Friday 30 January 2015

Cast this spell then kill your family.

Immortality is a big ticket item for wizards.
The players in my game have met a few wizards in their travels and they're invariably old and crazy and have lived forever and are age-old frenemies with other old wizards. They all try to kill each other but after so long who else really understands them?
They're also usually too powerful to deal with and have arbitrarily strong magical powers.

I liked how in the Black Company novels all the most powerful wizards kill their families and anyone connected to their past history to eliminate knowledge of their true name. The whole bit where you yell "I NAME YOUR NAME!" and their powers fail forever is also super rad.

So this is how wizards become immortal. It has ramifications for high-level wizard attitudes towards life, the underhanded and paranoid way they wage war against each other, and best of all fits sundry fantasy tropes. It's mainly only useful for NPCs but who knows? Maybe you have a reeaally long running campaign or time skips and time travel shenanigans going on.
It also means that immortal wizards have got to have done some terrible things to get where they are which means magic-users are even more feared and hated.
This spell should, fortunately, protect them from the ensuing lynchings.
Cost is given as per LotFP silver standard. Change it to gp if you use that.

I still wish this show hadn't gone downhill

Isaac's Bane
Magic-User Level 1
This spell brings immortality. The only means by which the caster may be killed is at the hands of a blood relative or by a person who speaks their true name.
The caster must cast this spell on their firstborn son on the night of his birth. Every year, on the child's birthday, this spell must be cast on the child again. 
Each successive casting requires anointing the child with expensive oils within a thaumaturgic circle of rare and magical ingredients. The ritual components must be worth at least 500sp per year of the child's age and are consumed in the casting. At the culmination of each ritual the child must blow out a number of candles corresponding to their age, symbolically "snuffing out" their life lived thus far.
When the child is thirteen this spell must be cast a final time and the child killed by violent means. A knife is traditional though not strictly necessary. At this point the spell is complete and the caster attains immortality.
This spell is a perversion of the soul. The effects of any beneficial spell cast by a Lawful being are reversed for the caster. The caster cannot be taken below 0HP unless it is by the direct hand of a blood relation or by a person who speaks their true name. This is not to say they are immune to pain, merely that their bodies cannot sustain more than superficial damage.

Sometimes the gods intervene and keep their pimp hand strong.

Logical consequences
  • Killing off the rest of your family is a good idea. The other option is to protect them from your enemies and be a super good guy. However you are immortal, and so in a few generations there will be so many descendants that damn near anyone could kill you.
  • Wiping all record of your existence from history is a good idea. If somebody found records of your birth they might learn your true name and tell everyone and then damn near anyone could kill you.
  • Wizards will have crazy wizard names they made up themselves, possibly many of them. They might leak a different fake name to each of their enemies, so if someone who is sent to kill them shouts "Constance Merryweather!" the wizard can go "HA! Graphalax sent you, didn't he!?"
  • Wizards fight each other through trickery and guile and paranoia. They can't kill each other directly with spells so must find workarounds and edge cases.
  • One method is to clone your enemy through toenail clippings or bits of hair. Wizards rarely leave their magically fortified towers to prevent this happening.
  • Another is simply to trap your enemy somewhere he can never leave, although doubtless they will get free eventually (see also: Calcidius in Tower of the Stargazer)
  • Make sure to send adventurers to smash up enemy research and foil their plans. They always believe the "evil wizard" excuse.
  • Leave shiny knickknacks and gewgaws and boxes of money around the place. With luck any adventurers who raid the place on another's orders will take those and leave the REAL valuables. Cursed weapons too, just to fuck with them.
  • In any case, the life of an immortal wizard is one of paranoia and ever more complex research into things that are useless to anyone else but super important to killing one of your rivals. This is one source of cursed artifacts, items of malignant intent, and magical objects of seemingly no use to anyone.
  •  Immortal wizards probably look pretty old. It takes thirteen years to cast the spell, plus you've got to build up enough savings to afford the ritual ingredient overhead (45500sp all up), and if you had children before finding this spell you've missed the boat.
  • From the child's perspective they'll get things like "Your birthdays are weird compared to other kids and Dad sometimes cries when he looks at you especially when he's been drinking, he doesn't do that for your other brothers and sisters" or "Ever since you remember, some weird old guy turns up once a year on your birthday to do some weird chanting but your mum never knows about it and thinks you're making it up" or "You've lived your entire life in the cellar".
  •  DID YOU KNOW the modern birthday ritual is a sick joke based on this spell?
I should also mention that in situations such as these there is a strikingly large rate of long-lost relatives showing up to slay their filicidal forefather. Whether it be by babies floated down rivers to be raised by royalty or your parents skipping town while all the babies are killed or your long-thought-dead son accidentally nutting you with a discus, somehow they always turn up.
The first time someone takes an immortal wizard down to 0HP I'd give them a chance to have been a long-lost blood relative. Maybe 1 in 100?

I was entertaining an idea for a long while where some baddie or other would yell "I NAME YOUR NAME!" and say the PC's player's name and it would be all meta, but then I thought that sounded like a shit idea.

Thursday 22 January 2015

So I Ran Scenic Dunnsmouth

Some choice quotes from my players:
  • "Oh I get it it's like the Bayou."
  • "Don't stop mind-controlling the chick you idiot. Oh now you've done it."
  • "I would love a frog croissant thank you that would be lovely." 
  • "It wasn't a pig, it was a rape victim."
  • "I'll only fuck the triplets if they take me to the spider."
  • "I am talking out of character here - can you please stop scaring my girlfriend."
  • "I'm going to bite the hobbit! Oh I thought I had to bite people now. Sorry man I got the wrong idea."
  • "Can someone punch this fucking baby"
  • "I Command the spider to BITE!"
  • "I'm just going to stab Uncle Ivan how is he even still alive at this point."

What did I change?

I ran this as a one-shot, so to make things interesting I gave each player a different secret goal. Some of the goals conflicted with other people's goals, but nobody knew which.
They were still all ostensibly there to collect the backlog of the town's tithes, having collectively chipped in all their savings to buy the debt from the Church in the opening spiel.
Due to the vagaries of fate the Original Spider was outside the village, squatting on the site of the Van Kaus Secret Shame. I made a little dungeon lair for it to live in. Only a few rooms in a spider temple because I wanted the focus to be on Dunnsmouth, not dungeon crawling.

I foolishly left the original map in Australia, so you'll have to make do with this terrible phone photograph.

My Dunnsmouth

Any post about actual play in Dunnsmouth is inevitably going to require an explanation of my Dunnsmouth, since rolling up the town is the module's chief gimmick.

- Infection Level 1. Only one house was actually infected by the spider cult. Luckily it was Ester Duncaster, the Duncaster matriarch, so between her and her children there were a fair few infected.
- Uncle Ivanovik was in the church. Good luck getting the tithes out of there, everyone.
- The Original Spider landed in the mausoleum, meaning that it was instead in the mountains on the site of the Van Kaus Secret Shame.
- The Elven Spy's tree house was present but the elf himself was off on creepy elf business.
- Only a single Von Kaus, Erik, was present, living under a boat next to his family's old mausoleum. I guess that means the other families killed off the Van Kaus when they discovered their spider worshipping ways. Since Erik's gimmick is being the Time Cube Dude, I figure he avoided this fate because he was stuck in the Cube's time vortex during the lynchings and now keeps out of the way.
- Village is otherwise mainly made up of the Duncaster clan, with a couple of creepy Samsons and a couple of posh Dunlops around for variety.
- Bubba Samson was in the village, which I was happy about because he was the creepiest dude when I was reading through the book. As luck would have it, his rape victim "wife" is a long-thought-dead Duncaster girl he has tied up in his shack, which tied in nicely with the rest of the village and fueled a lot of lynch-mob-based gameplay.

I was considering rerolling since only one house was infected, but between Bubba Samson, Uncle Ivanovik in the Church, and the way the Van Kaus Secret Shame being the spider cult meant I could tie everything in One-Shot Dunnsmouth into a neat package, I kept it. And I'm glad I did!

Was it good?

Generating Dunnsmouth was interesting because I got a better grasp of the village dynamics than I would have gained just by reading a pre-populated one with pre-written relationships. I'm sure Logan's Corpathium would be the same.
The Van Kaus spider cult thing sort of evolved organically from making sense of the results, which is exactly what I want out of a random generator.
I want to make something similar so I can just roll out a village on the fly in a sandbox but I haven't quite worked out how to do that yet. Dunnsmouth and Corpathium work because they're specific and detailed, and the interaction between those specific, detailed parts makes a lot of interesting complexity. Anyway, something to think about.

Dunnsmouth itself was really cool, the different families having their own characters (Duncaster nice but poor, Samsons horrible rednecks, etc) meant that it was easy to characterise different people. I did a Southern drawl for most people, keeping it nice and Southern Hospitality-y with the Duncasters and I GON' KILL YOO redneck for the Samsons. That was fun. Only downside is that I occasionally find myself saying "YOU WAN' SUMMA MAH RIIIIIBS?" as though it is a pop culture reference rather than me hamming up an imaginary person's voice in a nerd game.

I can't find fault in the module because it did everything I needed. It created a cool and evocative scenario before the game, and it was there for me when things went crazy during the game.
Within the first ten minutes the players split up into several separate groups, so I was suddenly on the ropes trying to handle several interdependent character threads constantly crossing and joining and looping and influencing one another. Thank goodness time was wacky in Dunnsmouth so I could handwave issues with chronology.
The book made it easy to find the town's inhabitants (the playing card thing really helped with this) and as I said before, having generated the town myself meant that I had a deeper grasp of Dunnsmouth than I would have had otherwise. Intuitively knowing what'll happen when two families meet meant that I had more brain CPU cycles to devote to actually keeping a handle on what people were doing in the game.

Verdict: It's real fun to use to generate the village, it's real fun to run at the table, and best of all its reusable so I can do it all again!

I don't know what's happened to my phone but man these came out bad. This is the Van Kaus spider temple.

What happened when I ran it?

Contrary to my usual MO, I asked them what class they wanted to be then pregenerated their characters. The same six results rolled on 3d6, but assigned to their stats at random.
Between their classes and their random failed professions, I gave them some secret goals to push them towards interesting things in Dunnsmouth.
Luckily most of them fit pretty easily, but the Ranger chick got Sinecure as her previous job so ended up being a spoilt rich girl with a magic wax seal.
At the start of the game I did a bit of a storygamey "Ok so you're a Fighter who used to be a Lawyer, what's the story there?" question and answer thing which actually worked really well.

Dramatis Personae:
  • A Fighter. Lawyer who turned to fightin' due to a mid-life crisis. Secretly a sleeper agent of the Spider Cult. Secret goal: Rendezvous with spider cultists in Dunnsmouth, infect other PCs with spider venom.
  • A Rogue (Specialist 1). Cutpurse turned female bounty hunter. Secret goal: Take the head of Ivan Ivanovik, also known as "Uncle Ivan" and "Daddy Mantrap" and take it home in a box to claim the bounty.
  • A Cleric. Drug farmer who saw the light of God during a good trip. Secret goal: Discover the nature of the Van Kaus Secret Shame and destroy its unholy source.
  • A Ranger (Specialist 1). A spoiled daddy's girl who spent much of her coddled childhood playing in the forest. Read lots of books on forbidden lore while daddy was away. Has an idealised view of adventurers from children's stories. Secret goal: Use the wax seal stamp on the Time Cube and thereby become its master, just like in the tales!
  • A Halfling. Minstrel with a banjo. Secret goal: Dominate the Spider God, using it to reclaim the Halfling birthright of dominion over Man.


Party arrive in Dunnsmouth by boat, dock at the jetty and meet cute Zillah Duncaster who offers to give them a skiff in exchange for a kiss. Halfling mind-controls her instead, bringing her along in the skiff as his mind slave.
Meanwhile the Cleric goes up the hill and meets good-for-nothing Nebuchadnezzar (holy shit I spelt that right first time) Duncaster and shares his drug soup, splitting the party. The Rogue briefly asks the boy about a man named Uncle Ivan, gets an answer involving the Church, then splits the party further by sneaking off up the hill and making her way towards the Elven Spy's weird tree.

The rest of the party on the skiff hear about Bubba Samson's famous ribs from Zillah and decide to go get some. On reaching his house they begin to barter their scant currency for ribs. A banging sound comes from Bubba's shack but he explains it away as a pig that got into his house.
The Halfling releases his hold on Zillah and attempts to mind-control Bubba into giving him ribs for free. He fails, and Zillah yells "Bubba that lil man try to take over mah brain!" so Bubba grabs his cleaver and starts chasing the Halfling and the Ranger across the swamp.
The Fighter doubles back to check out the house and realised Zillah has left with the skiff.

During all this, the Cleric has the tithing documentation and so makes his way to Ester's house to tithe her. Stymied by their general poverty, he meets her lusty sons and beautiful triplet daughters. He also hears about how they are devoutly religious and worship the God in the Mountains every single day.
The triplets attempt to seduce him and, figuring this mountain god is the unholy abomination and seeing the sons eying him warily, he tells them he'll only have sex with them if they take him to see their god up in the mountain. I don't even have to try.

The Rogue has now checked out the Elven Spy's tree and taken some valuables. From the branches she can see the Church and sets off towards it, hunting Uncle Ivan. She enters the Church, narrowly avoiding a bear trap snapping out of a pile of leaves at the entrance, and discovers that the people sitting on the pews have been stuffed.
Footsteps and a grinding of metal against stone can be heard as a creepy old voice starts laughing and talking about how a mouse must has entered his trap.

The Fighter enters Bubba's house, discovering the banging sound was Hannah Duncaster. She cries and says "No Bubba I din't mean to" before realising it's somebody else and thinking it's one of Bubba's tricks. This is suddenly very heavy and everyone wants to kill Bubba. The Fighter frees her, trashes the place, then helps her across the bog to Jebediah's house. Celebrations quickly turn into a lynch mob.

The Ranger and the Halfling have reached Beverley Dunlop's mansion by this point. She treats the Ranger, who is a spoilt rich kid, like royalty and treats the Halfling as her mongrel manservant. The main dish is "croissant" by which she means "frog".
Soon enough Bubba is banging on the door. The Halfling hides in a cupboard while Beverley, of course, believes everything Bubba is saying about that horrible little boy that was in here. The Ranger feigns ignorance, but some good rolls on Beverley's part let her trace the Halfling's muddy steps to her linen closet. The Halfling darts out into the swamp but loses his knife on the way out when Bubba smashes his hand with the cleaver.

The party is now completely separated. The Cleric is in the mountains with the triplets, the Fighter is rousing a lynch mob, the Rogue is being hunted in the Church, the Ranger is eating a frog croissant at Beverley's house, and the Halfling is hiding in the swamp.
It is a mess.

In the mountains, the Cleric enters the spider cult temple with the girls. He is going to kill the spider and complete his secret goal. Instead the spider leaps out and bites him, turning him (no save) into a cult member. He is given a new secret goal: convert others to the spider cult.

In the Church the Rogue is scared and desperate. She tries to get onto the walkways of the upper level, choosing to take the ladder rather than climb up the walls. The ladder is trapped and halfway up it jolts as a bear trap falls from above. She swings out of the way but isn't quick enough as it snaps onto her leg. She cries out, and through blurry eyes and terrible pain hanging halfway up a ladder in a dark and horrible church she sees a gloating Uncle Ivanovik approach with his giant rusty axe.

The Ranger slips out of Beverley's mansion, hoping to explore and find the Time Cube. She tries to unlock the door to the mausoleum and manages to lockpick her way in, finding the interior creepy but uninteresting and covered in webs. She then meets Erik Van Kaus in his upturned boat. They hit it off and she buys his Time Cube Manifesto. I give her my phone with the time cube site to read and she starts reading it and acting like a crazy person which is brilliant.
She persuades Erik to take her to the Time Cube and stamps it with her wax seal, gaining mastery of the Cube and lordship over Old Man Time who leaves the cube to do her bidding. As it does so, the years catch up to Erik and he ages to ash. Time reasserts itself in Dunnsmouth. She is now a time lord and has completed her secret goal, so she heads towards the Church while rambling about four simultaneous days.

The lynch mob reaches Beverley's home and the Fighter slays Bubba Samson with a rapier to the heart. The mob then goes off to kill the others Samsons on Dunc Samson's farm.
The Fighter goes to the Church because the Rogue is his girlfriend in real life and she's in dire trouble. The Halfling follows now that Bubba is dead. The Cleric goes to the Church to collect the tithes he's still ostensibly owed.

Inside the Church, the Rogue tries some kung fu ninja rope trick where she'll swing past Uncle Ivan, throw a dagger in his eye on the way, and escape. She fails and falls and he chops her in two with a critical on the upswing.
The Fighter and Halfling turn up in time to see this, the Fighter challenges Uncle Ivanovik to a battle.
The Ranger turns up and rewinds time for the Rogue, restoring her to life but with no idea about what happened in the past few minutes. She then fast-forwards time in a bubble around Uncle Ivanovik, turning him into an old man. Then she rambles about the time cube some more.
The Cleric turns up and jumps on the Halfling to bite him, then realises that he's meant to get the spider to bite people. He apologises but the Halfling's secret goal is to mind-control the spider so they both go head up the mountain.

Everyone's been ignoring the old man, he's old but still hateful and attacks the Rogue, nearly killing her a second time. The Fighter stabs him and takes his axe, decapitating Uncle Ivan. The Rogue accuses the Fighter's player of peeking at her secret goal, then stuffs the head in a box and runs back to the boat. She sails away leaving everyone else behind, completing her objective.

Meanwhile up the mountain the Halfling explores the spider temple with the Cleric. They find a room covered with webs and creepy half-baby spider mutants. The mutants leap on the Halfling, paralyzing him.
I say "The last thing you see is the spider god's head and many eyes as it bites into your neck".
"Wait," says the Halfling, "it's looking into my eyes right? Can I mind control it?"
"Oh shit, yea you totally can."
So the Halfling Dominates the spider god, completing his objective. Triumphantly he stands up, but the Cleric is casting a spell.
"What are you casting?" I ask the Cleric.
"Command on the spider!" he says, then points at the Halfling and says "BITE!"

End result
To my great surprise, everyone won.

Thursday 15 January 2015

The Injury Machine and the Injured Party

The Injury Machine is a large block of marble and brass.
Through its centred is drilled a hole. It is big enough around to fit two heads side by side, and deep enough to go right through.
If inspected with light, the walls of the hole are covered in a fine mesh of interlocking brass plates.

The Injury Machine gives you injuries.

I was going to put a picture of a heavily injured hand here but I figure it might be too much for some people. Look up "machine injury" in google images. Here is a crying child instead.

Insert a limb, head or other body part into the hole and the Injury Machine comes alive. The brass plates ratchet back, revealing hundreds of delicate pincers and scalpels and instruments stranger still.
They descend on the flesh, flensing and lacerating the skin and muscle and bone into horrific shapes and structures, each application unique.

The Injury Machine does not hurt you.

The Injury Machine does not really damage your body. It is simply cosmetic. Your shattered vocal cords tremor to speak from your open throat. The fractured bones in your lacerated hand jostle just so to hold your drink. Your frostburnt legs tremble yet hold your weight. The blood and pus and oozing lymph you leave behind is real and yet you do not fall shivering from blood loss on the floor.
The injuries granted by the Injury Machine do no real damage.
The process can be reversed by replacing the body part in the machine.

The Injury Machine will heal you.

Place an injured limb, head or other body part into the hole and the Injury Machine will come alive, sewing a broken bone into fresh flesh or undoing the ravages of leprosy. The Injury Machine does not really heal your body. It is simply cosmetic. Your healed voice dies wheezing in your mouth. The faultless bones in your unmarked hand cannot clutch a glass. Your new-replaced leg collapses beneath your weight. No blood pours from your wounds and yet you feel your life ebbing away.
The Injury Machine neither heals nor harms.
The process can be reversed by replacing the body part in the machine.

The Injury Machine belongs to a man named Sir Reginald Heely.
He keeps it in his parlour, imported at great expense from the Temple of the Beggar-Saint in a far-flung region of the world.
Every month or so Sir Reginald hosts the Injured Party, a celebration that has become quite chic among the upper classes. Party-goers sport an array of grisly injuries. The ability to maintain etiquette whilst, for instance, your neighbour's jaw hangs by a thread of ruptured skin, is taken to be the greatest test of fine breeding.
Ever the eccentric, Sir Reginald has taken to displaying his finest injuries in public in the dead of night. Many people have been scared half to death witnessing his shambling form from their windows in the moonlit dark.