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Monday, August 31, 2009
“I am reminded,” said the Mouser, “of what a witch told me about adepts. She said that, if an adept chances to die, his soul is reincarnated in a mouse. If, as a mouse, he managed to kill a rat, his soul passes over to a rat. As a rat, he must kill a cat; as a cat, a wolf; as a wolf, a panther; and, as a panther, a man. There he can recommence his adeptry. Of course, it seldom happens that anyone gets all the way through the sequence and in any case it takes a very long time. Trying to kill a rat is enough to satisfy a mouse with mousedom.”
- “Adept’s Gambit,” by Fritz Leiber
It’s throwaway bits of prose such as this that kick my creative gears into motion. In” Adept’s Gambit,” Leiber inserts this bit of fictional folklore to give the tale a “to be continued?” coda, but the Mouser and Fafhrd soon return to Nehwon, leaving this dangling thread unwoven. That doesn’t mean I have to.
I’ve already established a precedent for weirdness occurring after a wizard’s demise and, after reading this tale again, this paragraph begged to be stolen as a house rule to further elaborate on that topic. After all, what’s the sense of having magic in the game if you can't trick it out to make it as mysterious and unpredictable as possible? Leiber’s tales suggests a way to not only do so, but to also give the oh-so-fragile magic-user a slim chance of survival after death. Let’s drop it down the well and see if it makes a splash, shall we?
The Adept's Second Chance
Upon their death, a magic-user or elf has a cumulative 5% chance per level of experience of being spontaneously reincarnated as a house mouse (Mus musculus). The mouse-mage assumes his new rodent form 3d100’ away in a random direction from the location of his death. In this guise, the mage retains his personality and intellect, but otherwise has the attributes of a common mouse including strength, armor class, hit points, saving throws, attacks, and damage. He loses both the ability to cast spells and any spells memorized at the time of his death. He cannot speak or write.
Mouse (MV: 150’ (50’) burrow 6’ (2’), AC 7, HD 1 hit point, #AT 1, DG 1, Attacks as NM, SV NM)
If, in this guise, the mage manages to slay a rat (normal or giant), he assumes that form with all its normal attributes and abilities. Should the mage die while in mouse form, he is permanently slain and nothing short of a wish spell can return him to life. The mouse-mage must defeat his rat opponent in single combat, although non-physical assistance from another is allowed (a part member casting a hold spell on the rat, placing an animal growth spell on the mouse-mage, granting the mouse magical strength, etc.). No damage or physical harm can be done to the rat by a third party; doing so negates any chance of the mouse-mage advancing in incarnation from that particular opponent. A mouse-mage unable to ever slay a rat in single combat will live out his life as a mouse, perishing from natural causes in two to three years. At anytime during the mage’s quest for humanity, a wish spell (and only a wish spell) can return him to his normal form.
This same process is repeated for each animal along the path back to human form. As above, the mage must slay his opponent in single combat and, if successful, assumes that form with all its natural attributes and powers, but retaining his own personality and intelligence. If the mage manages to slay his way up the food chain (rat, cat, wolf, panther, then man), he returns to life in his own body with all the experience, attributes, and power he possessed at the time of his death. Material objects such as equipment, magical items, and spell books are not regained and he must replace these items normally. A magic-user or elf will only spontaneous reincarnate as a mouse once; subsequent deaths after regaining human form are permanent unless revived by standard clerical means.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Although Mutant Future has an icon in the guise of the spidergoat, this beastie pales in comparison to the most iconic figure in Mutant Future’s older brother, Gamma World – the Death Machine. That thing’s taken on gods, for crying out loud. When one of these aptly-named weapons platforms comes humming over the horizon, it’s time to find the nearest patch of purple flowers to duck behind and start praying to your tribe’s totem that it passes you by.
Slowly, the guardian arose and coasted back toward the flaming ruins of the two invaders. Training its remaining guns and weapons on the wrecks, the robot began to pound the remains until they were molten.
It was not called a Death Machine for nothing.
- “Out of the Sun…” by James M. Ward and Roger Raupp, Dragon #101
In order to share that terror with the residents of Mutant Future, I’ve converted the 1st edition Gamma World version of the Death Machine into one suitable for use in MF (and therefore Labyrinth Lord and most early versions of D&D). I’ve worked the conversion as close as I could using the Robot section of the MF rulebook and it’s about 99.8% true to the original – a hellishly nasty piece of business. Take it out for a spin.
Death Machine (Mutant Future version)
Hit Dice: 100 (750 hit points)
Frame: Armature (60’ long x 27’ wide x 12’ high)
Locomotion: Inductors (Top Speed: 100 MPH)
Armor: Force screen (AC: 1; can take 400 points of damage before collapsing), Megatanium (AC -1)
Sensors: Nerve Web (range: 6 miles)
Mental Programming: Programming
Accessories: Self-destruct system, self-repair unit (NOTE: These are optional. The Gamma World version of the Death Machine didn't possess these qualities, but they're sensible additions to it. For a more by-the-book version, remove these accessories.)
- 2 blaster cannons (short range/damage: up to 2,250’/100 points of damage; medium range/damage: up to 4,500’/75 points of damage; long range/damage: up to 9,000’/50 points of damage)
- 6 exterminator cannons (normal range/maximum range: 450’/900’; instant death to living targets not protected by a force field, otherwise no effect)
- 16 batteries of 4 fusion rifles each
- 4 plasma guns (normal range/maximum range: 300’/600’; damage as plasma bomb)
- 8 laser batteries of 5 guns each (short range/damage: up to 2,250’/20d6; medium range/damage: up to 4,500’/15d6; long range/damage: up to 9,000’/10d6)
- 6 micro-missile tubes with 1d100 missiles each
- 1 mini-missile launcher with 5d10 missiles.
- Energy damping field (150’ radius; acts as a negation bomb)
I mentioned I’ve been fishing through my old game notes again and that I’d found a few old gems stashed away. Unfortunately, not all of them are fine sapphires; some are cracked glass facsimiles. As I shuffled through the old folders, I came across a water-stained manila envelope. Inside were a handful of blank Top Secret character sheets (or agent dossiers, as Merle M. Rasmussen would have me call them) and sheaf of old computer papers.
The aging computer papers comprised a mission that I wrote, but never played, for Top Secret sometime in the mid 80s. I can only establish the time frame based on the fact that it was written on the family’s Apple IIe and was obviously influenced by "Miami Vice". You can probably hear the warning bells ringing already.
Looking it over, I find myself experiencing some very mixed emotions. I’m pleased to still have an adventure I wrote almost a quarter of a century ago. Reading it again conjured up memories of me typing away on that old beige Apple computer. On the other hand, it’s probably the worst adventure I ever wrote.
The mission has a few problems. One, it’s a complete rip-off of the introductory module, Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle, which came with the boxed set. I can somewhat justify this as I remember why it’s a blatant plagiarism. I’d lost the actual module at some point, leaving me only with the cover. I was trying to reproduce the adventure based on the few memories I had of it. But I was going to outdo Rasmussen. Boy, did I ever, but not in the way I intended.
Problem number two was that, at the age of twelve, I had little understanding of some important real world issues, namely the price of goods and services. A $10 hotel room? Even in 1985 that was unrealistic. The plot (what little there is) also involved the international drug trade, a subject which I only had knowledge of from watching episodes of "Miami Vice". I knew drugs came in kilos, but other than that it’s not a subject I was well-versed in.
Lastly, it appears that I hadn’t quite grasped the concept of an espionage role-playing game. This adventure looks more like a modern day dungeon crawl. It’s got bad guys with loot to be pillaged and it looks like I intended the agents to just wander around killing NPCs until they found what they were looking for. What they were supposed to be looking for, I have no idea. I think the mission involved a missing team of agents that the characters were sent to find, but I’ll be damned if that’s it for certain.
I did find one part of it that made me smile, however:
This room is occupied by X1 (L.L. 13). It contains a matress, a chair and a empty desk. The man has $50 and a .357 Magnum. He will ask the characters if they want a smoke. If the enter the room he will shoot them.
That’s some bad-assery right there! Its got a John Cassavetes-meets-Han Solo thing going on.
I’ve scanned the module for preservation’s sake. It’ll be my version of someone whispering, “Respica te, hominem te memento,” in my ear if I ever get too big a head. If you’re one for car crashes, you can see this turkey for yourself here.
In the spirit of self-depreciation, anyone else have a turkey of an adventure to share? Something you look back upon and wince at? I ask the blognards to share their follies, so as to remind ourselves how far we’ve come and to never try and hide the fact that we, like these damn kids on our lawns today, once had a lot to learn about this hobby of ours.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I ran across this ad again while flipping through an old issue of White Dwarf and I remember it being one of the regulars that appeared in Dragon’s classified ad section. My interest piqued once again, I turned to the Web for answers, but an online search failed to turn up anything about the Ringquest Play by Mail game. Surely somebody must have succumbed to the desire to find out what that young brownie maid had been up to and sent $3 to Mt. Eliza, Australia?
Twenty years later and this cheap little ad can still make me smile and wonder. That’s remarkable for advertising that looks like it cost a buck to make. It probably says something about myself and the rest of us who play these odd little games. Give us a mystery to solve or a problem to overcome and you’ve got us hooked. Or maybe it was just that a pregnant brownie seemed so divorced from the usual swords & sorcery plotlines of the era that it made an indelible mark on my memory.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
And although drawing political borders and creating vast cities has its pleasures, I really enjoy making up the fine details that breathe life into the setting. These little touches, while maybe not doing much for the overall campaign world, are the sparks which set the world ablaze in the players’ minds.
Some years back, I jotted down a few ideas about timekeeping in R’Nis – names of years, months, weeks, etc. While entertaining to create on the large scale, it was coming up with the hours of the day that was the most fun. My world has a goddess of Time and all large settlements with a temple dedicated to her mark the hours with the ringing of bells. It only seemed fitting that a fantasy world have a less prosaic clock than a simple numerical count of hours. And so, the March of Hours was born.
Below is an updated version of my original notes. I came across them again yesterday while searching for something else. Feel free to steal them or adapt them if you’re looking for a way to count the hours and don’t really care about the lack of reliable timekeeping in a pseudo-medieval setting. I certainly don’t.
DawnMarch (6 AM): According to the priests of Eram and the Grand Clock, DawnMarch is the start of the new day.
WakeMarch (7 AM): Traditionally, the time when honest folk rise from the beds and prepare to meet the day.
MornMarch (8 AM): This is the hour that families break their fast before beginning their day’s work. It is a time for families to come together and converse around the bread-bread table. It is also the hour that the first cups of kahvak are served.
MarketMarch (9 AM): At this hour, the stores and businesses of the City Resilient open their doors. It marks the start of most of the city’s working population’s day of labor.
DayMarch (10 AM): According to the clocks of the Temple of Time, the new day is now fully underway. Anyone who pursues a traditional lifestyle in the City Resilient and is still asleep at this hour is considered a slugabed.
InnMarch (11 AM): After cleaning and preparing the kitchens for the day to come at MarketMarch, the inns and taverns of Xultvar are now open for business. Anyone currently renting a room must either depart or pay for another night’s lodging. In some parts of the city, the lines of drunks that formed in front of tavern doors at DayMarch are now allowed in to begin their binging.
NoonMarch (12 PM): NoonMarch indicates that the midday break is on its way. At this hour, meals that require time to prepare are begun and preparations for lunch are made. Otherwise, the city continues on as usual.
EatMarch (1 PM): Lunchtime in the city. The meals started at NoonMarch are ready to be eaten. Some shops close their doors during this March, while inns and taverns attempt to draw customers off the street with lunch specials and the smell of fine food.
DogsMarch (2 PM): This March gets its name from the old saying, “In the heat of this hour, only rabid dogs and madmen tread the streets.” This is the hottest hour during the summer months; merchants and tradesmen lower awnings and cool their shops as best as possible. It is also a much hated time by apprentices, as they are sent out into the streets to run errands for the masters at this time. During the winter months, this hour is referred to as the “March not fit for man nor dog.”
ForgeMarch (3 PM): Since leaving a hot forge unattended is a fire hazard, most smithies, weapon shops, glass blowers, bakers, and armorers choose this hour to extinguish their ovens, forges, and crucibles. This gives them two hours to cool before closing, allowing the craftsmen to lock their doors for the night without fears of an accidental fire. Any priority jobs that come in just before ForgeMarch are bound to cost more, since the craftsmen will need to stay late at the shop to insure their ovens and forges cool enough to close for the evening.
CashMarch (4 PM): This is the hour that merchants begin tallying their business for the day and counting the coins in the till. Ledgers are filled, money is secured in safes, and small sums are left available for last-minute trade. This is also the hour that the day’s final inventories are counted. The shops are winding down for the day.
HomeMarch (5 PM): The workday is over. At this time, most merchants and craftsmen are closing their doors and heading home for their evening meals. A few stray merchants leave their shops open, but soon a darker clientele will be on the streets. Most shopkeepers are looking forward to another cup of kahvak.
ShadowsMarch (6 PM): Night begins to creep into the city. This is the hour that most of the night people of the city begin to awake. Harlots dine and plan their outfits, thieves sharpen their dirks, and assassins gather to plot the night’s events.
DuskMarch (7 PM): Most of the nocturnal population of Xultvar is dining and preparing for the evening. The inns of the city begin to turn down the sheets in their rooms and a few extra kegs are tapped in preparation for the night.
FiresMarch (8 PM): The Lamplighters Guild takes to the streets and lights the city’s lamps, braziers, and lanterns for the evening to come. In private residences in the city, candles, lamps, and hearths are lit. It is rumored that the Thieves Guild meets at this time.
NightMarch (9 PM): Night has fallen and the nocturnal people of the city are out in force. The taverns begin to fill, harlots stroll the streets, and the first of the night’s crime are committed.
SongMarch (10 PM): The patrons of the taverns have a few mugs of ale in them and seek entertainment. During this hour, bards, entertainers, dancers, magicians, and troubadours begins their nightly performances. Their audiences, loosened by ale and wine, are more eager to tip the performers well.
MurderMarch (11 PM): The city watch has completed their first rounds, ale is flowing freely, and insults are being traded. In city legend, this is the hour that most murders, muggings, brawls, and assassinations occur. Despite little hard evidence that this hour has more killings than any other, its name remains unchallenged.
HighMarch (12 AM): The Witching Hour. Considered to be the period when the moon is at its apex, this is the time when the night people begin to act in earnest. The Night Market opens its doors at this hour.
MagesMarch (1 AM): According to legend, this is the hour that mages, wizards, witches, and alchemists begin their incantations and experiments. The moon is high, the stars are bright, and magic flows freely through the night air. Whether there is any truth to these legends is known only by the magi themselves.
SpiritsMarch (2 AM): Folklore tells that this is the hour when the spirits of the dead are most likely to cross the border of death to vex the living. It is uncommon to find anyone on the street at this hour. Most ruffians continue to drink in the taverns; the city guards patrol the walls and halls of city office, and harlots, their pimps, and clients are safely inside bordellos and bawdry houses during this March. Those who dare the streets encounter dark-robed necromancers, grave robbers, and the spirits of the dead.
LateMarch (3 AM): Night is coming to a close at this hour. With SpiritsMarch past, ruffians, rogues, and thieves are headed towards bed. The Night Market begins to shut down and the last rounds of the city watch prowl the streets. Most taverns are calling for last rounds.
RevelersMarch (4 AM): The last crowds of partygoers and drinkers are stumbling home. The city watch is known to be lax in their duties at this hour, allowing drunks who can get up and walk the chance to avoid time in the city gaol. Insults to the watch, however, are NOT tolerated. At this hour, the taverns have closed and city grows quiet.
LastMarch (5 AM): The sun is soon to rise and the night watch is looking forward to a draught of kahvak back at their barracks. Those who are awake make preparations for the new day and wait for the next ringing of the March bells.
Monday, August 24, 2009
While I like the method presented in Call of Cthulhu for reading occult grimoires, it doesn’t lend itself easily to wholesale incorporation into D&D, something that the D20 version of CoC had to wrestle with. Rather than use the D20 method, which isn’t very OD&D friendly anyway, I’ve been cobbling together a system that somewhat simulates the dangers of the ineffable grimoires of CoC, yet is still rooted deeply enough in D&D. I think I’ve found a solution.
Taking a hint from Expedition to Barrier Peaks and Gamma World, I landed on using a flowchart to simulate the process of deciphering occult tomes. While I wouldn’t use this method for run-of-the-mill spellbooks and the pre-existing magical books in the game, it’d work well if I wanted to drop my own version of Al-Azif into my campaign world. I’ve presented a rough cut of it below.
Deciphering Strange Tomes
Step One: The PC attempting the read the text must either know the language it is written in or possess suitable magics to translate it (read magic, read languages, helm of comprehend languages and read magic, etc.). Additionally, the text must be suitable to the PC’s class (arcane texts for MU and Elves, religious tomes for Clerics).
Step Two: The referee determines how long the character must read the book before a D10 roll is allowed on the chart below. Shorter texts may allow the PC to roll on the chart once per day, medium-length texts might require three days in between rolls, and dense tomes might require a full week to pass before a new roll is allowed. During each increment of reading, the PC may not adventure or conduct any other actions other than attending to his or her basic needs. Any interruption of the PC’s perusal of the text requires to character to start the current reading period anew.
Step Three: After the appropriate passage of time, the PC rolls a D10 modified by his INT or WIS score (see below) depending on his class and the adjusted total is applied to the flowchart to determine the character’s progress in his reading comprehension and the effects (if any) that occur as a result.
Reading Comprehension Modifier
INT or WIS of 9-12 – no adjustment
INT or WIS of 13-15 – minus 1 to roll
INT or WIS of 16-17 – minus 2 to roll
INT or WIS of 18 – minus 3 to roll
Step Four: Once the modified D10 roll is determined, the referee consults the chart above to determine the character’s progress. If movement along the flowchart results in anything other than one of the empty circles, an unforeseen effects occurs as a result of the PC delving into forbidden mysteries. Based on the PC’s current location on the flowchart above, roll the appropriate die on the table below apply the effect. If the referee chooses, the character may make a save vs. spells to avoid the effect.
1 – Reader ages 1d4 years.
2 – Reader develops the compulsion to drink ink once per day.
3 – Reader develops bibliomania and will go to extreme lengths to acquire new reading materials.
4 – Reader begins to speak in tongues and is incomprehensible without the use of magic.
5 – Reader is struck illiterate.
6 – Reader is afflicted by a geas to finish the book.
1 – Reader’s hair turns white or falls out.
2 – Reader’s fingers & tongue are permanently stained black.
3 – Reader becomes near-sighted (-2 to ranged attacks).
4 – Reader has an insight about the book (-1 modifier to future Reading Comprehension rolls)
5 – Reader experiences vivid hallucinations of non-Euclidean cityscapes.
6 – Reader develops an odd habit or behavior (facial tic, nervous fidgeting, odious personal habit, etc.)
1 –Reader is permanently blinded.
2 – Reader is struck feebleminded.
3 – Reader suffers a stroke and becomes completely paralyzed on one side of his body.
4 – Reader’ soul is snared by the book (as the spell, Trap the Soul).
5 – Lose 1d3 points of INT or WIS (depending on class).
6 – Reader turns to stone.
1 – Reader suffers violent nightmares (no natural healing or memorization of spells allowed).
2 – Eyes turn an unnatural hue (lose 1 point of Charisma).
3 – Reader uncontrollably broadcasts his thoughts to all creatures within 60’ (as ESP).
4 – Reader gains either the ability to use infravision (as the spell) or x-ray vision (as the ring) once per week.
5 – Reader learns 1 new language regardless of INT score.
6 – Reader gains the ability to read language (as the spell) once per week.
1 – Reader loses 1 point of WIS and gains 1 point of INT (or vice versa).
2 – Reader gains deeper understanding of the universe (may ask three questions as per Contact Other Plane).
3 – Reader suffers an alignment change.
4 – Reader makes a new discovery (learns new magical item construction method, learns a command word, discovers a power being’s true name, etc.)
5 – Reader gains 3d6x100 experience points.
6 – An invisible stalker appears to slay the reader.
Note: Any time a strange event occurs, the reader realizes that he is failing to grasp the contents of the text as intended or has otherwise drawn false conclusions about the book’s subject. He must start the research process anew in order to fully comprehend the work.
Skull & Crossbones
Character either goes permanently insane or must save vs. death or perish (50/50 chance). If character must save vs. death, a successful save still results in the loss of 1d3 points of both INT and WIS.
Step Five: Once the” Finish” circle is achieved, the tome reveals its full contents to the reader (new spells, magical formulae, sinister knowledge, advancement in level, etc.). Although the reader is never compelled to complete his study of the tome (unless geased as a result of his readings – see above) and may put the book down at any time, only by reaching this final spot on the flowchart may he make use of its contents.
There are a few rough edges that need filing down, but the premise strikes me as the correct avenue to pursue. I'll tinker a bit more when time allows.
New material will appear here as it develops or warrants, rather than on a strict predetermined schedule. This will hopefully result in a higher quality of content and perhaps even a larger number of posts over time. Should I discover that working without a schedule seems to be leading me to quiescence, I’ll reinstate a fixed schedule to keep me motivated. But until such time, I’ll be flying freeform.
I thank you for your understanding in this matter and I look forward to presenting a better grade of musings here starting…right about now.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I plan and the universe laughs, it seems, because somewhere that idea went completely off the rails.
What was meant to be an occaisonal diversion has become a regular part of my daily life. Every day, I find myself writing something concerning this hobby of ours, whether it is a blog post, an article for submission to a fanzine, a new quadrant of Stonehell, or some notes for my own personal use. In addition to the 261 posts that have accrued here since the Society first opened its doors, I’ve had five articles appear in various magazines, written my first professional RPG book, almost completed my first self-published supplement, helped found a creative fellowship, served as a judge for the One Page Dungeon Contest, and created a smattering of free .pdf releases. A drop in the bucket compared to many, but far beyond what I ever envisioned when I first posted here a year ago.
I trust that, in spite of these other diversions, I’ve managed to maintain a credible signal-to-noise ratio on this blog. I know not everything that has appeared here is an instant classic or a spring-board for deep thoughts, but I believe that I’ve accumulated more hits than misses, and hope you feel the same. The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope isn’t one of the biggest blogs in terms of audience, but the number of regular visitors to this site each week is enough that I feel indebted to my readers and I sincerely hope they enjoy their time here each week.
With a full year of the blog behind me, I find myself contemplating the future. If I’ve learned nothing else over the past 365 days, I’ve discovered that divination is a fool’s game: one can never be sure where the course of a year will take you. I want to think that I’ll still be here a year from now, carrying on my efforts to make a small mark on the walls of history, but I can’t be sure. If I’m not, however, it won’t be from a lack of effort.
I’ve learned that I need to rediscover the word “no” and use it from time to time. In my enthusiasm to reenter this hobby, I agreed to anything that came my way. The result was a very heavy workload which actually conspired to diminish my enjoyment of this recreational activity, thus undermining the whole point of having a hobby. With the release of the first Stonehell book, I’m going to take some time off from accepting new obligations. I still have promises which I intend to keep, but I need to scale back my workload for a time and gather both my thoughts and energy. I miss having to work on only one or two things at any given time.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I feel very lucky that this blog has opened a few doors and allowed me to share my ideas with a broader audience. That’s the dream of most referees and I know some people would love to have my problem. I just need to find the perfect balance between creating and playing so as to not burn out in either regard.
What that means to the blog, I’m unsure at this moment. Part of me is loathe to stop doing my regular schedule of M-W-F postings, as that might be the first step on the road to this blog going dark. Another part of me argues that a less strict schedule would result in an increased quality to the posts that do see the light of day here. I’m holding off making a firm decision as of yet, but I mention it just in case I decide to switch off of the schedule I’ve maintained for the last year.
In the meantime, I intend to keep doing what I do here. While the Society is not unique or ground-breaking, I seem to have found my spot on whatever threefold model we’re using this week. A place to celebrate creativity; to turn over a few stones in search of odd ideas; to indulge in humor so as to remind us all that this is a game we’re playing, not “serious business”, and to share my long-standing love for this weird little pastime.
Thank you all for your interest in this electronic birdcage liner and encouragement you’ve given me throughout the past year. Without you, my regular audience, I’m just another oddball yelling into the wind. I much prefer it when the wind occasionally yells back.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Let me begin by thanking everyone who has contacted me with offers of contributing art to the Stonehell Dungeon book. I had hoped to find one or two people willing to contribute their time and talent, but I’ve had a steady stream of offers pouring through my inbox in the last twenty-four hours. I’d like to take everyone up on their offer to help, but that would result in a 200+ page book!
I’m still working my way through the offers and reviewing the samples people have submitted. I suspect it may be a day or two before I get back to everyone, so please excuse the delay if you’ve contacted me and are currently awaiting a reply. I hope to have finished sifting through them all by this weekend.
I’m not closing the door on submissions, as I may have certain pieces that match better with certain artistic styles, but I unfortunately won’t be able to take everyone up on their offer. That being said, if you’d still like to contribute something to the book, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email at poleandrope [AT] gmail [dot] com. I’m continuing the review process and I’ll make a formal announcement to close the submission period once I’ve matched artists to projects.
My sincere thanks to all of you.
Despite its low place on the Lovecraft Country totem pole, Kingsport has a special place in my heart. I grew up along the coast of Long Island and spent much of my early years in close proximity to both the ocean and those who made their living from it. Because of this familiarity, Kingsport feels more like home to me than any other of Lovecraft’s fictional towns and villages. I can identify with both the place and the people more than shadowy Arkham or backwater Dunwich simply because I’ve rubbed elbows with folks very much like the Kingsporters, and I see identical architecture and history everywhere on Long Island.
The Call of Cthulhu supplement H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport is the second edition of the previously-released Kingsport, which was published in 1991. Written by Kevin Ross, Kingsport was the third book in the Lovecraft Country series of supplements spearheaded by the late Keith Herber. It is the opinion of many CoC fans that Herber was responsible (either directly or indirectly) for some of the best source material ever produced for the game – an opinion which I, myself, share. In the early years of this decade, Chaosium updated most, but not all, of the Lovecraft Country books to incorporate the D20 version of Call of Cthulhu and were published with the “Dual System” logo on the cover. This retrospective is based on the 2003 update.
Like the other dual system re-releases, H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport begins with selections from the Old Gent’s work to set the tone. For this book, “The Strange High House in the Mist” and “The Festival” serves as the literary introductions to Kingsport. It is only after reading these stories that the challenge that Ross must have faced in writing the supplement become apparent. Unlike the other books in the Lovecraft Country series, Kingsport suffers from a lack of canonical material to draw from. That which does exist is lacking in much detail about the town itself. This must have been both a blessing and a curse for Moss. He had a great deal of leeway in designing the game version of the town, but a very limited palette from which to choose his colors.
With the introductory fiction out of the way, the reader encounters a broad overview of Kingsport. Subjects such as climate, business hours, employment opportunities, local government, and crime are covered. While some might find entries such as the climate of Kingsport to be inessential to the book, I believe it’s little details like this that help bring the town to life, and is especially useful to those unfamiliar with the seasons in New England.
The following two chapters cover the history of Kingsport, both the well-known and the secret. It’s unsurprising that the history of Kingsport resembles that of Marblehead, Massachusetts, its real-life inspiration. Founded by colonists from southern England and the Channel Islands, Kingsport became a busy seaport and shipbuilding facility. As a port of operation for privateers during the American Revolution, Kingsport was blockaded by the British Navy, a tactic which ended when one of the town scions hauled cannons up the Kingsport Head to fire upon the British ships. In the following decades, a time when many New England towns began to embrace the Industrial Revolution, Kingsport remained wedded to the sea - a choice that would ultimately lead to its decline. After losing its status as a port of entry, the shipbuilding trade slowed and the town’s economy relied on fishing to keep the money flowing. Even this trade began to fail when the commercial fish packing plants started dominating the industry. In the 1920s, Kingsport’s biggest source of income is tourism and the town has become a summer vacation spot for both the wealthy and the artistically-inclined.
Behind its formal history lies the obligatory Mythos cult that any CoC supplement must have. Referred to only as the Kingsport cult, this group of worshippers bent knee to Tulzscha, the Green Flame. The cult is derived from Lovecraft’s tale “The Festival” and is not extensively detailed in the supplement. Part of this has to do with the lack of concrete details provided in the story and is also partially because the cult is greatly reduced in the 1920s. The Keeper is given a few suggestions but not many hard facts, which is either a positive or negative aspect of the book depending on one’s attitude towards RPG supplements.
We next come to the heart of the book, “A Guide to Kingsport.” This chapter provides a breakdown of the town’s more interesting and useful locations, detailed on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. It’s this chapter (and its cousins in the other Lovecraft Country books) that truly shines. CoC doesn’t lend itself easily to sandbox-style play, but this chapter does its best to assist that method of gaming. Covering between three and twenty-plus locations in each of the nine areas of Kingsport, the chapter provides concise information about each locale. Most entries run no more than a paragraph or two, yet still pack all the pertinent information a Keeper needs once the investigators start making the rounds. My favorite part of these chapters is that the reader gets to play “Guess Where I’m From?” as he reads the entries. Minor characters and sub-references to other Lovecraft works are seeded throughout the chapter and it’s an Easter egg hunt to identify them all.
A chapter on using dreams in CoC, written by Mark Morrison, follows the guide. While not groundbreaking material, it’s nice that Morrison sprinkles his own personal experiences in the game throughout the chapter, providing the Keeper with more than just theoretical advice.
The book next provides three sample adventures which take place in and around Kingsport. These investigations are for both new and experienced investigators, and can be used as introductions to the town or as scenarios encountered by permanent residents. The adventures are “The House on the Edge,” “Dreams & Fancies,” and “Dead in the Water.”
“The House on the Edge” concerns the most famous of Kingsport’s attractions, the Strange High House. It quite literary starts off with a boom, destroying the High House with a lightning strike during a violent thunderstorm. On first glance, I thought this was very cavalier of the author, especially since this scenario is an introduction to Kingsport. Wiping the House out right off the bat is bound to disappoint some readers. Reflecting on it, however, I see the wisdom in it. Investigators, unlike the residents of Kingsport, are not going to be content to leave the House alone. This is especially true when you consider that any CoC player who’s familiar with Lovecraft’s work knows that the House is one of the more benign locations in Lovecraft Country. It’s probably for the best to address the issue of the High House immediately and move on. The investigation does have one wrinkle which might not appeal to all players, namely the need to cover the same ground twice, albeit with very different results. Some players, myself included, don’t like being forced to retrace our steps simply because the plot requires it.
“Dreams & Fancies” involves Kingsport’s close proximity to the Dreamlands and is design to reinforce the power dreams have here and sense of otherness that pervades the town. Starting with a seemingly mundane suicide, the investigators find themselves involved with Kingsport’s seasonal artist colony and the lines between dreams and reality quickly fade. This could be a very memorable investigation in the hands of an adept Keeper.
“Dead in the Water” is a refreshing change of pace from CoC’s standard Mythos menace scenarios. There’s strange things going on at sea and the investigators are hired to get to the bottom of matters. Some overconfident players might assume they know who’s behind the doings, given Kingsport’s seaside location and the fact that Innsmouth’s just up the coast, but never take anything for granted in Lovecraft Country. I suspect that John Carpenter’s The Fog might have been the seed from which this adventure grew, but that could be my own influences speaking. Properly run, “Dead in the Water” could be the best of the three adventures. Poorly run, it’s an episode of Scooby-Doo.
The book finishes with a chapter of D20 system stats for the various residents and creatures that call Kingsport home. I’m biased here, but whenever I read the dual system books for CoC, I’m always struck by how clunky the D20 rules look next to the BRP system. Obviously, the D20 rules are trying to conform with the original text, but its jarring for me nonetheless.
Being a Chaosium Call of Cthulhu book, H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport wouldn’t be complete without the fiddly bits. A poster-sized player’s map of the town and a tourist brochure issued by the Chamber of Commerce are included as hand-outs.
So what do we make of Kingsport? Is it worth shelling out some Innsmouth gold for? The answer to that question depends on what the Keeper has planned for the campaign. In a bog-standard “Ayeee!” gibber-gibber, Call of Cthulhu game, Kingsport is best suited as an investigation location rather than the PCs place of residence. Arkham has more to offer both in resources (Kingsport has no sanitarium) and adventure possibilities. A summer trip to Kingsport as a break from mind-rending horrors is a nice change of pace, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
If you’re planning on a campaign that’s more attached to the Dreamlands, however, Kingsport makes a great starting location for such a game and I’d recommend the book heartily. The dreamlike quality of the seaside town makes it the perfect threshold from which to enter the Dreamlands and to conduct further explorations of that realm from. It’s a shame that the supplement isn’t available in .pdf, as tracking down a print copy seems to be growing more difficult.
Join me next time as I head up the beach for a look at Innsmouth. Bring along your overcoat and fedora and start practicing your “Innsmouth Slouch.” It’s best not to stand out in that place.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
With the draft of Stonehell Dungeon rapidly approaching completion, it’s become time for me to start considering the elements of the book beyond my ability to produce. I decided early on that I’d resign myself to relying on stock art and public domain images if that was all I could acquire, but that any contributed artwork would be both desired and appreciated. The Stonehell book is not going to be an art-heavy supplement, but a few choice pieces would certainly be nice.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am hoping to turn a small profit of the book. Whether this comes to be or not remains to be seen. Until that time, I’m paying for all the preliminary costs on the book out-of-pocket, and my pockets are very shallow at the moment. In particularly, my art budget is non-existent. I’m hoping that the book accrues a small sum of money which I’ll be able to fund the sequel with or that my financial situation will improve by the time the second book is being prepared.
With that being said, I’m looking for a few pieces of interior art. For the first book, I can only offer the common coin of the realm for start-up releases – your name in the credits and a free .pdf copy of the supplement. I really wish I could offer even a token payment for original art, but that will have to wait for the next book, if at all. All contributed art will be on a one-time-use basis and ownership of the work remains with the artist.
If you’re a starting artist looking for some exposure or have an existing piece of art you’d like to see find a temporary home, please drop me an email at poleandrope[AT]gmail[dot]com. I have one concept piece I wouldn’t mind seeing a better rendition of, but I’m mostly looking for art that captures the megadungeon crawl experience. You’re free to explore your own ideas.
I offer my sincerest thanks to anyone contemplating contributing art to Stonehell Dungeon and I look forward to hearing from you.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Like most of you, I kept a close watch on the developments in Indy over the weekend and I’m no longer dismayed about having to miss out this year. From the reports I’ve read, the big announcements won’t have any impact on my quiet corner of the hobby. So other than the having the opportunity to meet some people in the flesh, I don’t feel I missed much.
During my downtime, I finally had the opportunity to go over the various maps for Stonehell and make sure everything lines up between them and the draft. Since I had them out anyway, I took a few pictures of the assembled map. If you’ve had any suspicions that I might be blowing smoke about this whole megadungeon thing, hopefully these pictures will put those doubts to rest. Everything you see here is covered in the first Stonehell book, which is, as you’ll notice, quite a sizable amount of subterranean real estate. I’m hoping people will have fun with the final result.
For a sense of scale, I placed my battered print copy of Labyrinth Lord in the bottom left-hand corner of the pictures. As you can see, that’s a whole lot of dungeon to explore!
A slightly closer view of the whole upper half.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
In my own case, I’m a child of the American Northeast and the landscape of that place has had a profound effect on my choices of setting when comes to literature, history, movies, and games. My mental geography is composed of seaside villages, ancient mountain ranges, scrubby pine barrens, salt marshes, evergreen forests, deep lakes, sandy beaches, and bustling cityscapes. No matter how hard I may try to escape these influences, I always find myself returning home. This doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of enjoying works set in other locales, but these speak loudest to my creative ear.
Having admitted this, it is unsurprising that I’m drawn to H.P. Lovecraft’s Miskatonic Valley and Stephen King’s Castle Rock. Both of these locales are set amongst the geography that feeds my soul, and it is an easy task to superimpose my own memories on such settings to breathe more life into them than the authors’ writing alone could. In college, two friends and I created our own quiet town with dark secrets as a setting for a Halloween Vampire: the Masquerade game, a place that drew heavily on Arkham, Massachusetts, Castle Rock, Maine, and Antonio Bay, California. This fictional town was located, both in game and in reality, in New York’s Hudson Valley, allowing me to paint the setting with my embedded collection of geographical influences.
While working on my dreamlands idea, I pulled my copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport from the shelf so as to peruse it again for ideas. Although mining it for ideas was my original intent, I soon found myself enraptured by the supplement again and dove back in for another read-through. This second glimpse spawned the idea for a new series of posts here at the Society, one that I’m looking forward to doing.
Starting on Wednesday, the first of an occaisonal series of posts entitled “Hitchhiking through Lovecraft Country” will appear. In these posts, I’ll take a retrospective look at the Lovecraft Country series of supplements published by Chaosium. Part review and part contemplation, through these posts we’ll work our way through the Miskatonic Valley, stopping in Kingsport, Innsmouth, Arkham, and Dunwich as we go. This gives me the opportunity to reflect on things other than the dungeon for a while and to talk about one of my other RPG loves, Call of Cthulhu. It also permits me to wax philosophically on some of the quiet New England towns that I find myself drawn to. If interest warrants, we’ll expand the tour down to New York City and consider buying airfare to other exotic locales around the world.
So set your mental calendars for the 1920s, pack a star-stone of Mnar, and get ready for a seafood dinner as we prepare to disembark in the quaint seaside town of Kingsport on Wednesday. I hear they’ve got a house up on a cliff which is somewhat interesting…
Friday, August 14, 2009
Like many, I suffer from this gentle madness, albeit not as severely as some of my fellow gamers. I prowl the boxes at my local hobby shop, seeking out monochrome versions of classic modules. I cannot pass over a copy of Deities & Demigods without peeking inside to see if it’s one of the rare editions with the gods both Lovecraftian and Menibonéan. One of these days, when fun funds allow, I’ll pick up a copy of Outdoor Survival, just to replace the version I once owned and put it to the recommended use (my birthday’s late November…)
It is with little wonder then that, of all my gaming books, the one that I cherish the most is this one:
According to The Acaeum, it’s a 7th printing of the Player’s Handbook. Not exceedingly rare, but it still bears the classic Trampier cover and the wizard logo. For a book that seen heavy use, it’s in pretty good shape for something almost thirty years old.
This one is my prize simply because it is mine. It’s the first hardcover AD&D book I ever bought, not a replacement or a winning bid at auction. It has survived not only time, but several moves, two cross-country relocations, numerous dorm rooms and apartments, vindictive ex-girlfriends, flood, plague, and Acts of God. It has witnessed innumerable characters and campaigns, bad puns, spilled drinks, wildly spinning dice, and the insides of countless backpacks, satchels, boxes and car trunks.
The pages within are marked with pencil and pen, charts and tables have been underlined, an inventory of magical treasures has been written on the inside front cover in orange crayon of all things, and the stats for a monk have been scrawled in pencil on the inside back cover. The edges of the pages have been worn down with so much use that they feel like soft velvet, rather than wood and cloth pulp.
Yes sir, that’s my baby.
All of that history, wear and tear, and good memories are enough to have changed this one copy of a book printed by the thousands into a personal fetish. If it stopped at that, this would still be a book that I hope accompanies me throughout my remaining years. But it has one last alteration that places this codex head and shoulders above its bookshelf companions:
That was the only time I ever met Gary. I-Con VIII would have been sometime in the spring of 1989. I’m sorry to say that I don’t really remember much about that meeting. I remember standing on line with my friend, Pete, who had brought his Monster Manual to be signed. I remember that Gary seemed to be happy to meet with the fans and talk with them. He didn’t seem to phoning his appearance in. I seem to remember that he was wearing some sort of hideously ugly Hawaiian shirt, but that memory is suspect, as I’ve seen pictures of him at more recent conventions dressed as such, so I might be confusing the details. I am sure that he asked me what my favorite class to play was, and I’m pretty certain I told him either thieves or magic-users. But that’s about all I can recall of that one moment almost twenty years later.
It still seems strange that he’s gone and that whole generations of gamers will never have a moment like that. Of course, even if they had the chance, the emotional impact might be different. I’m sure that for some gamers, the chance to meet R.A. Salvatore might be their shining memory of game-related brushes with greatness.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about Gary over the years, some quite humorous, some not-so flattering. I’m sure that there are truths to most of them. He was human and possessed a wide variety of character strengths and flaws. But he was the Dungeon Master and he signed my Players Handbook, and that still means something to me. There are probably hundreds of other copies of books out there that bear the inscription “Mike – Magicks!” (or “Mark – Magicks!” or “Matt – Magicks!” or what-have-you), but none of those are mine. Those copies may have similar stories of adventure and great times associated with them. In fact, you might have one yourself. But there’s only one copy that sits on my shelf, asks me to come open it again, and to venture off to places undreamt of by most.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Gaseous and Contact Poisons
Unlike the more common forms of insinuative and ingestive poisons, toxins dispensed in a gaseous or contact form are of only two intensities: debilitative and deadly. This is due to the increased chance of accidental exposure to both of these forms of poison. By creating a minor toxin that is easily survivable, yet still powerful enough to be used as a deterrent, the chance of inadvertently killing an overcurious visitor is avoided. In the case where the poison-user is determined or paranoid enough to protect his treasures at all costs, the unintended loss of life is not a concern. Such is the cost of security.
As with insinuative poisons, the format here is the poison’s name followed by brackets. The information within the brackets is laid out with damage being represented by two values separated by a slash. Values preceding the slash is the damage taken if a save against poison is failed. The value after the slash is damage taken if the save is successful. After damage, an onset time is listed. This is the amount of time that passes before the victim begins to feel the effects of the poison. This type of information comes in handy when determining how long the party’s cleric has to drop a neutralize or slow poison spell on the victim. In the case of gaseous poisons, a third entry lists the duration of a poisonous cloud when dispensed in its 20’ x 20’ x 20’ form. Spells such as gust of wind and the like will reduce this duration as the DM desires. Poisonous gas dispensed in a 5’ x 5’ x 5’ cloud rarely last longer than a few moments.
Gas-based poisons are quick-acting toxins that are either dispensed in small puffs of vapor intended to affect only one or two individuals; usually those attempting to gain access to a locked container, or in large clouds designed to affect as many people as possible, such as when employed as a room trap. For simplicity sake, assume that a trapped container produces a 5’ x 5’ x 5’ cloud directly in front of the trap and that a room-based gas trap produces a 20’ x 20’ x 20’ cloud. Anyone caught within the cloud initially must make a save against poison to avoid the effects of the gas. If a person willfully enters an area occupied by a poison gas cloud, he or she may be granted a +4 to their saving throw based on the assumption that they’re aware of the gas’ presence and are taking appropriate measures to protect themselves (i.e. holding their breath, covering their mouth, etc.).
Debilitative Gases – These toxins are most commonly used by those who wish to protect themselves and their possessions without causing the loss of life. These poisons are designed to incapacitate or assist in the apprehension of intruders. Because of their non-lethal nature, most of these poisons may be used by characters of Good alignment, excepting paladins.
Generic Debilitative [Damage: Unable to perform any actions for 2-5 rounds/no effect. Onset time: Immediate. Duration of cloud: 10 rounds] – This blue gas smells of sulfur and fecal matter. While of mundane origin, the gas works as if it were a stinking cloud spell. Anyone caught in the initial cloud is only affected for 2-5 rounds, even if the cloud has yet to disperse at that time. It is assumed that the gas has become diluted enough that the victim’s body has acclimated to the toxin. An individual entering the cloud for the first time after it has been triggered, but before the cloud’s ten-minute duration has expired, must save as usual – with a possible bonus (see above).
Lungburn [Damage: -1 penalty to AC and -2 to hit per round exposed to the gas/no effect. Onset time: Immediate. Duration of cloud: 20 rounds] – This grey gas smells of ammonia and attacks the victim’s lungs, causing hacking, coughing and vomiting. For each round the victim is caught within the cloud, he or she suffers a cumulative penalty to Armor Class and attack rolls. The effects of the gas last for a full turn after the victim escapes the cloud.
Tell-tale [Damage: Blinded for 2-5 rounds & stealth penalties/no effect. Onset time: Immediate. Duration of cloud: 10 rounds] - Not so much a cloud as an explosion of reflective particles, this gas appears as a shower of tiny glittering flakes – gold, silver and mica being the most common. The glittering particles cause blindness to anyone who fails their saving throw while engulfed in the cloud. Additionally, these flakes are highly adhesive and will cling to clothing, armor, hair and skin. Any invisible creature caught within the cloud will instantly become visible as they are coated with glittering color. The flakes are very difficult to remove once they’ve attached themselves. Simple soap and water will not suffice. The adhesive that holds the flakes in place is alcohol-soluble and washing oneself in strong spirits is enough to remove the glittering particles for good. During the time the flakes are attached to the individual, he or she can only surprise opponents that use sight as a primary detection sense on a roll of a 1 and thieves incur a -40% penalty to any attempts at Hiding in Shadows while sparkly.
Trog Musk [Damage: Lose 1 Strength point per round/no effect. Onset time: Immediate. Duration of cloud: 10 rounds] – This sour, brown gas is derived from the musk produced by troglodytes and acts as if the victim had been exposed to those nauseous creatures. The victim loses 1 point of Strength per round for 1-6 rounds, cumulative. This penalty remains in effect for ten rounds after the final point of Strength has been lost.
Andula [Damage: 1d6 h.p. per round/no effect. Onset time: Immediate. Duration of cloud: 30 rounds] – This red cloud smells acidic and affects the blood of the victim. Each round the victim is within the cloud, he must save against poison or lose 1d6 hit points as he begins to bleed out of his bodily orifices. Andula is the sole debilitative poisonous gas that inflicts actual damage. Its origins lay back in the final days of Xoryphaal, so adventurers exploring the ruins dating from those shadowy years are advised to beware.
Deadly Gases – These poisons are meant to kill anyone careless enough to trigger them. These toxins are used by those who are either determined enough or cavalier enough to risk the accidental death of others in order to protect their goods and holdings. These poisons are fast-acting and rarely anything less than fatal to anyone unlucky enough to catch the full brunt of them.
Generic Deadly [Damage: Death/0 hp. Onset time: 1-6 rounds with unconsciousness immediately following exposure. Duration of cloud: 10 rounds] – This green gas smells of bleach and is the most common of deadly gases. Anyone exposed to this gas immediately loses consciousness and will die within 1-6 rounds.
Gorgon’s Breath [Damage: Turn to Stone/0 hp. Onset time: 1-2 rounds. Duration of cloud: 1d4 rounds] – Whether or not this poison is the same as that produced by the legendary iron bull is up to debate. What is not disputed is the effects of the gas. Like the breath weapon of the gorgon, anyone who fails a save against poison when exposed to this white, rust-smelling vapor is almost immediately petrified. At that point, a neutralize poison spell is no longer effected to ward off the poison. Only a stone to flesh spell will suffice.
Nan-vyl-nah [Damage: 1d4 hp of damage per spell level memorized/1 hp of damage per spell level memorized. Onset time: 1-4 rounds. Duration of cloud: 5 rounds] – This purple cloud smells of a spring forest and is initially quite pleasing to the nose. That pleasure ends 1-4 rounds later if the victim is a spell-caster. This magically-created toxin reacts with the stored spell energy of any memorized incantations or prayers possessed by a spell-caster, causing an internal eruption of mystical energy that incinerates the victim from within. For every individual level of spells currently memorized, the caster takes 1d4 points of damage. Thus a 5th level magic-user with a full allotment of four 1st level spells, two 2nd level spells and a single 3rd level spell would suffer 11d4 points of damage on a failed saving throw. Should the spell-caster survive this internal inferno of spell energy, he will find that he has lost any and all memorized spells in the conflagration. On a successful save, the caster still suffers damage, but it is limited to a single point of damage per level of memorized spells and he retains them in his memory. The mage in the above example would take 11 points of damage and still have access to his full collection of spells had he made his save. This nasty toxin affects only spell-casters and a DM may rule that clerics, druids and paladins are immune to the effects at his discretion. This gas is believed to be a creation of the Unseelie Court of the Kind Ones; created in jealousy of Man’s mastery of magic.
Yellow Mold Spores [Damage: Death/no effect. Onset time: Immediate. Duration of cloud: 1 minute] – This cloud is nothing more than the spores of the ubiquitous dungeon-dwelling yellow mold preserved by artificial methods. When triggered, the gas acts just as if the victim had been exposed to yellow mold: save against poison or die. In the case of death, both a cure disease and a resurrection spell are required within 24 hours to resuscitate the character.
These potent poisons work through mere skin contact and, like gas poisons, run a high risk of accidental exposure. Because of this risk, contact poisons are manufactured with either an eye towards dissuading the curious from handling things that don’t rightfully belong to them, or mercilessly slaying any who’d even entertain the idea of robbing the rightful owner. In most cases, contact poison can be avoided simply by wearing gloves when handling an object smeared with the substance. A few of the more dangerous contact poisons, nevertheless, eat through any material protecting the skin and exposing the wearer to the poison’s full effects.
Debilitative Contact Poisons – Like their airborne cousins, debilitative contact poisons are designed to dissuade or incapacitate those who are exposed to them. Many a less-than patient or trusting noble or mage has utilized debilitative contact poisons to keep the help and their students from touching valuable heirlooms and potent magical items. Most contact poisons are a clear liquid, oil or gel, making them blend in with the item that they coat but not rendering them completely invisible. Due to the slightly reflective nature of these poisons, anyone taking the time to examine an item coated with a debilitative contact poison has a 50% chance to notice that something seems odd about the item. Common signs that an item bears a contact poison are slight discoloration, a seemingly wet sheen to the item, a faint out-of-place odor, or a mottled pattern of dust clinging to the item’s surface.
Generic Debilitative [Damage: Paralysis for 2-8 turns/no effect. Onset time: 1-2 rounds] – This poison bears a faint aroma of apples to it, so those with a keen sense of smell may be alerted to its presence.
Fool’s Gold, Lesser [Damage: Sleep for 7-12 turns/no effect. Onset time: 1 round] – Commonly used to either protect objects crafted from gold or to turn worthless objects into a tempting prize, fool’s gold is a gleaming, golden paint-like poison that fully coats the object. When used on an item made of gold, the chance to detect its presence is a mere 20% due to its close similarity to actual gold. If placed upon an object made of other than gold, the standard chance to detect its presence apply.
Numb Limb [Damage: Incapacitates victim’s limb(s)/no effect. Onset time: 1-6 rounds] - This odorless poison acts as a powerful anesthetic, rendering the limb or limbs that touch it unusable for 2-24 hours. In the case of the victim’s arm being rendered numb, he accrues a -4 penalty to all attacks made with his off-hand, may not use two-handed weapons (including bows) and may not use a shield. Spell-casters attempting to use spells that require a somatic component are either unable to do so or suffer a 50% chance of spell failure – DM’s prerogative. If the limb affected is a leg, the victim’s movement rate is reduced by half. If the victim somehow manages to affect his head with this substance, he’s struck unconscious for the duration of the toxin.
Screecher [Damage: Uncontrollable screaming/no effect. Onset time: Immediate] – This musty-smelling poison causes the victim to go into an uncontrollable screaming fit that lasts for 1-4 rounds. The victim is unable to stop himself and the violent convulsions that accompany this fit make it impossible for him to stifle his screams on his own. These screams will alert any nearby creatures to the victim’s presence. In dungeon situations, the screams act like the effects of a shrieker; increasing the chance of a wandering monster encounter to 50% for each round the screaming occurs.
Struck-dumb [Damage: Mute/no effect. Onset time: 2-4 rounds] – Devised to inhibit spell-casting, anyone who touches struck-dumb and fails their saving throw will find that they are unable to utter a single word. This makes the casting of any spell with a V component impossible, as well as creating communication issues within the party. This lemony-scented poison remains in effect until a neutralize poison is cast upon the victim.
Deadly Contact Poisons – These vicious poisons are the product of both alchemy and magic, creating a nasty brew. Because of their partly mystical origins, a detect magic spell will reveal a faint magical aura surrounding any object that has been coated with these poisons. This could lead to some interesting false conclusions on the part of the adventurers. Like debilitative contact poisons, deadly poisons might be noticeable by someone taking the time to inspect a treated item before handling. However, in the case of deadly contact poisons, the chance to notice something amiss is only 25%.
Generic Deadly [Damage: Death/6-48 hp. Onset time: 1-2 rounds] – This poison is crafted from the natural venom of sea-dwelling spiny fish and amplified through sorcery. A faint odor of fish and salt-water accompanies the poison. A successful check to notice the poison will reveal that the object has a slightly-incandescent rainbow hue.
Devil’s Hand [Damage: (Constitution)d10 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 1-2 round] – This toxin ignites when it comes into contact with exposed flesh. Once burning, this cinnamon-scented poison begins feeding on the victim’s health, turning his body into a living wick. The victim suffers damage equal to his Constitution score in 10-sided dice. The healthier the victim is, the more fuel is available to feed the flames. The fire is considered magical for determining the value of various fire protections and cannot be extinguished through normal methods. However, a feign death spell will suppress the victim’s health to a point that the flames cannot gain purchase. Should the victim survive the flames, he will be horribly scarred from the encounter, resulting in a loss of 1d6 points of Charisma.
Fool’s Gold, Greater [As generic deadly contact] – Like its less-deadly sibling, greater fool’s gold is used to protect items made from gold or a bait for thieves. When applied to gold items the chance to detect its presence is a mere 10%. Otherwise, standard detection chances apply.
Nefrusobek’s Curse [Damage: As mummy rot/0 hp. Onset time: 1d4 days] – Perfected by the necromancer Nefrusobek, this toxin replicates the effects of a mummy’s touch. Anyone failing their save against poison will die in 1-6 months and for each month the rot progresses, the victim loses 2 points of Charisma. In addition, the rot negates all cure wounds spells and slows natural healing to 10% its normal rate. Like the normal version, this condition requires a cure disease spell to remove. The poison has the slight odor of dust and spices surrounding it.
Sloughflesh [Damage: 3-24 hp per round/ ½ damage. Onset time: 1 or more rounds] – This poison smells a bit like rotted meat and for good reason. Exposed flesh coming in contact with this toxin begins to putrefy and drop off the bones of the victim, inflicting 3d8 points of damage each round it is in effect. This poison is so acidic that it will instantly eat through cloth or leather gloves. It will dissolve metal protection in 1 round plus one round for each +1 magical enchantment the metal might possess. A neutralize poison spell will stop the damage, but until a heal spell is cast on the victim, he cannot regain any lost hit points. Should the victim die from the effects of this poison, all that remains of them is a faint jelly-like smear on the ground. Nothing short of a wish spell can raise them back to life.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Luckily, the Hand boys have an ally: Mr. Sense of Humor (or Mr. Wantwits, as Mr. Editor refers to him). He occasionally takes pity on that duo and preserves their work for comedy posterity, as he did tonight.
The following was excised from the Stonehell draft's list of rumors, but Mr. Sense of Humor thought that if he was in charge it would have stayed.
17 - The elephant of Stonehell never forgets…to kill! (T)
With the construction of the Dungeon Not Yet Named™ moving along, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about the various traps waiting within. Thoughts of traps naturally lead to thoughts of poisoned needles, envenomed darts, hidden gas traps and the like. Poison-based traps are one of the oldest tropes of the dungeon crawl and any dungeon that didn’t include them would be missing a vital part of what makes D&D the game it is.
In the wild and woolly days of OD&D, poison was pretty straightforward: you saved or died. The effects of lesser poisons, such as the venom of a giant centipede, were pretty vague. The description of the poison of a giant centipede states that it is rarely lethal and a bonus of +4 is applied to the roll. Now does that mean it’s rarely lethal because it has such a large bonus to the saving throw or that even if the save is failed it doesn’t kill the victim? Like in many cases, the answer is ultimately up to the DM.
While I don’t mind setting potentially lethal traps for the players – that’s all part of the old-school tradition, which is what I’m going for – it’s nice to have something other than a “save or die” option when poison is encountered. With this in mind, I went to the DMG to see what I could mine from there, as well as going through the Dragon Magazine Archive to see what people have done before me. From the information found in the DMG on p. 20 and the articles “Poisons from AA to XX” in The Dragon #32 and “The Poisons of Cerilon” in Dragon #59, I sat down and created a plethora of poisons. Ranging from the more common and weaker toxins to the deadliest exotics, I now have a full range of potentially deadly substances to coat the blades of my traps.
The list that follows is of the insinuative type of poison, meaning they work by being introduced to the victim’s bloodstream by way of an incision in the skin. I have a similar list of contact and gas-based poisons, but since this list is long enough – and Blogger seems to be incapable of managing a simple table-based format without a Herculean effort on my part – I’ll leave those to another post if people express any interest in seeing them.
The format used in the entries below is the poison’s name followed by brackets. The information within the brackets is laid out with damage being represented by two values separated by a slash. Values preceding the slash is the damage taken if a save against poison is failed. The value after the slash is damage taken if the save is successful. After damage, an onset time is listed. This is the amount of time that passes before the victim begins to feel the effects of the poison. This type of information comes in handy when determining how long the party’s cleric has to drop a neutralize or slow poison spell on the victim. After the onset times are any special notes regarding the toxin. A description of the poison follows the bracketed information and contains details on appearance, ingredients and general flavor text appropriate to my game setting. Hopefully others might get some use out of this stuff. Enjoy!
Insinuative Poisons: Types AA – Types XX including Debilitative Poisons
Type AA Poison: Type AA poisons are the weakest of the various poisons available. Commonly used in the eradication of vermin and pests, type AA inflicts little damage and has a high bonus to saving throws against poison. Type AA poisons do 1 h.p. of damage/round until the total damage inflicted by the poison is reached.
Generic Type AA [Damage: 5 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 2-20 rounds. +5 to save against poison] – A typical minor poison, commonly available from even a novice alchemist.
Nuluim [Damage: 1d3 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 6-15 rounds. -1 to save against poison] – Nuluim is a common form of hunting poison employed by primitive tribes of humans and humanoids. This purple gel substance is created from mildly toxic vegetation.
Rat Death [Damage: 1d4 hp/0 h.p. Onset time: 1-10 rounds] – This brown oil is commonly used by granaries and sailors to help control the rat population. It can be purchased from traders who serve those professions, as well as from members of the rat-catchers guild, usually at a slightly higher mark-up.
Vermin Pox [Damage: 1d6/0 h.p. Onset time: 2-12 rounds. +2 to save against poison] – Appearing as a grayish-green liquid, vermin pox is used against larger pests, such as weasels, foxes and the like. Vermin pox may be purchased from trading posts serving agricultural communities. Kobolds, goblins and other small humanoid species have been known to steal traps coated with this substance and use it in traps of their own design.
Type A Poisons: A slightly more potent version of commonly used toxins, type A poisons are often used by novice assassins, thieves, pit-fighters and barroom brawlers of evil bent. Type A poisons do 5 hp of damage/round until the total damage inflicted by the poison is achieved.
Generic Type A [Damage: 15 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 2-5 rounds. +4 to save against poison] – A common form of the poison, often found in use by low-level assassins and on simple lock traps.
Buhlu [Damage: 1d8+2 hp/1d4 hp. Onset time: 2-5 rounds] – This clear fluid is created and used by the desert tribes of Pharoosh. It is created from the venom of desert asps collected by the boys of the tribes as part of their rites of manhood. Contests for control of the tribes are settled with duels conducted with buhlu-coated knives.
Cave Scum [Damage: 1d6 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1 round] – Created from poisonous lichens, mosses and fungi found growing underground, cave scum is the common name for this white paste used by intelligent subterranean humanoids on their weapons and traps.
Serpentspit [Damage: 2d8+1 hp/ 0 hp. Onset time: 1-4 rounds] – Named for its green color, this syrupy poison is actually created from the sap of certain vines found growing in temperate climates. It leaves a green stain when used to coat iron; a fact that anyone who has survived an attack by the barbaric Tribe of the Catamount can confirm.
Type B Poisons: The weakest of the “trap poisons,” type B poisons have been responsible for the deaths of more beginning adventurers, tomb robbers and antiquarians than could possibly be counted. While being of a lesser toxicity than some poisons, type B poisons are notorious for maintaining their potency longer than any other alchemist-made venom. Type B poisons do 10 hp of damage/round until the total damage inflicted by the poison is reached.
Generic Type B [Damage: 25 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1-3 rounds. +3 to save against poison] – Any one of the ubiquitous poisons found coating needle, blade, dart or spear traps on upper-level dungeons through the multiverse.
Bloodfire [Damage: 3d10 hp/1d10 hp. Onset time: 2-3 rounds] – Named for the burning pain that accompanies this toxin’s journey through the victim’s bloodstream; bloodfire appears as a scarlet gel. It is very difficult to remove once applied to metal, imposing a -10% penalty to a thief’s Remove Traps roll.
Chen-chen [Damage: 5d6 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1-6 rounds. -1 to save against poison] – Hailing from Xiang-Zhum, located far to the east across the Frothing Sea, chen-chen is a sticky orange ooze created by the monks who dwell in mountaintop monasteries of that land. While chen-chen is highly poisonous to most, it is rumored that the monks who create it employ it as a narcotic, so travelers to the lands of Xian-Zhum are warned not to partake of an offered pipe while seeking refuge amongst those mountain monasteries.
Kumdev [Damage: 3d8+3 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 2 rounds] – This brown paste was created by Duke Stazhluv IV’s Minister of Poisons and first used within the treasury houses of the Krim Duchies. Since that time, kumdev has become popular amongst alchemists serving the trap-makers of many lands, prompting the adventurer’s adage: “Touch the brown and you’re six feet down.”
Lockslick [Damage: 4d6 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 2-5 rounds. -2 to save against poison] – This silver oil is not only toxic, but the slippery nature of the oil imposes a -15% penalty to all attempts to Open Locks as it tends to seep into the inner mechanical workings of the lock, making it difficult for a thief’s picks to find purchase.
Type C Poisons: These are the middle tier of toxic substances, being lethal enough to kill most victims their used against, yet still remaining affordable enough to be within the reach of well-to-do merchants and minor nobility. Type C poisons do 15 points of damage/round until the total damage caused by the poison is achieved.
Generic Type C [Damage: 35 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1 round. +2 to save against poison] – Upset a wealthy merchant with a vindictive streak and this is the poison most likely to be found on the blade of his hired assassin.
Drake Snot [Damage: 6d8 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 1-6 rounds] – Appearing as a sticky green syrup, drake snot is made from the drake wing plant, which grows in abundance in the Great Grey Marsh. Due to the marsh’s close distance to Xultvar, the City Resilient, drake snot is commonly found in the Night Market of that city and the lesser Witches’ Markets of many larger cities throughout the Eastern Reaches.
Quarra [Damage: 5d10 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 4-7 rounds. -1 to save against poison] – Quarra is a rust-colored oil usually used by mid-level assassins. Created from the venom of a harmless looking fish found in the Ring Sea, quarra has a faint fishy odor to it. By the time the victim smells it, however, it is usually much too late.
Throat Tight [Damage: 8d6 hp/6d4 hp. Onset time: 1-10 rounds] – This chunky black paste affects the victim’s respiratory system, causing their lungs to fail and their esophagus to swell, thereby asphyxiating the victim. It has the added bonus of effectively silencing the victim as he dies, making it very popular amongst assassins and murders looking to kill their victim without alerting any nearby guards.
Yellow Lotus [Damage: 2d20+5 hp/0 hp. Onset time 1-4 rounds. -2 to save] – This yellow sap-like poison is made from the pollen of fabled yellow lotus flower, which is found in both Xiang-Zhum and Zarabe Zyria. Like chen-chen, it is rumored to possess narcotic properties to those peoples, but it a violent poison to others.
Type D Poisons: Outside of the truly exotic poisons, Type D venoms are the deadliest toxins available from alchemists. Those alchemists with the skill to create these poisons usually do so with an agreement with the local assassins’ guild. Alchemists who create and sell such substances without the permission of the guild have been known to vanish abruptly and permanently. Type D poisons do 20 points of damage/round until the total damage caused by the poison is reached.
Generic Type D [Damage: Death/0 hp. Onset time: immediate. +1 to save against poison] – Used by high-level assassins and on the deadliest of traps, this poison is usually only outclassed by the truly exotic toxins and the naturally produced venom of beasts.
Assassin’s Boon [Damage: 4d20+20 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 2-3 rounds] – This poison is extremely deadly, not only for its high mortality rate, but for the fact that it is a clear gel. Once applied to a blade it is nearly impossible to spot and its viscous nature keeps it from being easily rubbed off, even when sheathed.
Grey Zoba [Damage: 11d8 hp/0 hp. Onset time: 1-10 rounds. -4 to save against poison] – This grey fluid was created by the first Grandfather of Assassins. Since that time, the method of it creation and its ingredients remain a closely guarded secret of the Assassins’ Guild. Only the most trusted of alchemists are allowed access to this dire recipe and only then if the Guild holds some form of added leverage over the alchemist to ensure his loyalty.
Stillheart [Damage: 8d10 hp/ ½ damage. Onset time: 1 round. -2 to save against poison] – Made from a rare mushroom found in the Strigas Woods, stillheart causes sudden cardiac arrest in its victim. The spastic convulsions that accompany this attack are humorously referred to by assassins as “drumming oneself to death”
True Wyvern [Damage: 16d6/ ½ damage. Onset time 1-4 rounds] – True wyvern is a blue-green paste that somewhat resembles the venom created by its reptilian namesake. There is a legend amongst assassins that true wyvern, when applied to an arrow or bolt, actually improves the flight and accuracy of the missile. Optionally, DMs may apply a +1 bonus to hit with an arrow or bolt coated with true wyvern and reduce the penalty for distance by half.
Type XX Poisons: These are the most exotic and deadly toxins artificially manufactured, often costing tens of thousands of gold pieces for even a single dose. Their ingredients are incredibly difficult to find and many assassins find their deaths attempting to procure these rare substances. No one outside of the Assassin’s Guild may manufacture these poisons. Should an outsider learn the method of producing them and the Guild learns of it, that person’s lifespan remaining should be measured in mere hours. The Guild will spare no expense or risk to kill the bearer of such knowledge. Unlike other poisons, type XX poisons have no set damage inflicted each round.
Generic XX [Damage: Death/ 75 hp. Onset time: immediate] – While there is no true generic form of this poison, DMs wishing a quick version of an exotic and deadly toxin may use this to represent it.
Kwu Noz Hrab [Damage: Death/ Lose 1d4+1 levels. Onset time: 1-4 rounds] – The effects of this poison are so destructive that even if the victim survives the toxin, he will find himself incredibly weakened by the after effects. Kwu noz hrab is a emerald-colored sap from Zarabe Zyria, rumored to be made by and from the undead that dwell within the Nameless City.
Mindburn [Damage: Intelligence reduced to zero/Lose 1d10 points of Intelligence. Onset time 2-20 rounds] – This blue oil affects the mind of the victim and leaves the body untouched. Those who suffer the full effects of this poison are reduced to a vegetative state, incapable of even the most basic of actions. Without care, these victims will die from dehydration and malnutrition. Even those lucky enough to avoid the full effects of the poison find their mental capacities greatly reduced.
Sorcha’s Kiss [Damage: 10 hp of damage each round until the victim is dead/15d6 hp of damage. Onset time: 1-6 rounds] – Named for the goddess of murder and strife, this reddish-black paste is so potent that a neutralize poison spell has only a 50% chance of being effective. Strangely, the victim experiences a blissful euphoria as he lies dying, only to suffer excruciating pain during the last few moments of his life.
Debilitative Poisons: Not all poisons are potentially lethal to their victims. Some toxins incapacitate the victim instead. These are the debilitative poisons and are used by a variety of professions for their versatility. Like type XX poisons, debilitative poisons have no preset duration based on damage.
Distillate of Sculuxpendi giganti [Damage: Paralysis for 2-12 hours/no effect. Onset time: 1-3 rounds. +2 to save against poison] – Created from the venom of giant centipedes, this yellow-green paste produces a similar paralyzing effect with a greater chance of success. Some adventurers supplement their income by providing alchemists with fresh samples of giant centipedes, although most alchemists prefer to use live specimens whenever possible.
Dormorum’s Tears [Damage: Sleep for 1d6+1 rounds/no effect. Onset time: 1-3 rounds. Elves immune] – This blue paint-like toxin gets its name from the god of sleep and dreams and the effects of it on the victim. While a poison such as press gang punch (see below) is more effective, the higher cost of that toxin makes Dormorum’s Tears a cheaper alternative for the money-poor merchant seeking to protect his wares.
Ghoul Sweat [Damage: Paralysis for 1d6+2 rounds/no effect. Onset time: immediate. Elves immune] – This brownish-grey ooze is created from certain subterranean fungi, rather than produced by its undead namesake. Despite the subterranean source of the toxin, it mimics the effects of a ghoul’s touch quite well.
Magus Bane [Damage: feebleminded until poison is neutralized/no effect. Onset time: 1d6 rounds] –Feared by magic-users, this clear oil replicates the effects of a feeblemind spell. Like the spell, this toxin only affects spell-casters. Unlike the spell, a neutralize poison is all that is required to lift the effects of the toxin.
Nox Slap [Damage: Blindness for 1-10 rounds/no effect. Onset time: 1d6 rounds] – Named for the god of night, this black gel causes the victim to be struck blind, his vision slowly dimming as the poison works its way through his body. While only temporary, the effect can be terrifying to even the bravest warrior, especially as it sets in during a pitched combat.
Press Gang Punch [Damage: Slumber for 1-6 turns/no effect. Onset time: 1 round. Affects elves] – This orange oil is prized by the press gangs that prowl the piers of ports throughout the civilized lands. Quick and effective, even against the elven-blooded, press gang punch makes the chore of kidnapping unwilling sailors much quicker and easier than the traditional ale and blackjack technique.
Thief Sap [Damage: Convulsions for 1-20 rounds/no effect. Onset time: immediate] – Popularly used to trap locks when a thief is wanted alive, this sticky purple sap causes the victim to go into violent convulsions. The victim falls to the ground and foams at the mouth, his limbs twitch uncontrollably. Usually this creates enough racket to alert nearby guards, who then arrive to apprehend the thief while in this incapacitated state.