2018/09/22

OSR: Magical-Industrial Revolution

Here's an idea for a new book. I make no promises.

Magical-Industrial Revolution

A Pre-Apocalyptic Setting Guide


Mattias Adolfsson
A State of Flux
This book is about Atlantis before the tide turned. It's about Hyperborea before it folded itself between north and up. It's about Nu Yark Citee before the Mushroom Bombs hit.

This book is about a single city, Endon, and the inhabitants of that famous and notorious capital of commerce, learning, and sophistication. It's about a world slowly tipping onto its side, and all the interesting things that begin to slide at the start of a revolution. It's about people with grand dreams pushing the boundaries of the possible.

But mostly, it's about magic.

Pastoral Wizards and Bucolic Witches
In most fantasy worlds, magic is just sort of... present. You can buy a potion at the local artistically potion-seller's stall. You can train under a lone and eccentric archmage. Wizards might be common, but they aren't changing the world. In some games, you can pick through the ruins of vast magically sophisticated civilizations who, for whatever reason, Went Too Far; a magical post-apocalyptic wasteland overgrown and forgotten.

This book is about a pre-apocalyptic civilization. And who knows? Maybe, if the right choices are made, things will turn out differently this time.

Saving The World
A traditional method for solving an apocalypse in an RPG - or Godzilla film - is to crash another apocalypse into it and hope it sorts itself out. Wake up the skeleton army and hope they fight the giant space crabs. Cancel global warming with nuclear winter.

In Endon, player characters can gain power and experience (or whatever your system uses) in any of the usual ways. Alternatively, consider:
-give a level for averting a significant crisis
-give a level for inventing something

A Theory of Magic
Here's the state of the art.

Spells are living creatures. Spells, enchantments, ghosts, and souls are all more or less the same. Souls inhabit a living shell most of the time. Weak souls require the living shell to be maintained with food, water, air, etc. Strong souls, like those of sufficiently magical creatures, can ignore biology and physics.

A wizard's spells range in intelligence from pond scum to ferrets. A spellbook is a menagerie-prison. A well-trained brain is a mind-gun loaded with spell-bullets. Minor spells, called cantrips, infest the wizard's soul and bind to it. You can imagine them as extra, mutated limbs, except stuck to the soul and not the body.

Spells can be bred and trained. Copying a spell is difficult and tedious. Enchanting an object means convincing a spell to activate more-or-less permanently and is exceptionally tricky. Runes and engravings can help form a combination prison, racetrack, and factory.

It's possible this theory isn't true. It might even be wildly inaccurate. But it does explain most of the observable facts and that's good enough for the wizards. After all, Newton knew how gravity worked without having the faintest idea of why gravity worked. Thee theory of caloric fluids explains a cooling cup of tea and predicts the speed of sound in air. Radioactivity had a long and exciting life without an explanation; oil prospectors corrected for continental drift long before the geologists started paying attention to coastlines and fossils.

So maybe magic will turn out to be caloric corpuscules or planes of negative and positive energy. Maybe it will be something else entirely. But right now, for the purposes of this book, the spells-as-living-creatures theory given above is widely accepted.

Magic, Not Religion
This book deals only with magic. No miracles, no divine interventions, no holy relics. If there are divine figures on high, they're peering down at [X] with concern and amusement. Some gods might enjoy experimenting - some of them are notorious for it - but no god enjoys being tested.
Jack T. Cole

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Endon Gazeteer (make this really short, use tables instead of paragraphs)

     1. Map
     2. Locations
     3. The Ministries
     4. Wizards
II. Schemes, Stages, and Setbacks
II. Grand Innovations
     1.
     2.
     3.
     4.
etc.
Appendix 1: Who Are You?

Appendix 2: What The Hell Is That Thing?
Appendix 3: For Sale, Cheap.

Grand Innovation Example: The Aerialists

Flight has long eluded mankind. Magic, via carpets, broomsticks, boots, and winged helmets, let wizards soar over the masses, but their flights were always short and clumsy affairs.

When George Miles was a child, he dreamed the same dream every night. He was flying over the smoking chimneys and shadowed alleys of Endon. Following the smoke, he flew higher and higher, above the clouds, into the upper air, where the whole world was no bigger than a dinner plate or an illustrated map from one of his schoolbooks.

Lacking everything but talent and ambition, George sold rain-charms to earn enough money to attend a wizarding college. He was expelled for nonpayment of dues in his third year, but by then, he'd already developed a magic carpet capable of level flight at fifty miles per hour. Passengers and cargo were swept off, but he persisted.

Today, in a small and dingy workshop, George is working on his latest flight enchantments.


Stages

1. Initial Innovation
Visit George at Stage 1 and you'll find a small building with a sign marked "Be Aware of Falling Objects". His workshop is full of magical equipment: rune-carvers, passive magical batteries, and large coils of copper wire. Small fluttering automatons bounce in the rafters, "gifts for my nieces and nephews", George will say, pointing at the brightly coloured wooden toys.

The wizard will happily discuss flight with anyone who steps into his shed. He's given up on levitation; too much power for too little reward. Instead, he believes flight relies on propulsive power alone. On a bench, lightly covered with an old rag, is the first moveable rod.

Moveable Rod (Prototype)
An iron rod, 2" long, 3" across. Hums slightly when touched. Put a small jolt of magic into it - anything will do - and it flies 100' per round in a straight line, dealing damage like a bullet on impact. Anything that can stop a bullet will stop it. It is active for 1d6 rounds and takes 24hrs to recharge without a magical battery. The rod is worth 10gp as a curiosity.

2. Public Introduction
By Stage 2, George has developed a reliable spell lineage. He has hired a dozen apprentices and purchased several large magical batteries. His new workshop is on the same site as the old one, but it's considerably larger, and has more-or-less swallowed his old brick house. Miles' Moving Miracles are crude devices, much mocked as "Deathjumpers" or "Witch Thrones".

Miles' Moving Miracles
A wooden chair with a thick cotton-stuffed seat attached to a series of moveable rods and control levers. The seat has four very large spring-suspended legs. Wheels are optional. By sitting on the throne and adjusting the ballast bags, then pulling the levers in the correct sequence, a pilot can hop up to 500' off the ground, fly horizontally at up to 20 miles per hour, then descend. A single hop's total flight time is limited to 10 minutes (and 6 miles, give or take), but travel is exhilarating and precise. An emergency featherfall lever can be activated if things go awry.

In Gilford Park, a men and women hired by Miles launch vertical observation flights every hour for a 4 gp fee. The fee slowly falls as the novelty wears off, but for a few months, it's the most fashionable and daring thing to do.

A fully operational Moving Miracle can be purchased for 10,000gp.

3. Widespread Adoption
The only thing limiting the Moving Miracles are the spells trapped in the movable rods. Each spell is slightly different; some burn faster, some stronger, some at slight angles. Calibrating a chair takes weeks.

An innovation by a rival firm, quickly adopted by Miles, adds wooden steering fins and taut canvas flaps. Calibrating a wing is far easier than calibrating a spell. The original inventor is ruthlessly suppressed by Miles and his newfound wealth. Moving Miracles develop rapidly. Wheels and skids are added. Multiple chairs, benches, and harnesses let entire families take to the air. Moving Miracles become Miras. Now sporting dozens of moveable rods, a single well-built Mira can hop-fly for fifty miles before recharging. Tinkerers, imitators, and fools flood the market. Stables sprout mirapads, landing spots for the new vehicles crowding the streets. Crashes are reported with gleeful grisly detail.

At this stage, horses outnumber Miras a thousand to one, even in cosmopolitan Endon. But every day, a few more are released from the factory complex on the outskirts of the city. A ride from one station to another within Endon costs 1gp. A fully stocked Mira costs 3,000gp. Luxury models are available, though the ones modeled on carriage frames tend to be a bit tippy.

The number of crashes has created a few pending issues. Escaped movable rod spells have colonized unlikely objects. Occasionally, a flowerpot, teacup, horse, paving stone, or pedestrian gets flung 500' in the air. Miles hasn't been informed, but his well-paid lieutenants have covered up most of the issues, blaming foreigners, lightning, and public drunkenness.


4. Scope Alteration
While flying chairs - more flung than flying - fill the skies, George Miles works furiously in his towering brick and glass chambers, filling reams of paper with calculations and drawings. By night , in secret, he sends up small test flights. They are lifted by conventional levitation spells (broomsticks, mostly) to 1,000 feet, then launched higher and higher by ever-more-powerful moveable rods. Though occasionally startled by thunderclaps and plummeting screaming aerialists, the citizens of Endon shrug and move on with their lives.

The Minister of War asks George Miles if his inventions could be used against the Hated Foreigner. Miles supposes so, and though he doesn't actively participate the war ministry begins strapping cannons to Miras. Results are both promising and disastrous. Firing projectiles over hundreds of miles using moveable rods seems plausible, if very expensive.

A prototype high-altitude Mira is worth at least 100,000gp. It  has a 25% chance of pulping any riders, a 25% chance of disintegrating, and a 50% chance of launching any riders up to 10,000 feet in the air and/or 1,000 miles in any direction.


5. Height of Ambition
With full backing from the Overminister, George Miles announces his latest and greatest mission. Small-scale test flights with animals and apes have shown that the upper reaches of the air are thin and magically charged (explaining auroras rather nicely). A very high altitude flight can gain massive boost to its moveable rods, recharging the tired spells instantly. With sufficient ministerial funding, George Miles believes a Exo-Mira could fly to any location in the world, circle the globe, or even reach the moon.

Of course, hearing this, Mister Slang (pg. ##) will immediately launch a counter-propaganda campaign, asking for funding for his own moon-based schemes (which may or may not be at a viable stage).

In a field outside the city, guarded day and night by soldiers, Miles will - unless stopped - construct a massive moveable rod manufacturing centre. Every rod is devoted to the moon project. His competitors flourish, but he doesn't care. His moon-vehicle looks more like a black iron evergreen than a rocket, but its thousands of rods will surely be enough to lift a few occupants - brave, daring, proven occupants like the PCs, potentially - through the upper air and to the moon. Who knows what treasures await them on its silver shores?


6. Terminal Events
The Exo-Mira will fall over and push Endon into the sea. Messily.
Or it will rise on a column of octarine light, explode, and bury Endon in a hail of molten iron fragments.

Or it will fly into the upper air, siphon off millions of years of accumulated magic, and expose the entire world to unfiltered sunlight in all eight colours, probably ushering in an age of magical tumors and mass extinction.
Or it will, impossibly, push the earth out of its orbit, sending the seasons into freefall.
Andrew Sonea

Gameable Ideas

I'm going to try to create a world full of potential. Everything is proceeding along at a frantic, dangerous pace. Magical accidents increase in frequency. Clever people - the player characters - will probably make their own fun almost immediately. I want to provide a bunch of tools to make players go "Oh wait, if we combine this with that we could almost certainly..." 
 
It's designed to bolt onto most systems fairly easily. There will be short rules for sabotaging competitors, selling prototypes, going into business on your own, etc. There will be sidebars for special events (Mira races), tables of competitors, etc.

The book is vaguely inspired by a copy of Gurps Goblins I flipped through many years ago. Apparently bits of it were lodged in my head.

Lots of illustrations of inventions, wizards, and all that.

I don't want to go full steampunk. It's not really anything-punk. The players aren't victims of an unfair system; the system is being built around them at a ludicrous, directionless pace.

Spells to Industrialize

Free association time.

Illusions. Like bubbles made of spell-stuff. Can they be stabilized? Immense utility. What about sentient illusions? Move your own soul into an illusory body? Illusions cross bred with reality?

Shrinking spells? And enlargement spells. Probably can't be made permanent, but you could probably use them to do all sorts of fun chemistry or alloying. Compression and expansion and all that.

Teleportation and portals. Overland transport, solved! Right? Probably no downsides at all. Also, teleporter to the moon because yes, that seems like a very good idea. Can you monster summon a very specific person, say, a person holding a ticket?

Moving stone and earth. Roads, giant buildings. Making the world legible by the standards of people with absolutely no sympathy or sense of ecology. What if we took all that coal and iron and put it above ground?


Messages and sending. Telegraphs! Spells racing from tower to tower. Wand relays. I should write a bit on wands. Don't get hit by a message spell; it's like having a transcription seizure.

ESP; reading the thoughts of mad people for fun.


Spheres of annihilation. What if they weren't spheres? What if you started modifying their geometry?

Rope tricks and pocket dimensions. Stick an entire new wing onto  your house. Fashion for mansions the size of a doorframe (or maybe only the poor occupy extra-dimensional spaces? Nah, probably too expensive). What happens when they start colliding. Assassin who collapses rooms to kill people.

Polymorph.
It gets a whole section to itself. All living creature alteration spells at once.

Right. So what if you take your champion racehorse (male) and polymorph it into a greyhound. You then breed it with your champion greyhound (female). What happens (assuming you're persistent)?

1. If the polymorph is permanent, no issues.

2. If the polymorph isn't permanent, issues.
Let's say sperm meets eggs, sends in polymorphed chromosomes. When the spell ends, the original chromosomes transform back, but it probably doesn't matter at that point; copies have been made, and the copies wouldn't transform back. Probably. I mean, a photograph of a polymorphed person doesn't change when they polymorph back. Since most of the cellular machinery comes from the egg things will probably still be fine.


On the other hand, when you're polymorphed, you must be creating and dividing cells all the time, and all those new cells, made with copied DNA, get polymorphed back. You don't get coated with a layer of troll slime or gain the stomach lining of a goat.

What if you hit a person who is polymorphed into a creature with more than the usual number of limbs? I can see wizards transforming urchins, poking them with pins, and then transforming them back to see what sort of morphic mapping occurs.

Can you transform someone into a creature that doesn't exist? What if you use mind-altering spells to convince the caster it does exist?



Most fire spells are probably less effective than a blast furnace and some powdered coal. Walls of force though. Those could be useful. Wind forcing.

Summoning walls of iron seems impressive, and it's definitely handy to create blast chambers and special shapes, but it's probably easier to just mine the stuff.

Geas. Geas and philosophers. 



2018/09/19

OSR: Pirates of the Merabaha, Session 2

Last session, four idiots broke out of prison, set the town of King's Bay on fire, and stole a frigate from under the nose of the Wexlish navy.

At the moment, no one knows their names, but as the sun rises their brazen deeds and nautical skill will surely form the seed of a legend. The pirates are:

Nyali Utugelu, a Chultan shopkeeper, arsonist, riot-starter, and gunpowder junkie.

Gunter von Steenberger, a dockworker from the Ranstead League with near-mythical strength.

Imran Goldmaker, an experienced merchant and occasional pirate from the Golden Isles. Excellent with a sword.

Beatrix, a Tarraconese carpenter, engineer, and smooth talking hustler. Fairly mediocre at everything except staying alive, but that's a very useful skill.
Martin Seidl
As the sun rose through the thick smoke pouring from King's Bay's many fires, the Cimmeria, a twenty-four gun sixth-rate frigate, with sails hastily set and badly rigged, slipped out of the harbour on the freshening breeze. By noon, she was sailing at a comfortable five knots.

Her crew was far from comfortable. The four assorted ne'er-do-wells hired by the late Cameron Jones had assisted initially. Then, with the aid of the four forcibly hired crewmen from the Cimmeria, they'd found the brandy stores and all got riotously drunk. Sailing a frigate with twelve crew - instead of the usual two hundred - had been difficult. Sailing it with four sober people, and two of them napping in the captain's quarter at any given time, was beyond difficult.

With the gentle breeze pushing them steadily west, all the crew needed to do was keep off the Wretched Reef, then hug the shore of the Isla de Caracol and anchor - or crash, more likely - into the Porta de Caracol. There, they hoped to sell the frigate or recruit a crew or generally celebrate their ridiculously good fortune. Their plans were a touch indistinct.

Their first day at sea was eventful. Imran and Nyali filled one of the ship's boats with supplies and rigged it to drop in case a hasty escape was required. Gunter decided to load and ready the top twelve guns; if it came to a fight, they could at least get off a handful of shots or intimidate a smaller vessel.

The crew, sobered up by a few buckets full of cold seawater, held an impromptu election for officers. Everyone dutiful, if not exactly steadily, assembled in a circle to hear nominations. The crew spoke mostly Wexlish, though a few could manage a phrase or two in Valoch or Tarraconese. By unanimous decision, Imran was elected quartermaster, as he was the only one "who could sort the figures and tell a good coin from bad."

Electing a captain proved slightly more difficult. No one could gain enough support until, stepping forward, Gunter said in heavily accented Wexlish, "You will vote for Beatrax is Captain, because she is the only one who can speak Wexlash." Once again, the vote was unanimous. Beatrix was astonished.

Later that evening, Gunter spotted three lights on the horizon. He climbed to the top of the mainmast to get a better look; three ships, in formation, in a pursuit course. Were they Wexlish ships bent on recapturing the frigate? Pirates? Marauders from another nation? With fog rolling along the small islands of the Wretched Reef, the crew had very few options. They couldn't set any additional sails. Maneuvering was next to impossible. They had at least a four hour head start, but their ship was silhouetted against the setting sun.

They decided to douse lights, hug the fog as closely as they dared, and then cut north when the light had fully faded. They hoped they could find the reef again in the morning; nobody on the ship could navigate worth a damn. Gunter thought he could find the north star, but he wasn't entirely certain. The sight of their newly elected captain peering at the horizon, arms out, muttering, "Never Eat Salted Worms" while turning slowly in a circle, did not fill the crew with confidence. Many of them decided to get drunk.

As the sun rose over the bright blue sea, Gunter, who had slept fitfully all night, managed to catch sight of the three other ships. They were far to the north, almost over the horizon, and slightly ahead of the Cimmeria. In the strong breeze, their sixth-rate frigate had every advantage. They slowly maneuvered her back towards the reef. The three ships did not pursue and vanished from sight.

Imran spotted a small fishing boat in the path of the ship. With a great deal of wailing and hooting, the party managed to steer towards the boat. They threw a tow line (with Gunter on the end of it) and forcibly brought the little boat alongside. The five fishermen inside - all members of the Cottar family - debated joining the pirates and, "Earning as much in a day's work as you would in a lifetime of catching these fish." The uncle of the four young men, his eyes flashing and his paddle-wielding arm smacking them vigorously, cursed all pirates and warned his nephews against vice and treachery. Gunter, knowing trouble when he saw it, tossed the uncle out of the boat and hired the four Cottars on as full-share pirates.

The four fishermen were a little dismayed to discover the frigate was crewed by a handful of disreputable and inexperienced people.

A few  hours later, they were even more dismayed to discover the thunderstorm rolling in from the east.

Jan Porcellis
"Stay the foresails! Cut loose the royals! Stow the, uh, handspikes. And the marlinspikes. And the... the yardarm. Stow everything, in fact!" Beatrix screamed, more for effect than to actually motivate the crew. The experienced sailors, Gunter included, were taking in as much sail as they could. The rest of the crew was milling around, frantically pumping, or getting drunk again. With the deck heaving and rolling, more brandy missed the mugs than reached it, but there was a nigh-inexhaustible supply in the hold.

"Two feet of water in the, uh, lower bit of the ship," of the recruited landsmen shouted at the newly elected captain. "Should we do something about that?"
"Yes! Yes we should," Beatrix said hastily. "Imran and Nyali, go pump!"

Frantically levering below decks, the pair heard an alarming groaning noise from the port side of the ship, as if the Cimmeria's hull was being scraped by a giant slab of raw meat. They shouted for someone to go take a look, fearing that the frigate had run aground, but when Beatrix peered over the rail all she saw was a phosphorescent gleam and a long trailing tendril in the water. "Just a sea monster, guys," she shouted, poking her head down the hatch. "Nothing to worry about."

On deck, Gunter was staring at the green-blue glow coating the masts and rigging. "Spirit fire!" he shouted, and made a sign to ward off evil. The crew, looking up at the lights, decided to flee below. Gunter tried to ward off the evil omen by throwing things at the mast. Moments later, a bolt of lightning struck the topgallant mast and shattered it. The mast tipped sideways, sail unfurled and ropes tangled. The extra strain began to tip the Cimmeria over, exposing her decks to the waves.

"Cut it loose!" Gunter shouted, then realized he was nearly the only one on deck. Swearing, he grabbed a knife and started climbing. Leigh Cottar, one of the recruited fishermen, followed him up. They frantically hacked at the rigging with more fear than skill. The wind caught the downed sail and with a snap tangled Gunter in a knot of ropes. "Cut me free, friend!" the old dockhand yelled, knowing any would-be rescuer would be in dire peril. Obedient, Leigh cut the ropes. The topgallant mast swung free, leaving Gunter behind but carrying Leigh overboard.

The toppled mast acted as a sea anchor. Though most of the rigging had been severed, it was still attached to the hull and was slowly dragging the Cimmeria over. As the ship began to roll, Imran ran on deck, sword raised to fight a sea monster. He saw the taut ropes and the fallen mast and immediately severed the ropes. Freed, the Cimmeria rolled upright in the storm-wracked sea. Leith, still entangled in the sail, was rapidly falling behind.

"Hold my pistols," Gunter roared, as he shed his armaments and dove over the side. It was suicide, but Gunter swam like a furious fish, smashing the water with his pinwheeling arms. He arrived at the sinking mast and started freeing his new friend.


"They're going to be left behind," Nyali said, after emerging from the hold to see what all the fuss was about. 

"I'm sure they'll be swept onto an island. Castaways. They'll do fine," the Captain said, not at all confidently. "We'll pick them up later."
"Or they'll be swept onto a reef and shredded," Imran replied, unconcerned.
"Fuck this," Nyali shouted. "Get that gun around! Imran, steer to, uh, left. Port. That way."


The Chultan pirate, swearing louder than the thunder, ran to the nearest cannon. She grabbed a chain shot, tied a long rope to the chain with a dozen knots, and winched it hard to stern, aiming as far back as she dared. "Steady, steady!" she shouted to Imran at the wheel.

"Just hold on!" Gunter bellowed at Leith. "The ship is coming around. Are they... no."


"There's no way you can hit them at this range!" Imran yelled, not believing his eyes. "In this weather, and in this light! No way."

"Good thing I don't want to hit them," Nyali said through clenched teeth, as she squinted down the cannon's barrel. She waited for the Cimmeria to crest a wave, stepped back, and pressed the lit linstock against the touchhole. The cannon, after a moment's pause, blasted out fire and iron.

Gunter was astonished to see the cannon's flame, and even more astonished when a rope, attached to a chain and two cannonballs, splashed neatly into the rigging next to his head. He grabbed the rope with one hand and Leith with the other. A few horrible minutes later and the pair was aboard, shivering and gasping for air.

The Times
They decided to beach the Cimmeria. In her current state, she was simply unmanageable. Getting  her off a beach or sandbar would be difficult, but that was a problem for future-pirates. Current-pirates wanted to avoid drowning.

With more luck than skill, they picked a large and sandy stretch of beach on a large island and let the waves carry the frigate ashore. They could do nothing but wait for the storm to lift. Finally, in the early morning light, the wind began to die down, and the hammering rain was replaced with a slow drizzle, then a thin mist.

"This must be the Isla de Caracol," Imran said, sweeping the hills with his spyglass. "Largest island we've seen yet. All we need to do is cut across those hills and we'll be in the port in no time. Then..."

"I'm more concerned about those two ships," Beatrix said, pointing over the rail. There were indeed two small sloops anchored in the bay, almost a mile away.
"Fishermen?" Gunter asked hopefully.
"On an island of pirates, in sloops set for raiding? Yeah, sure, fishermen," Imran said.
"What are we going to do?" Nyali said, eyeing her cannons.

"Don't worry," the Captain replied, collapsing her spyglass. "I have a plan."

An hour later, the pirate crews of the Majestic and the Saint Marloon were treated to the sight of a landlubber lowering a boat from the Cimmeria's side. They watched as a lone figure in ragged clothes rowed with haste, if not with skill, across the choppy waters of the bay. Beatrix rowed her little boat onto the beach exactly between the two sloops, then staggered onto the beach.

Captains Christopher Clems and Nabila of Nyanzaru departed their respective ships with large, well-armed retinues. They more-or-less pretended to ignore the bedraggled woman on the beach, and feigned surprise at the other captain's decision to take a casual stroll at this hour of the morning. Polite greetings were exchanged over Beatrix's head.

"Now, my dear," Captain Clems said, beaming and exposing all three of his teeth, "what in the world are ye doing out here?"


Beatrix took a deep breath and spun a tale of woe, treachery, piracy, lunacy, and disaster. She'd been kidnapped by pirates when they took the frigate from under the eyes of the Wexlish governor. The pirates had squabbled, then panicked during the storm. Many of them had abandoned ship - "Aye, and she does have no boats, Clems said, eyeing the frigate". The survivors, no more than three, were badly wounded, sick, or drunk. She asked the two pirate captains for protection.

The pair looked at her, looked at the unguarded, slovenly frigate, with her sails in rags and a broken mainmast top, and decided to close in for the kill. They casually hurried back to their ships, leaving four guards to, "protect miss Beatrix" from  "local unscrupulous marauders."

On board the Cimmeria, the crew had very carefully and very cautiously loaded the cannons. Those still behind gun ports were braced to fire at point-blank range. Accuracy didn't matter. Nyali had selected a spot along the Cimmeria's flank; the moment a sloop moved in, she and several other sailors would run along, set off the broadside, and then board the surviving sloop. While the sloops' crews outnumbered them four to one, the element of surprise and twelve nine-pound cannonballs fired from above at a steep angle ought to even the odds.

And so, as the two pirate sloops slowly raised anchor and slid towards the frigate, the Cimmeria's crew waited in perfect suspense, racks of muskets, pistols, and swords at the ready. When the Saint Marloon closed to firing range, pushing the Majestic against the Cimmeria's hull, Nyali roared "FIRE ALL GUNS!" in Chultan. Her intent was unmistakable. In ones and twos, with screams and fire, the Cimmeria roared to life.

The fight was over in ten minutes, though it was a hellish close thing. Gunter lead the boarding party onto the Majestic's deck, cutting off a limb or a head with every blow of his sword. Imran followed, carefully choosing his targets, an avenging angel to Gunter's furious devil. Nyali laughed and laughed, firing every weapon that came to hand at the pirates climbing the Cimmeria's side or spilling onto her deck. When the smoke cleared, the Cimmeria's crew had carried the day. The surviving pirates aboard the Majestic surrendered. Those aboard the sinking Saint Marloon also threw down their weapons and swam for safety aboard the second sloop.

On shore, the four pirates guarding Beatrix had watched the battle with great interest, entirely confident that or or both of their crews would carry the day. But when the Majestic's flag dropped into the water, they turned as one to their hostage. "Come with us, little lady," one said. "It'll be safer in the trees."



They got about a dozen paces before a cannonball, aimed by Nyali with uncanny accuracy, smashed into the group. The three surviving pirates, gore-spattered and stunned, looked at the smouldering boots of their friend. "You should probably surrender," Beatrix said casually, picking a bit of bone out of her hair. "That wasn't a fluke. Damn accurate, uh, cannoning."



The next few hours were a flurry of activity. Gunter, as impromptu bosun, more or less maintained order. The combined crews began scouring the Cimmeria for moveable valuables and supplies, slowly restocking the Majestic. The twenty-two survivors could still barely crew a frigate, but they could more than adequately crew the slim and nimble Majestic.

And secretly, unobserved by any of their newly recruited and impressed pirate followers, Nyali, Gunter, Imran, and Beatrix buried the 1,000 gold pieces they'd secretly looted from the Cimmeria's pay chest in the thin forest not far from shore.


2018/09/16

OSR: The Isle Equivocal

The Authority created the world and set the natural laws of Creation in motion. The Authority is omnipotent, but He cannot change His own laws, lest Creation unravel. He is omniscient, but He cannot see the future, lest time itself grind to a halt.

The Authority created Heaven, a realm in the upper air, by holding back some goodness and kindness and peace from the world, and he created Hell, deep in the earth, by reserving some of the wickedness, cruelty, and violence of Creation to punish those who break His laws.

When a mortal creature dies, the soul has several possible destinations. If the creature is sufficiently powerful, the soul might stick around, reanimating the body, reincarnating, flying around, or otherwise causing trouble. For humans and human-like creatures, this state is usually called undeath. Otherwise, the soul is grabbed by one of the many Angels of Death, examined, and sent to judgement. Souls with uncomplicated histories are sometimes judged summarily. Some require further examination in Heaven.

Most living creatures,  no matter how twisted or odd, can be sorted and judged and filed in the appropriate afterlife. The Authority, in His wisdom, knew that some edge cases might exist. To prevent unnecessary delay and trouble He created the Isle Equivocal; heaven's buffer.. Any extraordinary unusual souls, deaths, or problems are left on the Isle until the Final Day of Judgement. The island floats between Creation and Heaven, at an altitude of ~100,000 feet. On a clear day, you can just about see Heaven's gates.

Theologians deny the Isle's existence. It's a peasant tale, a bad joke, a mockery of the Authority's will. Wizards think differently. Some of them have even visited the Isle.
Chris Cold

Geography

Small and complex, shaped without water or tides. The tallest point is a black stone temple on the central hill; the aerie of the Angels of Death. Approaching it is unwise. There are trees here, windblown seeds carried into the upper atmosphere. Everything is tinted grey as if soaked in dilute ink or seen through fogged glass. The air is cold. The winds are, despite the altitude, very gentle.

Nothing on the Isle can die without the will of the Angels of Death, and since they have been charged with protecting the Things Without Precedent, no Thing can die. Interlopers, arriving in a land between life and death, become Things Without Precedent. They can live in perfect, grim tranquility for all eternity, or try and contrive a means of escape... one way or another.

Things Without Precedent

A few inhabitants - or prisoners - of the Isle Equivocal.

Antikitten

Folk wisdom holds that cats have nine lives. In truth, they're born with somewhere between 5 and 12, depending on the size of the litter. Lives slosh around in the womb; some kittens have more, some have fewer. Cautious kittens, fearless kittens.

Very rarely, a kitten ends up with negative one life.

These anti-kittens are not ghosts (spirits without bodies) or merely flesh (bodies without spirits). They're a body animated by an absence of a spirit. Like an electron hole, the "hole" is a distinct entity. Antikittens are usually scooped up by a designated auditor angel, but cats are tricky things and sometimes escape. Antikittens make rare and auspicious pets for wizards and liches; they are completely immune to most magic, they can rend ghosts like tissue paper or expensive curtains, and they provide all the dubious benefits of a normal cat.

There are ninteen antikittens on the island. They behave just like normal kittens.

Living Statue

Moving a person's soul into a stone body isn't an issue the Isle Equivocal needs to deal with. Regular processes work fine.
Similarly, stone itself has a place in the authority's plan.

But in 1102, radical sculptor and illusionist Jan of Bittergarten discovered a technique to create art that exists only in the mind's eye. No physical form, just a few carefully placed and sequenced priming keys to get the mind working. This wasn't illusion magic or trickery. The statues, paintings, and sculptures he created existed only in the minds of his audience.

Unfortunately, when Jan finally managed to create a living creature with this process, a marble statue in the mind's eye capable of speaking, moving, and thinking, it proved to be too much for pious authority figures. Jan and all his tools were burned. The living statue, trapped in his mind, burned too, and arrived in the Isle Equivocal.

The statue is sad, curious, and resigned. It sometimes guides visitors, appearing just behind trees or across bridges, luring them to new delights and strange marvels.

The First Thinking Engine

A machine designed by ancient snake-men mechanics and geniuses, built through glimpses of possible futures in the Mirror Realms and sheer bloody-minded persistence. It's the size of a small cottage and it's looks very out of place in the sombre woods of the Isle Equivocal. The thinking machine is about as intelligent as a small child. It has no special claim to wisdom but it's very good at math problems, provided you speak snake-man and don't mind answers in base 12.
Nikolai Lockertsen

The Wizards

The Two Tabraski Urnochs

Teleport spells are dangerous. Get them wrong and you'll be spread thin, smashed against a cliff, embedded in solid rock, dropped from an enormous height, or split in half. Messy deaths, but conventional.

Tabraski Urnoch was an Orthodox Wizard. He was charged by the King of Altrecht to solve the problem of time. Why does time move in one direction? While some spells stop time briefly, none can reverse its flow. Through careful spell breeding and expensive experiments, Tabraski Urnoch developed a teleport spell that, he believed, would allow him to travel a few moments into the past.

The spell worked. Tabraski Urnoch arrived at the exact moment he activated his spell, occupying the same position in space. The resulting explosion leveled his tower, the surrounding forest, and several villages. Both Tabraski Urnochs were brought to the Isle Equivocal. Did either one of them commit murder or suicide? They're still trying to figure it out and prepare a watertight legal defense for the Final Judgement.

Bartran al-Hansan

Developed a flying machine using gunpowder, iron tubes, feathers, balloons, and a magic carpet. Accidentally crashed into the Isle Equivocal while trying to get a glimpse of heaven. Morose.

Wilfred Kamp

Potions of luck are easy enough to make, though most sensible wizards point out that all that luck has to come from somewhere, and sensibly avoid touching the stuff. Wilfred wasn't sensible. He wasn't even a very good wizard. His one triumph was a potion of un-luck so potent that, when he inevitably dropped the flask onto his foot, the resultant catastrophe killed him so thoroughly and in so many different ways - asteroid impact, coronary, spontaneous combustion, runaway carriage, structural failure of his house, etc. - that he was whisked away to the Isle Equivocal to allow his case to be heard in full.

Escaping The Isle

You can jump off any time. If you're a proper inhabitant, someone who is supposed to be there, an Angel of Death will swoop in, catch you, and carefully put you back on the Isle.

If you're just a visitor, you can fall unimpeded. Surviving impact is now your only worry.

It's possible Bartran could disassemble the Thinking Engine and make a primitive flying machine, but the Angels will certainly notice and interfere.

2018/09/14

OSR: Review: The Book of Delves

It's always a good idea to keep a "emergency dungeon" folder handy at game. Players get teleported a thousand feet into the air? Players decide to check out that weird door you didn't finish mapping? Dig under the baron's house, search for a rumour, flee from any carefully prepared content into the wilderness marked, not "here be dragons" but "fill this bit in later"?

Michael Prescott's Trilemma adventures are, I think, the gold standard. Ben Milton's putting out great adventure hexes. And, of course, there's the one page dungeon contest.

One page dungeons are hard to write. You need to cram as much information as possible into a very small space. No superfluous text, like "Kitchen: You enter this room to see a kitchen. Along the walls are pots, pans, cheesegraters...". Maximum conceptual density while still being useful as a pick-up-and-go gaming tool. They're like D&D petit fours.

Anyway, Tristan Tanner (bogeymanscave.blogspot.com) has written twenty "30 minute" dungeons and put them up for sale here. For $5.00 USD, you get 20 dungeons with maps.

I like the idea of a thirty minute dungeon. Sit down and, for half an hour and only half an hour, furiously hammer out a dungeon. Don't stop to think, don't stop to plan. Just go! Gooooo! And when you're done, come back in a week and either edit it or scrap it. It's a nice little writing exercise. Lots of RPG projects seem to stall or suffer from scope creep; this at least provides a tangible goal, cutoff, and reward.

Do Tristan's dungeons pass muster?

Side Note: I try, whenever possible, to punch up, not down. But these notes might be useful to anyone who wants to build short one-page dungeons or publish them, and I've run them by the author, so I should be OK.

Plot Hooks

One or two sentences plot hook, short and to the point.
"There have always been rumors in the village that the strange stone building in the hills was a blasphemous church to a demonic being. It has been a long time since light and foul chanting emanated from the structure, and the church has payed you to investigate, to see if the evil has left."
They're all pretty serviceable, though most are "someone's paying you to investigate a thing". Not a bad hook by any means, but it'd be nice to get some variety.

Maps


Here's an example map from the book.
It's not exactly a work of art. It barely feels like a work of work; it's just thrown together in MSpaint. Considering the web tools available, license free, it's hard to see why this was the style chosen.

I redrew this map in 30 minutes.



Map Numbering

Numbering should flow from room to room. Let's take a look at this dungeon as written.
Oh dear. The rooms were numbered as they radiate outwards from the entrance. But as the party moves through the dungeon (1-3-5-4-7-8-10 for example), the poor GM has to keep referencing the map to figure out the next room. It's also hard to judge adjacent rooms by reading the text.

Renumbering the map as follows:

We get a much more smooth numbering system.
There are still a few "jumps", but it's significantly easier to read and visualize. Try to keep player flow in mind when numbering rooms. Imagine how they'd walk through the dungeon and how much flipping the GM would need to do to keep up with them.
 

Map Jaquaying

It's supremely difficult to make a complex one-page dungeon without it becoming a grid of connected squares. The maps in Tristan's book have loops and multiple paths. A few look a bit linear, but most seem to incorporate a few good design principles.

Dungeon Key

"Read-aloud" text or general dungeon dressing is first, in plain text. GM notes and stats are in italics. It's a nice touch for the length of the room keys. If they were shorter, like a "classic" one page dungeon, it'd feel like a gimmick, and if they were longer a line break would be more suitable, but as they are it's just right.
There is a cupboard in this room, along with some piles of wood that appear to have once been furniture. Some blood stains the wall. A brownie lives in the cupboard, hoarding shoes. He does not want to be bothered, and rarely leaves the house for anything other than collecting more shoes. He knows about the goblins and the ogre downstairs, but doesn’t care because they don’t take his shoes. The brownie has HD ½, AC unarmored, ATK 1 knife, DMG 1d4, and can turn invisible at will.
There's a mix of combat encounters (rats attack, goblins attack, ghosts attack, etc.), diplomacy and conversations, traps, and interesting things.

General Complaints

These could all be one-page dungeons, front and back, with a bit more work on formatting. All the text is single column. With a two column layout, a smaller font size, and a bit of editing (there are still a few vestigial "Here is a room that is a room..." sentences).

As it is, most dungeons are 3 pages. Sure, a map page stapled to a front-and-back dungeon key isn't the end of the world, but it'd be nice to have these as single sheets of paper. If I wanted to print this, I'd need to spend a fair bit of time printing sections individually.

I'm not sure if any of these dungeons were playtested. I think, if you're publishing a product for money, you need to put in at least some playtesting. A "1d100 Horrible Horses" table, sure, don't bother testing it, but 20 dungeons? Honest, clear-eyed playtesting and editing helps immensely.

There's no art beyond the MSpaint maps. For one page dungeons art is tricky, but a cover page would have been nice.

And finally, the price. It's $5 USD.
 

That's too much. I don't think you get your money's worth, given other offerings on the market at $5 or below. There are $5 worth of ideas here - more, for sure! - and $5 or more of effort, but the final package feels flimsy. I feels, in places, like the author wasn't really taking pride in the work and trying to put out the best possible product. It feels like I paid $5 for a playtest document or a mockup, something on the road to being great but not there yet.

2018/09/12

OSR: Horrible Pirate NPC Generator

I really should have written these before the first session but I got distracted. Roll to flavour a crew, invent an enemy, detail an NPC, or come up with ideas on the fly. Here's a fancy PDF.
Carl Dobsky, Ship of Fools

d100 Male Old World Names
1d50 Female Old World Names





1 Gadifer
1 Alice





2 Pierre
2 Johanna





3 Eli
3 Agnes





4 Laurens
4 Agatha





5 Claes
5 Margery





6 Peter
6 Amice





7 Henry
7 Mary





8 Augustin
8 Mariota





9 Brigstock
9 Joan





10 Hans
10 Anastasia





11 Constant
11 Ann





12 Dirk
12 Marianne





13 William
13 Anne





14 Gilbert
14 Peg





15 Ralph
15 Sibilla





16 Gustav
16 Margaret





17 John
17 Elizabeth





18 Huguet
18 Susanna





19 Jan
19 Sara





20 Didrik
20 Nancy





21 Eduardo
21 Letitia





22 Eustace
22 Ingela





23 Francois
23 Wijerd





24 Charles
24 Lucy





25 Luc
25 Maria





26 Daniel
26 Avelina





27 Raymond
27 Sadie





28 Bernard
28 Eustacia





29 Lewis
29 Isolda





30 Gilles
30 Emma





31 Eric
31 Juliana





32 Juan
32 Ellen





33 Manuel
33 Naomi





34 James
34 Charlotte





35 Hugh
35 Alvia





36 Francis
36 Gina





37 Josiah
37 Flora





38 Andre
38 Christine





39 Montigny
39 Fanny





40 Enrique
40 Isabel





41 Christopher
41 Beatrice





42 Simon
42 Sabrina





43 Kristoffer
43 Cecily





44 Hadrian
44 Avice





45 Louis
45 Jacquotte





46 Michael
46 Katherine





47 George
47 Annabel





48 Jacob
48 Rachel





49 Samuel
49 Jeanne





50 Roche
50 Elise





51 Geoggrey








52 Jordan








53 Filips








54 Giles








55 Alexis








56 Phillip








57 Cornelius








58 Pedro








59 Stede








60 Jelles








61 Rene








62 Lawrence








63 Lionel








64 Claude








65 Ingleram








66 Richard








67 Edward








68 Lars








69 Stephen








70 Robert








71 Jerome








72 Yvain








73 Owain








74 Jules








75 Matthew








76 Phillipe








77 Walter








78 Olivier








79 Thomas








80 Edmund








81 Jean








82 Vincenzo








83 Joseph








84 Nicholas








85 Reginald








86 Geoffrey








87 Amyas








88 Roland








89 Adam








90 Arthur








91 Godeke








92 David








93 Bartholemew








94 Paulsgrave








95 Roger








96 Piers








97 Andrew








98 Alan








99 Leigh








100 Renato










1d20 Male Chultan Names
1d20 Female Chultan Names
1 Kwalu
1 Azuli
2 Osaw
2 Katela
3 Mzolu
3 Chuil
4 Losi
4 U'lolo
5 Atuar
5 Naboli
6 Chiwa
6 Isi
7 Vazul
7 Lorit
8 Kunde
8 Zamisi
9 Emporo
9 Dela
10 Ugor
10 Sana
11 Juma
11 Yuta
12 Weshtek
12 Razira
13 Teron
13 Wadizi
14 Mezoar
14 Nyali
15 Dengo
15 Bati
16 Rindawan
16 Tefnek
17 Atumwa
17 Omoyala
18 Olu
18 Mainu
19 Selu
19 Joli
20 Yapa
20 Fipya





1d30 Male Golden Isles Names
1d30 Female Golden Isle Names
1 Nabil
1 Ghunayya
2 Aziz
2 Jamila
3 Mutamin
3 Aziza
4 Rashad
4 Amsha
5 Kamal
5 Nura
6 Fayiz
6 Samia
7 Akbar
7 Fatima
8 Naaman
8 Thuriya
9 Najib
9 Bahija
10 Diyab
10 Julnar
11 Umar
11 Juleidah
12 Ala'i
12 Khadiga
13 Karim
13 Wudei'a
14 Waleed
14 Safana
15 Mahmud
15 Tala
16 Mamoon
16 Badiat
17 Jamil
17 Alia
18 Anwar
18 Tufala
19 Yezeed
19 Setara
20 Yusuf
20 Najiba
21 Hakim
21 Maneria
22 Hatim
22 Wadi'a
23 Aasim
23 Farida
24 Jamal
24 Ibtisam
25 Essafah
25 Khunufseh
26 Djuhah
26 Zobeida
27 Ahmad
27 Halima
28 Kerim
28 Nabila
29 Khalid
29 Latifa
30 Farid
30 Jaheria


Chultan and Golden Isle names are taken from Wizards of the Coast's Tomb of Annihilation and TSR's Arabian Adventures, respectively. I don't want to wade into the mysterious logic behind the names the publisher chose to use. It makes it difficult to include more.

Yoon-Suin names are available here (along with a ton of other very useful tables, including 300 smells!).




1d100 Odour Appearance Quirk
1 camel whip scars blasphemous
2 wood shavings long, winding scar slothful
3 asparagus lopsided body religious apostate
4 horse sweat cross-eyed miser
5 wet cereal old burn scars splotchy birthmark
6 burnt leather lumpen pessimistic
7 damp mouldy bread splayed, wide-nostrilled nose wrathful
8 burnt pork youthful, unsmiling face  lustful
9 wet wool deep-sunk, lidded eyes  can't keep a secret
10 freshly cut grass crooked back lisp
11 violets spindly, knob-jointed limbs  diseased
12 wine missing limb some surgical experience
13 ozone missing fingers deep, booming voice
14 wet horse astonishingly old feverish movements
15 cottage cheese permanent grimace free with money
16 eye-wateringly strong (reroll) long, skeletal fingers  greedy
17 tar wiry-haired  prone to minor theft
18 compost one dense eyebrow comically inept at romance
19 oysters no chin at all knows all the old tales
20 goat shit thunderous flatulence fears birds
21 rye bread extraordinary compressed  loves a good feud
22 stale beer vein-coated neck bold and decisive
23 rotten vegetables sweats profusely escaped castaway
24 dried herbs almost bald confident but wrong
25 frying oil long, greasy beard afraid of heights
26 fecal sweat back bent like a hoop afraid of gunfire
27 peat smoke facial abscess rebellious
28 bitter sweat prominent mole or boil  lazy
29 ice-cold water sagging lips quotes holy texts or proverbs
30 goose blood sheds clouds of dust skeptical
31 raw sulphur hideous grin and winking eyes expert navigator
32 urine improbably young devout
33 chalk dust haggard and hunted foppish and well dressed
34 rotting fish extraordinarily crooked nose restless
35 flour wild, tangled hair piercing whistle
36 salt concave forehead aloof
37 soggy paper hook hand hair-trigger temper
38 rotten fruit surprisingly young incompetent
39 acidic sweat remarkably small head habitual liar
40 cat hair bandy-legged superstitious
41 onions squat, short body full of self-loathing
42 garlic large mouth, like a fish superb weather sense
43 battery acid flicking tongue, cracked lips has a silent partner
44 olives pig-like nose adverse to bloodshed
45 pond scum mismatched arms stoic
46 butter dotted with warts  teetotaler
47 dry, well-rubbed leather dribbles meek
48 sour milk slouching optimistic
49 molten rubber oddly effeminate or masculine can swim and dive
50 wet dog stump-fingered old military habits
51 mushroom slow-witted hopeless
52 mashed earthworms smiling, open face chaste
53 dry, very fine dust stump teeth expert fist-fighter
54 charcoal hooked, dribbling nose can never remember a name
55 soil ferocious squint wipes nose constantly
56 hot blood blind in one eye loves the smell of gunpowder
57 pine furious eyes hissing, raspy voice
58 musk narrow face braggart and liar
59 dry straw blubber lips eager for battle
60 stale bread tufts of irregular hair prideful
61 roses ragged, patchy facial hair careless
62 ash rheumy, raw eyes  once saw a mermaid
63 rotting flowers long-necked  extraordinary curses
64 sun-baked egg bafflingly beautiful excellent singing voice
65 vinegar mouth-breathing meticulous
66 mouldy bread phlegm-spraying cough terrifying laugh
67 porridge pale, cracked skin cowardly
68 metal shavings one tooth cannot make eye contact
69 flax dust prominent, sail-like ears dislikes uniforms or clothes
70 wood smoke unusually large head  gambler
71 pickled cabbage stiff as a board wobbling walk
72 rotten meat sunken head and short limbs spits to ward off evil
73 freshly baked bread extremely muscular superb enunciation
74 grease thin, pale lips  vaguely suggestive comments
75 urine and blood extraordinarily huge scar half-asleep 
76 skin flakes small, tightly pursed mouth  brave
77 lavender sharpened teeth ignorant
78 wet clay one gold tooth lazy to a fault
79 blackberries slab-faced wanted in every port
80 sharp raw sewage irregular, yellow teeth frantic
81 cedar bloated stomach  fidgets with anything in hands
82 cloves waddling gait knows someone in every port
83 mothballs little goggling eyes gluttonous
84 roast chicken rolling gait deviant desires
85 old spinach angry red scars has a parrot or cat
86 wax  widely set eyes romantic
87 rotten eggs potato-shaped nose drunkard
88 pungent blue cheese deaf in one ear stutter
89 damp straw prominent, angular chin has circled the world
90 lye bulbous goiter surly
91 pus languid, calm speech petty
92 wet mortar peg leg whistling voice
93 mouse urine flat, pancake face served with a famous captain
94 yeast layers of jewellery foolishly brave
95 pig shit carbuncle ambitious
96 horse shit loose skin passive
97 dog shit twitches and jerks expert sailor
98 cow shit speckled with sores  prone to illness
99 ten different kinds of shit thin like a reed spectacles for reading
100 no odour small, tightly pursed mouth  envious

Other useful articles:
Horrible Baron NPC generator, 1d100 Baronial Grievances, Horrible Peasant NPC Generator, 1d100 Peasant Grievances. If you want a more refined sort of person, possibly an admiral or a wealthy hostage, try the Dickensian NPC Generator.