DIS, Grand City of Hell – Preview 2

Still plugging away. I’m working on “spades” tonight, which I was going to have revolve around violence, but then got my head out of my butt and realized needed to revolve around bureaucracy. How could I have missed that? Anyhow … enjoy some crazy diamonds.

2. Natijula: This block is as hot as an oven, with brick buildings of bright red, with flint roofs and wrought iron accoutrements that give it the appearance of a Hellish New Orleans. The buildings hold bakeries of hellstoker demons producing ashen loaves and deadly delicacies, café’s that serve scalding coffee and bitter tea and every sort of restaurant and tavern. In the streets there are fire pits on which are roasted stench kows and other hellbeasts. These pits are tended by lemures whose flesh drips into the pits, the fire hissing and sending up gouts of steam that become sinister steam mephits. Zombified shades in silk finery walk the streets selling wine from casks on their backs or giant rats on iron skewers.

The gates of Natijula are tall and composed of ivory-colored stone with steep battlements and blue, conical roofs. The battlements and towers that flank the gates of thick, bluish wood, are defended by a company of anti-paladins sans heads. Behind the gates are hidden a giant ballista, cranked by a stone giant in black platemail and armed with a giant halberd.

Natijula, the self-proclaimed Lady of Agony, is an inhumanly tall woman with an hourglass figure. Her head is bald and she has deep-set green eyes. Her body is covered in golden scales and she wears a classic chainmail bikini and many rings on her fingers and toes. Two massive eagle wings sprout from her back, and she has the ability to take the shape of a roc.

Her “palace” is a great courtyard paved with azure stones and filled with long tables where all manner of demons and devils feast, served by emaciated halfling shades weighed down by iron boots. About 1 hour in 6 is filled with a melee between the demons and devils, always over something trivial, but always fought to the death. Natijula has a deep, abiding hatred for all Mephistopholes (they’ve had dealings in the past), and will do everything in her power to oppose him and his servants.

5. Liro: This quarter is reminiscent of Venice, with many canals of water, Stygian black, cutting through the Renaissance-style buildings of glistening, slick black stone with silver highlights and ornaments; the tarnished domes, the thin bell towers with their black, iron bells that, when struck, cast a deafening silence over the quarter (save or deaf) and their crooked piazzas of spongy stone that spurt blood as one walks over them. Floating above the streets are ghostly shades engaged in a never-ending dance and cavorting in the heady fumes dispatched from great, silver braziers that line the streets and produce no light or heat, only a thick, white smoke that stings the nostrils.

Within the canals there float black lotus that attract ill-tempered sprites, and on great burgundy lilly pads there sit black-fleshed hezrous, fat and self-satisfied, eyes drowsy and glazed, thick purple tongues darting about, capturing screaming sprites and sending them to a terrible death in their bellies.

Leather goods are the business of this quarter, leather drawn from every creature imaginable. Some shops sell the prepared hides, while others fashion them into suits of armor (always of the finest quality), scabbards, boots, saddles, cloaks and other goods. Leprechauns handle most of the fancy craftwork, the other goods being imported from other quarters.

The gates of the quarter are located about 20 feet below the surface of these waters – quite a surprise to those who have entered through a normal gate from elsewhere – and are secured by walls of ice one foot thick. Swarms of giant piranha guard the gates, under the seeming command of the hezrou, who make some effort not to displease the mistress of the quarter.

Liro’s palace is set between three of these canals, giving it a triangular shape. It is the most imposing building in the quarter. It is a gracious affair, though much of that grace is robbed of the place by the tempestuous behavior of Liro. Liro is a short, elegant, petite demoness with dark, ruddy skin that is slightly scaled around the hands, feet, shoulders, neck and eyes. Her eyes are teal in color and appear to be looking directly into the eyes of every person within 30 feet of her (even those behind, who see her as facing the other direction). She wears only a cloak of tiny, triangular gold panels and a diadem of gold and pearl. She is surrounded by a pall of the same stinging white smoke that issues forth from the braziers on the streets, though this acts as the death fog spell. Liro is always accompanied by a guard of chittering rubinous xaocs, visitors to Hell who find it entirely too stifling and staid for their tastes.

J. Astaroth: Astaroth is a prince of Hell, and through the markets of his quarter flow spices, narcotics and other such substances sought after by the manors of the demon lords and arch-devils. Astaroth’s quarter is a maze of zigzagging corridors between ziggurats of iron and marble, atop of which pit fiends on thrones of fire roar defiance to the assembled masses of bearded devils who cluster at their feet.

The streets are lined with walls covered with blue tiles and mosaics of serpent people, demonic lions, pit fiends and great battles between devils and demons, all with the bodies of mortals trampled beneath them. Alcoves are set into these walls wherein sit wrinkled, pot-bellied shades wrapped in tattered, dusty azure robes. Before them are spread shallow wicker baskets filled with all manner of herbs, spices and narcotics. Anything you could want, at tremendously high prices, though they will sell almost anything for a drop of a person’s blood. Mangy camels covered with oozing sores, some with leathery bat wings, are led through the dusty streets, laden with goods from the world above, or with the bodies of shades in need of correction and punishment. The everpresent buzz of fly demons can be heard above, the demons swarming over the streets and sometimes swooping down to pluck up a shade, camel or traveler for a quick meal (i.e. 1 in 6 random encounters is with 1d8 fly demons).

The streets are patrolled by scorpion demon magistrates, on the lookout for double dealing and a cut of the proceeds of the shades’ business. They serve Astaroth as his enforcers in his quarter, keeping the spice lords (there are several) under control. Among them are Tizu the hezrou who controls the opium trade, Mosheveti the marilith who controls the supply of saffron and white pepper and Vucarik, the pit fiend who controls the flow of honey. These lords dwell in the ziggurats with their retinues.

The gates of Astaroth’s quarter are numerous, though most of them are false. Finding a gate in this quarter can always be accomplished in 1d3 hours of travel, but only 1 in 4 found gates is genuine. False gates drop people into deep pits lined with burning coal, where they are roasted alive. All of the gates are guarded by twin sirrush and a company of bearded devils armed with mancatchers and heavy crossbows that fire spiked spheres. When these spheres hit a person, they discharge an electrical shock that deals 1d6 points of damage and paralysis for 1d6 rounds (save to negate).

Astaroth dwells in the largest of the quarter’s ziggurats, one surrounded by a moat of mercury (those passing over must pass a saving throw or lose 1d6 points of wisdom and suffer confusion for 10 minutes). Within the ziggurat there is a grand palace of chambers thick with painted columns and deep pools of icy water inhabited by bound water elementals which Astaroth can shape into the form of beautiful women who dance seductively for the arch-devil and his court of pseudo-intellectuals. Astaroth commands three squadrons of inquisitor demons (xxx), five companies of scorpion demons and ten companies of bearded devils. Astaroth is mounted upon a wolf-headed black dragon so ancient it may predate Hell itself.

Hengeyokai for Blood and Treasure

Here’s my take on the much requested hegeyokai for Blood & Treasure. I tried to keep it simple, since they’re a playable race. Let me know what you think.

Hengeyokai

Magical Beast, Alignment Varies, Average Intelligence; Solitary

HD 1
AC 14
ATK Staff (1d6) or dagger (1d4) or by animal type
MV 30
SV F 11, R 11, W 13
XP 100

The hengeyokai are magical beasts that can take human form, usually to play tricks on human beings. They can also take a hybrid form of animal and human, often to good effect when attempting to shock their human victims. Some hengeyokai are rather malevolent, others merely mischievous.

Hengeyokai are usually tiny or small animals in their animal form. When in their animal form, they have the same armor class, movement rate, attacks and damage as that animal form, as well as any special abilities that animal might have. When in hybrid form, they retain the animal form’s attacks, but inflict +1 damage due to their larger size. Hengeyokai can change their shape (i.e. from animal to hybrid, or hybrid to human, or back) three times per day. In animal and hybrid form, hengeyokai have darkvision to a range of 60 feet.

Hengeyolai in hybrid and human form have the following additional abilities, depending on their type:

BAKENEKO (Cat) are usually malevolent creatures. They are immune to poison and can cast dancing lights once per day. Bakeneko with 6 or more hit dice or levels can also cast animate dead, turning corpses into zombies by leaping over them in cat or hybrid form.

INUGAMI (Dog) are loyal and generally lawful in alignment, the protectors of humanity from other hengeyokai. In human form, they typically take the shape of an armored warrior. They can cast cure light wounds once per day, and can cure disease once per week by licking a wound in dog or hybrid form.

JORŌGUMO (Giant Spider): Like the kitsune, the jorōgumo is a temptress, her human form being that of a willowy, elegant woman. They can cast spider climb and web once per day each.

KITSUNE (Fox): Kitsune, or fox maidens, may be the most famous of the hengeyokai. They appear as beautiful women and use their powers to charm and seduce men, using them as bodyguards and servants. Kitsune can charm person once per day and, when they have an instrument, fascinate as a bard with as many levels as the kitsune has Hit Dice. For each additional level or Hit Dice a kitsune gains, they grow an additional tail in their fox form, up to a maximum of nine tails.

MUJINA (Badger): The mujina are not particularly evil, but they do delight in frightening people. They can use the spell change self once per day to give themselves a frightening appearance, and cause fear once per day to frighten those who are not shocked by their appearance. Like badgerd, they are tenacious and ill-tempered when their tricks go awry.

TANUKI (Racoon Dog): Tanuki are pot-bellied tricksters, often drunk and always in good spirits. They can change self once per day, using this ability to make humans feel foolish.

HENGEYOKAI AS CHARACTERS
Hengeyokai characters are whimsical and capricious, and thus suffer a -1 penalty to their starting wisdom score. Bakeneko and jorōgumo gain a +1 bonus to their starting dexterity score, kitsune and tanuki a +1 bonus to their starting charisma and inugami and mujina a +1 bonus to their starting constitution score. They retain the ability to change shape and to cast the spells of their normal type. Hengeyokai cannot take levels as clerics, but can advance as druids. They can multi-class as fighter/sorcerers or sorcerer/thieves.

Thieves, Giants and She-Devils [Mystery Men!]

In the last article in this series, I laid out the basics of using Mystery Men! for a Swords and Sorcery-style campaign, the likes of which you’ve probably read in Conan or Red Sonja comics.

This article continues this with some thoughts on the idea of thieves.

MM! uses three classes. The adventurer is your standard super hero type, with a set array of powers. The sorcerer can have some set powers, but also devotes their XP into a sorcery pool that allows them to use ad hoc powers during a game (i.e. cast spells). The third class, the scientist, puts XP into a science pool that allows them to invent devices (i.e. powers) at the beginning of a game session, making them more flexible than the adventurer, but less flexible than the sorcerer.

By all rights, sneaky thieves should be portrayed as adventurers in an MM!SS game. They probably won’t spend as many XP on boosting their ability scores as the typical barbarian, and therein lies the problem. Since barbarians and thieves are both adventurers, and thieves will probably be higher in level, it is likely that they’ll end up as better warriors than the barbarians. What to do?

How about we introduce a new class called … The Thief!

The thief (or reaver, pirate, tomb robber, assassin … whatever you like) uses the scientist’s hit dice and attack progression, and can put XP in a “thievery pool”. The thievery pool allows them to apply a +1 bonus to any of the traditional thief tasks (pick pockets, open locks, find/remove traps, climb walls, hear noises, move silently, hide in shadows) by spending 500 XP of their thief pool on the roll. Spend 1,000 XP, get a +2 bonus. Spend 3,000 XP, get a +6 bonus.

In addition, thieves can backstab (after successfully hiding in shadows), adding 1d6 to their damage for every 1,000 XP of their thief pool they spend (up to an extra 10d6, or 6d6 if they’re throwing the dagger into someone’s back). Finally, thieves can spend 5,000 XP to avoid certain death (i.e. no save required, automatically avoid a death trap or a killing blow).

RED SONJA
It’s easy to forget that Red Sonja as we know her was an invention of Roy Thomas and, to a lesser extent, Esteban Maroto, rather than one of REH’s creations. With her chainmail (it always looked like scale mail to me) bikini and powers imbued on her by the goddess Scathach, she was a far cry from the 16th century pistol-packin’ mama REH called Red Sonya of Rogatino. It’s almost like the difference between an old school D&D character and a Mystery Men! Sword and Sorcery character. Thus …

RED SONJA, Adventurer 10 (She-Devil, Swordswoman)
STR 7 (+3) | DEX 11 (+5) | CON 5 (+2) | INT 3 (+1) | WIL 7 (+3) | CHA 12 (+6)
HP 73 | DC 23 | ATK +8 (+11 melee, +13 ranged) | SPD 2 | XP 16,330

Ability Boosts: Str +4, Dex +8, Con +2, Will +4, Cha +9

Powers: Catfall, Invulnerability I, Weapon Master (Longsword)

Gear: Longsword (Potent Attack; 1d8+5, can hit ethereal and incorporeal creatures), chainmail bikini, dagger (1d4 +4)

AGAINST THE GIANTS
I’ve decided to send a few of my regular players “Against the Giants” (i.e. through the classic series of AD&D modules of the same name) on Google+ to test out this little experiment in MM! fantasy gaming. Naturally, that means I need to apply some statistics to those giants.

HILL GIANT
LVL 12 (42 hp) | PH 8 (+4) | MN 3 (+2) | DC 20 | SPD 2 | XP 1200
ATK Club (3d8) or fists (2d4) or rock (3d6)

FIRE GIANT
LVL 15 (53 hp) | PH 9 (+5) | MN 4 (+2) | DC 23 | SPD 2 | XP 1800
ATK Greatsword (4d6) or fists (2d4) or flaming rock (3d6 + 2d6 fire)
POW Darkvision, immune to fire, vulnerable to cold

FROST GIANT
LVL 14 (49 hp) | PH 8 (+4) | MN 4 (+2) | DC 21 | SPD 2 | XP 1700
ATK Greataxe (4d6) or fists (2d4) or rock (3d6)
POW Darkvision, immune to cold, vulnerable to fire

OGRE
LVL 4 (14 hp) | PH 5 (+3) | MN 2 (+1) | DC 16 | SPD 2 | XP 700
ATK Club (2d8) or javelin (1d8)
POW Darkvision

TROLL
LVL 6 (21 hp) | PH 7 (+4) | MN 2 (+1) | DC 16 | SPD 2 | XP 1500
ATK Claws (2d6) and bite (1d6)
POW Darkvision, regenerate

Generations

In my day …

I made a little post on Google+ today about an ancient Roman aqueduct recently found via a secret door in a chapel. I commented that had elves been real, they would have found it a long time ago, in reference to the ability of elves to detect secret doors more easily than humans can. My buddy Luke commented that, if elves were real they’d probably just remember where the door was located. It was a good point, and one that’s worth thinking about. So, let’s do a little experiment …

Let’s take some average adventurers from the “core” races as starting adventurers and treat each of them as an action/adventure hero from a movie or book published in the year they were “born”, using 2012 as our current year.

Then, we’ll look at some major event from world history and see how much these characters and their parents and grandparents experienced.

Our team of first level adventurers might look something like this …

That’s a pretty divergent group. The half-orc and humans are the young punks of the group – Gen Y, who never lived without a computer or cell phone. The halfling and half-elf are products of the ’80s and ’90s – Gen X. All in all, those four a pretty close to one another and probably speak the same language – after all, culture doesn’t change so quickly in the faux-Medieval settings embraced by most fantasy games.The dwarf, on the other hand, is going to be a bit less modern in his sensibilities. From the perspective of the human and half-orc, the gnome is practically from another century, and the Victorian elf is a relic in his manners and language. And these are all first level characters (which does bring up a problem of the whole “different life spans” thing in the game, which we’ll happily ignore for the purpose of this article).

Imagine the life experiences they have to draw upon, these characters. Imagine how their manners and mores will clash. They’re all first level, but the dwarf and gnome have to regard the others as young punks, and the elf has to feel a bit superior to them all.

Side Note – This makes me picture elves as a bunch of Doctor Who’s … wearing all sorts of odd fashions and using odd phrases because they remember when they were hip and still see them that way.

Another way to think of it … The human and half-orc are 4th edition D&D, the halfling and half-elf 3rd edition, the dwarf grew up on Moldvay/Cook, the gnome played wargames and the elf plays pinochle.

What They Know

Most of us have a good grip on the history we’ve lived through, and have heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about the history they’ve lived through. We might have also heard a few tidbits second hand about things our grandparent’s grandparents lived through. When you bring super long lifespans into the mix, this opens up a vast amount of historical knowledge to the average party.

Click to increase size; numbers represent the generations

In other words, “Who needs to hire a sage when you have an elf around?”

Generations

Thinking about the way these generations overlap brings up interesting prospects for a first level party. The elf, for example, may have known the humans great-great grandfather, and might easily be the father of the half-elf, who is the issue of a wild May Day fling of the human’s grandmother.

Deviant Friday – MiG-05 Edition

No, not a Russian fighter plane, the artist Michael Gullbrandson (that opening was so hacky I want to kill myself). This guy has ridiculously nice lines – clean and precise, but not cold and soulless. Good stuff. Give it a look and visit his page for more.

For me, this next one is the pièce de résistance that inspired one of the cities in Nod.

Swords, Sorcery & Mystery Men!

Come on, we all know Thor would have kicked his ass

Although I wrote Mystery Men! as a superhero game, there’s no reason it can’t be used to emulate other genres, so long as they are a bit over the top in terms of power. For the next few weeks, I’m going to delve into the fantasy genre to see how well MM! can emulate swords & sorcery.

Weapons & Equipment
In MM!, all hand weapons are created equally, at least in terms of damage. For a game of MM! Swords & Sorcery, it might be a good idea to substitute the damage ratings from traditional fantasy games – i.e. fists do 1d3, daggers and other small weapons 1d4, and so on, up to two-handed swords and axes doing 1d12 or 2d6 (or whatever).

I would also use the traditional armor values from the SRD.

You might also want to use a traditional approach to buying equipment, allowing to buy 1 gold piece per 10 XP spent to purchase equipment.

Exploration vs. Quests
A game of MM! Swords & Sorcery can be based around site exploration (sandboxes and dungeons) or quests, and will probably be a bit of both. Any storyline or plot you’ve seen in the pulp fantasy that spawned most swords & sorcery comics. The possible advantage of MM! for pulp fantasy is the ability to go solo, since the characters are usually a bit more powerful and their abilities and powers a bit more fluid.

Occupations
MM! bases one’s skills one their occupation, and MM! Swords & Sorcery is no different. To keep things easy, think in terms of classic pulp fantasy tropes: Barbarian, captain of the guard, desert raider, sorcerer, witch, holy man, etc.

Monsters
MM! has a host of monsters already, but naturally a few more won’t hurt. I’ll try to stat one or two with each of these posts.

Heroes and Heroines
The focus of swords & sorcery comics is the heroes, of course, so let’s start with the Granddaddy of them all … that grim fellow who goes about trampling thrones and reluctantly rescuing maidens. In all of these cases, I’m going to go for a 50,000 XP build to keep them awesome. Most of these heroes are low on genuine super powers, so most of the points will go to buying impressive ability scores and a few other little boons, the rest going to a high level and lots of hit points. If you’re going solo into Hyboria, you’ll want those hit points. If you want to start from the beginning of a barbarian’s career, I suggest starting with 10,000 XP and one non-adventuring occupation. For higher amounts of XP, think in terms of one occupation per 10,000 XP to simulate a life’s worth of experiences.

In MM!, an ability score of 1 to 6 represents the human norm. While fantasy characters are always a bit more than human, you might want to limit ability scores to a maximum of 12. You might also want to increase the ability bonuses from +1 per 3 points to +1 per 2 points.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN, Adventurer Level 14 (Thief, Reaver, Slayer)
STR 8 (+4) | DEX 6 (+3) | CON 6 (+3) | INT 3 (+1) | WIL 4 (+2) | CHA 3 (+1)
HP 110 | DC 17 | ATK +11 (+15 melee, +14 ranged) | SPD 2 | XP 29,330

Ability Boosts: Str +4, Dex +3, Con +5, Int +1, Will +1

Powers: Catfall, Iron Grip, Jump, Weapon Master (Fists, Bastard Sword)

Gear: Atlantean Bastard Sword (1d10+4), chainmail shirt, dagger (1d4 +4), shortbow (1d6+3)

GIANT SNAKE
LVL 11 (83 hp) | PH 8 (+4) | MN 0 (+0) | DC 18 | SPD 2 | XP 1100

ATK Bite (1d10), Constrict (1d10)

WHITE APE
LVL 5 (38 hp) | PH 7 (+4) | MN 0 (+0) | DC 18 | SPD 2 | XP 500

ATK Claws (1d8), Bite (1d8)

Review: The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt

Doesn’t come close to capturing the book

I just finished reading The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt, and I wanted to dash off a quick review. The quick summary – if you haven’t read it, read it. Now. I’ll wait.

Here’s the lowdown – and I’ll throw in SPOILER ALERT just in case I give anything away.

You don’t want to read The Metal Monster for the plot or characters, mainly because the characters are mostly stock, though Norhala, the alien-science-goddess-prophet of the Metal Monsters has a little depth and almost grows as a character, kinda sorta. The human characters are pointless – I even kept getting two of them mixed up because they were blank slates. I couldn’t even form a picture of them in my mind. Worse than having no personalities, really, they only existed as observers with absolutely no impact on what was happening around them. If you don’t believe me, read Lovecraft’s assessment HERE.

We looked upon a vision of loveliness such, I think, as none has beheld since Trojan Helen was a maid. At first all I could note were the eyes, clear as rain-washed April skies, crystal clear as some secret spring sacred to crescented Diana. Their wide gray irises were flecked with golden amber and sapphire—flecks that shone like clusters of little aureate and azure stars.


Then with a strange thrill of wonder I saw that these tiny constellations were not in the irises alone; that they clustered even within the pupils—deep within them, like far-flung stars in the depths of velvety, midnight heavens.


Whence had come those cold fires that had flared from them, I wondered—more menacing, far more menacing, in their cold tranquillity than the hot flames of wrath? These eyes were not perilous—no. Calm they were and still—yet in them a shadow of interest flickered; a ghost of friendliness smiled.


Above them were level, delicately penciled brows of bronze. The lips were coral crimson and—asleep. Sweet were those lips as ever master painter, dreaming his dream of the very soul of woman’s sweetness, saw in vision and limned upon his canvas—and asleep, nor wistful for awakening.


A proud, straight nose; a broad low brow, and over it the masses of the tendriling tresses—tawny, lustrous topaz, cloudy, METALLIC. Like spun silk of ruddy copper; and misty as the wisps of cloud that Soul’tze, Goddess of Sleep, sets in the skies of dawn to catch the wandering dreams of lovers.


Down from the wondrous face melted the rounded column of her throat to merge into exquisite curves of shoulders and breasts, half revealed beneath the swathing veils.


But upon that face, within her eyes, kissing her red lips and clothing her breasts, was something unearthly.


Something that came straight out of the still mysteries of the star-filled spaces; out of the ordered, the untroubled, the illimitable void.

And that’s okay.

Why? Because the book is about the Metal Monsters. And they’re worth it.

Merritt did a very fine job of presenting aliens with an alien point of view that you can grasp, but probably not accept. They aren’t like klingons and vulcans, just adopting one human facet and turning it up to 11. They’re wholly alien in thought and in their goals, and humans are just in the way. In this regard, it reminds me of Lovecraft – humanity getting trod on like a bug, the trodder not even knowing we were there.

Closer … closer …

What every OSR player will want to read the book for are the descriptions (and they go on and on and on, so be prepared) of the lair of the Metal Monsters and of the monsters themselves. The book is a veritable thesaurus of color words and, frankly, is the only book I’ve ever read that made me wish it were turned into a CGI spectacular on film. Except, the deeper you get into it, the more you realize it couldn’t be. Aside from the fact that Hollywood couldn’t get a book right if they had a gun to their heads (yes, Pixar too), the Metal Monsters and their world are just too much to animate. The only way you could turn Merritt’s vision into a film would be if you could project the visions inside the mind of Jack Kirby while reading the book directly onto a big screen. I’m convinced Kirby read this book and was influenced by it – the cosmic grandeur of it all struck me as very Kirbyesque.

A new world? A metal world!


The thought spun through my mazed brain, was gone—and not until long after did I remember it. For suddenly all that clamor died; the lightnings ceased; all the flitting radiances paled and the sea of flaming splendors grew thin as moving mists. The storming shapes dulled with them, seemed to darken into the murk.


Through the fast-waning light and far, far away—miles it seemed on high and many, many miles in length—a broad band of fluorescent amethyst shone. From it dropped curtains, shimmering, nebulous as the marching folds of the aurora; they poured, cascaded, from the amethystine band.


Huge and purple-black against their opalescence bulked what at first I thought a mountain, so like was it to one of those fantastic buttes of our desert Southwest when their castellated tops are silhouetted against the setting sun; knew instantly that this was but subconscious striving to translate into terms of reality the incredible.


It was a City!


A city full five thousand feet high and crowned with countless spires and turrets, titanic arches, stupendous domes! It was as though the man-made cliffs of lower New York were raised scores of times their height, stretched a score of times their length. And weirdly enough it did suggest those same towering masses of masonry when one sees them blacken against the twilight skies.

That’s more like it! Well, almost.

And the Metal Monsters. The fact that these things have never been given D&D stats on par with the modrons, slaad, demons and devils is a crime. They’re fascinating, extremely powerful, and would make wonderful foils for a band of very high level adventurers. Reading the book, one could imagine, with the monsters’ power level turned down a bit, a band of Mentzer D&D characters on the path to immortality tangling with these fellows. A cursory list of the monster entries would be (and yeah, I’m doing these guys – I call dibs):

Tiny Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Small Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Medium Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Large Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) – Solitary and Swarm

Advanced Metal Monsters – Discs, Crosses and Stars – maybe large and huge

The Keeper (Unique)

The Metal Emperor (Unique)

Of course, Norhala will need stats as well.

Listen, I couldn’t do justice to his book if I tried. It drags in a few places, and it will absolutely bend your brain in half a few times trying to picture what Merritt is describing, but for folks in fantasy and sci-fi gaming, it is indeed a must-read book.

“I saw a world, a vast world, Goodwin, marching stately through space. It was no globe—it was a world of many facets, of smooth and polished planes; a huge blue jewel world, dimly luminous; a crystal world cut out from Aether. A geometric thought of the Great Cause, of God, if you will, made material. It was airless, waterless, sunless.


“I seemed to draw closer to it. And then I saw that over every facet patterns were traced; gigantic symmetrical designs; mathematical hieroglyphs. In them I read unthinkable calculations, formulas of interwoven universes, arithmetical progressions of armies of stars, pandects of the motions of the suns. In the patterns was an appalling harmony—as though all the laws from those which guide the atom to those which direct the cosmos were there resolved into completeness—totalled.


“The faceted world was like a cosmic abacist, tallying as it marched the errors of the infinite.


“The patterned symbols constantly changed form. I drew nearer—the symbols were alive. They were, in untold numbers—These!”


He pointed to the Thing that bore us.


“I was swept back; looked again upon it from afar. And a fantastic notion came to me—fantasy it was, of course, yet built I know around a nucleus of strange truth. It was”—his tone was half whimsical, half apologetic—”it was that this jeweled world was ridden by some mathematical god, driving it through space, noting occasionally with amused tolerance the very bad arithmetic of another Deity the reverse of mathematical—a more or less haphazard Deity, the god, in fact, of us and the things we call living.

Dis, Grand City of Hell – Preview 1

This one took me a while. I couldn’t map it, couldn’t treat it just like any other city (it was too large to do it justice with a few shops and such) and needed to find a reason for characters to wander around a bit. I think (or hope) I finally cracked it.

Dis is like a collection of cities, which will still be represented on cards, that connect with one another – kinda like they predict the great eastern megalopolis of Boston – New York – Philadephia will be one day. Each of these cities/blocks/quarters is ruled by a separate demon or devil lord, and each is like a prison with heavily guarded gates. The only way to get through a gate besides fighting through it is to gain a brass seal from the lord of the place, and that means doing a favor (rolled randomly). This creates a reason to move about and explore – finding the other demon lord that has to be parlayed with / killed / paid tribute to etc.

Escape from one block to another is one thing. How about escape from Dis. The city of Dis just sprawls – it has no beginning and no end. Nobody can simply walk through it and get to the next circle of Hell. To escape, one must summon Geryon for a lift, and to do that, they need a silver seal from one of the more powerful lords of Hell, represented by the Jacks, Queens and Kings of the deck. Getting in to see them requires seals from at least three of the demon lords under them (i.e. of the same suit). The whole point is to draw players into the politics of Hell and, hopefully, produce a fun experience.

With that said, here’s a sample of some of the quarters in the suit of Clubs, the suit of toil and despair.

ACE OF CLUBS


The buildings in this block are tall and irregular, and covered in a greasy sheen that stinks of rotting flesh. Those who enter the block must save as though facing the noxious stink of troglodytes. The streets are narrow and twisted, and every so often empty into vast, circular courts. These courts are flurries of activity, as manes demons scurry about, tossing writhing mortals and shades into a pit, about 30 feet in diameter, of boiling liquid. Bearded devils armed with iron staves push these poor souls back into the pit when they try to escape. Other bearded devils are in charge of ladling off the greasy slime that these people are rendered into, scooping it into large black barrels carried on the backs of manes demons. These barrels are loaded on carts when they are full and delivered to other blocks for processing.

The gates of Borbazu’s block are composed of a vast weave of skeletons. Above the gates, bearded devils man great pots of boiling oil to pour through murder holes that send a great spray down before the gates (all within 30 feet of a gate must pass a saving throw or suffer 3d6 points of damage from the boiling oil). In towers that flank the gates there are 40 manes demons armed with heavy crossbows ready to send a volley of bolts down on invaders. Each gate is under the command of a barbed devil armed with a chain that ends in a three-pronged meat hook. If an attack with a chain beats an opponent’s AC by 5 or more, it hooks into their flesh and holds them until removed with a successful bend bars check (which inflicts an additional 1d6 points of damage). The skeletons of the gates can deliver 1d6 attacks to any within reach, trying to grab and hold intruders rather than kill them.

Borbazu, a minor lord of Dis, rules this block. He takes the form of a towering serpent of pallid flesh (not scales) that dwells beneath the block. He can emerge from any of the flesh pits scattered through the city. Borbazu can also assume the form of a ruddy-skinned, boyish warrior, handsome, but with vestigial horns and a lenonine mane. This form has aquamarine eyes and wears white robes. In this form, Borbazu can form metal objects of up to man-sized with the merest thought.

FOUR OF CLUBS


This block consists of crooked buildings made of pale, sweaty stone. The buildings hang over the streets, making the air close and stifling, though at odd intervals blazing hot winds whip through these corridors. The walls are spiked, and the doors are all clad in green copper. The streets sometimes empty into pit-like courts with ophidian designs carved into the sides, and winding ramps that lead down into the courts.

The gates of Caila’s block are all at the end of cramped streets, and consist of circular doors. The doors are coated in deadly poison, and touching the doors causes the spikes in the nearby buildings to fire (1d6 poisoned dart attacks, 1d6 points of damage from each). The buildings on either side of the street hold a company each of bearded devils. Behind each door, a purple worm lurks, waiting to lurch out and swallow people whole.

One of the courts is entered via a bronze arch hung with crystal beads that cut one’s flesh like razors and whisper portents of doom into their ears. The court’s walls are set with dozens of little windows covered by shutters painted with images of demons or devils, others with shocking scenes of hopelessness and despair. Behind each of these windows is an oracle who can give one piece of information, provided the questioner passes their palm with an equally valuable piece of information written on a parcel of their own flesh. The oracle reaches their hand through the shutter (as in incorporeally) to retrieve their payment and then reaches back out with a tiny scroll containing the desired information.

Within sight of this alley is the jagged red tower of Caila the Judge. The upper portions of the 10-story tower are circled by a guard of young red dragons. The tower’s interior is as red as the exterior, with ornaments of carnelian, ruby and bloodstone. Movement from one level to the other is via teleporting cabinets, though some of the cabinets in the tower instead fill with poison gas or spears that leap up from the floor.

Caila is a short, leggy demoness with blue-black skin that bristles into barbed scales when she is excited. She has almond-shaped eyes of azure. She surrounds herself with artists, who she can inspire with her gaze, replacing a portion of their soul with her own. Caila can summon 1d6 fiendish giant scorpions three times per day and can assume the form of a giant scorpion once per day.

JACK OF CLUBS


Malphas is both a prince of Hell and a grand president, and he is the patron of architects and masons. As one might imaging, his sprawling block is composed entirely of stone buildings, and everyone a piece of art. Cathedrals, strongholds, towers, all ornamented with flying buttresses, fanciful water spouts, bridges, tunnels, fountains, statuary, veritable skyscrapers; amazing and very difficult to navigate, as it is so crowded and the streets so narrow. Construction is constant here, with bits of masonry sent falling to the ground at random intervals (1 in 6 random encounters forces adventurers to pass a saving throw or suffer 4d6 points of damage).

The gates of Malphas’ quarter are great strongholds, ten stories tall, with perfectly straight and smooth walls. They are patrolled by his gargoyles (three companies are assigned to each gate) and barred by wooden portcullises that instantly rust any metal that touches them. Within each gatehouse tunnel, Malphas’ soldiers can pour green slime on invaders and deliver fusillades of poisoned darts.

Malphas occupies the grandest cathedral in his domain, a veritable demon-made mountain of stone, all of it rare and expensive, with spires that defy gravity. Within this monument he houses the remainder of his infernal army and keeps a population of slaves, artisans (he has bargained for the soul of many great artists and can summon them at will) and priests. He sits at the center of a maze of passages, all trapped and well-guarded, for Malphas is paranoid in the extreme.

Malphas appears as a crow, but can be induced sometimes to take the form of a handsome humanoid with blue-black skin and curved, golden horns. In either form, he carries a mason’s trowel, which attacks as a +2 battleaxe, can cleave through any stone, cast disintegrate and earthquake once per day and can, at will, transmute rock to mud and mud to rock. Malphas is always at war with one demon lord or another, and is always in the market for spies.

40 Questions about the Wyvern Coast

Since I’m running a game on Google+ now, I thought I’d chime in with answers to these 40 questions that are floating about, along with a couple spell illustrations from Jon Kaufman (commission him – do it now).

FIRST 20

Web

1. Ability scores generation method? 3d6, arrange as you like

2. How are death and dying handled? Dead at 0 hp

3. What about raising the dead? Yes, but you have to find someone high enough level to do it, and they’ll want something in return

4. How are replacement PCs handled? Brought into the game as soon as possible, or one could make one of their retainers their new PC

5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else? Individual, though sometimes group makes more sense if there are too many combatants to allow individual initiative function smoothly

6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? Yeah … kinda … just wrote the rule into the playtest doc … haven’t used it yet; oh – no fumbles though

7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? Yes, and they are assumed to go with the suits of armor

8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? Yes

9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? You will need to run from some encounters

10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no? Yes

11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? Yes

12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked? Very closely – logistics is part of the game

13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? You level up at the end of a session, but spells have to be studied for – they don’t magically pop into your head; other forms of training are assumed to be “on the job”

14. What do I get experience for? Killing monsters, taking stuff, being clever

15. How are traps located? Searching (tell me how) and then maybe rolling dice

16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? Yes; they have a secret morale score and it is rolled on in stressful situations

17. How do I identify magic items? Detect magic, identify, etc, or finding somebody to cast those spells for you, or through experimentation

18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? Some alchemists can prepare a limited number of potions, otherwise no

19. Can I create magic items? When and how? Yes; when depends on what, as does how

20. What about splitting the party? Sure

SECOND 20

Enervation

1. What is the deal with my cleric’s religion? Phoenician deities, such as Kothar-wa-Khasis (god of artisans), Lotan (sea god), Baal-Zebul (evil), Astarte & Adonis (love, fertility), Melkarth (heroes) and Shedu (good); that being said, any deity from mythology is acceptable, any deity from fiction or your own little fevered mind might be acceptable

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? Jumda the Trader can supply most goods an adventurer needs

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? Jamab the Armorer

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? In Ophir, it is Jamala, court wizard of Zargo. Along the Wyvern Coast, probably Gilram of the Mists or Onort

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land? In Ophir, both Balrah and Alod the Mad claim that they are the mightiest; either would pale in comparison to Holda the Iron Maiden (a dwarf), Sheleik the Berserker, Xaathan or Nemanta of the Black Capos; as for who is truly the greatest – challenge them and find out

6. Who is the richest person in the land? Prince Zargo of Ophir (as far as he knows), but Ephne the Oceanid is probably wealthier

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing? The Temple of Shedu, Astarte/Adonis or Kothar-wa-Khasis is your best bet in Ophir; Zelie, a druid of Zephyrus who dwells off the coast, would be another option

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? See above; you might also try Nokin the Healer or Lathiq the Barber for non-magical cures

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? No; you’ll have to worm your way into magic-user society if you want to trade spells

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC? Lathba is a well-regarded sage in Ophir, and there is Nabe’ the alchemist

11. Where can I hire mercenaries? Put the word out and let people know where you’re conducting interviews – there are no “mercenary shops”, but the Bloody Bones tavern is a hang-out for many warriors (and the local guard – so be careful)

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? Not in Ophir, though speaking above a whisper at night in the streets is considered taboo and people will regard you as untrustworthy

13. Which way to the nearest tavern? I would suggest one of the two drinking rooms at the Inn of 1000 Delights, but you could also visit the Bloody Bones tavern, Aigo’s Gambling House, Balbee’s Place (a brothel), Ubata’s Bordello or Mulla’s Place

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? Closest thing would be the corsairs who terrorize the coast; wyverns are always a problem on the Wyvern Coast, of course, and the ophidians beneath the earth are probably planning something nasty for mankind – no one particular baddie – many to choose from

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? Not on the Wyvern Coast. The men of Guelph are locked in never-ending battle (well, they take the winter months off) with the hobgoblins of the Klarkash Mts., the barons up north are always getting into spats, as are the rajs down south; the nomads of the steppe will probably sweep through the Motherlands again soon

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? Yes – pit fighting at Mulla’s

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? Wouldn’t you like to know … maybe you will

18. What is there to eat around here? Eel stew, lamb kabobs, rice kissed with saffron, braised almonds, pale ales, spiced wines, nut breads …

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? Absolutely

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? The Prince’s palace, or the tower of Kinyoth the Great Hag, or even Ephne’s palace beneath the waves

A few other things …

If you need a patron, try Hogo, Lady Nata, Riyad the Salt Merchant, Ubaha the Slaver, Balyad, Muta, Karma the Gentlewoman or Ubata the Caravan Master

Hoamir is a trader in jewels and gems

Alulla is a moneychanger, and as trustworthy as any of her profession

The Mercantyl Guild might offer a place to store your valuables

Interested?

There may be a couple spots open in a 6th level party now exploring an ancient galley they just found in a dry, dusty cave a few miles from the coast. Just shoot me an email (address is next to my picture above) if you’re interested in my play-by-post Google+ game, or if you’d like an opportunity to bring your FLAILSNAILs character into Nod for a visit.

Xaoc, the Lords of Misrule for Blood & Treasure

XAOC
The xaocs are creatures born from the primordial chaos that existed before the ordered universe was created from its raw materials. The xaocs look something like rubbery, humanoid toads, with large heads that bear wide, toothy grins, bulging eyes that gleam with raw power and clawed hands and feet. Xaocs obey no master other than that creature capable of cowing them at that precise moment. The true lords of the xaoc are feared by them and generally obeyed, even when they are not around to impose their will.

Rubinous Xaoc
Rubinous xaocs are the smallest of the breed, with glistening scarlet skin that steams and pops. They are also the lankiest of the xaocs, with hunched backs and elongated arms and legs that end in webbed hands and feet tipped with searing hot talons. Their eyes are wide and golden, their mouths broad and filled with long, needle-like fangs. The primordial fires of Muspelheim burn in their veins, and drive them to almost constant violence on one another or anyone else within reach.

Rubinous Xaoc, Medium Outsider, Chaotic (CN), Low Intelligence: HD 6; AC 17; Atk 2 claws (1d4 + 1d4 fire + poison), bite (1d6 + 1d6 fire); Move 40; Save F 10, R 10, W 11; XP 3000 (Expert); Special: Immune to fire, magic resistance 15%, breath fire (1/day, 30-ft. cone, 6d6 points of damage), poison (Fortitude saving throw or lose 1d4 points of constitution per day; at 0 HD victim transforms into a random xaoc), spells (At will – detect evil, detect good, detect magic; 1/day – blur, burning hands), summon 1d3 rubinous xaoc once per day with 30% chance of success, vulnerable to cold.

Cerulean Xaoc
Cerulean xaocs are 8-ft. tall humanoid frogs with sparkling blue skin covered in white, crystalline nodules. They have beards of wriggling white tentacles under their chins, white eyes that glow with otherworldly menace, razor sharp fangs and pot bellies. Cerulean xaocs rarely move unless inspired to violence or some other mischief. They are often found sitting on bits of matter floating in the Astral Plane, watching and thinking and pondering their next move.

Cerulean Xaoc, Medium Outsider, Chaotic (CN), Average Intelligence: HD 7; AC 18 [+1]; Atk 2 claws (1d6 + 1d6 cold), bite (1d6 + 1d6 cold), tongue (10 ft., constrict for 1d4 damage, fortitude saving throw or paralyzed for 1d6 rounds); Move 40 (Swim 30); Save F 10, R 10, W 10; XP 3500 (Expert); Special: Immune to cold, magic resistance 15%, frigid aura (15-ft. radius, 2d6 points of cold damage, save for half damage), icy tongue, spells (At will – detect evil, detect good, detect magic, protection from evil, protection from good; 1/day – confusion, dimension door, hold person), summon 1d3 cerulean xaoc once per day with 30% chance of success.

Viridian Xaoc
Viridian xaocs have deep jade flesh that is rubbery and seems to reflect light in strange patterns. Their eyes are narrow and a sulfurous yellow. From their very pores a bilious, acidic vapor seeps, surrounding them in a 10-ft. diameter miasma that causes 1d6 points of acid damage per round and forces people to pass a Fortitude save or suffer blindness for as long as they are in the cloud plus 1d4 rounds. Their slavering jaws drip acid, and their hands and feet leave small holes in whatever they touch. More intelligent than rubinous and cerulean xaocs, they are leaders among their kind, bullying lesser xaocs and in turn toadying to more powerful representatives of their kind.

Viridian Xaoc, Large Outsider, Chaotic (CN), High Intelligence: HD 8; AC 19 [+1]; Atk 2 claws (1d6 + 1d6 acid), bite (1d8 + 1d6 acid); Move 40 (Climb 30); Save F 9, R 9, W 8; XP 4000 (Expert); Special: Immune to acid, magic resistance 20%, acidic cloud, vomit acid (10-ft. cone; 1d6 points of damage, Reflex saving throw for half, if failed the acid sticks, inflicting 1d6 points of damage per round until neutralized with holy water), spells (At will – detect evil, detect good, detect magic, protection from evil, protection from good; 3/day – confusion, dimension door; 1/day – death fog, dispel magic, hold person, hypnotic pattern, ray of exhaustion), summon 1d4 rubinous xaoc or 1d3 cerulean xaoc or 1 viridian xaoc once per day with 30% chance of success.

Aurelian Xaoc
Aurelian xaocs are loners who venture into other planes of reality to spread change and disrupt the status quo. In their normal form, they are golden-skinned xaocs with russet eyes and claws. They are surrounded by an aura like unto the aurora borealis, and their presence causes weakness and sickness. Aurelian xaocs can assume almost any humanoid form.

Aurelian Xaoc, Medium Outsider, Chaotic (CN), High Intelligence: HD 9; AC 19 [+2]; Atk 2 claws (1d8), bite (2d6); Move 60 (Fly 60); Save F 9, R 8, W 8; XP 4500 (Expert); Special: Immune to electricity, negative energy, mind control and hold spells, magic resistance 20%, prismatic aura (20-ft. diameter, Fortitude save or 1d4 points of strength damage), spells (At will – detect evil, detect good, detect magic, dimension door, protection from evil, protection from good; 3/day – alter self, confusion, dispel magic, hold person, minor creation; 1/day – enlarge person, hold monster, plane shift, rage, suggestion, teleport, transmute mud to rock, transmute rock to mud), summon 1d6 rubinous xaoc or 1d4 cerulean xaoc once per day with 40% chance of success.

Achromic Xaoc
Achromic xaocs are quick and powerful, cunning planners who seek to undermine Law and Order anywhere they find it, primarily by manipulating mortals and bribing them with all manner of outlandish promises. They are more toad-like than their kin, but retain the rubbery, ever-moving skin, bulbous eyes, arms with clawed hands and powerful legs. Achromic xaocs have stark white skin that quivers and crawls, sending chills down the spines of those who see it. Their eyes are black orbs that seem to peer into a person’s soul. They can transform their arms into 10-ft. long tentacles that whip or grapple. Their mouths are filled with crackling blue energy, and electricity also dances along their claws.

Achromic Xaoc, Large Outsider, Chaotic (CN), High Intelligence: HD 10; AC 20 [+2]; Atk 2 claws (1d8 + 1d6 electricity), bite (2d6 + 1d6 electricity) or 2 tentacles (1d8 + constrict); Move 50 (Fly 50); Save F 8, R 7, W 7; XP 5000 (Master); Special: Immune to mind control, hold spells and polymorph, resistance to acid, cold, fire and electricity, magic resistance 25%, spit lightning (100-ft. line; 6d6 electricity damage, Reflex saving throw for half), spells (At will – detect evil, detect good, detect magic, dimension door, protection from evil, protection from good; 3/day – confusion, dispel magic, mental barrier; 1/day – charm monster, dream, hold person, phantasmal force, plane shift, psionic blast, suggestion, teleport), summon 1d6 rubinous xaoc or 1d4 cerulean xaoc or 1 achromic xaoc once per day with 50% chance of success.

Lustrous Xaoc
Lustrous xaocs are the most powerful of their kind, with silvery-grey skin that glistens and rolls and eyes that swirl in deep prismatic pools. They have wide mouths and thin lips that are always moving, as though they are constantly whispering to unseen spirits. Their arms and legs end in talons, but also bear bony barbs that help them hold their prey. Lustrous xaocs are agents of madness, who drive powerful lords into the depths of insanity, toppling order from the top down. They can belch forth four tentacles from their mouths that extend up to 20 feet and can grab victims and pull them into their gullet, their mouths and bellies expanding to huge side to accommodate creatures up to medium size.

Lustrous Xaoc, Large Outsider, Chaotic (CN), Super Intelligence: HD 11; AC 22 [+3]; Atk 2 claws (2d6), bite (3d6) or tentacles (2d6 + swallow whole); Move 60 (Fly 60); Save F 8, R 7, W 5; XP 5500 (Master); Special: Immune to mind effects, hold spells and polymorph, resistance to acid, cold, electricity, fire and sonic, magic resistance 30%, croak (30-ft. cone of sound, 6d6 points of sonic damage, Fortitude save for half and Will save or confusion), spells (At will – confusion, detect evil, detect good, detect magic, dimension door, dispel magic, message, protection from evil, protection from good; 3/day – color spray, invisibility, mental barrier, nondetection ; 1/day – bolt of bedevilment, bestow curse, feeblemind, hypnotic pattern, plane shift, prismatic wall, symbol of insanity, suggestion, teleport), summon 1d6 rubinous xaoc or 1d4 cerulean xaoc or 1 aurelian, viridiano or achromic xaoc once per day with 60% chance of success.