- Weal and woe, for both good and bad results
- The Monkey’s Paw – the bearer of this mummified monkey paw will experience amazing good fortune, to the detriment of everyone around them. Attempts to dispose of the Paw will fail, as it will Teleport back into a pocket/pouch/pack of the person who first utilized its benefits. The Paw can be neutralized by a Remove Curse spell for 2d6 days, during which time the user needs to get at least 66 miles away. DMs can have a field day with this one!
…and so the adventure begins.
You inform them that after about a two mile trek along a seldom-used road they come to the edge of a fen. A narrow causeway leads out to a low mound upon which stand the walls and buildings of the deserted monastery.
I’ve been obsessing over the Sample Dungeon in the 1e DMG for weeks now. I’m thinking about a way to incorporate it into the introductory adventure for the Grimdark Greyhawk campaign I’d like to run this year. Waaaaay back in the day I made a module of my own with this sample dungeon. To stock it, I used random monster tables from the DMG, maybe also from the Basic rulebook (we played a mashup even then). It was one of the first original dungeons I ran for my friends (I think the first published one was B4 The Lost City…more on that soon) and it was your usual hack-n-slash, with mounds of treasure. Trolls. Stirges. Skeletons. Some big monsters, too (maybe a pair of Hill Giants?). Maybe a vampire…
In short, it didn’t make any sense but it was fun. It got us to thinking, though, about the ecology and “realism” of the dungeons we were building. This was probably the last of the gonzo dungeons we played.
So, now I’m working on a new, decidedly non-gonzo, version. Doing a bunch of research. (It’s amazing how much stuff there is online about every D&D topic. There is a series of blog posts from years ago on Unfrozen Caveman Dice Chucker about the Sample Dungeon and it’s connection to Dungeon Module T1 The Village of Hommlet. Worth reading. Be sure and check out the comments, too.)
But I didn’t really have a direction or theme for the adventure. I didn’t know how to make it the initial session. So I went back a little further in the hypothetical timeline. What were the PCs doing when they met? How did they meet? What did they do next? (all conjecture, there are no PCs yet!) I wrote a brief description of how the monastery was introduced to the PCs and the extent of their first mission. The PCs are going to have a Patron, of sorts, who is up to his neck in politics and intrigue and will be using the PCs to further his own nefarious plans. [insert villain-laugh here]
During this time, how did the monastery get ruined, and when? (the limed-over skeleton of the Abbot means it happened a while ago!) Sigh. That is not going to work… When in doubt, roll it out!
Creating the Adventure
I grabbed the Random Sword and Sorcery Adventure Generator by Ben Ball, and decided to use it for some inspiration. Here is what I came up with:
The Title – I made up my own: The Servant of Shub Niggurath. Definitely starting strong with the Eldritch Horror aesthetic. In a humorous twist, this will not be meaning what one might think.
The Mission – (since we already have a location and it’s putative purpose, let’s go with Explore Catacombs.
The Hook – I went ahead and chose Found Old Map, as it fits the campaign structure.
While on patrol duty, the party finds remains of a left forearm, gnawed by forest creatures, some days or weeks old. A bit of exploration yields the carcass of an owlbear and, nearby, the mauled bodies of three men-at-arms in light armor. Further up a game trail are two more bodies, also mauled and ravaged by scavengers. One is in light armor with an intact, large backpack. The other is in robes/holy vestments of Phyton (God of beauty in nature) with a map case.
I haven’t made a decision on which are male or female, or what is in the pack. This did get me to thinking about the nature of the Cult of Phyton (I’m still working on the model for religion in GG, but it won’t be like a bunch of Catholic Churches co-existing, focusing on their own God/Goddess):
Cult of Phyton – Monastic Order – Skills and activities focus on Poetry, Naturalism, Bonsai, Viniculture, Oenology, Beekeeping, honey, mead, Cartography, Landscape painting. Very little magic, blend of Cleric/Druid spells.
(Now I feel like I need to re-think the idea/role of the Monk and Druid Character Classes… That will be a topic for another day.)
Potential Ally – Rolled a 13, “Strangely Intelligent Animal“. Not sure what to do with this, but I do have an idea for sentient Raccoons…
Complication – Another great roll: Astronomical alignment favors black magic. Oh, yeah, we can have some fun with this one!
Twist – Portion of space is distorted. Very nice. I have an idea for making this a campaign using B1 The Lost City (one of my favorite modules of all time), and this might be a fun place to introduce it. The tower on the hill started in my imagination as a broken ruin, but now it seems the monastery fell into ruin very recently (like six weeks ago…). Maybe the tower is just broken off, perhaps due to a catastrophic spell failure. And, maybe, the top part of the tower is floating in the air just above the base of the tower, and it extends into the desert dimension of the Lost City! Now, that does sound like fun!
I have (what I think is, at least) a cool idea for getting the PCs to the Lost City and trapping them there. Bwa-ha-ha!
The pictures of the ruined monastery at Lindisfarne are very inspirational. The tower on the hill idea came from a picture of Lindisfarne Monastery:
The description of the monastery in the DMG locates it in a fen, some miles from anywhere. Why such an odd, desolate location? We need to compose some history.
About 80 years ago, CY 493, there was a battle here against a manifestation of Shub Niggurath, a Black Goat of the Woods. Peat bogs are known to be supernatural portals, and the bog at Samm-Puul was the source of this incursion. The forces of order were able to drive the beast back, but not fully through the portal. Instead, it’s physical manifestation was subdued and Bound and cast into the bog. Powerful wards were placed over the form and it was decreed that a fortress-monastery should be constructed to guard against the re-emergence of the creature. Monks of Phyton were already invested in the area, they simply moved the location of their new facility to the fen. A motte-and-baily fort was built to protect the scriptorium, studios and apiary (a unique-tasting honey was made by the bees from exotic bog-plants, yielding a wonderful mead). A small garrison was provided by the hamlet of Zan’s Forge as a defense against the Orc tribes that roam the Trans-Javan Valley. Over the decades the monks built a prospering facility around the mead, while it’s dark and terrible secret remained hidden.
Now, imagine that something had gone terribly wrong one night, while the Canoness was casting a powerful spell to counter whatever horror had befallen the monastery. The explosion cut the tower in half and tore a hole through space into Agaboth, the demi-plane of Zargon and the Lost City! With the death of the Canoness there was nothing left for the remaining monks to do but burn the monastery to destroy the manifestation of the Great Old Ones.
The ruins of the monastery sit upon a hill in the fen, surrounded by peat bogs and reptile-infested marshes.
The causeway leads to the compound from the south, the other island mentioned in the description is now off to the East. The Scriptorium is located at the top of the map (NE corner), this contains the entrance to the main dungeon level. The dungeon itself extends then to the south, going beyond the log palisade.
I’ve gone ahead and re-drawn the map from the DMG onto isometric graph paper. The words describing the aesthetic of the entire dungeon will be Cold, Wet, Humid, Stale.
I added a couple of doors.
The 20′ wide corridors are the actual crypt area, with the wooden sarcophagi of the monks who have passed. The powers of Entropy leaking from the buried Black Goat of the Woods will have an effect on these skeletons, now that the Order of the monastery has been eliminated. The round chamber in the bottom corner surrounds the taproot of the large cypress just outside the fort’s wall. There will be something wicked there, for sure, inspired by this picture:
One of the Heroes of Order from the battle to defeat the Black Goat? An Entropic Knight? The mystery of the Bog Mother’s embrace.
Monsters and Encounters
The random encounter table for the dungeon shows goblins, bandits, giant rats and fire beetles. Since our story has the monastery burning down in a mysterious fashion about six weeks ago, and since Goblins in Grimdark Greyhawk are going to be non-D&D standard, I’ll replace them with bog-creatures that have come into the cellar, lured by the Entropic powers of the Black Goat of the Woods: centipedes, snakes and lizards.
The bandits will be replaced by Orcs, part of the group that came to the Monastery on the night of the fire, looking for the fire opal allegedly hidden here some years ago. We’ll borrow a little from Unfrozen Caveman on the origin of this fire opal:
Now let’s see what the crypt area has going on in terms of wandering monsters: more rats, ghouls, skeletons–your standard crypt fare; one could expand on this a bit. But then there’s the evil cleric with the hobgoblins in tow from areas 35-37. An evil cult in league with humanoids occupying several rooms; that’s got potential. Let’s say they’re beholden to some demon lord and let’s riff on Nunya’s notion (from the comments section of Part 1 of this series) and say that the fire opal the monks were hiding was the prized jewel and symbol of power stolen from the temple of this demon lord and turned over to the monks for safe keeping. The enormous, smouldering opal represents the demon lord’s baleful, fiery glare. Indeed, reflecting the significance of this symbol of power, the hobgoblins have an emblem of a fiery eye painted on their shields while the cleric has the same stitched into his robes.
Again, replace the hobgoblins with Orcs, assign the Cleric to Incabulos (his symbol, the Eye of Possession), and POOF! we have a new Faction, and another source of adventure for later.
The next step is to assign uses and contents to each of the rooms in the cellar and crypts, based on what the monks would have used them for the past few decades. There will be some storage, possible bunks/barracks for the former garrison, meditation chambers and so on.
Finally we’ll take into account what happened after the disaster in the tower, and which creatures may have moved into the cellars, looking for shelter and/or prey. Now that the activities of the Monks are no longer providing a counterbalance of Order against the Entropy of the Black Goat of the Woods, Entropy’s effect on the cellars, crypt and caverns is rapid. The last task will be setting up the stats for the Cleric of Incabulos, his Orc minions, and determining the actual location of the fire opal.
The Caverns Below
I almost forgot, I’m also working on a map for the Caverns mentioned, existing below the cellars. My thought is that the tunneling and dungeon-building revealed some natural stone formations with caves that led further below ground. The previous Canoness had decided the most precious, and most dangerous, items should be stored below. The “current” Canoness assigned her Perfects the task of creating a secure facility for the monastery’s treasures and secrets.
The most important items, including the Fire Opal of Incabulos, and the scroll with the spells for containing the Black Goat of the Woods are kept in the lower caverns.
I wanted to experiment with verticality on this map, still using the isometric grid. It still needs some thought before I can depict more rooms on just one page, or, I need to draw the rooms, cut them out and mount on a larger “11×17” piece of paper and draw stylized connecting passages that are horizontal or vertical.
The large cavern at the bottom of the complex (the left side of the page) is going to be where the worst of the Eldritch Horror stuff is. A forest of poisonous mushrooms, 20-foot long centipedes, green slime and Great Old One Larvae.
I’ve created a set of encounter tables for Overland Travel, based on some thoughts from Dael Kingsmill’s video on overland travel. She took some inspiration, in turn, from a couple of other posts.
I read them too, and got some ideas. The NewbieDM shares an interesting method:
“Page 106 of the 5e DMG talks about the Travel-Montage approach of exploring the wilderness, and basically it boils down to describing and hand-waving the trek quickly to get to the desired destination. The fantastic D&D variant 13th Age, takes this approach one step further in its organized play adventures, putting the task of narrating the montage in the hands of the players. I like that! i want to play with that and maybe add a bit of 5e mechanics along the way.”
The Angry GM has a pretty long article about overland travel, and I like this part especially:
the whole idea of a fantasy world – especially one like D&D – is that civilization is constantly at war with the untamed, monster-filled wilderness. People don’t travel far because travel is dangerous. And part of the reason why no one has plundered the monster-filled ruins or challenged the witch-kings rule and why so few people visit the oracle who has all the answers is because the journey is simply BEYOND most people.
Getting There IS Half the Fun
The following tables are designed to assist you to prep your party for Overland Travel for multiple days. These prepped days can then be used for Hand-waving or Narrative descriptions of travel. Some of the Events or Encounters may become Action Points for PC interaction with the environment or each other. These tables are designed for travel through open terrain, with areas of hills and/or forested/wooded areas and possibly small patches of marshland. Extended swamp travel requires a different, dedicated set of encounter tables (because dinosaurs. And undead. And infections/diseases). Mountains and arctic areas will also have some specialized tables.
Creating an Encounter Log
On a blank sheet of paper, divide it into six horizontal sections. One day equals six Watches:
- Pre-dawn 2am – 6am
- Morning 6am – 10am
- Mid-day 10am – 2pm
- Afternoon 2pm – 6pm
- Evening 6pm – 10pm
- Midnight 10pm – 2am
There will be at least one monster encounter each day in the Wilderness. Maybe more, especially if the party encounters a water feature. Roll a d6, the result is the time slot/number of the Watch that a monster encounter should take place. A result of 3, for example, means there will be a monster encounter in the Mid-day Watch, between 10am and 2pm.
Types of Wilderness
In the Grimdark Greyhawk campaign setting there are two kinds of wilderness:
- Wilderness – Unsettled lands within one (five mile) hex of a settlement (Yellow hexes in diagram below).
- Howling Wilderness – Unsettled lands more than one hex away from a settlement (green hexes in diagram below).
In Howling Wilderness areas, roll 2d6, for two monster encounters per day. The DM should decide how many of each creature/monster should be present in order to provide the appropriate challenge for the party.
In a Howling Wilderness hex with a water feature (lake/river/large stream/marsh) there will be a non-monster encounter, plus a 50% chance of a water table monster encounter when the party approaches/crosses the water feature. Hexes adjacent to water features (river or lake) may (40%) have a small stream (8-12 feet wide, 2-4 feet deep) that flows into the larger water feature. These adjacent-hex water features also have a 50% chance of water table monster encounter. In a Wilderness hex, within one hex of a settlement, there will be a 20% chance of a monster encounter.
Settlements near a water feature typically have a dedicated team of guards/watchmen to protect the settlement from monstrous incursions.
Open water features in the Howling Wilderness are dangerous.
Foraging, Navigating and Scouting
One PC will need to be designated as Forager, roll a d12 once per day for being able to hunt/gather some food to supplement any rations. In the absence of any rations, this activity can replace them, at the cost of ¼ day travel, as the PC needs to attempt a Foraging roll once per Watch.
The Forager will be successful on a roll of:
Open terrain 1-4
Light forest 1-6
Heavy forest 1-8
One PC will need to take on role of Navigator, roll a d12 once each morning for ability to stay on course. Roll again if the party flees any monster encounter or if it starts to rain (rain -2 to navigation roll). This roll can be modified by the Scouting roll (see below). Obviously parties will not become lost on a road/track, or while following a water feature, but an unexpected fork in the road could be cause for a roll.
The party will become lost on a roll of:
Open terrain 1-2
Light forest 1-3
Heavy forest 1-4
If a party becomes lost, roll a d12 for the direction:
1 90 degrees left
2-3 60 degrees left
4-6 30 degrees left
7-9 30 degrees right
10-11 60 degrees right
12 90 degrees right
One PC will need to take on the role of Scout, looking ahead at the terrain, keeping an eye out for danger, etc. Roll a d12, on 9-12 (5-12 for a Ranger) the scouting attempt is a success, add +2 to the Navigation roll (above). A Scout will make a critical error on a roll of 1, for a penalty of -1 to the Navigation roll.
Utterly uneventful travel is an oddity in Howling Wilderness areas. There will be some sort of notable occurrence during each Watch. Roll a d12 for each Watch and record the result in the Log for each day. Any ruined/abandoned stronghold encounters should be laid out according to the map, as all structures and settlements should be designated on the campaign map in advance.
- Fog rises – obscures vision for d4+2 hours. The fog burns off after sunrise. Beginning travel in fog is a -3 penalty to navigation roll.
- Discover ants in food packs! Lose ½ day rations.
- Herd Beasts ________ [3d4x10] move past the campsite (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Just before sunrise, two pair of large, blinking yellow eyes (at waist level) seen reflecting at the edge of fire-light (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Wind starts to pick up, fires and torches may go out (20%), and temperature drops 6 degrees.
- Discover that remaining wood gathered last night has dry rot, it burns up very quickly, making lots of smoke. This smoke is visible for miles, may attract unwanted attention.
- (first day only, otherwise re-roll) Discover you forgot to pack food seasoning.
- About an hour before sunrise, d4 meteors streak across the sky.
- Random PC awakens due to leg cramps, cannot get back to sleep.
- Sound of something large moving in the darkness, strong musky odor; horses/pack animals become skittish, snorting and whinnying.
- Odd birdcalls and clicking noises (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Random PC discovers cluster of harmless beetles in shoes upon getting dressed.
- While dressing, a random PC breaks a strap on their armor. -1 to AC, needs a professional to repair.
- If it is still Foggy (from Dawn table above), hear rumbles of thunder and see flickers of lightning (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West). If not Foggy, then dark clouds on the horizon with lightning. Beginning travel in fog is -3 to navigation roll.
- Breakfast rations taste a little “off”, 25% chance of food poisoning (CON check at -2, lose ½ day travel for sick PCs – vomiting and stomach pains, -2 STR -2 DEX for 24 hours)
- Scout discovers scat that likely belongs to large carnivore (plains lion, chimera, etc)
- Light sprinkling of rain for about 30 minutes, just enough to get things nice and wet.
- Flock of dark-colored birds fly over as PCs begin to travel (direction of travel: d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Random PC finds a small, harmless grass snake in boot.
- Random PC slept funny and (primary) shoulder is stiff and sore (-1 to hit until Mid-day Watch).
- When PCs begin to leave camp, find two large piles of dung (with grass in) about 20 yards from camp.
- Dark clouds begin to gather on the horizon (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West) .
- Puffy cumulus clouds overhead, one looks like cleric’s holy symbol.
- Puffy cumulus clouds overhead, one looks like random PC’s animal companion.
- Random PC gets a rock in their shoe. When they sit down to remove it, they find a broken weapon on the ground (arrow shaft, dagger, hatchet, etc).
- D4+2 Vultures circling in the sky, ahead of the party’s direction of travel. Add 1d6 vultures per hour until midpoint of the next Watch, when party will arrive beneath. Discover corpses of d4 herd beasts.
- Wild birds are flushed out of grass near party’s path (pheasants, quail, partridge, etc)
- Herd beasts move across the party’s path, about ½ mile ahead, from right to left.
- Sounds of 2-3 jackals barking and howling back and forth, on either side of the party for 10-40 minutes.
- Discover a deposit of scat from a large creature (looks like bird??), with short pieces of bone and patches of fur.
- Line of dark clouds blow up, light rain for about 30 minutes.
- Party or Scout spot what looks like a lone horse and rider, silhouetted off in the distance on a rise.
- Lone dog sitting by the road/in the party’s path. Looks emaciated. The dog will take a liking to one of the PCs (especially if they feed it), following at their heels until this night’s camp. Attempts to chase it off will send it a short distance away, where it will wait a bit, then follow again. (this should only happen once. Replace this result with “Wild birds flushed out” after it occurs).
- A pair of dust devils, some 20’ tall, cross the party’s path, from left to right, full of leaves and gras and grit.
- Troop of 6d4 mounted shepherds with 3d4x10 sheep and 6 trained sheep dogs. Led by mounted (high-quality horse) L3 Ranger with studded leather armor, short bow, lance, short sword, Amulet of Protection, cartography kit. Troopers: L1 Fighters with leather armor, short bows, spears, short swords and equipped with rations for 4 days each, water skins, wine skins. One carries a musical instrument, two have horns of brandy, four have bucklers, all have assorted Amulets of Protection. The Ranger will have news/rumor/message for the party.
- The party’s path crosses two circles of mashed down grass, each 30 feet in diameter, 100 feet apart. In the very center of each circle is a one foot diameter circle of ash, where the grass has been burned and the circle seems to have been pressed down into the ground about an inch. (This result should only occur once per 25 mile campaign map hex.)
- The Scout’s horse throws a shoe.
- Line of dark, threatening storm clouds pass over, but no rain.
- Pack of Wild Dogs parallels the party’s course for about an hour, then moves off.
- Breeze dies down, bird and insect noises stop. The silence is deafening. After about an hour, a very cold breeze sweeps over the party (from the north). Shortly thereafter the insect noises start again.
- The party stumbles over the skeletons of two humans (or humanoids), headless, picked clean and bleached by the sun.
- The Scout spots a broken Orcish arrow with a blood-stained tip (old and dry).
- Light sprinkle of rain for a few minutes.
- Stand of d4+8 _______ trees ahead, in a straight line along the banks of a small stream (2 feet deep, 8 feet across ) Water table Monster Encounter
- Scout discovers the remains of a good-sized campfire, days old.
- Scout discovers body of disemboweled wild dog, signs of struggle, lots of blood. Tracks lead off to the west for 200 yards then peter out.
- Scout discovers a burial site, shallow grave-mound, partially covered with large clods of turf. Wooden staff/walking stick, carved with geometric designs marks the grave. A phylactery of protection from wolves is tied to the top of the staff. (DM to determine contents of grave, very negative consequences recommended)
- Party literally stumbles over cluster of large anthills, foot-tall mounds concealed in the tall grass.
- Random PC discovers a water skin has spoiled
- Random PC stumbles through a beetle nest, they burst into the air with a loud clattering.
- Plains lion prowls, growls on the edge of camp.
- Breeze picks up, temperature drops 10-12 degrees as the sun goes down.
- Herd beasts ________ move by camp at a rapid pace.
- Clouds & lightning on northern horizon at sunset.
- Light sprinkle of rain for one hour. Continued travel requires a navigation check at -3.
- First choice of campsite is overrun with ants, second choice poison ivy, 3rd choice is good, lose two hours.
- Orc or Gnoll hunting party (2d6+4) approaches camp. 25% chance PCs notice them before they move on. 50% chance the horses smell them and get skittish before they move on. Armed and armored as per Monster Manual. 25% chance the Scout will notice they stopped and left tracks in the morning before leaving camp.
- Party approaches small copse of Cedar trees in marshy area, just before making camp. Strong smell of decay. If party makes camp within view of the trees, they will see a Will-o-the-Wisp during the night. Water table Monster Encounter
- Scout discovers ruins of old motte & bailey/hamlet. Buildings burned years ago, overgrown with weeds and small trees. Lair of giant Trap Door Spider. (Once per 25-mile Campaign hex)
- Just after sunset wolves start howling to each other, carry on for an hour or so.
- The sound of large flapping wings overhead.
- Breeze picks up, becomes rather gusty. Brings smell of wood smoke and roasting meat.
- Random PC has a very vivid dream in the night, awakens with a start! (images of fire and toiling slaves, building an enormous black spire, high into the sky).
- A stray dog comes to the edge of the firelight, begs and whines for food (unless random dog encounter already happened, then bird screeches for a few minutes before going silent.
- Cries of alarm from herd beasts out in the dark, followed by the scream of a prairie cat.
- Bats swoop in and out of the shadows around the camp, beeping and clicking.
- The sound of riders on horseback, approaching then receding.
- Sentry thinks they see a procession of torches out in the distance (investigation reveals no trace).
- Ghostly image of woman in archaic peasant’s clothing enters the camp, beckons to the sentry, leads them away to a buried chest. (Chest contains: d6 – 1-2: woman’s smallclothes and ruby-pommeled dagger; 3-4: fine quality hose and leather tights, two small scraps of vellum with rumor/clue/etc; 5-6: cartography kit with two scrolls, one is rough sketch of _______, second is fairly accurate map of Kingdom of Keoland, somewhat elongated north to south, Standing Stones are clearly marked).
- Campfire goes out, someone forgot to bank it.
- Large owl with snake in its talons lands of edge of firelight and eats the snake.
- Sentry hears lute music from somewhere out in the dark, very soft and melancholy. Investigation turns up no clues, as music simply fades away.
Herd Beasts Table I – Plains d8
- Longhorn cattle
- White-tailed deer
- Prairie deer
- Pronghorn antelope
- Okapi Wild
- Wild horses
- Wild goats
- Wild sheep
Herd Beasts Table II – Hills d8
- White-tailed deer
- Mule deer
- Mountain goats
- Wild Boars
- Wooly tapirs
- Wild ponies
- Wild sheep
Trees Table d8
- Lime (or Mangrove if marshland)
- Flowering Dogwood
Wilderness Monster Encounters
In a Wilderness hex, re-roll any result of 7 or 8. For a Howling Wilderness hex use actual result.
Each Howling Wilderness five-mile local hex has a maximum population of the following creatures:
1 Ankheg per hex
1 Pride of Plains Lions per hex
1 Chimera per 18 hexes
2 Griffons per 25 hexes
- Bombardier Beetles
- Giant Spiders
- Giant Centipedes
- Brown Bear*
- Giant Badger
- Plains Lion ⱡ
- Giant Toad
- Giant Crayfish
- Giant Frog**
- Giant Lizard***
- Giant Lobe-finned Gar****
- Giant Leech ⱡⱡ
- Giant Centipedes
- Plains Lion
* Encounter has 25% chance of including a were-beast.
** Giant frogs are a dark grey color, mottled with brown; they have 4-6 prehensile tentacles around their mouth for grasping prey (swallow a man-sized creature whole on Bite attack roll of 18+).
*** Giant lizards are two-tone brown in color, with rows of black spots along the spine; they have oblong, blunt heads, wider than they are long with wide, pincer mouths for grasping prey (swallow a man-sized creature whole on Bite attack roll of 18+).
**** Giant Lobe-finned Gar will be able to attack creatures on the shore by lunging out of the water up to 16 feet. On an attack roll of 18+ the gar will be able to grasp its prey in its mouth and pull it back toward the water, six feet per round.
ⱡ Plains lions cause Fear (by smell and sound) in non-war-trained mounts and all pack animals (hose/mule/donkey/ox, etc) making the animals very difficult to control or prevent from fleeing. A party member attempting to calm a panicked pack animal must make a CHA check at -2 each round the lions are in contact, or the animal will break its traces and flee.
ⱡⱡ Giant leeches encounters will take place in the water or right at the shore (filling waterskins, fishing, etc) where they will attack with Surprise. Giant Leeches are pale green in color, mottled with cream stripes/spots, and have six dark green, two-foot long, spider-like legs ending in pincers for grasping prey. Any creature up to man-sized hit on 18+ will be grasped, pulled to the leech’s mouth, where a beaked proboscis will be used to puncture the prey’s body and begin draining fluids/soft organs – d10 HP damage/round. This is a Serious wound and will require magical healing. Even if leech is removed, prey continues to lose d6 HP/turn due to internal bleeding. Prey with two or more rounds of suction damage will be movement rate zero until magical healing is effected.
Torches flickered, high above his head, against the cold stone walls of the large round chamber. Was there a green tinge to the flames? Now purple? Movement in the center of the chamber, someone in a dark, hooded robe extending their arms over a rough-carved stone altar. Flanked by two tall candelabra topped with dark purple candles that burned with a bright, deep, purple light. Impurities in the dark stone of the altar flickered and glinted in the candlelight, and now the robed figure stood motionless, and now a black, wavy-bladed knife was in his right hand.
And now the robed figure barks a single syllable and now other robed figures step toward the altar, out of the shadows in the perimeter of the room. A slow, sonorous, measured chant begins, filling the chamber with harmonic frequencies the secret watcher can feel in his bones.
I-a! Shub-niggurath. Preloží černou kozu lesa s tisícem mladých!
In modern English, a cult is a social group that is defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or by its common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. This sense of the term is controversial and it has divergent definitions both in popular culture and academia and it has also been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study. It is usually considered pejorative. (Wikipedia)
I am working on some Background Plot information for the Grimdark Greyhawk campaign. I thought it would be fun to have a couple of gods squaring off against each other, in the form of their followers. But not just any followers, a secret cabal within the established religion, a Mystery Cult with secret practices and hidden agendas.
Since I am also going to be working in some Elder Gods and other Cthulhoid shenanigans, I decided the god of stars might be appropriate for the Lawful side with some Death gods, maybe some humanoid gods as well, might be cool for the Chaotic side.
As usual, I did a little research to find out what other folks are thinking about in this vein, and I found some cool blog posts. In fact, I just read a post by Joseph Manola at Against the Wicked City, about Cults and Cultists and their role in RPGs. I’ve been thinking about this for days.
I’m sharing some of the real meat of the article and Comments, but I recommend reading the whole thing (including the Comments, they’re great!)
Why do we love cults and cultists so much? There are at least ten really obvious reasons:
Tradition. Evil cults have always been a big part of D&D: as Gus L recently reminded us, Temple of the Frog is all about invading a cult temple, and that has a decent claim to be the first D&D adventure module ever printed. Other highly influential early D&D adventures, such as B4 The Lost City and N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, also prominently featured weird cults.
Influence. Evil cultists are the default enemies in both Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which have both been enormously influential on subsequent weird fantasy gaming. And they got the idea from weird fiction authors like Lovecraft and Howard, who also used a lot of cults as antagonists.
Moral clarity. It might not be OK to kill the barbarian just for being a barbarian, or the orc just for being an orc – but if someone voluntarily chose to join the cult of Skull-Fang The Planet-Fucker, then that’s on them. When you stab them to death in mid-ritual, you can legitimately say they had it coming.
…where do the zealots come from? Are the churches all running indoctrination camps? (Maybe they are!)
Reasons for following a cult leader (roll 1d10):
1: He/she is so cool and sexy! Whatever they’re saying *must* be true!
2: He/she is so powerful and dangerous! We have to do what they say or else!
3: He/she has done so much to help us! What’s the harm in joining in with the chanting once a week?
4: He / she has offered us power and glory and riches! Do what they say and we will become kings among men!
5: He / she has brainwashed and brutalised us into submission. Now we’re so traumatised that we don’t dare disobey!
6: He / she has us hooked on drugs that we can’t get anywhere else. We have to do what they say to get our next hit!
7: Everything’s fallen apart and we have no good options left. He / she is our only hope!
8: Members of our family / community / institution have always done this. What’s the harm in following tradition?
9: There’s something we’re desperate to accomplish, but we lack the power to do so. He / she offers us the power to accomplish our goals, and the ends justify the means!
10: What’s so wrong with feeding human hearts to toad-demons anyway?
There are also a few gems in the Comments, where astute readers added some great ideas of their own:
From Phillip N
Looking at individual motives is important for fleshing out NPCs, but I think its worth to look at cults from the top, as part of society as a whole.
1. Cults provide supernatural aid, or at least promise it. In a supernatural world this might even be a necessity (just look at the Warhammer universes). The more aid is needed or given, the more attractive a cult will become to individuals, as well as communities.
2. Cults are bound to power structures, either deviant or dominant. Those in power can use it as a means to secure their power, those who have nothing can use them to gain power.
3. Cults provide community and a coherent world view. This can work as an entry point for the lonely and desperate and reinforces membership for those who are already into it.
In short, they do everything that regular religions (or wizards’ guilds) do, amplified by the actual existence of magic. The question then is, why does the “normal” religion fail? Is it oppressive? Does it give the “wrong” answers? Has it been destroyed or fragmented. Is it actually not very different from the cult? Are you born into the mess? And there is, of course, always the mind control / drugs option.
Then Solomon and Joseph came up with yet another exciting table, for WHY a cult is hiding out in a particular dungeon:
Why is the cult in the dungeon? (roll 1d10)
1: Archaeologists, tomb robbers, or dungeon inhabitants Dug Too Deep and unearthed something which took over their minds. Now they’re its dungeon-dwelling cult!
2: Cultists were unmasked in a nearby community and had to flee in a hurry. They took shelter in the dungeon to hide from their persecutors.
3: Local villagers are all secretly cultists, the dungeon is their holy site, the most devout of them go to live their full time.
4: Ancient cultists awakened from magical sleep in the dungeon, which is all that remains of their fallen stronghold, and are now trying to rebuild their religion while hiding from the outside world, plotting their next move.
5: The membership of the cult is scattered across many lands, but this dungeon is a pilgrimage site for them, and at any given time a variety of cultists will be in there visiting its shrines and relics.
6: The cultists are planning their ‘big push’ (probably some kind of coup or holy war), and are using the dungeon to train and prepare their warriors in secret.
7: The Inevitable Evil Ritual can only be performed in this particular dungeon, so the cultists have come here to perform it, possibly clashing with its other inhabitants along the way.
8: A relic of the cult was lost here centuries ago and now the cult have moved in and are ransacking the place in an attempt to find it.
9: Cultists are keen to secure an alliance with a dungeon resident – probably a lich, vampire, or similar – and have sent an embassy to try to bribe or convert him to their cause.
10: Cult has a sacred tradition that all new members have to prove their commitment by spending three years living in a dungeon.
This is fascinating, but I tried thinking of it in terms of the Grimdark Greyhawk setting, which is going to be a Points of Light-style environment, where all towns are walled, there are no lonely farmsteads, and dangerous monsters roam the fringes of civilization. A world where magic and gods are very real, where faith and belief supplant what we would think of as superstition. Because there are things people can do, Cleric, M-U, even your 0-level types, that have actual, observable effects.
What Motivates the Cultists?
Every mother teaches her daughter which herbs to use, and the pattern for arranging them, to create the Hexagram for “Blessing of the Hearth”. The new bride wouldn’t enter her future home with her Bridegroom at swordpoint without that hex carefully positioned in the eaves. The Prophet had given a dire warning…
For the purposes of the Grimdark Greyhawk Campaign we are going to define a Cult this way:
A social group that is defined by its religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or by its common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. A cult differs from a Religion in that a Cult only has one (or very few and likely divergent) congregation. Its leader may or may not have supernatural powers or contact with supernatural beings, yet is nonetheless considered a Prophet, Avatar or Chosen Representative.
When it comes to gods and religion, faith and belief are Power-sources in and of themselves. This Power is collected by the gods or channeled by the clerics to create the supernatural effects they desire. Thus the stage is set for Cults (mini-religions, really) to arise and spread across the land like dandelions. The populace is accustomed to prosaic, everyday magical and religious activities and are perfectly primed for falling under the influence of someone with visible god-gifted powers.
Imagine then, the fanaticism described in the Cleric Class rules for 8th level. How could these followers be anything but fanatics?
Behavior we (as players) may think of as being out on the ends of the bell curve are actually the Mainstream, while the Fantasy World’s extremists are really way, way out there.
Observing Holy Days
Rules & Taboos
Restrictions & Obligations
All of these concepts are very important to the Common Folk as well as the Nobility. And seemingly rational, normal people will march straight to their death for something they believe in. In a polytheistic society, the layperson will commonly call upon more than one deity for various day-to-day needs and blessings. It is the Cleric who takes particular interest in pursuing or advancing the goals of a single deity. The Prophet or Zealot will have an even narrower set of goals and accompanying strictures. These goals may or may not be beneficial to the community or society at large. There could be a Zealot who creates a following of those seeking wealth, or power, or be a leader preaching peace, healing or a particular method of living.
Not all cults need be driven by dark intentions or to support the agents of Chaos and Entropy. Nor do they need to be devoted to a Power or Patron that is little-known. A Mystery Cult may exist within the context of a greater religion. Created to explore the inner or secret mysteries of a larger religious community, a Mystery Cult will frequently have a much more specific goal or purpose. This religion-within-a-religion would have a secret goal aligned with the larger context of the deity, but in a very particular focus. The goddess Ehlonna, for example, rules the domains of Forests, Meadows, Animals, Flowers and Fertility. Her Clerics and Druids would likely be focused on the preservation and propagation of the plants and creatures in these environments. So, a like-minded group of gardeners could be swayed by one with a zealotry for a particular flower to attempt to create a perfect environment for growing this flower, and to collect all examples and varieties, with the goal of constructing the “perfect” flower garden for the glory of Ehlonna.
But, that is not really the stuff of adventures. In order to generate a cult with goals and practices inimical to those of the community or greater society, thus also an invitation to the PC party to fight against, look to the following tables. The first features potential inspiration for a Zealot or Prophet, one that is interested in creating a congregation to aid and support them in the achievement of a personal goal.
The over-arching background plot of the Grimdark Greyhawk campaign is the desire of the Great Old Ones to return, and of the multitude of petty (or not-so-petty) clerics and magic-users maneuvering to make this happen. I suspect we’ll see lots and lots of cults of the Elder Gods, tucked away in the corners of cities, hidden in temples in the woods, even just beneath the surface of the churches of the established gods.
Regardless of the motivation of the Prophet, or the justification of the congregation, each Mystery Cult will have a form of each of the three following characteristics:
- A Secret Purpose, generally only known to the Prophet, possibly shared with the congregation. If this Mystery Cult is embedded in another organization it is likely the TRUE secret purpose is known only to the prophet, with a plausible cover story for the rest of the group.
- A Secret Sign, that that fellow Cultists may be able to recognize each other.
- Special, Signature Powers granted witch/warlock style to the Prophet by an emissary or avatar of the Usurper God.
What Inspires the Prophets and Zealots?
It’s time for another table. Let’s discover the Inspiration and Secret Purpose of the Cult. Roll 1d30:
- A low-level cleric is tossed out of her seminarium for being stubborn and impetuous. She wants to take the knowledge she has and run, to get away from the cloying attentions and dishonesty of the Priests and Laymen, to share her knowledge with the unwashed masses that have not heard of her patron deity and their greatest power.
- A frightened/wounded/desperate person cries out to an unlikely god, when more traditional or familiar prayers seem to fail. The alternate deity sends an emissary to the unfortunate, seeing a chance to enhance their own power and prestige. “Go forth and do this miracle in the name of the One who saved thee!”
- A cleric faces madness and fails, becomes corrupted, and takes that new message to the people.
- An untrained person with the Gift or the Talent delves into/stumbles upon something better left alone. Mind control/corruption/vengeance ensues.
- A “Chosen One” has been born into an existing cult and, on her maturity, is sent out into the world to grow the faith. Probably with a handful of fanatic protectors/enforcers.
- A Changeling, feeling angry and betrayed by his inheritance, reaches for power and revenge.
- A noble or ruler is near death, so they invite a Prophet/Wise Woman/Seer into their inner circle in a search to prolong life.
- Someone finds/steals/liberates/recovers an artifact that corrupts their soul, granting strange new powers.
- Someone wants to find/steal/liberate or recover an artifact that will grant them new powers over their enemies.
- A cleric becomes drunk on piety and power after building their temple and attracting the fanatics. Megalomania 101.
- A search for lost knowledge leads to the Yellow King. Insanity is not far behind, but in the meantime she needs bodies and blood and souls.
- Not a human at all, but a visitor/exile/refugee from another time or dimension. Power must be accumulated to return to their home time/dimension in glory.
- A Gifted/Talented servant chafes under the tyrannical rule of their master. They plot and act to succeed the master and take the reins of power.
- The one to become the self-styled Prophet has seen a portent in the sky, others can see, but it holds a special significance for the Prophet.
- A calf/goat/sheep has been born with unusual markings, fulfilling a very vague prophecy. The shepherd becomes the Prophet of the ancient wisdom/curse/event.
- A white (animal) has been spotted in the forest. The Prophet-to-be gave chase for days, finally catching the creature and getting it to reveal a secret…
- The Zealot-to-be has fallen ill, is in the depths of a fever-dream, and calls upon a Power to heal her. A Power responds, requesting only that she provide a new, willing soul on each new moon.
- A child feels that they have experienced only bad luck and hardship since their parents turned away from the Old Gods to venerate a new goddess. The child finds some painted wooden tablets her mother had hidden away, deciphers the writing and calls upon a Patron of the Elder Gods to “show her the true Way”.
- The Prophet-to-be dreamed of a white ship, sailing through the clouds under the moon. He was invited to board, upon a bridge of moonbeams and stardust, to be taken to a glorious realm of Heaven. The Prophet must now coerce a group of people to help him build the white ship, so they can all sail to the Moonlight Heaven together.
- Discovered a local enemy has a magic item, steals it from them in jealous rage. The Item was locked away for good reason, as it corrupts the soul of the holder. The new Zealot builds a following to bring about the predictions the item whispers into their mind.
- A Patron-type Spirit or Being is trapped nearby, but not full helpless. The soon-to-be-Zealot is Charmed into providing sustenance in the form of a blood-letting ceremony, in return for gifts of magical powers.
- A Prophet or Zealot has died, and a follower with delusions of grandeur is attempting to bring their Liege back to life. They have some gold, but not enough. They need gold and a way to contact the Patron spirit.
- The new Zealot has found a small/young/larval monster, raising it to become a God.
- The Zealot has a Knack for getting people to do things, and think the idea was their own (a limited, natural type of Charm Person).
- Has a gift for Magic-use, and some magical/spell research has gone wrong! Zealot/Prophet is Possessed by the spirit of a Demon/Devil. The infernal being creates a cult to foment incivility and insurrection.
- A magic-user has suffered a massive Spell Failure, and has asked their Patron deity to heal them. The Zealot is healed, but at a terrible price: collecting souls for their Patron.
- A Prophet-to-be has found an old scroll with a partial prophecy that seems to describe the PC and indicates they will receive greatness and glory.
- The soon-to-be-Zealot accidentally consumes a Larval Great One, which takes partial control of their mind. The Zealot searches out more of the larvae and feeds them to other, unsuspecting members of their community.
- An alchemist discovers a recipe for a Potion of Wisdom in an old library. The Potion actually causes euphoria and delusions of grandeur. In a spirit of magnanimity, she shares it with other that seem to need a lift to their spirits. The potion is highly addictive.
- A child is born who truly is a Chosen One of (a deity), starts a spiritual community at a young age. But their older brother/sister is wildly jealous and concocts a plan to kill and replace their holy sibling at the head of the cult. The jealous rival convinces the PC party to help in the replacement scheme.
The Secret Sign
Some, but not all, cults or mystery cults will be secretive. Those that exist within another religion, or those that may have been outlawed, for example, will likely hide their membership. In order for the cultists to recognize one another they will have some sort of secret sign, perhaps an article of clothing, a symbol on their mask, or a special feather attached to their phylactery. Some groups may be so secret they don’t do anything in public to display membership, and meet only fully hooded and masked to conceal their identities.
Choose a identifying feature or accessory that fits your campaign. Keep in mind that one of the PCs may accidentally display such a sign, which could lead to any number of “interesting” encounters.
The Blessing is Upon Me, and now, Upon You
Each Zealot or Prophet will have a signature focus with which they are able to convince others to follow them. It could be a sacred relic, a selection of holy writings, or magical/divine powers that prove they are who they say they are. The exact type will depend upon the nature of the cult’s origin and purpose.
- A skull-goblet that transforms wine into ambrosia.
- A drinking horn that transforms water into mead.
- A chalice that changes blood into a crystal-clear Potion of Healing.
- A roughly-formed clay pitcher that endlessly pours forth a stream of cool, clear water.
- A brazier that never runs out of coals, and does not burn the hands of one who swears an oath to the Cult.
- A candle that lights itself when held by one consecrated to the cult.
- A fragment of pottery with an appropriate image on it, that glows with a soft, golden light.
- A burial mask of _____ that allows the wearer to cast Charm Person.
- A holy symbol of _____ that allows the wearer to cast Charm Person.
- A dagger made of bronze that does not cut, but anyone “cut” with it is affected by Charm Person.
- A Robe of Protection that protects the wearer from any and all fire damage.
- A crystal-studded tiara that allows the wearer to cast Charm Person.
- A six foot tall wooden staff, carved with the likeness of a snake’s head on top, that can be transformed into an actual snake (and back again) at will. (DM choice on type of snake, it is docile and will only bite if provoked. Resumes Staff form after 1 Turn.)
- A four foot long wooden rod, wrapped with leather and silver wire, topped with a red crystal that looks like a ruby (but is not). Can shine as a Light spell, bloody red in color, for up to 2 turns, 2x per day, at will.
- An intricately carved wooden box, about three inches on a side, decorated with designs of fruit trees. Inside is a large, 2″ diameter, “walnut”. If one breaks open the nut and eats the meat inside, they will shortly fall into a deep sleep for at least 6 hours and awaken healed of 1d6+2 HP damage. Every time the Zealot or Prophet opens the box, there is another nut inside.
- An elaborate headdress, with a white cloth draping back over the neck, topped with two recurved bull’s horns. Between the horns, a golden disc. Whoever wears this headdress and speaks, their voice can be heard clearly for 100 yards and all listeners (without any form of Protection from Magic) will be very favorably disposed to any suggestion the speaker makes.
- A box of incense cones. When burned, any who breath the smoke will be moved to sit down on the spot, simply breathing the fumes for 1d4+2 turns. During this time the person exposed to the incense will achieve a trance-like state, with visions of achieving their most heart-felt desire.
- A stone tablet, about 12 inches by 20 inches, carved with runes that burn with a smokeless flame.
- A vellum scroll with holy writings vaguely describing the Zealot or Prophet and how conditions for the first part of a prophecy have been met (the DM will have a little extra work to do on this one).
- Several sheets of papyrus, upon which is a drawing of a young bull with a board attached to its horns. The text is a prophecy or spell for good fortune.
- A lacquer-painted metal disc, approximately 8 inches in diameter, with the rune for Fire on one side and Harmony on the other. Though if you keep flipping it over, it seems to have four sides, showing also runes for Earth and Wood.
- A harlequin mask of white ceramic with red leather thong ties. When worn over the face, the wearer’s face emits a pale blue glow.
- A harlequin mask of lacquered red metal, with black leather thong ties. When worn over the face, the wearer can cast a Scare spell once per day.
- A harlequin mask of tooled brown leather, with black leather thong ties. When worn over the face, the wearer can cast a Forget spell once per day.
- A Scaramouche mask of beaten copper, with white leather thing ties. When worn over the face, the wearer can cast ESP at 5th level, once per day.
- A crystal sphere, approximately 8 inches in diameter. Clouds seem to swirl within, glowing with a pale blue light.
- A round, silver amulet on a chain, approximately 3 inches in diameter, with a (color) crystal in the center. When worn by the Zealot/Prophet the crystal shines with a flickering light, as though a flame is inside.
- A pectoral of silver and glass beads, with geometric designs. A person wearing this will appear to be two feet taller than they actually are.
- A pair of copper bracers, inlaid with obsidian cabochons. Once per day the wearer can generate a ball of light, any color of their choice, that will rise to 10 feet in the air above their head and hover above the wearer for 3 turns. It generates light in a 10 foot radius.
- A codex of snakeskin covered wood, with vellum pages. (A magic-user’s Astrology book) The text is written in a magical language with many diagrams of celestial diagrams featuring constellations, movements of the planets, and a schedule of solar eclipses for a ten-year period (starting three years ago).
Now you have all of the basics for creating a Cult in your campaign:
- The Leader’s motivation,
- The reason the Followers join the group.
- The symbol of the Leader’s power.
- The reason why the cult is found in the place they are.
As always, C&C welcome.
Roll on this table if your PCs find potions that have been sitting around for a while, and are possibly past their expiration date.
1. Expired – Smells very smoky, like an old scotch. Drinker’s clothing bursts into flame, Save vs Poison or 4d6 damage, 2d6 if Saved
2. Expired – Smells like wet iron after a rain. Drinker engulfed in Ball Lightning, Save vs Poison or 2d6 damage, d6 if Saved
3. Expired – Smells like the forest. Drinker chokes and gags, vomits up mouthful of earthworms. 1d8 damage
4. Expired – Potion has become very thick and syrupy, smells and tastes of cinnamon, drinker chokes and gags, vomits up banana-sized Larva. 1d6 damage
5. Expired – Smells like Rosemary and Lemon. Drinker chokes & bleeds from nose, can’t breathe for one minute, 1d6 damage
6. Expired – Smells like lavender, slightly gritty feel. Drinker falls into a magical Sleep for 3d4 hours (Dispel Magic to awaken sooner)
7. Expired – Tastes and smells like bitter Dandelion greens. Save vs Poison or potion has opposite effect, no effect if Saved
8. Expired – Potion tastes very spicy and hot, drinker’s gums begin to bleed profusely, -1 HP/hour for 2d8 hours
9. Expired – No apparent effect, but Tinnitus develops over next few minutes, lasts 24 hours. -4 to Hearing Perception
10. Expired – Potions tastes of almonds, causes extreme dizziness, -6 to DEX for 3d8 hours
11. Turning – Potion tastes of anise (black licorice), works at 75% effectiveness
12. Turning – Potion smells like smoke from a campfire. Edges of drinker’s clothing begins to smolder & smoke, Save vs Poison for 75% effectiveness, failure means potion has no effect. Smoldering lasts 1d6 turns or until doused with water.
13. Turning – Potion smells and tastes like really bitter Lime juice. Drinker’s body engulfed in crackling green sparks of electricity, Save vs Poison for 75% effectiveness, failure means potion has no effect. Sparks last for 1d6 turns or until doused with sand. Dousing with water causes 1d6 damage.
14. Turning – Potion is frothy and foamy (like beer), tastes very bitter and floral. Drinker chokes and gags, Save vs Poison for 75% effectiveness, failure means potion has no effect
15. Turning – Potion is a dark red color (like blood), smells like fresh-cut grass, drinker coughs and sputters, mucus flows freely from nose, then ears as well for 1d6 rounds. Save vs Poison for 75% effectiveness, failure means potion has no effect
16. Turning – Potion appears to have separated into two layers. Shaking vigorously to emulsify ensures potion works normally. Drinking separated potion tastes initially like fish oil, then like sour vinegar. Causes explosive belching for 1d6 turns.
17. Turning – Potion tastes very spicy and hot, works normally after three turns
18. Turning – Potion tastes of anise (black licorice), works normally after two turns
19. Turning – Potion has become very thick and syrupy, tastes of cinnamon, takes 5 minutes to consume. Potion works with 50% efficiency
20. Turning – Potion has crystallized to a salt-like, granular consistency. It can be re-constituted in at least one cup of liquid that is at least 10% alcohol, potion works normally. Water will not dissolve the crystals. Drinking the undissolved crystals causes 1d6 damage, potion has no effect
21. Preserved – Potion has become very thick and syrupy, tastes of flowers. Takes 5 minutes to consume, potion works normally
22. Preserved – Potion is a dark red color (like blood), smells like wet copper, works normally
23. Preserved – Potion is frothy and foamy (like beer), smells of tar, works normally
24. Preserved – Potion appears to catch fire and burn with a greenish-blue flame when exposed to air, works normally
25. Preserved – Potion appears to crackle with electricity when exposed to air, works normally
26. Preserved – Potion begins to smoke, smells of Sulphur when exposed to air, works normally
27. Preserved – When unstoppered, the potion bottle gets icy cold and is covered with frost. Liquid is very cold and takes a full five minutes to consume (faster causes 1d4 Damage per “gulp”, there are three gulps in the bottle). Potion works normally
28. Preserved – Potion is very dark black, smells like low tide, drinking stains mouth, teeth and tongue a dark purple color for 3d10 hours. Potion works normally
29. Preserved – Potion appears to have been reduced, filling only ½ of the bottle. Liquid shimmers as if with glitter, smells like moist earth. Potion works normally.
30. Preserved – Drinker coughs and sputters, cannot stop coughing for 3d6 turns. Potion works normally
NOTE: This style of Dice Drop mapping idea is all over the place on the interwebs. I am not sure of finding the inventor, so if you know please advise and I will link/credit.
This is a system for creating a map and a guide to a Hamlet or Village in your OSR campaign setting. It is designed on the premise that most small habitations are located near the intersection of a road and a river/body of water. Feel free to substitute the River for a lake shore or sea shore, if it fits your current campaign location better.
By E. Ridsdale Tate (1862-1922) – http://www.yorkcastle.com/pages/pictures.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11966319
After you have run through the process once, you will have a good idea of how you can tweak further additional villages for your needs. The map position of the various locations are dependent on the positions of the River and the Keep.
The second design assumption is the village started out as a smaller settlement, a small Motte-and-Bailey style Keep with a palisade or wall around it. The Keep is assumed to be constructed on the highest point of land overlooking the intersection of the River and the Main Road. You can, of course, adjust the size and shape of this ‘original’ settlement as you see fit.
The scale I used for the example is one inch : 1,000 feet. Feel free to increase or decrease as appropriate for the size of your village.
Sample Dice Drop Map
I used dot grid paper…
The circles on the map represent where the dice fell. The fractions indicate the score of the die and the type of die, for example Mill 3/10 indicates a d10 with a score of three. Not sure yet what I’ll be doing with the scores, but I tracked them just in case.
Start with a blank sheet of plain paper, using pencil, as it may be necessary to move some locations after the process of assigning is complete:
- Draw a line (straight or slightly curving) from top-to-bottom or side to side, this will be the Road.
- Draw a line that crosses the road, essentially at a right angle, this will be the River.
- To locate the Keep, measuring from the bottom-right corner, choose a spot 1/3 width to the left and 1/3 up the length of the sheet. This is the location of the Keep. Draw a two inch radius circle around the Keep, this is the location of “the old wall” around the original stronghold. There will be a street that pretty much follows the exterior of the wall (or where the wall used to be, if it’s been demolished or re-used). Again, feel free to ‘fudge’ this location and size of circle (or even a rectangle shape) if you need to.
- Drop six dice, d4 through d20, in the middle of the paper. Where each of these dice land will be a Location in the village.
- The die closest to the river is the Mill. Draw a small box there.
- The die closest to the Bridge is the Business District. Draw a rough square shape about 2 inches on a side, around the Business District die, with two sides being the road and the river. Again, make this larger or smaller, as you see fit, and decide if it describes an open space for an open-air market or a neighborhood of commercial establishments.
- The die closest to the Keep is the Temple. If this die is not inside the circle of the old wall, move it there, just inside the wall.
- The next-closest die to the keep is the “axis” of the original stronghold. Draw a line between the Keep and this die, extending until it hits the Wall street. This is the location of the Old Gate, and the current Village Watch Barracks/Armory.
- Then draw a line through the Keep at right angles to this line, from one side of the circle to the other. These are the original “Main Streets” of the old stronghold. They should have Historic names, relating to the founding of the village/stronghold.
- Of the remaining two dice, the one that is farthest from the Keep is the abode of a Hedge Wizard/Wise Woman/Good Witch or Warlock.
- The final die is the location of the Blacksmith.
- Roll 2d6 on the map. If the result is doubles, roll again. Draw a line across the map between these two dice, basically separating the map into two halves. The Half with the higher scoring die is the “Upscale” part of town, this die marks the location of the fancy, upper-class inn. The other, lower-scoring die marks the location of the shabby, lower-class inn. Roll more dice if you have a larger village and want more inns.
- Draw a street from the Mill to the main road
- Draw a street from the blacksmith to the main road and to the river
- Draw streets from the Inns to the main road
- Fill in blocks of housing, creating meandering streets and alleys. These blocks should be denser in the Down-scale side of town, with smaller individual units; larger blocks with lower density in the Up-scale side of town, with larger individual units. The areas inside the circle, around the Keep, should be the densest.
To flesh out the character of the various landmarks and important locations, turn to p. 101 in the AD&D DMG. These tables will give the primary, driving characteristics of the proprietors or leading figures in each location.
- Mill – Roll on the Honesty table
- Temple – Roll on the Piety and Materialism tables
- Barracks/Armory – Roll on the Disposition and Morals tables
- Hedge Wizard – Roll on the Intellect and Collections tables. Roll d4+1 for the Magic-User’s Level.
- Blacksmith – Roll on the Disposition and Energy tables
- Upscale Inn – Roll on the Morals and Thrift tables
- Downscale Inn – Roll on the Nature, Piety, Interests tables
Business District – the types of goods and their quality will vary as to the needs of your campaign and location in your setting. Are the prices higher or lower than average (as per the rulebook)? Modify prices by +/- d3x10%
Roll on the Honesty table separately for each vendor.
When you have completed the Generation Program, lay a sheet of graph- or dot-grid paper over the draft and copy. I usually use a scale of 1”= 1,000 feet.
Please let me know if you have any Comments or Questions below. I’m thinking about using a system like this for other types of maps as well, such as simple Dungeons, Caves, underground Strongholds or Lairs. So stay tuned.
I am working on a Grimdark version of the old World of Greyhawk setting, and have been doing lots of reading for background and thematic material. I definitely want to include a Horror element, by adding some fun stuff from the Cthulhu Mythos of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard.
Horrific Elder Gods, Nameless Cults, unspeakable rituals, foul summonings.
All of these are part and parcel of the Old School Fantasy literature. I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate a mechanic to cover this. I played a Call of Cthulhu game this month at a Con, and the Sanity rules didn’t really grab me. In particular, during the climactic battle at the end of the scenario, my character suffered a rather large loss of Sanity all at once, for viewing a horrific creature. The GM rolled some dice and simply stated that I had lost 11 points of Sanity, and that I was now catatonic and curled up in the fetal position.
This seemed like a little much, as the point loss was just shy of 25% oo my starting Sanity score, and there was no save. I guess it just felt abrupt.
So here is a first-pass at a rule for Sanity and Madness in the OSR. My #Gamowrimo contribution for 2019.
A Possible Sanity Mechanic
Sanity should be a reflection of maturity, mental and emotional stability, strength of character and force of personality. Therefore I think (WIS +CHA)/2 would be a good starting point for a Sanity Score. As a PC progresses in level there should be a way to increase this score, similar to Hit Points, say +1d4 or 1d6 per level.
Events that affect one’s sanity in a negative way might include:
- Critical wounds (effect of Shock) -1 Sanity
- Spell failure -2 Sanity
- Summoning/Encountering a creature from another dimension -2 Sanity
- Encounter with a creature that causes Fear or Terror -3 or -4 Sanity
- Other events or encounters determined by the DM (death of a loved one or other trauma, etc.) -x
A PC can attempt to “pull himself together” from a Sanity-loss event after a short rest and a CHA check at -4. Otherwise Sanity points are regained at the rate of 1 point per long rest.
If, during the course of an adventure, a PC loses Sanity points that take them down to 1/2 of their ORIGINAL Sanity score, there is a 50% chance the loss of 1 point of Sanity will be permanent. A Restoration spell can restore all lost Sanity points, except for any permanently lost.
Effects of Insanity
Sanity loss should have an effect on a PC, beginning with a mild psychological effect, becoming greater with continued Sanity point losses, until eventually the PC succumbs to Catatonia and perhaps, permanent madness. I submit two thresholds for Saving Throw checks, once at 1/3 current maximum and another when the Sanity score reaches 2.
When a PC’s Sanity Score is reduced to 1/3 of its current maximum they will need to make a Save vs Death or become afflicted with a mild effect, as per the AD&D DMG, p. 83. Roll 1d6:
- 1 – Dipsomania
- 2 – Kleptomania
- 3 – Pathological Liar
- 4 – Monomania
- 5 – Schizoid
- 6 – Dementia Praecox
The PC will need to continue to make Save vs Death for each additional Sanity point lost after reaching this threshold, until an effect takes hold, or they reach the final threshold.
At a Sanity score of 2 the PC will need to make a Save vs Death or succumb to Suicidal Mania (AD&D DMG p. 84)
If a PC’s Sanity score reaches 1 or 0 there will be another Save vs Death or be struck with Catatonia. There is an 80% chance that there will be a permanent loss of 2 Sanity points. A successful Save vs Death means the permanent loss of 1 Sanity point.
If a PC manages to be reduced to 0 Sanity points, yet makes all saves to avoid a psychotic event, the PC will automatically experience a full-blown case of Paranoia (AD&D DMG p. 84). This Paranoia will persist until the PC’s Sanity score is restored to its maximum, and ANY loss of Sanity during this recovery process will trigger a Save vs Death or provoke a state of Catatonia until full recovery is made.
Please share your thoughts in the Comments. Criticism, ideas, suggestions are most welcome.
After a 25-year absence from the RPG world, I am coming back to find it has changed sooooo much!
And not at all.
Some things have changed, Wizards of the Coast did something amazing. I thought they would ruin D&D when they bought TSR. (And I may have been right, depending on whom you talk to!) But they created the OGL and opened the Old School game for fans and hobbyists to take on and make their own visions. Some of these visions are out of this world. Amazing.
Creative. Ground-breaking. Yes, even after 30-some years, new things are being developed and explored.
So I am going to make a new Faerie Realm. For starters it’ll just be for my players in the Grimdark Greyhawk campaign. I’d love to make it into a Product, we shall see.
The original, classical versions of Fairy Tales, as complied by the Brothers Grimm, shall be a starting point for this Faerie Project.
Faeries should be Alien, Mysterious, Selfish to the point of Maliciousness. They drive hard bargains and they keep their word, no matter who gets hurt. Or dies.
They are just so Magical, so different. Encounters with them should be rare, on the Faeries’ terms, and not to be taken lightly.
A Brief History
There are no Elves. Not in Grimdark Greyhawk. They have all fled. Perhaps to Tolkien’s Grey Havens, perhaps to another dimension or Outer Plane of their liking. Soon after the Cataclysm, when the Great Winter fell upon Oerth, the Elves departed for greener pastures. Devastated and weakened by the effects of the Cataclysm, the Elves were unable to thwart or resist the power of the Ashen Worm. All of their treasures they took with them. The Art. The Music. Their Weapons and their Magick. Leaving behind only ruins.
The loss of magic was a great blow to those Left Behind, as so much of the pre-Cataclysm civilization depended on it. Anyone or anything with any magical power was captured and enslaved, to be exploited in the new wars for survival.
Thus were the Fae creatures driven off, forced to retreat to their sanctuaries and, eventually, to attempt to tear loose their magical realm from that of Men and the other mortals. The wars for survival and the migrations that followed pushed the mortal races to the brink of extinction. In fact, there were those that did not survive to see the new Springtime of the world. The Fae creatures that survived became monstrous parodies of themselves. Some, like Dragons and Unicorns, were hunted to extinction for their magical powers and essences. The stories of the Fae became legendary, even Mythical, ghostly remnants of a soon-to-be forgotten age.
In the centuries that followed, the mortal races have clawed back from the brink. They have re-learned some of the ways of magic and re-discovered some of the secrets of the universe. But things will never be the same, new bonds must be forged, new alliances created and new pacts to be sworn.
Oh my goodness, it has been a while.
Been busy with life. Life.
As of today I am feeling healthy and rested and ready to get back to doing some of the things that have brought me such joy in the past.
I have a big miniature project lined up for 2020, details to follow, but it’s going to be big. And Cool.
I’m also going to be working on a new vision of the old World of Greyhawk Dungeons & Dragons setting. I hope to be able to DM some games and bring a lot of that coolness to you as well. Check it out here, at Grimdark Greyhawk.
I plan to continue working on Pulp Alley stuff (I had a nice chat with Dave about working on a Cthulhu expansion and Josh and I have been threatening to do a Pirate expansion for years) as well as Mordheim2020.
Some Blogs I have been Reading
Check out these really cool D&D blogs. Some of these have been going for years, and the ideas are brilliant!
- Bat in the Attic
- Alone in the Labyrinth
- The Retired Adventurer
- Papers & Pencils
- Tao of D&D
- Built By Gods Long Forgotten
- Hill Cantons Blog
I got to do some gaming in Vermont recently, as I was able to return to Carnage Con for the first time in three years. Got to see some old friends and learn some new things.
As each piece is prepared, I’ll let you know. Until then, be excellent to one another!
It has been a loooong time since I have done much, hobby related, mainly because I have not done any gaming or . I have had some health issues that kept from blogging. Among other things.
This blog and my entire Hobby has suffered, and for that I apologize. I will be much more diligent in the future to keep you all posted on what I am up to, hobbywise, with pics of WIP minis, game AARs, and scenarios for your edification.
Anyhoo, Carnage 22 is going to be special, mainly because I have not been gaming or doing anything #hobby in a couple of years.
Lately, though, I have been painting, mostly for Pulp Alley and Blood and Plunder. I’ll be sharing the pics below. Other upcoming posts will include more info on the games, the minis, and background fluff on what is happening. Especially for the two scenarios I’ll be running at the convention.
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
- Personal Updates
- Pulp Alley
- Social Media Networks
- Warhammer 40k
- Warhammer Fantasy Battle
- January 2020
- December 2019
- November 2019
- July 2019
- January 2019
- February 2018
- January 2018
- November 2017
- June 2017
- May 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- December 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- January 2016
- November 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- September 2014
- December 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012