Sunday, December 25, 2022

Secret Santicorn - d10 Imps

Tony DiTerlizzi on Twitter: "Sketchbook Saturday: Hieronymus Bosch-inspired  imps, 2016. #hieronymusbosch #imp #devil #sketchbook" / Twitter
Tony DiTerlizzi

For secret santicorn Morgan requested d10 types of imps and their quirks.

1. Ossiphagos
Femur crunchers who steal and gnaw on the bones of condemned souls, regurgitating up fragments to be pasted to themselves as armour. Carry themselves with a hyena like swagger. Hired out by imp gangs as enforcers.
2. Registrarite
The most bookish and stuffy of imps, oft seen lugging around tomes which dwarf their minute bodies. Overworked and cranky. Can animate their doodled marginalia as ink sprites to perform tasks.
3. Harbinger
Accoutred with clarions, trumpets, and megaphones. Arrive in a cacophony to announce a devil's coming in baroque rhyming rap. Employ (often shoddy) pyrotechnics in time to their sick beats.
Work in teams, tasked with dragging recently departed souls down to hell. Personalities of used car salesmen rolled into a greek chorus, never letting you get a word in. Bribable. Armed with mancatchers.
5. Badinager
A professional conversationalist imp, witty and abounding in japes. Often employed in the retinue of devils as entertainers, holding a jesters immunity. Reviled by their cousins for selling out the one thing imps hold as their own, humor and insult.

6. Psychophile 
An imp addict and connoisseur of distilled souls. Prolonged usage leads to absorbing characteristics of former souls. Psychophiles are beset by conflicting personalities. Often such imps can be found running their own soul-stills.

7. Jacobin
A radical imp emancipation who stuffs themselves and other imps full of fiery pamphlets, literally, reasoning that the only sure way to make sure their message reaches people is to put the words in their very heads. Carry hacksaws.

8. Artillerist
Powder-stained, hauling shells bigger than themselves, they work the dispaterian artillery batteries and are deaf as doornails. Have a disconcerting, even by imp standards, gallows humor about them.

Small, contortionist imps, armed with a variety of prying and jamming implements tasked with carrying out all sorts of petty malfeasance. Excellent working knowledge of joinery and construction with a compulsive eye for mischief. Talk like mechanics.

10. Bottled
An imp condensed down and packaged up for transport. Squirm and wriggle, peering out of their little bottles with big eyes. Plead to be let out and will almost certainly wreck mischief and revenge if released.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Skorned Cyborgedpunks One Shot - Play-Report

Min Yum

Play report of a cyborgedpunk one shot I ran for Wizard Lizard.

Rules were barely modified Skorne (str/dex/wil got swapped for bod/ref/mox), and FKR thinking. WizLiz's character was Zardoz, a low down paranoid punk in a trenchcoat with 4 hits, a 3d-printed pistol, and a brain linked drone. Accompanying him were two fellow punks Tom and Chelsea, similarly equipped (except for Tom who had one grenade). The scenario was a simple meet and trade of some non-gmo seeds that were stolen from Uber-Santo, a calory-company with a stranglehold on foodstuffs. Of course it went horribly wrong....

It was late at night in the Noreaster Megalapolis and a storm was blowing in. The streets were already half-flooded with scummy water and through the sheets of rain the sea-wall's red eyes blinked on and off.

Zardoz, alongside his fellow cyborgedpunks Chelsae and Tom were crammed into their shitty little car, parked somewhere in the recesses of the old port district down below the sea-wall, among the looming concrete warehouses. It had been a difficult drive through the ankle deep floodwaters and for a week they'd been feeling the heat of the calory-companies for the packet of gmo-free seeds they'd stolen. Which is why they'd arranged a meeting to sell them off with a certain De Graaf, a gangster of ill repute.

They had the address and decided to show up early, parking the car in an alley across the street from the warehouse. Chelsae nervously played a digital game while Tom slicked back his hair, and Zardoz stews in mix of pills and muted frustration.

Settling in for some reconnaissance , Zardoz pops out his little brain-linked drone and sends it out into the rain to do a bit of preliminary scouting. A brief look in infrared tells him that the buildings still a tad busy this time of night, light leaking out of the shuttered windows. An attempt is made to fly the drone in through a ventilation shaft but the rain and thick walls cut the signal (failed a moxy roll) and the drone returns on auto-pilot.

Zardoz mutters to themself and notes the old cctv cameras on the place then settles in to wait for the pre-scheduled time. 

Map of the warehouse

The waiting ticks on and Zardoz is just about ready to get up and drag Tom and Chelsea in early when a silvery SUV comes splashing out of the night and pulls up in front of the warehouse. Five figures in suits and raincoats hop out, two dashing inside through the main entrance, and the other three briefly staying outside to attach something to the wall, then going in leaving one reaming standing guard over the door. Presumably the mafiosos had arrived.

Zardoz, with some colorful language, tells Tom to check out the SUV while he and Chelsea saunter up to the door. They all hop out of the car into the pouring rain, and jog across the street. As they approach the raincoated guard goon's hand briefly strays to a bulk under his coat, but Zardoz belts out the password and he gestures them inside. Zardoz stalls for a moment with some excuses about arriving early but not wanting to scare them, in order to gauge the situation. Tom's glance into the SUV reveals its empty and he surreptitiously rejoins the other two. As well, a glance to what the goons had been attaching reveals a camera-jacking unit, the kind burglars use to setup an impromptu warning system using a place's own security.

Zardoz is feeling mighty paranoid and fingers his gun as they pass the guard goon.

Inside they tromp through a dingy reception room, down a hall, and into a cubicle filled office space. A lone late night worker scampers away after the guard-goon gives a glare, and the trio are shepherded into a tiny little conference room (upper left hand, pink dot).

Inside, sitting at the table end closest to the door, was De Graaf, a smiling dutchman in an art-deco suit, with a little mustache and a colorful brain-cartridge showing behind the ear. Next to him, a reedy, officious looking youth in a too-big trenchcoat covered in faded patches whose clutching a duffel bag to their lap. Behind De Graaf stand two goons, near twins to the doorman.

De Graaf smiled sleazily as they entered and beckoned them to sit. Met by  Zardoz giving him the evil eye, before he sits and beckons Chelsea and Tom to as well. De Graaf begins to welcome them with a beaming smile only to be cut off by a rather rudely worded "lets get down to business" from Zardoz. He sours, but regains his composure and does indeed get to business, gesturing for the youth and saying "Busara, this is your deal, will you be a dear and show them the money." To which the youth obliges, unzipping the duffel bag and tilting it to reveal the rubber-banded cash wads within.

Zardoz wishes he had taken his meds. Then asks Tom to pass them the packet, is corrected that he's the one with the packet, and produces it from his coat. The kid looks ready to hand the cash over there and then but De Graaf politely asks for a sample. Zardoz wrestles a single seed out and holds it up. But before anyone can do anything one of the goons (who has opaque eyes) behind De Graaf starts cursing.

Everyone suddenly realizes their wi-fi connection is down, no signal. Somethings jamming the building. De Graaf's smile vanishes. The kid looks nervous. Chelsea curses something. A snatch is heard of the opaque-eyed goons frantic whispering "cameras are down" and De Graaf hisses a challenge, "Did you sells us out you fuckers" the kid is eyeing the seeds and the goons hands are straying into their coats.

Zardoz screams "YOU MOTHERFUCKER YOU CALLING ME A SNITCH" and whips out their shitty little 3d-printed pistol to shoot De Graaf there and then. The situation has escalated so rapidly that De Graaf doesn't get a chance to respond as Zardoz caps him in the neck and torso, jerking the mafioso back in his chair as blood splatters on the wall and goons behind him. Dead.

The goons have whipped out their pistols, sleek metal deals and open fire on the trio. Chelsea had already hit the floor, but Tom and Zardoz get the choice to shoot back (and suffer 2 hits) or dive beneath the table.

Zardoz flashes back to their time "training" with Tom in their shared living room "if things go to shit Tomy, what do we do?" "we de-escalate?" slap "no, Tomy, we blow shit up"

As they dive under the table Tom chucks his lone grenade, and they hear it clunk, thump and bounce towards the goon's end. Zardoz belatedly realized they didn't grab the seed pouch. And then the grenade goes off.

Deafened. The table splits under the explosion. A shard of wood buries itself in Zardoz's arm (-1 hit). Chelsea's curled in a ball. And Tom's panting. The two goons and the kid two are dead, slumped against the walls with the ruins of the table before them, faces and torsos torn up by shrapnel (made a luck roll for each, and all came out bad).

The seedpacket was blown to smithereens but some of the money and duffel bag managed to survive (luck roll bad, luck roll good), fluttering around in the air. Zardoz starts grabbing wads of cash. The door had been blown off its hinges, and the guard-goon was lying groaning a little ways away. He starts struggling to his feet. Zardoz yells for Tom, who stumbles to the door way pistol drawn.

Not fast enough unfortunately (failed opposed reflex roll), the goon outside had struggled to his feet and whipped out an uzi which he promptly sprayed through the doorway into the room catching Tom square on (-3 hits). Tom topples back into the ruins of the table bleeding from slugs lodged in his torso, thigh, arms.

Zardoz curses and dives for the door, unloading his entire pistol at the goon till the plastic frame melts. The goon screams as his legs are hit (-2 hits) and he crumples to his belly again. He sends a few wild shots, but Zardoz is hiding behind the door frame. Tossing his melted pistol aside, Zardoz dashes over to the other side of the table ruins and loots the dead goons metal pistols.

She yells to ask if Chelsea had gathered the money, only to find she's not listening at all but yelling in air the way people do when talking over head-comms. Without a moments hesitation Zardoz shoots Chelsea dead watching as she crumples with bullets through her jaw, brain and lungs. Zardoz crawls over, searching the body frantically.

"Tom, Chelsea was a fucking rat"
"Oh wait, you're dead"
Moans of protestation from the not yet dead Tom.

He finds a suspicious wad of cash, and a business card that says "special manager" and a phone number on it. Shoves both in their pocket, then glances over the ruined table. The goon outside has been crawling on his belly towards the door, leaving a smear of blood on the floor. He lifts his uzi up too shoot, but Zardoz ducks down again into cover.

Thinking fast, he props Chelseas dead body up and uses the corpse as a meat shield, popping up without warning. The goon panics and unloads his uzi, most of the shots sink into the corpse (armour 2) but a stray bullet catches Zardoz in the shoulder (-1 hit). Fortunately Zardoz's own fire makes short work of the goon, ending him for good.

Zardoz is crying, and whips their nose on their arm shoving the last of the cash into the duffel bag. Distantly they hear the sound of tramping foot and banging doors coming from the main entrance. He grabs the duffel bag and books it, leaving Tom for dead.

Zardoz makes a run for it through the cubicles, and exists south just as figures in black armour burst into the office space and head for the conference room. As they run down the hallway they briefly pass the late-night worker from earlier, cowering in an office. Asking for directions, the worker points southward. Zardoz continues on but darts into one of the rooms along this hall and angles for one of the narrow windows.

He chucks the duffel bag through and start carefully squeezing out, almost dislocating his already injured shoulder, halfway through and nearly stuck they hear the tread of boots from the south, and manage to squeeze out landing on a dumpster in the alley behind the warehouse just in time to hear the room's door kicked in and weird garbled radio noises.

Zardoz sneaks northward through the rain down the alley, heading for their car, and ends up out in calf-deep floodwater creeping along the northside of the building. Peering out onto the road between him and the alley with his car. There is a black APC parked, with two black clad uber-santo paralegals toting smg's guarding it (and the front entrance of the warehouse) standing next to them is a severe woman in an executive suit and mirrorshades with a translucent umbrella, intently fixated on her PDA.

Zardoz uses their drone to create a diversion, flying the poor little thing through the rain and past the paralegals, before turning its little speakers to full blast and playing music. The corpos all turn, and he makes a dash across the street, easily concealed by the pounding rain. As he runs he hears a burst of automatic fire and (failed a luck roll) the brave little drone dies in a fiery pop.

Safe in the alley, Zardoz crams himself into their shitty little car and starts the engine up, luckily the rain masked its starting, and carefully backs down the alley and out the opposite side.

Zardoz drives away into the rain, taking a hit of some hypno-air and calling up Mannie their contact, to tell them everything went to shit.

And then, to quote the player....
""....and then I drive with no destination, just for the sake of it, and my hands are shaking and I'm biting my lower lip so hard it's bleeding
And I stare at this massive ad in the distance of some kind of playboy millionaire chilling on a real beach at the sea and it says "THIS COULD BE YOU"
so I don't see the truck
End scene"
All together a very good one shot.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

How I Run Diceless Violence

I enjoy using Hits, their simple and effective lending themselves well to decisive combat with clear stakes. Generally I give player characters 4-6 hits (depending on the degree of grittiness) and have 2-3 hits as the "base damage" from blades and simple weapons or so such.

Hits are an ongoing event, not a thing you Have. It's an abstraction to tell you what sort of effect to expect. It's more about showing the effect violence will have, rather than an individuals resistance to it.

Conversely you can treat hits more traditionally, as dramatic points of saving grace, if you were so inclined. I would argue however, it is easy to give a bit more cinema to fight simply by upping the number of hits (as Skorne does) while keeping their impact. A more horror-violence approach, would use less and place more cost onto actions. To do something will cost something, to do nothing will cost more.


The "I pick, you choose method"* where one side declares their intent and the opposite decides whether to let it succeed or take exchange damage. With the small margins that Hits give a player this becomes a very attractive bargain. And vice versa for npcs, monsters, and so forth. 

Riffing off this we come to more general dilemmas, "suffer hits" becomes an easy mechanisms of imposing costs onto choices. I personally mix it up between pick and choose and entirely player facing costs.

Example :

Margot is brawling with a guard. She has the option to take 2 hits, while giving none, but ensuring the opponent is pinned down and takes it; wrestling the guard to the floor despite his slashing knife...
Example :

While dueling a pig-man, Lot is charged and given the option of taking 3 hits, or getting bowled over the parapet edge onto a nearby roof, and out of the fight. Lot chooses his own skin over blocking the walkway and takes the tumble...

Two men are wrestling on a bridge as one of them holds a knife and the other is bleeding

Don't think of fights happening in discrete segments, like a turn-based video game's trade of blows, actions flow into and from one another; momentum and weight matter. The previous positioning informs further actions and positioning.

Example :

The dragon slams Jorge into the ground, knocking the wind from him and crushing ribs (-3 hits), he drives his sword into the wyrm's leg as it pushes down, and the wound makes the dragon recoil (-2 hits),dangling Jorge in the air as he holds onto his sword...
Alternatively fights can be abstracted out, hits taken can be elaborated into broader pushes and retreats or the tallied results of a dust-cloud obscured brawl. Likewise time can be stretched and contracted as needed.

Example :

Pent and their hirelings held the line against the grub-dog onslaught suffering 2 hits each in the process, while Maureen cut her way to the capstan, taking 1 hit, and released it, dropping the gate closed...
Note also how in the previous example a numerically superior enemy is treated more as an environmental hazard than as discrete individuals. 'Blobification' of monsters and npcs (friendly or hostile) is a useful tool. For visual reference consider Kurosawa film where large groups move as one, and repeat emotions and movements for larger impact.

When running proper blob on blob violence; that is, unit skirmishes; said 'blobs' or detachments, to steal a turn of phrase from Into the Odd, can be assigned with stats as an individual. Maneuvers for units should be broader and more basic, retreats, pushes, and holds mainly. Consider morale heavily, when units break (at 0 hits perhaps), and so forth. A handy way of handling large scale fights is to treat them as series of decisive clashes, punctuated by retreats, regrouping, and repositioning.

Example :

Holland holds the road with his spear armed villagers against the mercenaries, the two groups collide and the villagers fall back having suffered a whopping 4 hits, but held firm thanks to Holland's exhortations. They retreat behind the nearby stonewall, and Calliope's villagers ambush the pursuing mercenaries, bloodying their noses (-1 hit) and sending them back onto the road...
Individuals in mass combat, unless targeted, can come out suffering a lesser form of whatever was inflicted on the detachment. So an individual fighting in a shattered unit might come out with musket ball through the leg and bleeding from a head wound. But a character fighting with a lightly scuffed unit may come out perfectly hale.  

Hits should renew frequently with rest, in fact it may be best to have them automatically renew any time there is an interval between fights. Rely instead on injuries and effects to have lasting consequence and inform future conflicts. A grievous leg injury, for example, would effect a fight.
This is of course suited for a grittier aesthetic approach.

Saturday, September 24, 2022


Born of rapacious destruction. To feast on manflesh prepared by a gnoll is to become one. They grow the heads of hyenas to better reflect their nature. 
Gnolls may be found anywhere war scorches the earth and freely ally themselves to those that would supply them with plunder and prey, turning to brigandage and reaving in times of peace.

Wish I could find a better quality version

Gnolls - 2d12
1 HD; Muskets, polearms, & swords; AC as leather; boisterous & cruel
  • Take strength in their large numbers
  • Covet finery, dress gaudily
  • Habitual cannibals
  • Prefer to attack the defenseless

Friday, September 16, 2022

Thats No Castle!

1d4 alternatives to castles for when you need a fortification up on that hill.

1. Tax House 
A fortified storehouse and bureaucratic center where taxes paid in local bulk goods (such as cloth, or salt) are collected, tallied, and made ready for transport. Could have a small garrison, or just a handful of sword/gun toting officials.

2. Agadir 
A sort of collective fortified granary, with individual chambers for different local families. Built as a citadel usually on elevated, rocky positions to protect surrounding farmland. Often used to store other valuable such as deeds, records, jewelry, clothes, carpets, and so on.

3. Signal Tower
Either optical semaphore or a classic pyre. Built high up with good lines of sight. Minimum garrison, and lightly fortified. Might double as a lookout and base for scouting parties. Of a similar vein, a relay or post station with stables of fresh horses and a cantina for tired messengers. 

4. Monastery (abbey) 
Big, isolated, and well-built religious compound. The monks likely own a significant amount of local land which they work themselves or rent to tenant farmers. Poorly defended with a lot of valuables.
Illustrated Heading with Castle

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Arcane Gang

A pack of spell-slinging sorcerers, rival adventurers on the hunt for gold and magic. They are a bickering, loosely allied lot.

Members :

An albino teifling with burning red eyes, sharp, straight horns and pearly chitin hidden beneath a fashionable coat. She laughs as she cuts men to ribbons with coldly-flaming sword. Hot blooded and arrogant to a fault.
  • Her familiar, Superbia, a fiendish raven, taunts and harries opponents.
  • She carries rune-stamped sidesword and matching parrying dagger.
  • Her spellbook contains : Flesh to Glass, Mind to Glass, Transfer Wound

A pallid, waxy man. Sickly thin under his oversized red-paneled, black greatcoat. Forever hunched. He is a simulacrum of his original self (burned at the stake for illegal warlockery). Seeks a cure for his degenerating body.
  • Accompanied by a stoic wight bodyguard wielding a massive greatsword.
  • Oft hides his and his compatriots movements or appearance behind illusions.
  • His several spellbooks contain : Pyrotechnics, Knock/Seal, Inflict Hemophilia, Raise Slab, Apport

Netty Lank
Nervous ex-apprentice of a diviner's guild, thrown out into the street in disgrace. Plots childish revenge day and night, but keeps to herself, simmering quietly. Her scrying is roughshod, serviceable. 
  • Her familiar is a cunning weasel well versed in sneaking and thieving.
  • Astral projects from her body, appearing as a ghostly visage, to spy from afar.
  • Her spellbook contains : Reveal False Futures

Verona Harper
Grey-haired, aging, and haughty as the scion of an infamous merchant family can be. She hides her hand tremors underneath fur-lined sleeves. Wholeheartedly believes herself leader, to Avaricia's derision.
  • While stabbed into your spine her iron-nails let her puppeteer you. 
  • Currently she puppets four fishermen, a tailor, and a tiger.
  • Her spellbook contains : Bind Name, Bottle Soul

It shouldn't be too hard but points if you can tell from where I distilled these characters from. I found the original versions rather lacking in coherent aesthetics for each, and not even working together in a team full of cracks for players to exploit!! So I revised them.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Tomb Robbers Of The Crystal Frontier - Review

Some might say that the unique setting proves detriment to a dungeons utility as a generic or learning dungeon. This might be the case, however Gus L's Crystal Frontiers setting walks the perfect line between vanilla and weird to make it work.



Perhaps my favorite part, its a superb science-fantasy wild west with swaggering duel-happy lansquenets and scurrilous crystal prospector. Its Weird but with all the familiar tropes so that you grasp its essence in an instant And gosh does Gus's art support the vibe. Just look at the cover, its gorgeous. The book as it is slots, somewhat subtly, into the wider world of Gus's 'Fallen Empire' but can be easily used separately.

The fonts are a delight whilst still being readable and the book is stocked with plentiful illustrations that both codify its aesthetic and provide reference for npcs, monsters, locales, and features. 

Also I just adore the colors, their so fun!!

Layout & Tools

The information presentation is, to put it mildly, excellent. 

Room keys are formatted so they lead with a brief at-a-glance description featuring bolded lines for key details. These bolded lines refer to expounded upon sub-sections that describe the key features (being those bolded key details) more closely. It flows smoothly as you read, and makes for easy reference and skimming. Perhaps not as easy skimming as full bullet point keying ala Into the Odd's Iron Coral dungeon, however the denser text offers more detail that would otherwise be left out (or left to be inferred/invented) in the bullet point method.

When it comes to the mapping, all is done by Gus's own hand matching the rest of the books art. Clear and readable but not without style. In addition to the main isometric and top down maps (yes there's both) each 'section' of room keys has a relevant snippet of the main map, handily cutting down on page flipping. More dungeons should do this.

Furthermore, in the appendix a blank player map, and a referee map keyed with treasures and details right on the map are provided. Really this book has bountiful resources for rendering running a breeze. There's even a bevy of turn/torch tracker sheets, faction relation tracker sheets, and so on in the very well stocked appendices.


Tomb is an excellent learning dungeon, up their along Tomb of the Serpent Kings or Lair of the Lamb and other classics of recent years....

A couple of the traps were hard to parse even on rereading (the prism tomb particularly) however the book goes out of its way to diagram things and includes advice columns for nearly every notable feature explaining the decisions put into it. 
All of the dungeons features are highly interact-able and offer great potential for creative problem solving and shenaniganry on player's parts. Furthermore, the dungeon very nicely handles its danger such that players can always accidentally or intentionally trod right into the middle of things yet the more dangerous elements are also secreted further back in the dungeon so work must be put into reaching them.

Speaking of those elements, Tomb Robbers handles its stocking excellently with a mix of dumb monsters, problem solving monsters, faction monsters, boss monsters, and so forth and so on. Consistently providing advice for how to run each.

Truly the advice columns are one of the best part's of the module. They are succinct, clear, and are of immense assistance to new referees running the dungeon. RPG texts that take the time to explaining their reasoning and offer guidance are unfortunately not as common as I wish they were, which makes Tomb Robbers a delight.

In addition to the dungeon proper, the book includes a short section on Scarlet Town, packed with enough hooks and details to easily facilitate play there with no further prep of the Referee's own if they should so choose. Or easily providing a starting off point to expand and explore the Crystal Frontier. 
If I'm quite honest Scarlet Town was one of my favorite parts even in proportion to the rest of the dungeon. I'm a sucker for the rough and rowdy pseudo-western setting being sold here.   

And the appendices!! These go the extra leg and expand on magic items, spells, monsters, and setting elements. As well as end-case scenarios for different elements of the dungeon (what if so-and-so monster escapes, and so on). The aforementioned Scarlet Town of course, and the aforementioned referee tools. The crowning section of the whole book. 
Also there's a wandering arcanovoric owlbear and I love Gus's take on owlbears so much. Its just great.


The layout here is still quite excellent, though the very long vertical text blocks are tad hard to parse, they break up the long paragraphs in an odd way I find. It gets much better in the keying proper however where the sub-sections break it up.
The blocks of advice are killer, as much as they were in Tomb Robbers.

A very dense dungeon, both in information presentation and moving-dungeon-parts for space. Numerous interact-able components are provided for players to mess with, and numerous creatures and monsters to interfere with their exploration. Special movement procedure suggestions. Traps, treasures, and arcane technology.

I confess that I had a trickier time 'holding it all in my head' for this dungeon's content than I did with Tomb Robbers. I cannot place quite why, but I suspect the density of text and features as it related to the layout which was more cramped than with Tomb. However, it is a very flavorful, and well put together dungeon.
Like with Tomb, there is an appendix for treasure (of the magical sort) which is very handy. 


An excellent lil dungeon, easily slotted into a game when in need of a small one session (or even half-session) dungeon. It would be fairly easy to reskin while keeping its essential character too
It does feel a tad sparse when it comes to interact-able elements in the dungeon proper, which makes the module feel more appropriate for players who've gone through a dungeon or two already and have acquired some tools or tricks that they bring with them (or perhaps for a game where they start with some 'problem solving potential' items). However, it is a short dungeon so you can't really hold that against it. 
The approaching rival treasure-hunters provide a nice threat and social encounter to be navigated and are, along with the automaton, the real meat of the module in terms of play (I suspect, having yet to run it, I certainly plan to however).

The lil isometric map is wonderful and utilitous. 
In terms of layout it has all of the same qualities previously mentioned, but more compact. Also in my copy the lettering seems a bit squished latterly? That could just be a result of my computer however.  


For a short four pages a lot is packed in here. 
Firstly, both the palette and dungeon itself are delightful variations from what has previously been provided in the form of a more traditional tomb complex, yet still tying into the rest of the region's wild west science fantasy airs. In particular subtle details are seeded pertaining to the titular bruja and beast that tie into another portion of the setting previously only mentioned in vague snippets. I enjoyed the greek hoplite theming for the tomb, an underutilized aesthetic.
The tomb as a whole presents an open ended situation of simple two-sided (or three if you count the players, perhaps four if you count the dungeon itself) factional relations. Marble-Eyes the sorcerer is a compelling npc and a good potential low-level ally to players (and potentially a fun low level antagonist as well). The beast boasts and lies and is formidable opponent but also one who players control if they interact with.

The dungeon itself is the perfect size for a session's worth of play, mostly linear with one branch, decent treasure (including some interesting magic items), and an two-three points of open-ended problem solving.

And there you have it. Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier can be purchased here along with the rest of Gus's Crystal Frontier products (and much else besides). Gus's current blog can be found here, containing much sagely advice as well as play reports from running Tomb Robbers.
(sorry I took so long writing these reviews Gus :p )

Friday, August 5, 2022

Black Books : Extended Catalog

More black books to add to your collection.

Parable Of The Insurer 
The extant copies of a late 17th century chapbook detailing the tale of a scurrilous purveyor of maritime insurance who refuses to pay out to the owner of a "black galley" who lost his cargo fighting "frog-men off the yellow moons." The shipowner then subjects the steadfast insurer to serious of threats and torments till he caves and quits the business to go live as a monk. The exact moral is unclear. 

The Devil's Dress
An account of a Parisian seamstresses dream-voyages to hell at behest of Asmodeus himself in order to fashion him a proper suit for the upcoming "pandemonium." Detailed description is made of various demonic fashions and their manufacture with an ethnographic degree of seriousness.

Fragment I-IX (The Los Angeles Rosetta)
A collection of clay tablets found buried in a backyard during excavations for an outdoor pool. They contain matched writing in archaic Spanish and an unknown language of stamped ovaloid orthography. The text itself is a missive bidding the recipient to burn their ships, hide their tools, and ready the new "converts" for battle. 

The Speculographer's Atlas
An atlas of speculative, imaginary, and mythic cities, their locations, and methods of reaching them. The oldest probable copy is dated to the 11th century under the title "Urbes Secreta" or the Secret Cities, however no know extent copy survives. Over the centuries numerous copied, annotated, and revised editions have emerged, been lost, destroyed, and on. Barring the Neo-Delvers Digest there are few other living occult texts of such extent.While the 1975 edition is easily accessible, prospective occultists are cautioned against it for many of its entries are outdated, false, or mistranslated.

Descent Into The Anti-City
An epistolary novel, told through journal entries and communiques, recounting the expedition of Captain Leroy Fitzgerald of the Unite States Engineer Corp into unidentified structural works beneath an unnamed metropolitan area. The narration eventually devolves into increasingly verbose description of the architectural un-realities. Widely panned by critics for purple prose, obtuseness and abrupt ending. 

How To Build A Dog!
An illustrated children's book, originally published in French, describing in detail how to construct a dog from the "essential saltes of the earth." Listed as suitable for ages 10-12. Briefly hit bestseller lists before being pulled from shelves after parental complaints. 

Snead's 110 
A list of 110 esoteric books for auction, reproduction, or print from the infamous Snead's of London. It has been reprinted numerous times since the 1781 fire which killed Mister Snead and subsequently ended the firm. Lost listings such as "The Vicar's Methods" are commonly hunted for and the subject of legend in occult book circles. 

The Ballistic Gospel
A heretical manuscript compelled from the journal of a 16th century Spanish artilleryman which elevates Saint Barbara from martyr to the true aspect of god. It foretells an apocalypse to come with weapons undreamt of and "mighty rockets which shall unleash dreadful ever-burning balefire." A fairly standard pre-modern prophetization of nuclear war. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Morrow Project - Liberation At Riverton, A Review

Liberation at Riverton - Wikipedia

My first meeting with the Morrow Project came in the guise of Different Worlds Magazine, Issue 33 which I inherited along with two issues of Dragon, a copy of the AD&D 1e Players Handbook, Moldvay Basic Set, and a handful of modules. The meeting was brief. A short module featuring a plague carrying biker gang along with some Q&A of the authors. But it wormed the game into my brain and eventually I scrounged pdf's for it out of the corners of the internet and read through them. 

And I was charmed. Its an old, idiosyncratic game but interesting in its presentation of details and has some surprisingly well made modules. So as I reread the Morrow Project's books I will be reviewing them, in hopes that this might introduce other folks to the game. 

Now the obvious place to start would be the actual ruleset. But I shall do however I please, and instead we're starting with the very first module, "R001 Liberation At Riverton." 

The Premise 

Players are team members of the "Morrow Project" (a secret enterprise to assist in rebuilding civilization after nuclear war) cryogenically frozen to wait out the imminent apocalypse which indeed, comes and goes. They wake up 150 years later in a 'bolthole' with supplies, armaments, and amphibious assault vehicle. Their mission is vague "fulfill the project's goals: help people, and make contact with prime base and other teams."

The players awaken in the vicinity of 'Riverton' a town of unnamed location*, near a National Guard training camp which was nuked during the war, although the nuke fell south of target. The town was subsequently razed in the war's immediate aftermath during fighting with refugees and marauders. Present day the town has been reduced to numerous isolated farmsteads and a small "town" in the southeast of the old ruins proper. 

Ruling over the locals are the 'Imps' (derived from MP, the contraction of Military Police), remnants of the National Guard unit who had been stationed at the nearby camp. Over the years supplemented and supplanted by recruited vagabonds. They have a stockpile of military equipment, including small arms, mortars, jeeps, three trucks, and three tanks. The Imps spend their time roving about confiscating supplies and terrorizing the locals who are resigned to their fate. 

Into this enter the players.

* The town of Riverton and the national guard camp are in fact, blatant serial number filed off versions of Grayling, Michigan and the nearby Camp Grayling. The regional map itself is an almost 1 to 1 reproduction of the local area (just compare the two on google maps).

Layout & Art

The module is very much a product of its time, and quite home made to boot. Information comes variously in dense, hard to scan blocks or in easy to read, broken up sections. Of spelling errors there are numerous. Nonetheless there's a clear amount of effort put into it, and its certainly far from the worst layout I've seen! It does its job (not to mention the printing quality and subsequent scan quality of the pdf I'm using are partially to blame for bad readability). The section describing the Imp camp is well laid out in particular.

The art meanwhile is sparse and also of homemade quality, nothing to write home about but fun in that charming early RPG game way. The maps provided for both the camp and town are a tad hard to read, but do their job. The keying is adequate, but given the size of many of the maps, as well as the blank space, on the page it might've been more useful to just write out building and room names rather than muck about with numbering/lettering.

The regional map feels superfluous, and does not provide all that much usable information. No particular farms are shown, nor an outline of the local ruins. And given the discrete nature of the module's few points of interest, it's fairly easy to run it as a theater of the mind pointcrawl. That said, it is still useful to know the relative positions of the town to the camp, the local lakes, and the old roadways running throughout. And I cannot fault the module too much for this map, given that it is typical of many other rpgs of the time (not to mention that point crawls didn't exist as a concept yet :P). 

Farmers & Townies 

The locals get a big, rambling, multi-paragraph long write up. They are a simple, isolationist lot, largely defined by their fear of the Imps*. While the write up is long, hard to scan, and repetitive in places, it does provide a good sense of their character and provides actionable information for how they'll react to both players and player actions.

Of the locals, the townies (who live in the small, mapped out 'town' beside the overgrown ruins) get the most description and their meaningfully differentiated from the farmers in their attitudes towards the Imps. Not true factional difference, but difference none the less. A blacksmith and his son (who salvage metal from the ruins), an innkeeper and his family, a "store" (run by wandering horse traders whose stock was stolen by the Imps several years ago), a doctor (former wandering "emdee"), and two farming families. In addition there's a ruined farmstead, the family mysteriously poisoned after refuting the Imps. 

The secret of the farmstead is later revealed to be radiation poisoning from a "blue undead" one of the Morrow Projects few fantastical elements. A sort of radioactive zombie-ghoul, that the Imps keep in an old munitions bunker.

All together the module provides several npc's, hooks or at least interesting details for most, and provides an interesting problem for the players in that most of the locals are cowed by the Imps and too scared to take any action. Much of a play through might be sussing out the willingness of various townies and farmers to fight, or convincing the others. 

*An important note. There’s several (at least four cases I think) of implied and pretty-much-just-outright-stated sexual assault in the module. None directly “shown” but aftermath and history of it springing from the Imp’s abuses are prevalent. 

The Imps

These fellows get a large chunk of writeup. Most of which is dedicated to describing their compound and equipment.

Most of the Imps we learn are thugs recruited from wandering brigands and are a foul, brutish lot with simple discipline, of which, quote "there are no good ones." They're the nasty bad guys to beat up essentially. However they are neither a unthinking horde nor are they without internal divisions! A detailed breakdown is given of how the Imps structure themselves (in a corrupted form of US army structuring)* and a write up of their officers. 

The officers are divided up into four "nco's" (sargents essentially) and two "co's" (lieutenants all) all overseen by a simmering gout stricken "captain." Each is fairly well written up in terms of personality, and plenty of hints are given at how eager each is to go at each others throats. 

Of equipment both weapons and misc. gear is described well, with information as to how exactly the Imps use each. Giving a complete picture of their tactics. Though the information is bit spread out and could be condensed into a 'battle plan' section. All the equipment in working order feels a bit extensive, but 150 years is a short enough time that I can buy it since its been taken care of consistently and is described with signs of use, wear, and inhabitance. 

Of this I must also level my biggest criticism. That the Morrow Project suffers from an inordinate love for military gear, devoting altogether too much time to statting up the specifics of particular guns (though mercifully confined to the appendix for the most part) and vehicles leading the system and its adventures to flag in other areas. I find that the cultures of the post apocalyptic world aren't explored nearly as much as I would like. 

Next comes the camp map and keying. All of which is goodly done, with many little details that add to the previously mentioned tactics, or simply provide implications and inspiration. 

* While structure is described, exact numbers for each element (squad, platoon, etc) are not given. I would guess that the writers assumed the reader would be familiar with the terms.  


The module finishes up with a rough outline of how play should go. While it does feature players auto-colliding with a recently pillaged farmstead, as a means to introduce them to the situation (and likely push them into aligning with the locals forthwith), it is largely open ended. More of a guideline for how the situation might play out unaltered upon player's introduction, than any kind of railroad. 

Taking it alltogather, I would say that....

The modules strengths lie in its sandbox design that presents an immediate situation for the players to involve themselves in (granted, a very black and white one, but an immediate conflict none the less). With both a small social web to navigate and a dangerous and powerful opponent of whom the means of defeating is left open ended.

The modules flaws lie in the lack of stronger factions (though that is a halfhearted criticism since most of the npcs can be easily fleshed out into more dynamic factions from their description) and various small details of layout, system, and style which make it clunky to work with, but are far from sinking it as an adventure.  

It works well either as a one shot hack and slash, shoot em up, or as an introduction into the post apocalyptic world for the players. However in the latter case some good hooks, implied or stated, to the broader world will have to be contrived by the referee. 


All together a solid little module, and a strong start to this review series. 

Random Thoughts 

Where are the Imps making or getting the alcohol to fuel their vehicles? 

An easy way to tie Riverton into a broader region would be to have the Imps trade with a nearby distillery or perhaps have oil fields (there are small oil fields near Grayling in real life) to fuel their vehicles. 

The real Grayling sits right on the I75 Highway that cuts up the whole of Michigan and down down into the southern states, while likely in no great repair, it could be a connecting route for traders and their ilk. Of course the Imps are likely holding trade up with taxes and tariffs. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Deep Country : The Guano Isles

How the Gold Rush Led to Real Riches in Bird Poop | At the Smithsonian|  Smithsonian Magazine

Out where deep country meets deep water, on a handful of rocky islands under the baking sun, layers of bird shit strata have hardened into rich, white gold. Blasted, chipped, and shoveled out. Loaded into freighters to take back to Bastion where it becomes saltpeter, fertilizer, and all manner of products. 

Among the innumerable sea birds might be found...

1-4: d8 Convict Shovelers - STR 13, 3hp, Shovels & Picks (d6), Manacles, Grimy Overalls. Want to escape from this life sentence of grueling labour. Watched over by a lone, surly Guard - 6hp, Whip (d4), Musket (d8), Officious Hat.
1 : Hauling bags of guano down a dangerous cliff to be loaded onto a barge.
2 : Watching a fellow prisoner be whipped for killing a gull.
3 : Fistfighting, a distraction so that another convict can steal a stick of dynamite. 
4 : Sitting about and refusing to work despite overseer's threats.

5-8: The Great Auk - STR 18, 10hp, Stomping (d8), Snapping Beak (d10). Wants to eat tiny tasty things, like you.
5 : Goofily chasing panicked convicts along the shore. 
6 : Bobbing its head, flapping its wings, and practicing its mating display.  
7 : Grooming its feathers in the sun. 
8 : Swimming about, unbeknownsteadly hunted by an obsessive sea captain in his rowboat. 

9-11: d8 Egg-Eaters - DEX 15, 5hp, Cudgels (d6), Bird Masks, Camouflage Feather-cloaks. Want to become like the island's sea birds and encourage others to that end. 
9 : Stalking a clueless surveyor, intent on kidnapping him for induction.
10 : Dancing a ritual out on the cliff-tops, concluding with one leaping off and transforming into a cormorant. 
11 : Perched atop the rocks practicing gull-calls.

12-15: Fortinbrasic Marines - (detachment) STR 15, 8hp, Muskets (d8), Shakos, Red Cockades. Want to evict the Bastionese industrialists from the islands which they claim belong to their (Failed) City. 
12 : Unloading a cannon from a landing boat amid the surf and squawking gulls. 
13 : Lost, their officers argue over a poorly drawn map. 
14 : Torching a collection of mining shacks and taking people prisoner. 
15 : Miserably encamped, eating spoilt tinned meat. 

16-18: d2 Steam Lorries - Ponderously hauling guano along the rocky paths. Each crewed by a Driver and Stoker - 4hp, Pistol or Coal Shovel (d6), Flatcaps. 
16 : Flying along at dangerous speeds in the hands of a joyriding convict, pursued by crew. 
17 : Taking a pack of investors from Bastion on a tour of the island's mines. 
18 : Broken down, scalding steam venting everywhere. 

19-20 "Ghost Of The Isles" - Bertrand Obel, Ex-Naturalist : WIL 16, Sheets, Wailing. Wants to drive everyone from the islands leaving them pristine, utilizes his Phobic Lamp - those caught in the light see the worst thing they can imagine. 
19 : Charging down a hillside yelling, driving a storm of panicked gulls ahead of him.
20 : Hiding behind a rock, quickly sketching an interesting sea-bird.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

30 Minute Dungeon : Crypt Of The Bird Demon

Once again, per the methodology from Priestess of Spiders.

Idea : The aviary burial crypt of an ancient demon meant to be kept locked away 

Hook : Wizard's paying you to crack open this tomb and bring back its contents

Encounters :

A. 1d8 devil peacocks with flaming eyes and golden tail feathers, prowling about crooning praises of their lord. 

B. 2d4 tomb guardians wrapped in scripture-inscribed cloth, lugging copper-swords, bellowing warnings at interlopers. Detest the peacocks, pity the skeletons.

C. 1d4 golden skeletons aimlessly whispering, grasp at the living in hopes of dragging them back to their slumbering master and having their flesh restored in reward. 

Key :


A long hall with lead seal inscribed into the floor and ceiling, both glow sickly, stepping over or under it causes lightening to arc between and electrocute the intruder. 

The avian demon itself slumped over an iron throne bound in copper chains, surrounded by decaying gold skeletons and hung with gilded ornaments. If disturbed it will grasp the nearest living creature and drain its soul, reinvigorating it enough to burst its bounds. It desires an appropriate retinue, and more souls, offering tempting rewards.


An entrance chamber cut into the red sandstone leading to a massive lead door inscribed with warnings in a dead tongue. 

Twisting baffle-maze, all made of spirit thwarting zig-zags, many warnings written upon the walls. 

Tomb warrior niches set into the wall, the inhabitants long since crumbled to dust and fabric scraps Sorting through reveals corroded anti-magic copper swords and copper circlets


An inscribed lead sphere with cylindrical section unscrewed from it, hung from the ceiling in a copper-framework. The unscrewed section glows sickly. Reinserting it will activate the thaumatic bomb within which will explode in 5 minutes compacting the entire tomb into a localized singularity.

Non-Player Character

The nameless scribe whose sigil-tattooed body is invisible to spirits, constructs, and demons. He constantly repairs the tomb wards with chisel and hammer. Tek tek tek. Made immortal by hiding his soul in said chisel. Sleeps in a hidden wall-niche. Gives stern warnings, but is friendly and eager for conversation and new things. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

30 Minute Dungeon : Amphitheater Of Ghost & Brigand

File:El Coliseo de Roma (Hubert Robert).jpg - Wikipedia

Per the methodology from Priestess of Spiders.

Idea : A haunted and overgrown amphitheater complex used as a hideout by brigands

Hook : Rescue the son of a merchant whose being held for ransom

Encounters :

A. 1d6 brigands, flaunting cockades and toting knives and pistols, on patrol. Swaggering and joking among each other, not really expecting anything. 

B. 1d4 ghosts, singing and muttering their lines, will ask you to join in a play, if satisfied they will gift you a silver gilded thespian mask, if refused they will conjure up a miniature tempest.

C. The brigand prince, dressed in plundered finery, mediating a dispute between two brigands over the proper ownership of a bejeweled goblet, a duel looks to be in order. 

Key :


A web of strings hung with bells across the easiest approach into the amphitheater, if disturbed the ringing will alert 1d6 brigands who will come to investigate. 

A makeshift fire-pit surrounded by 1d8 snoring brigands who roll and shift uneasily in their sleep. A very large and obvious iron key ring hangs on the far wall.


The stage, wooden boards sagging and pierced through with growing trees in places, looking up you can see the whole of the encircling bleachers.

Old musty prop closets, digging around unearths two intact silk robes and a tarnished silver amulet

gnarled tree growing out of the stands, its roots split apart the stones allowing one to easily drop down into an old dusty under-passage. 


The acoustics when standing in the seats are perfect to amplify any sounds three-fold and let you displace it as though a ventriloquist anywhere in the structure. 

Non-Player Character

Umberto, an amateur con artist the brigands mistook for a noble and are holding captive. He has made friends with the ghosts who occasionally visit him to put on miniature dramas, though they are reluctant to help him escape. 

Monday, May 30, 2022

Inventory Worldbuilding : Shellfolk Rambler

Shellfolk Rambler
For every youth there comes a time to go rambling on a long tour of the stars, some keep it small; just the local hives, others hop ship-to-ship with the strange shell-less foreigners to odd worlds. Everyone comes home eventually, with stories a-plenty to tell of their adventures.
  1. Symbiote shell-suit (crustacean-esq, vacuum-rated, maneuvering jets, alive)
  2. Mushroom-cricket pemmican (wrapped in bio-plastic, leftovers fed to suit)
  3. Dagger-axe, short hafted
  4. Rigging knife
  5. Cable coil, weighted end (lassoing)
  6. Fertilizer brick (compressed phosphates & nitrates wrapped in cheap gold foil)
  7. Leg-braces
  8. Membrane tent (with airlock)
  9. Shell-paint, turquoise (vacuum-rated)
  10. Story-songs : The Many Quest-Rovings of Yohann the Wake
  11. Longshoremen's tattoo, carved (Belphagor docks)
  12. Unfolding tableau, gold & aluminum etching of hive-mates & ancestors 
  13. Pitons (handful)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Slushpost Mark 6.

ktrey on Twitter: "Giant Week caps off with the underused (at least in my  games) Giant Shrews Hope this helps them see their proper due! #ttrpgs #OSE  #DnD #randomtables" /

More scraps and scribbles. 
  1. In an ancient levant world there is a demon of plaster and whitewash, it demands MORE limestone MORE hardwoods MORE charcoal to feed its lust for plaster, it shall never be satisfied with its eternal deforestation until the whole region is ecologically devastated.
  2. Familial ties are a major thing, considering making lieutenants and various other functionaries siblings and cousins to their boss. 
  3. A cocky young nobleman has whipped up a frenzied gang to go and kidnap (voluntarily) his future wife from her family.
  4. A posse of flea-knights riding about on an animal, hop to a new host and command them to act as their noble steed/page.
  5. A necromancer's cavaliers riding upon slavering ghoul-back, horse pistols and sabres in hand.
  6. Spirits care not for casualty, spirits are ideal for fueling an ftl engine, the devil wants your soul because they are a used spaceship salesman and hell is a junkyard.
  7. Random equipment tables are tricky to write because you don't want players to all end up with the same stuff, but when they have a bit of overlap it can generate fun ideas. How did they both end up with a bunch of stick grenades? Maybe they robbed an arsenal together. And so forth...
  8. Butchers who serve the Red God, and who have many rituals and holy laws concerning the proper methods of killing and processing an animal. Have dealings with the gutter vampires who sup upon abattoir temple run-off.
  9. Eutrpænursgið the glacial troll.
  10. The oldest business in the city is Ma Wu's cockatrice bucket restaurant.
  11. A devout giant hermit crab that uses ruined temples for shells, profuses a weird syncretic blending of several different faiths.
  12. Jags Kaaba 
  13. Oh fuck, zeppelin pirates stole our sheep again.
  14. The king's acolytes chop off their own heads to show fealty, serving on even headless.
  15. Venus figurine-esq goddess with a hagfish's head, barbels enlarged to dangle like long braids, the patron of scavengers, waste technicians, and worm-handlers. 
  16. Game where you play as expatriate abductees of the Mi-Go, your brains resleeved into new bodies, worker for a Fungi patron salvaging ancient megastructures, mining great old one brain-matter, or otherwise bumping around a mythos, alien filled, interstellar space-setting.
  17. Use giant shrews
  18. A cavern full of speleothems, each stalagmite and stalactite carved like reaching fingers,
  19. A silver-bound spellbook, when you dream it transforms into a silver snake to speak with you.
  20. A fad for oiled silk umbrellas has been imported from a neighboring land, umbrella owners have been met with derision and assault by carriage drivers fearful of losing their business.
  21. Two rival cities, each besieged by the other's mercenaries, little violence, each is involved in a protracted bidding war trying to buy out the others mercenaries, this has been going on for a while.
  22. Knife-fencing, a thick woolen blanket is wrapped around one arm as a shield, a knife in the other....
  23. At the printmakers shop, inky skeleton have clawed their way out of the woodcuts and are terrorizing the apprentices, somebody needs to lure them away!
  24. Ritual infrugality.
  25. Mad Meg (lass) (dulle griet) has lead her all-woman army to pillage hell.
  26. Painted ships all made of brass, that orbit astrologically.
  27. Giant crocodile carrying her human babies in her mouth.
  28. Paper lanterns with writing on them as an archaic form of neon sign.
  29. Darian Groy.
  30. Techno-Dwarves.
  31. HP is how many souls you've stolen, each time you suffer a terrible injury a soul evaporates like ablative armour, kill and eat peoples souls to regain HP and get stronger.
  32. The traditional peace offering gift among lizard folk is to offer up your own tail for the other parties consumption because this represents a great deal of food/energy given away combined with intimacy of offering up a piece of your flesh. 
  33. In addition to the above; long/big tails are seen as a sign of status and dominance but also (if interpreted so) of cruelty or refusal to see others as equals, lizard folk caricaturists often draw different politicians with shorter or longer tails as their opinion goes.
  34. Pig-folk armed with carbines riding upon baboon post-humans.
  35. A sword which beheads everyone within 10 meters when unsheathed, including the wielder.
  36. The empire is riven into warring provinces, the crown prince is presumed dead. But two different people claim to be the real crown prince and are mustering armies. One has even been declared the true heir by the princes widow. The fact that the prince was executed by cannon doesn't seem to bother either of them. 
  37. A key which inserted into the body, makes the chest unfold into panels allowing access to all of the organs and innards.
  38. Hiber-knights slumbering in their asteroidal vaults, rousing only in times of great crisis.
  39. Mail order stooge.
  40. Sepulcheracy, rule by those of the sepulchers (the dead perhaps). 
  41. Bicycle haruspex, divines the future from the gutted gears and chains.
  42. Wooden dummies hanged for absentee condemnations.
  43. A jar of computer keycaps floating in disinfectant = cyber potion.
  44. Post-apoc, the design for kalashnikovs has persisted, and the term 'akay' has become synonymous with automatic weaponry of any sort.
  45. A place like a storm drain or pillared cistern but its upper reaches are blinding light.
  46. A alien megastructure factory monolith is found and dragged back to the solar system, it makes ftl drives, one day it goes boom, no more earth/sol system and no more ftl drives, the scattered diaspora of man is left with what few ships they have.
  47. In Deb Lota violence is obscene, weapons are hidden from the world under thick cloth wraps, soldiers are considered sultry degenerates who wear heavy veils disguising them. 
  48. A metal coffin wrapped in chains carried upon a palanquin by collared slaves, a voice of ink and scratching nibs whispers from within.
  49. Crystal ships hovering above a city of red glass spires, squat forges, and slag pits.
  50. An rpg supersition : always include a rule in your game that lets you leave or end the game, lest you be perpetually trapped in a game by rules lawyering demons.
  51. Oldtech often requires a dna sample, usually no more than a thimble full of blood, unfortunately centuries of spotty translation leads to some wizards reading 'blood sacrifice' in their tomes and deciding to up and gut someone.
  52. The alien's ships are massive affairs, vast floating bricks and ovaloids. It's economics. Gravitics and neutronium annihilation plants don't come cheap and ain't subtle. Its easier to build a massive cargo ship to fly interstellar space then spring for a bunch of small ones.
  53. Adventure upon a squalid miserable guano island, revolting miners/slaves, cruel overseers, weird birds, foreign spies, home-brewed fertilizer bombs, general shenanigans.
  54. Item : a ring with a secret lighter built in.
  55. Knife scabbards that bend in sharp angles to display the wealth of the owner, the more unnecessary angles and bends the better. The scabbard is usually longer than the knife itself. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Swords, Sails, & Sorcery

Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser by Mike Mignola V1 by MrZkinandBonez on  DeviantArt

Sword and sorcery adventure upon the seas! Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in the lands of Earthsea, with the colorful devonian wildlife of Ponyo.

Beneath the waves the ocean teems with prehistoric sea life. Devonian fish, coelacanths, sharks, pliosaurs, ammonites, trilobites. Giant leviathans, mosasaurs, and whales too. 

The strange isles range from coral atolls, to sweltering jungle mountains, to cold boreal rocks. Sunken cities abounded. Ruins hide themselves above and below water. 

Ponyo on the Cliff 崖の上のポニョ” Background Art | © Studio Ghibli* •  Blog/Website | ( ☆ || CHARACTER DESIGN REFERENCES (ht… |  Ghibli art, Ponyo, Ghibli

1d10 Strange Places
  1. The sunken city of Ub, where you can peer down through the turquoise waters to see fish languidly swim ancient streets, some spires still pierce the waves allowing for descent into air pockets.
  2. Smoldering volcanic peaks belching fumes that trail across the horizon, said to houses temples to strange gods carven into the very bowls of their caldera. 
  3. The coral fortresses rising from the Thousandfold Atolls in a riot of colors. 
  4. Vertical jungles growing on a maze of sea-stack islands inhabited by tattooist-magicians. 
  5. A yawning pit beneath the water, like the inky blue eye of some antediluvian leviathan, punctuating an otherwise mundane reef, what do its depths hold?
  6. The impenetrable pink marble city of the Faceless Merchants who silently trade their fabulous riches for slaves, saltes, and alchemical ingredients. 
  7. A tangled floating market of galleries and barques moored above a seamount. 
  8. Whalefall city-states of the hagfish sorcerer covens deep in the abyssal depths.
  9. The crocodile infested deltas of Pag where the content people traffic in lotuses with outsiders.
  10. Far Inquonok to the north from which pale faced merchants sail to trade ivory and fur.
1d10 Strange Folk
  1. Dancing swordsman from the canal & ziggurat city, every cut and thrust is poised with symbolism and artful precision, they seek a paramour lost at sea.
  2. A fishy representative of the undersea kingdoms, attended by attendants constantly moisturizing him. 
  3. A salt witch, already succumbing to her magic's price, the cysts consume more of her each day.
  4. Runaway scholar of an obscure sect, hunted by stilt-walking assassins. 
  5. A man once drowned, now the host to an ancient abyssal star god. 
  6. A cannoneer from the southern reaches, babying slow-burning matches and the snarling spirit of an iron handgonne.
  7. A simple minded, burly roustabout and his clever octopus companion, touring the world.
  8. Barbarians from a foreign city who eat pungent vegetables which smell worse than corpses.
  9. Tattooed devil-eater, each inking represents another defeated demon, he is suspicious and boisterous.
  10. A burly thief and a slight barbarian duo, annoyed pawns of two mysterious sorcerers.
1d10 Strange Treasures 
  1. The basalt carved idol of the martial crab god, patron to wandering pugilists.
  2. Lockbox containing rare curative barks and herbs from a distant island beyond the known seas.
  3. Bronze panoply of a Urgish warrior with high feathered crest.
  4. Corked and wax sealed jugs of matured wine, salvaged from a shipwreck.
  5. Scrolls of thin aluminum inscribed with ancient spells.  
  6. Obsidian sacrificial dagger, sharp as a scalpel but brittle.
  7. Armful of hacksilver torcs accrued in hundreds of raids. 
  8. Ambergris from a leviathan belly, destined for the perfumeries. 
  9. Polished dunkleosteus skull, scrimshawed with the secret names of ancient pelagic spirits.
  10. Fermented squid caught in secret sea-caves, a delicacy of high order. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Books I've Done Gone And Read

Being, as is previously stated, a list of books I've done gone and read and my miscellaneous thoughts upon them. 

The Three Musketeers (Alexander Dumas)

I'd attempted to read this several times before and succeeded in finishing this time. There's a perverse tragic hilarity to the story, most of the characters are often fairly awful people but are nonetheless entertaining. The whole thing meanders about, speeding up in places and rushing along before cooling and wandering once more. This varied between enjoyable and annoying for me, depending on how I felt about the particular chapter.

Milady is perhaps the best character, she radiates palpable fury, the first time we actually get a close look at her and hear her speak in the text she dashes a fan to pieces in rage. I'm not sure if any of her portrayals in film really match up to how I now imagine her.

After Milady, the lackeys are my favorite (and their absence in many adaptations is a tragedy of its own). They are often abused. Often comic. Generally oozing with character. You could very easily drop both one of the musketeers and their lackey into the setting and have an instantly working and dynamic set of npcs. 

The bastion picnic scene is fantastic. 

Dumas has a love for melancholic endings if the Count of Monte Cristo is anything to go on for comparison. Or perhaps it is merely the modern eye that turns the endings so melancholic? I am unsure. 

The Dragonmasters (Jack Vance)

A shorter novella that verges on dull at places but wins the day overall with several excellent concepts, a clutch of interesting characters (personally I found Ervis and his retinue to be the most entertaining), and some segments of engaging prose. 

It engages with one of my favorite tropes of humans warped and domesticated into utilitous forms by aliens, and adds a further dimension in classic weird fucked up sci fi fashion by having had the humans do the same right back to the aliens. And then to add to that invents an entire miniature system of warfare utilizing those alien ‘dragons’. 

The ending tantalizingly suggests the thought of writing a sequel charting some descendant Banbeck in their newly formed interstellar empire or some such.

I feel that the story would make for an excellent short comic.

Hawks of Outremer (Robert E. Howard)

I found the prose to be lacking in the requisite detail to have it read as historical fiction, instead coming across as a glossed over ‘vaguely medieval’ fantasy style. Which in turn failed to alleviate the prevailing orientalism. A pity, because I was quite hooked by the opening wherein Cormac recounts his various adventures prior to the story. And I find the way Cormac himself plows through the plot like a murdersome, bloodstained 18-wheeler to be quite entertaining. There are hints of a better story within, one that explores the knavish nature of nearly everyone involved in the late crusades through the lens of an amoral but ragefully loyal mercenary. Not Howard’s best, but not the worst either. 

Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino)

Calvino is evocatively philosophical, and the text is wonderful to engage in on a surface level of simply pillaging ideas or on a deeper, contemplative plane. I quite honestly need to read through it again, to parse some of the deeper meanings behind the matter of cities and their metaphysical natures. It's not hard, given the short length. I’d really love to get my own copy. The dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo alone is worth the price.

The Stars Are Legion (Kameron Hurley)

DNF 25%

I feel bad about not finishing this book, it was actually beginning to get enjoyable but I fell off it due to outside factors and haven’t picked it up to finish yet. The vagueness and angst early on in the story were frustrating, but once it gets rolling along and more details are revealed it's not as bad. There are of course, decaying meat-moons which already puts it on a high grade.

However, the description could have strove for greater decadence, chewiness, rather than the workmanlike prose it had. Perhaps this was intentional to match the barebones material culture (very little metal, everything's meat). But still some nice juicy descriptions of viscera would be good.

Nomads of the Time Stream (Michel Moorcock)

DNF at 2 stories out of 3

I didn’t finish, not for any particular reason, I simply didn't feel sufficiently inspired to wrap it up though I enjoyed the first two stories I read.

I contend that the best bit was the initial introduction which while steeped in orientalism had wonderfully evocative description as well as solid enough motivation on part of the protagonist to keep the story flowing (later on he just drifts about, rather a non-character and more just a viewing scope).

Besides the opening, I found the Land Leviathan to be more compelling than Warlord of Air. Its display of bigotry and atrocity is more direct and upfront, and its super science flows more believably (amusing given that it features giant city sized fortress ziggurats) thanks to the widespread, global altering nature. However, its examination of race and imperialism is still clumsy. 

All together a neat little read, not particularly inspiring (except for that opening segment in Teku Benga which was really well put together) but interesting, and certainly displays Moorcock's prose. 

Elric of Melnibone (Michael Moorcock)

When it comes to "antiheroes", particularly the kind prone to philosophizing it is often a coin flip whether they are insufferable or enjoyable. Fortunately Elric is the latter. His brooding, while grandiose, never crosses the threshold of frustration and elicits genuine sympathy. Whilst be contrasted deliciously against the cruelties of his station and people. 

Moorcock's prose is clear whilst being decadent in detail. The plot is a solid pulp fantasy yarn the way through. The aesthetics and environs are refreshing coming out of the current fantasy milieu, delightfully weird and sometimes incoherent as well. 

I'm half way through Sailor On the Seas of Fate as I write this. 

The Carpet People (Terry Pratchett)

A re-read. And well worth it. 

As time passes my love for novellas and shorter stories increases. Not everything (especially in fantasy) needs to be sprawling multi-tome epics. The Carpet People manages to accomplish an entire drama, with big climatic battles and all in a short space (which I am just now realizing is rather delightfully appropriate to the setting of the novel). It's exactly as long as it needs to be. A practice more books should adhere to (though of course it does require some skill on part of the writer).

There is classic Pratchett wit throughout and the characters are simple but endearing, the same going for the environs of The Carpet, which would make an excellent game setting. Miniature worlds in general are underutilized, perhaps a post is in order.  

Friday, April 22, 2022

Unicorn Meat - Review

Dan D (of the venerable blag, Throne Of Salt) has recently released Unicorn Meat an adventure about a rundown unicorn farm in the backwoods taken over by ex-indentured, feral young girls, and other horrible thing. And it is fantastic.  


The safety section <3


There is a very deep sense of….. coziness? Is not the right word, humanity perhaps. Familiarity? Closeness? Despite the horrid situation. The characters in the module carry a large part of this. So does the setting, something about the muggy backwoods crawling with terrible monsters rings a note within. It all feels horrible in a deeply human and sympathetic way as well as alien and terrible.

The vaguely late 19th century setting also interplays quite well with the aforementioned familiarity (I do not think the module would work as well reskinned for a more medieval time period, its really well-knit (you could make it work definitely, just not as well))


Im not really sure why the muggy backwoods with Appalachian folklore mixed with root magic borrowings speaks so deeply to my soul and feels so... familiar, given how removed my childhood is from such contexts. But damn does it have Vibes. 


Layout is clean, simple, and flows like butter. The pdf is nicely hyperlinked. Text is broken up and spaced out, you're never focusing on more than a paragraph's worth of text at a time. Terms and names are bolded. Makes for easy skimming.

Visually, the illustrations really tie up the whole module in a bow. The npc portraits ooze personality (and make for handy little play aids). Theres just enough illustrations in total to nail down the vibes in your head without prescribing or limiting your own portrayal of the farm. 

There's some moments of more flavorful layout (like some <Redacted> black bars) however they don’t interfere with readability or usability at all, which is excellent. 


The tables for character creation are excellent and just beg to be used in rolling up a party of carvergirls 


Hits this blend of folkloric and not-exactly science, but more ‘sciency’, horror. Mutations and witchballs. Old folk magic pulled up from Appalachia and the swamps blended with ‘this is not a place of honor’ monoliths of a long dead culture. 


Oddly strong tonal similarities to Deep Carbon Observatory, would pair excellently with each other.


There's also still a lot of mystery and open-endedness to the module, not everything is fully explained. Like what exactly the beast-below is, or why there's a bunch of seemingly metallic but actually crammed with meat technologies. It's artfully done, enough to keep nagging at the mind, and keep it mysterious, but never a roadblock to play.

There's a segment on legends, nothing immediately relevant to play but which drives home the mood, and fleshes the carvergirl’s culture out for anyone running them.  


Unicorn poop can be smoked to make you high (also all the other skinning unicorns for parts).


Minor point, the beginning of the caves section describes travel as taking 1d4 hours between locations and this makes sense for a portion of it (the tangled caves under the swamp) but not other parts like the pit.


Instantly infatuated with all the npcs. There's a lot of humanity, both sympathetic and cruel, crammed into them. I'm reminded of the better kinds of post-apocalyptic media, where everyones broken in some way, even the awful one’s, and the humanity of it strikes a cord. Everyone’s fucked up, but its clear that its this polluted place and the evils done there that's done it

Near the start of the module there's a list of “things to remember”, in that these two are the first ‘you know these people, everyone has a name” and “everyone has friends, everyone has enemies”. Which drives home some of the modules underlying tone. Things are fucked up but everyones people.

(This also makes the monsters stand out even more, their proper weird and messed up).

Oh and also very simple, and yet excellently done factionalism.


Art by Rowan A.

Pugs and Birdie are my favorites I think, all the characters are amazing but these two are my favorites. Something about their demeanors makes my heart go out to them. 


Everything about the nightwatch, their tree, and the witching hour. Proper folk-magic (and horror) vibes that meshes fantastically with everything else. I feel like there could be a bit more allusion to the witching hours existence in other parts of the module, but gosh is it good.


The descriptions through the module are extra evocative, and minimalist in just the right way. Tiles described as teeth is one of my favorite bits. 


Random generation of a hunting expedition via drawing from a deck of cards is mwah, very simple, easy to use, and a fun and different way of doing random gen. Kinda makes the generation feel more oracular and less mechanical as it might if you were just rolling on tables. 


A little thing, but a solid chunk of the npc portraits are smiling, it's not necessarily a happy (or well… normal happy) smile, but a goodly lot of them are smiling in some way, something which says a lot about the tone I think.


I'm not sure how I would run this module with adult player characters. It can definitely be done, feels a bit tricksy to navigate, gotta hit the right tone for interact with feral children trying to knife you. Carvergirl games definitely would run more naturally. Im eager to her the play reports eventually roll in. 


“At least it’s not a hippo”


White-Eyes plan is just really good, the kind of thing where players end up torn on weither to stop it, join it, or what. Deeply sympathetic and also clearly about to unleash some chaos. Also just excellent as conceptual weird-ass magic-science (I adore the description comparing the Theocarnequs to the Beast as a god to a leper).


All the other stuff I didn't remember to include or couldn't properly express while writing this.


This hasn't really been a very coherent post, ramblings mostly, cause its just a damn fantastic adventure. I'm defiantly going to spring for a physical copy eventually. 

The time is neigh! You too should go out and get Unicorn Meat.