OSR: Alloy Wizard, Civic Wizard, and Potion Wizard

These classes are intended for my Loxdon College game. They (along with an assortment of other wizards) will accompany the Brawler, Duelist, Thief, and Dandy.

Aaron Griffin

Alloy Wizard

Starting Equipment: spellbook, ink and quill, gold earring or gold ring worth 5sp.

Alchemists are obsessed with transformations. Alloy Wizards prefer to take metals as they are and make subtle improvements.

Perk: You are immune to mercury poisoning.
Drawback: You must be in contact with gold to cast your spells.

1. You can tell if a metal is pure or impure by touching it. Lick it to identify specific impurities.
2. Your fingernails are as hard as diamonds, and can be used to engrave metal or cut glass.
3. Your heart beats exactly 60 times per minute.

Nikola Matkovic

Alloy Wizard Spell List

1. Command Coins
R: 30’ T: [sum]x100 coins D: [dice] hours
Coins will leap up and obey your single-word commands. Affects all unattended coins in 30' of you and lasts 1 hour. Coins can be commanded to follow you, hide in crevices, or serve as rollers for heavy statues. They are mindless and feeble.
2. Detect Metals
R: 100’ T: self D: [sum] minutes
Allows you to identify the eight true metals. In order of brightness: occultum, gold, silver, mercury, iron, and tin. Lead and copper are nearly invisible. You see them through walls and barriers as faint shifting afterimages, but the spell bleeds into you other senses. If you cast this spell with 3 or more [dice], your eyes turn gold and the effects are permanent.
3. Magic Missile
R: 200' T: creature D: 0
Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no Save. As an Alloy Wizard, your spell is a silver dart with gold hoops and spirals.
4. Heat Metal
R: 30’ T: object D: [sum] rounds
Target metal object becomes warm. Each round after the first, it deals 1d6 damage to anything touching it, or 3d6 damage if the metal has become liquid. The maximum size of the object, and additional effects, depends on how many dice are invested in the spell: 1 [dice]: sword-sized, 2 [dice]: door- or armour-sized, melts lead and tin after 6 rounds. 3 [dice]: cart-sized, melts gold, silver, and copper after 6 rounds, 4 [dice]: cottage-sized, melts iron after 6 rounds.
5. Control Metal
R: 50’ T: metal D: concentration
You must choose a metal when you select this spell (MIR pg. 90). Each [dice] you invest increases the effects. One [die] is minor, 4 [dice] is a legendary display of metal control. At one [dice], control a fist-size lump of metal. You can a) make it hop or roll at a walking pace, b) magnetize or demagnetize it, c) slowly reshape it, d) gently heat or cool it, or e) slowly separate impurities.
6. Metal Chime
R: touch T: metal object D: [dice] days
You touch and enchant a piece of metal to make a terrific noise the next time it strikes a solid surface or is struck. All creatures within 100' (except you) must Save or be deafened for 1 minute. If used as a signal, it can be heard up to a mile away.
7. Light
R: touch T: object or creature D: [dice]x2 hours
Object illuminates as a torch, with a radius of 20’+[dice]x10’. Alternatively, you can make an Attack roll against a sighted creature. If you succeed, the creature is blinded for [sum] rounds. If [sum] is greater than 12, the creature is permanently blinded. You can chose the colour of the light. If you invest 4 [dice] or more this light has all the qualities of natural sunlight. Alternatively, if you invest 4 [dice] or more the light can be purest octarine, although it will only last for 1 round. Octarine light is extremely dangerous.
8. Explosion Containment
R: touch T: self D: [dice] hours
You may cast this spell as a reaction. Save, with a bonus equal to [sum]. Any incoming damage from an explosion or high-speed impact is stored in the palm of your hand. You also block damage that would be dealt to anything in a cone behind you. You can’t use this spell to stop an arrow, a magic missile, or a falling wall, but you can use it to stop a barrel of gunpowder, exploding magical equipment, or a fireball. Before the spell’s duration expires, you must release the explosion in a cone aimed from the palm of your hand.
9. Fool’s Gold
R: touch T: object weighing [sum]x10 lbs D: [dice] hours
Touched object, or heap of objects, appears to be gold for the spell’s duration. Alchemy or magic will reveal that it is not truly gold. This spell is Illusionary Fraud (MIR pg. 41).
10. Mercury’s Haste
R: touch T: creature D: [sum] rounds
Target creature’s body becomes mercury. Save negates. They can flow through gaps as a liquid, but sink in water. They are immune to piercing damage and reduce all other incoming non-magical damage by 2. They move at 2x normal speed, but cannot jump.
11. Leadfall
R: 30’ T: [dice] creatures or objects D: [sum] rounds
Target moves at ½ speed. Alternatively, you can cast this spell in reaction to a target about to take fall damage. They take double fall damage.
12. Magic Cramp
R: 100’ T: creature D: 0
Target takes 1d6+1 damage per the maximum number of MD they possess, or 1d6 damage per HD for magical creatures (unicorns, dragons, etc.). Additionally, they lose [dice] MD for [dice] rounds. Save for half damage and to negate MD loss. Nonmagical creatures, or creatures that have no spellcasting ability, are unaffected by this spell.

Alloy Wizard Mishaps

1. MD only return to your pool on a 1-2 for 24hrs.
2. Take 1d6 damage.
3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then Save. Permanent if you fail.
4. Blind for 1d6 rounds.
5. Loud clanging noise for 1d6 rounds. Audible within 500’.
6. Weigh 1,000lbs for 1d6 rounds. Movement impossible.

Alloy Wizard Dooms

1. All carried gold turns to lead.
2. All gold within 100’ turns to lead. All iron within 100’ turns to tin.
3. You transform into an iron statue of yourself. All mundane items are also transformed. Magical items get a Save. You can be de-petrified, but for a maximum of 1 hour every 24 hours.

Mechanical Notes on the Alloy Wizard

The Alloy Wizard is a replacement for the Drowned Wizard, made slightly more sensible for Endon's post-feudal world. Wearing a gold mask is not obligatory, but it's a great way to show off.

Shion Mirudakemann

Civic Wizard

Starting Equipment: spellbook, ink and quill, umbrella.

Endon’s prosperity has created a new breed of wizards; casters for whom magic is merely another tool or ornament.  

Perk: You can draw and open an umbrella as a reaction. This is unlikely to reduce incoming damage, but it might be a surprise.
Drawback: You must rest indoors in a room designated for sleeping to regain MD. Crypts and caves do not count.

1. In a street with cabs, you can always hail one with almost unnatural ease. You must still pay the fare.
2. If you tip someone and they don’t carefully examine the coins, they will assume you’ve tipped them approximately three times what you actually presented. They may start to notice a pattern after a few interactions.
3. You can accurately throw a coin up to 30’.

Edouard Guiton

Civic Wizard Spell List

1. Cure Wounds
R: touch T: creature D: 0
Target creature heals [sum] HP. It costs 2 HP to remove 1 negative HP and 4 HP to remove 1 Fatal Wound. This spell cannot restore lost limbs, remove injuries, or cure diseases.
2. Speak with Vermin
R: 0 T: self D: [dice] minutes
You can talk to rats and pigeons and they will respond. Pigeons are very dim, but can be given simple suggestions. Rats are clever, but they require payment and will attempt to involve you in conspiracies, relationship drama, and crime.
3. Part Crowd
R: 500’ line T: area D: 0
You raise your hands over your head, then swing them down. Along a 500’ line, creatures move out of the way, opening a clear path. Hostile creatures get a Save. The path closes naturally in 2d6 rounds.

4. Lock
R: 50' T: [dice] creatures or objects D: 10 minutes
Non-living object closes and becomes locked. If the object is a door, chest, or similar object, it will slam shut, dealing [sum] damage to any creature passing through it and then trapping them. This spell works on things that aren't technically portals (lock a sword in its scabbard, etc.). Requires Str 10+[dice]x4 to open. Alternatively, this spell can be cast on a creature's orifice. The creature gets a Save to resist, and another Save at the end of each of its turns.

5. Knock
R: 50' T: [dice] objects D: 0
Object is opened. Doors are flung wide, locks are broken, shackles are bent open, belts come undone. Treat this as a Strength check made with Str 10 + [dice]x4. If target is an armoured creature, Save or armour falls off. If target is an unarmoured creature, Save or vomit for 1d4 rounds.
6. Useless Spell
R: 30’ unless otherwise stated T: varies D: varies
You automatically gain this spell at first level. Roll for your other spell normally. Roll twice on the Discount Spell Table (MIR pg. 86). You gain both spells. The effects are adjudicated by the GM. They take up a spell slot, but require no MD to cast. You can still invest MD in them if you’d like to increase the effects, but it’s not worth it.
7. Newspaper Trap
R: touch T: paper D: [sum] hours
Enchant up to [dice]x10lbs of paper (traditionally a newspaper but any loose sheets will work). The next creature to approach within 10' of the paper will be attacked by it. The paper will blanket their head, blinding and stunning them for [sum] rounds. The creature can Save each round to remove the paper and end the effect. If you invest 3 or more [dice], the target also takes 1 non-lethal damage per round. The trap fades after [sum] hours.
8. Light
R: touch T: object or creature D: [dice]x2 hours
Object illuminates as a torch, with a radius of 20’+[dice]x10’. Alternatively, you can make an Attack roll against a sighted creature. If you succeed, the creature is blinded for [sum] rounds. If [sum] is greater than 12, the creature is permanently blinded. You can chose the colour of the light. If you invest 4 [dice] or more this light has all the qualities of natural sunlight. Alternatively, if you invest 4 [dice] or more the light can be purest octarine, although it will only last for 1 round. Octarine light is extremely dangerous.
9. Mage Hand
R: 30’+[dice]x10’ T: self D: concentration
Gain an invisible telekinetic limb. It can extend up to 30’+[dice]x10’ long and uses your Int. as its Str. You can use the limb to attack, but do not gain an additional attack per round. If you invest 2 or more [dice], the limb has fingers capable of delicate work.
10. Scuttle
R: touch T: [dice] creatures D: [sum] minutes
Your clothes and hair animate to carry you. You can move at full speed in any orientation, and you can freely rotate as you move. For instance, you could run while standing on your head, holding a torch, and turning counterclockwise. You can lie on your side and, while flipping end over end, move backwards. This effect does not allow you to climb up walls, but you can climb ladders or rope at twice your usual speed.
11. Triple Doorway
R: touch / 5 miles T: door D: [sum] rounds
Touch a closed door and clearly visualize an unlocked closed door of approximately the same size within 10 miles. The doors are linked for the spell’s duration. Stepping in one doorway and out of the other. If you invest 3 or more [dice], the duration is [sum] hours. If you invest 4 or more [dice], the effect is permanent.

12. Forget
R: 10’ T: creature of [dice]x4 HD or less D: 10 minutes
Target creature must Save or get the last 10 minutes. They may recall vague details but not useful information.

Civic Wizard Mishaps

1. MD only return to your pool on a 1-2 for 24hrs.
2. Lose 1 permanent HP and take 1d4 damage.
3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then Save. Permanent if you fail.
4. Fingers dribble ink for 1d6 rounds. Stains everything.
5. Wind gusts upwards for 1d6 rounds. May knock loose objects free.
6. Spell targets you (if harmful) or enemy (if beneficial) or fizzles (if neutral).

Civic Wizard Dooms

1. You fade from existence for a day, leaving only your shadow behind.
2. You fade from existence for 3 days, leaving only your shadow behind. Your shadow roams without you.
3. You permanently fade, leaving a ravenous shadow behind.

Mechanical Notes on the Civic Wizard

A slightly eccentric counterpart to the Orthodox Wizard. Some of the same spells, but a few powerfully useless ones as well.

Bjorn Hurri

Potion Wizard

Starting Equipment: spellbook, ink and quill, 1 potion (MIR pg. 97).
Starting Skill: Alchemy or Botany or Cooking.

Potions are increasingly common in Endon. Some wizards choose to specialize, though the drawbacks of ingestible temporary magic are significant.

Perk: When you drink a potion, you have a 50% chance to recycle it via whatever orifice you prefer. You have 10 minutes to excrete the potion.

Drawback: You smell distinctive. In unperfumed or neutral environments, you can be detected within 30’.

1. You can learn a potion’s approximate effects by tasting it or wafting it under your nose. Implausibly deadly poisons may still affect you.
2. Spend 1 MD to double the duration of a potion you drink, or double its numerical effects (HP healed, damage reduce, etc.)
3. Wave your hands wildly to deflect an incoming arrow or thrown weapon. Requires a Save. If successful, the attack barely misses you.

Dan Peacock

Potion Wizard Spell List

1. Flying Syringe
R: 100' T: object D: 0
You must hold a potion, vial of poison, or other liquid in one hand while you cast this spell. The spell changes the potion's container into a glass dart and fires it at an enemy within range. The target must Save or be struck and immediately take the effects of the potion. If you invest 2 [dice] or more, you can redirect a missed syringe, once, to a new target with a successful Save vs Int. If you invest 3 [dice] or more, you can mix [dice] potions together into the same syringe. If you invest 4 [dice] or more, the target does not get a Save.
2. Animate Potion
R: touch T: potion or liquid D: [sum] hours
You turn a potion into an obedient homunculus (HD 0). It is tiny (1' tall) and feeble (Str 1), but it can go where you direct and even bring you small items (like a single coin). The potion can be delivered by touch or by “drinking” the homunculus. Aware targets can swat the homunculus away to avoid the potion's effects. Works on any liquid except water.
3. Desiccate
R: 30’ T: creature D: 0
Hydrated target within 30' takes 1d6+[dice] damage. Can also be used to turn meat into jerky or concentrate water-based liquids (wine, most acids), up to 2 gallons per [dice]. You can make a cup full of very strong brandy from a bottle of wine.
4. Grease
R: 50' T: object, surface D: [sum] rounds
Can be cast directly on a creature or a 10' x 10' x [dice] surface. All creatures affected must Save vs Dex or drop held objects, or, if moving, drop prone.
5. Inebriate
R: 50’ T: living creature D: [sum] minutes.
Target becomes drunk. If they were already drunk, they must Save or fall asleep, and can't be awoken by anything less vigorous than a slap. If [sum] is greater than 6, the duration becomes [sum] hours.
6. Horrible Sobriety
R: 50’ T: living creature D: [sum] minutes.
Target becomes sober. If they were already sober, they gain a +4 bonus to Int and Wis (including Initiative) for the spell’s duration, but take 1 non-lethal damage every time they roll using those stats.
7. Control Glass
R: 50’ T: a bottle’s worth of glass D: concentration
Control a lump of glass. At one [die]: (a) reshape or reform the glass, (b) seal a bucket’s worth of liquid inside a glass orb, (c) melt a person-size hole in a window. Each [dice] you invest increases the effects. At 4 [dice], raise a small palace or warp windows along an entire street.

8. Potionify
R: touch T: spell and object D: [sum] hours
You take an echo of a spell from a spellbook, wand, or enchantment and transfer it to a potion. The spell activates when it is ingested, using ½ the [dice] invested in this spell if a roll is required. The potion loses all magical properties after [sum] hours.
9. Cone of Dense Foam
R: [dice]x10' cone T: area D: 0
A huge cone of white foam sprays from your hand. It's as dense as porridge, but tastes like seawater. Creatures inside must Save vs Con or begin to drown unless they struggle free. Any creatures covered in foam have -2 to Attack until they can wash.
10. Fog
R: 30’ T: self D: [dice] hours
You breath out a bunch of fog. Everything up to 30' away from you is obscured. Sunlight, wind, or heat dissipates the fog in 10 minutes. If you cast this spell with 3 or more [dice], other casters lose 1 MD while they remain in the fog.
11. Cloudkill
R: 30’ T: [dice] 10’ cubes D: 24 hours
Summon a cloud of ghastly yellow-green vapour. Creatures of 2 HD or less in the cloud are instantly slain (no Save). Creatures of 3 to 5 HD must Save or die each round. Creatures of 6 or more HD must Save or take 3d6 damage each round. The cloud is heavier than air and slowly drifts. It moves 10’ per round in a gentle breeze. A strong wind disperses the cloud in 10 minutes.
12. Duplicate Self
R: touch T: self D: [sum] minutes
You split in two. You and your duplicate have the same stats, but must divide current current HP, MD, and any single-target enchantments, curses, diseases, or effects as equally as possible. Items are not duplicated (so you may wish to carry spare clothes in your inventory). At the end of the spell’s duration, if you are within 30’ of your duplicate, you merge back together, combining current HP, MD, etc. If you are more than 30’ away, the version with more HP survives, while the other version withers.

Potion Wizard Mishaps

1. MD only return to your pool on a 1-2 for 24hrs.
2. Lose 1 permanent HP and take 1d4 damage.
3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then Save. Permanent if you fail.
4. Bright sparks fly from your ears for 1d6 rounds.
5. Liquefied for 1d6 rounds. Effectively knocked prone. Any poisons or toxins within 10’ are automatically touched.
6. Spell targets ally (if harmful) or enemy (if beneficial) or fizzles (if neutral).

Potion Wizard Dooms

1. You cannot drink water, and cannot regain MD if you have not ingested a potion within the previous 24 hours.
2. You become very soggy. Your Str and Dex become 2. While unconscious, you are a liquid, and must sleep in a tub or cask.
3. You dissolve into a liquid slurry. You might be able to gurgle answers if stored in a glass jar, but mobility and coherent thought are no longer viable.

Mechanical Notes on the Potion Wizard

I've started to split classic GLOG biomancers into a potion variant and a Fleshcrafter variant... and possibly a creature-creating variant.


OSR: Flying Machines, Traffic, and Rollercoasters

This post is a medley of ideas that didn't make it into full post development, but which still deserve consideration. It's a scrapbook.

Part 1: Flight

Access to reliable flight changes a game. Overland exploration becomes trivial. Running away from a fight becomes far easier. The GM has to pivot to air-based encounters, which can be frustrating. It's hard to build interesting kinetic arenas in the air. Over the years, games have tried various methods to limit flight's appeal.

Most of these issues are covered in the AD&D DMG (pp. 50-53), but from the D&D-as-a-wargame perspective.

Limited Duration

In OD&D and AD&D, the fly spell lasts [level]+1d6 turns, with the 1d6 being secretly rolled. This makes planning difficult, but flying casters can always err on the conservative side. Flying creatures have to rest and eat.

Limited Speed
OD&D doesn't have the most consistent rules when it comes to flight duration and flight speed, but the gist is that flight is slow (by aircraft standards). Ask any pre-modern general if they'd like a high-altitude scout or courier that ignores terrain and can travel 10 miles per hour for several hours on end and they'd start to froth and salivate.

Limited Capacity
"Can a wizard with fly cast on them carry another person?" is one of those perpetual GM rulings. If the spell can lift a 200lb wizard, can it lift 400lb at half speed? 2,000lbs at 1/10th speed? Will the effort pull a wizard's arms off? Can one person ride on their back and fire a crossbow? Can the wizard fly upside-down?

Flying carpets typically become mobile casting platforms, a sort of dungeon helicopter. Flying brooms are most useful in pairs, with a sort of loot hammock between, ideally occupied by a  rascally urchin, a lantern, and a crossbow. Or maybe that's just my groups.

Setting Concerns
The GM can present a compelling reason why long-distance flights are unwise. In the Ultraviolet Grasslands, shards and wires of ancient force fields dot the landscape. Skyhooks, shattered shields, miscast spells. At ground level, they tend to accumulate debris and turn into hills or pillars, but in the sky, they're invisible hazards. And so, very few aircraft exist.

In by-the-book classic fantasy settings, players might be disappointed if the GM introduces high-altitude mosquito swarms, jealous lightning-wielding gods, and or 50' thick atmosphere to prevent flight.

Part 2: Flying Machines

Fairly early in D&D's evolutionary history, players started making airships. The process was eventually codified, but enchanting sailing ships and trying to invent the hot air balloon are old traditions. Airships are great. A convenient mobile base to satisfy the base-building furnishing-orientated players. Conventional wisdom says a game becomes a pirate game the moment the PCs acquire a sailing ship. An airship lets the GM use standard dungeon/land-based adventures.

Rapid long-distance travel is covered by teleportation spells, gates, or restarting a campaign with new characters in a new setting. 

Small fast flying machines do not have a niche in D&D. Brooms, carpets, mounts, and spells cover the typical combat use cases. Without a long-range machine gun, an airplane is a expensive way to deliver a crossbow bolt somewhere near a target.

Yet there's a delightful period of aviation history between the discovery of stable flight in 1903 (ish) and the pressing needs of war in 1914. To most people, a biplane is a biplane, but the variety of workable (if we're being generous) designs before the First World War is astonishing. This site lists most of them.

To make a plane, you need:

  • A method of 3-axis control.
  • A light power source. Steam engines and springs are too heavy.
  • -Some basic knowledge of aerodynamics.

If you can read, weld, and do algebra, you can probably make a functional plane that will get off the ground. The trick - as many pioneers found out - is control and stability. Up is easy; up and then immediately nose-first or sideways or back over is almost inevitable. It's probably best to buy a kit... or avoid the whole hobby. All the kit planes are designed to fly at sensible altitudes and useful speeds, while a 1910s replica is basically cross-country cycling with added danger. At low speed, the difference between flying like a kite and falling like a brick is a strong gust of wind.

Also, don't get your airplane-building advice from RPG blogs.

In a typical RPG setting, planes can't stay at the 1903-1914 pioneer phase. Settings are designed to be timeless and static. Technology does not change, outside of the occasional mad scientist type (who usually shares the same fate as their inventions). The timeline covers centuries. But in Magical Industrial Revolution, the setting is designed to progress, over a relatively manageable number of years. Powered flight can flourish in such a setting, if your players are so inclined.

Judge Magazine, Feb 1895. Colourized.
Side note: Judge Magazine's early issues are very racist. You've been warned, but you're not prepared. By the 1920s, it's become a slightly edgier Readers Digest or Life magazine.

Part 3: Deliberate Development

One of the eight Innovation tracks in Magical Industrial Revolution covers the development of personal transportation. "Miras" are car-like vehicles powered by moveable rods. They don't drive. They bounce, then featherfall.

Mira by Logan Stahl

This is fairly insane way to design a vehicle, but that's the point. Putting wheels on a Mira is something the players could attempt (though inventing brakes might be wise). 

By making a bouncing vehicle, I wanted to gently steer GMs towards unconventional civic development. Endon has carts and carriages; a horseless carriage suggests the same development arc as motor cars in this world. Traffic signals, intersections, crosswalks, highways, etc. But Miras aren't cars. They bounce. What do traffic signals look like? Are there designated landing and departure lanes or spots on each street? How are existing structures altered to meet the growing demand for personal transport? In the real world, cities turned themselves inside-out to accommodate cars and trains. What will your Endon look like?

Part 4: Buxton Beach

Very early in Magical Industrial Revolution's development, before the project had a name or a theme, I considered adding a Coney Island/World's Fair/boardwalk area a sort of adventure-exhibit hub. The idea never went anywhere for a few reasons, including (but not limited to):

  • It didn't fit with Endon's London pastiche.
  • It didn't serve any real purpose for adventuring groups.
  • Rides and attractions tend to rely on GM descriptions without presenting any interesting choices.
  • World's Fair exhibits feel like sanitized and saccharine versions of living, vibrant innovations, packaged into a propagandized form for mass acceptance. I wanted Endon to be about the messy process of a revolution, not about the telegraphed reports.
  • 1890-1910 Americana felt a bit too much like Bioshock: Infinite.

And so the idea was cut from the next planning diagram, but it might be worth revisiting on the blog, where ink is free and ideas don't have to fight to survive.

Half an hour downriver, or an hour by omnibus, Buxton Beach is the play-ground of Endon's Lower and Middle Classes. The Upper Class have their own estates (or aspire to them), and can afford to leave the city during the Off-Season to enjoy clean rural air. The Poor can't afford the price of admission, but it's an accessible dream. Both nevertheless seep into Buxton Beach. It is a dream-world, where people can escape their lives and the conventions that bind them.


Also see this map.

Bessy the Mechanical Cow
Ejects fresh ice-cold milk from her mechanical udder.

Panoramic Orbisphere
A huge hollow sphere, painted on the inside with a map of the world (speculative). Induces vertigo.

Tableaux Vivants
History, comedy, and literature, plus the most tasteful nude and erotic scenes from history and mythology. Scholars at Loxdon College can earn a few coins by scouring ancient texts for suitably obscure novelties.

Miniature World
A tiny city with tiny houses and (if the shrinking spells work) tiny people in tiny costumes. Shrink down for your shift, unshrink at the end of the day... hopefully. 

With stable short-range portal spells, roller-coasters can cheat gravity and borrow momentum. Surprisingly safe, if the occupants are sober.

Dread Necromancy is illegal in Endon, so those who trade in false hope and monetized grief must advertise their arts subtly.

And also: Bathing Machines, Brothels, Bear-Fights, Exhibitions from Foreign Parts, Novelty Undergarments Sold Discreetly, 

Part 5: Appendix N:1890s-1910s

The American Experience: Coney Island (1991)

About as much to do with American history as my medieval history posts have to do with medieval history. It's a summary, propaganda, nostalgia. Accurate in broad strokes, wildly inaccurate in detail, more interested in coherence and convenience than in the facts.

This documentary from Defunctland is more accurate, funnier, and more nuanced. 

Side Note: I've always maintained that theme park design and RPG book design have a lot in common. I send this post on Weenies to people on a regular basis.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965)
I vaguely remembered watching this film, dismissing it as "unconvincing composite shots of matchstick models", and never revisiting it. I think it must have been the print quality or something, because, rewatching it recently, it's exactly the sort of thing I love. Ambition and folly. Sure, it's the sort of film that makes Jeremy Clarkson tumescent with nostalgia and imperialism, but they built the planes.

They actually built the planes. And then they put pilots into them and flew them, and all the pilots lived. And they all had a great time. You probably couldn't do that these days, but safety hadn't been invented in 1965, making any stunt inherently safe.

The Iceman Cometh (1973)
A very long time ago, I picked up this film by mistake, thinking it was "Encino Man". I was in for quite a surprise. The Iceman Cometh is four hours long and has two intermissions. I'd suggest going in without spoilers. I don't know if this play is one of the ones inflicted on indifferent schoolchildren in some parts of the world, but if it isn't, and you're seeing it for the first time now, you're in for a treat.

I was only aware of the director, John Frankenheimer, from Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, where he shows up to salvage the disastrous film project. In the documentary, he's presented as a tyrannical workhorse, the studio's idea of a US Marshal sent to clean up the town and restore law and order. All craft and practicality vs. Stanley's impractical but artistic vision. It's interesting to see the other side of a director.

The Iceman Cometh takes place in 1912 BCE (Before Conditioned Environments). It's a hot and greasy era, and few films make it feel as suffocating. It's also an old film made cheaply, and most of the commercial versions aren't taken from great prints, so there are fun colour jumps and noise. 

The weird part is that it's not the only film from the '70s set in the early 1900s that's 4+ hours long.

Flight of the Eagle (1982)
Slow, Swedish, and tangentially related to the themes of this post, but if you want to see a full-scale balloon and some folly and ambition, this film might interest you, especially if your players want to explore unknown regions via balloon.

And The Ship Sails On (1983)
Barely qualifies, as it's set in June 1914, but it's by Fellini and it's good. Not, perhaps, a work of genius, but it's charming and eccentric. As with Boris Godunov (1989) or Anna Karenina (2012), everything is a set. Since RPGs operate on the same sort of logic, it's useful to see it in practice.

There Will Be Blood (2007)
Famous and immensely quotable



OSR: Indexing and Intuition

Indexing is a difficult art. I've written about categorization before, but index formats deserve a closer look.

The man who publishes a book without an index ought to be damned 10 miles beyond hell, where the Devil himself cannot get for stinging nettles.
— John Baynes

Say I gave you a list of fruits and furniture (apple, chair, desk, plum, banana, etc.) and asked you to order it, without any further guidance.

You might divide methods like this:

  • Obvious-useful: alphabetical and alphabetical by category.
  • Obvious-not useful: alphabetical by last letter, grouped by first vowel.
  • Not obvious - not useful: grouped by things that remind you of your father, categorized as bourgeois and non-bourgeois items.
  • Not obvious - useful: oldest word to most recent, language of origin.

"Obvious" in this case means "immediately and without any further thought or outside knowledge." We can split hairs over what counts as outside knowledge and what counts as utility, but you get the general idea. While a book should contain some obvious-useful indexes, it's important - especially for RPG books - to consider non-obvious useful indexes. Lateral approaches. Ways to mark entrances. Ways to increase conceptual density.

The "Solve My Problems Sheet" from Magical Industrial Revolution has received favourable reviews. I didn't invent the idea, but it's the sort of thing I'd like to see in more books.

The Monster Overhaul

Here's some of the methods I'm using to index the Monster Overhaul.

The Alphabetical Index of All Monsters is a fairly obvious index. It's just a list. Short alphabetical list at the front of the book, long one at the back.

The HD(NA) section (direct PDF link) (original post) is an interesting concept. Listing monsters by their HD is obvious, but the results in most books tend to be simple bulleted lists under HD headers. HD(NA) tables are a list of related monsters combined with HD tables. They're an extravagant waste of page space... but I feel like it's worth it.

The Generic Megadungeon is my replacement for Dungeon Level tables. You know, the ones that everyone ignores. They're typically a series of weak random encounter tables split up by arbitrary difficulty. Turning the table into a map of a physical space made sense to me, even if it's not a complete index. I could add references for the various Generic Locations in the book (i.e. the Generic Space Wreck, the Generic Lich Lair), but since the page # references will get the reader close to those maps anyway it feels unnecessary.

The Index of Monster Utility (very WIP) is a sort of Solve My Problems sheet for the Monster Overhaul.

And finally, there's the Celestial Index of Benevolent Knowledge. A monstrous book deserves a monstrous index.


OSR: Pantheopolis and the Divine Exodus

Pantheopolis, the City of Many Gods! 

Pantheopolis, whose armies ranged far and wide! Their legions captured countless cities, and with each victory, the city's gods were carefully transferred to their new seat of power.

Pantheopolis! City of temples, built with the rivers of tribute flowing to the capital. City of priests and imported rituals. City of blessings uncounted. 

Pantheopolis! And when there were no more enemies to conquer, city of Ecumenodiplomats, who crept into towns and flattered their gods into departing. City of Theoarchivists, who searched scrolls and tablets for forgotten gods. For if the city achieved greatness under the guidance of a hundred gods, think of what could it achieve with a thousand.

Pantheopolis! City of blessings. City of curses. And, in time, a city where they could not be distinguished. Pray for fertility and receive barrenness from a rival god slighted by your inattention, or birth litters of dozens as gods compete to outdo each other. City where every wish becomes a prayer, and every prayer an invitation. Orphanages overflow with least demigods; armies are paralyzed by conflicting omens, crops grow out of season. The gods jostle and bicker, ignoring rites and forgetting their duties.

Pantheopolis! Former capital of an empire, now a collapsing nest of divine feuds. In desperation, the Five Oligarchs have issued a decree. Let the gods depart! 

And so, this is your task. Carry a god to a new place (with their implied consent). Find, build, or reclaim a temple. Instruct the locals in the correct rites. 

Jeremy Hunter

The Divine Exodus

I wanted to find a use for my 1d100 Divine Domains (and associated tables). You could also use the book Petty Gods, or any other list of gods. Pantheopolis is the mirror of Arnold K's Coramont.

The PCs are the usual mix of unsavory types, contracted to transport a god (and their physical presence as a statue or similar object) to a new land. Some money up front, but more money on their return (plus whatever they can fleece from the locals). It's reverse loot-for-XP; the more stuff you haul out of the city, the more XP you get.

All the useful gods (of safe travels, of warfare, of localized bandit smiting, etc.) have already been shipped out, surrounded by small armies and appropriate pomp. Don't expect a lot of help from the statue/stone/petrified frog/shield you're hauling.

In their lust for divine power, Pantheopolis may have unearthed or appropriated gods that were best left forgotten and buried. Traditional tentacular horrors, flame-and-skull cults, etc. Finding a settlement willing to take such a god off your hands may be difficult. Some image rehabilitation might be in order.

Sarunas Macijauskas

The League of Inveterate Atheists

The gods, great and small, have caused nothing but trouble for humanity. They should stick to their own affairs and leave humans alone. The League of Inveterate Atheists undermines shrines, tosses statues into bogs, bludgeons clerics, and generally attempts to reduce the total amount of faith in the world. The Divine Exodus is a great opportunity to pick off a few small and feeble cults. 

Members of the League are typically wracked with philosophy, and can be distracted by complex logic problems. They wear disguises, use false names, and avoid direct and clear-cut blaspheming.  

Of course, there are the usual OSR enemies. Cults of rival deities. Generic monsters. Other adventuring parties looking to take credit for someone else's work.

Nikola Matkovic

Useful Quotes

An enormous crowd went and filled the camp. After the Dictator had taken the auspices and issued orders for the soldiers to arm for battle, he uttered this prayer: "Pythian Apollo, guided and inspired by thy will I go forth to destroy the city of Veii, and a tenth part of its spoils I devote to thee. Thee too, Queen Juno, who now dwellest in Veii, I beseech, that thou wouldst follow us, after our victory, to the City which is ours and which will soon be shine, where a temple worthy of thy majesty will receive thee."  


When all that belonged to man had been carried away from Veii, they began to remove from the temples the votive gifts that had been made to the gods, and then the gods themselves; but this they did as worshippers rather than as plunderers. The deportation of Queen Juno to Rome was entrusted to a body of men selected from the whole army, who after performing their ablutions and arraying themselves in white vestments, reverently entered the temple and in a spirit of holy dread placed their hands on the statue, for it was as a rule only the priest of one particular house who, by Etruscan usage, touched it. Then one of them, either under a sudden inspiration, or in a spirit of youthful mirth, said, "Art thou willing, Juno, to go to Rome?" The rest exclaimed that the goddess nodded assent. An addition to the story was made to the effect that she was heard to say, "I am willing." At all events we have it that she was moved from her place by appliances of little power, and proved light and easy of transport, as though she were following of her own accord. She was brought without mishap to the Aventine, her everlasting seat, whither the prayers of the Roman Dictator had called her, and where this same Camillus afterwards dedicated the temple which he had vowed.

-Livy 5.21-22

After being thus victorious in battle and capturing two camps and nine towns belonging to the enemy and receiving the surrender of Praeneste, Titus Quinctius returned to Rome. In his triumphal procession he carried up to the Capitol the image of Jupiter Imperator, which had been brought from Praeneste. It was set up in a recess between the shrines of Jupiter and Minerva, and a tablet was affixed to the pedestal recording the Dictator's successes. The inscription ran something like this: "Jupiter and all the gods have granted this boon to Titus Quinctius the Dictator, that he should capture nine towns."

-Livy 6.29

That the art of statuary was familiar to Italian Italy also and of long standing there is indicated by the statue of Hercules in the Cattle Market said to have been dedicated by Evander, which is called 'Hercules Triumphant,' and on the occasion of triumphal processions is arrayed in triumphal vestments; and also by the two-faced Janus, dedicated by King Numa, which is worshipped as indicating war and peace, the fingers of the statue being so arranged as to indicate the 355 days of the year, and to betoken that Janus is the god of the duration of time. Also there is no doubt that the so-called Tuscanic images scattered all over the world were regularly made in Etruria. I should have supposed these to have been statues of deities only, were it not that Metrodorus of Scepsis, who received his surname from his hatred of the very name of Rome, reproached us with having taken by storm the city of Volsinii for the sake of the 2000 statues which it contained.

-Pliny NH 34.24



OSR: The Iron Gates and Information Gating

Here are some more notes on my Alexander Romance/Dark Souls-inspired Iron Gates setting. People have asked why I don't just write the setting. This post is an attempt to answer that question. The issue isn't writing, it's choosing what to write, and choosing how to present that information to a GM in a useful way.

Stepan Alekseev

Dark Souls takes video game elements and makes them part of the world. Constraints become building blocks. Elements that most games gloss over become emblematic of the series.

  • Dying and respawning at checkpoints.
  • Resetting enemies.
  • Enemy deaths converting into Experience Points.
  • Boss fights.
  • Intermittent PvP.

The constraints of a tabletop RPG are not the same as the constraints of a video game. If you want media that turns RPG elements into world elements, Order of the Stick and similar tongue-in-cheek media are probably the way to go.

Dark Souls is a single-player game. The game proceeds at a pace controlled by one person. Combat is satisfying. Player skill is vital. Mysteries are optional; you don't need to know much of the plot to go somewhere you haven't been before, find a fog gate, go through it, and kill whatever is on the other side.

RPGs involve multiple people, who all need to be sufficiently entertained to turn up to the next session. The pace is barely controlled by anyone, but everyone gets some input. Combat is rarely as satisfying as system designers hope it will be, mainly because it takes time to do anything. Roll dice, move chits, mark down numbers, do math; a computer can do it all instantly and seamlessly, but tabletop RPGs are slow. Player skills are important, but are mainly focused on finding ways around combat (or similar roadblocks) and coming up with lateral solutions. Because the world doesn't exist outside of the group's shared imagination, a higher degree of engagement with the plot is important.

Simulating Dark Souls combat in an RPG doesn't make a ton of sense to me. You could build a tabletop system to "authentically" simulate a game of snooker... or you could just play snooker. If an experience is difficult to come by (say, landing an airliner, firing a neutron laser at a mutant space goon, etc.) then I can see some utility in simulating it, but Dark Souls isn't exactly hard to find.

So if we set the system aside as an issue for another time, we're left with non-system information. The old crunch vs. fluff distinction. What makes a Souls setting a Souls setting, and how can that information be conveyed in an RPG context?

Ariel Perez

Conveying Information In An RPG

In a Souls-type video game, player-facing information consists of the opening cutscene, any mandatory boss cutscenes, the environment, and maybe a few lines of dialogue. It's possible to play the game to completion and not have a clue what's going on. Why do bonfires exist? Who's this big snake? Why is this guy on fire? Oh well, hit them until the health bar drops and the credits roll.

Even players who pay close attention will probably miss lore elements. Some secrets seem like they are designed for collaborative analysis and debate. Why does Lysanderoth's Ring have a picture of the Fourfold Sigil on it? Why is a corpse in the Billowing Library wearing the Elm Scholar's Set, and does it have anything to do with the cut content surrounding the War of the Misfiled Ledger? You know, that sort of detail.

It's not difficult to write a Souls-type setting. It's difficult to present it to a GM in a manner that makes it useful (or even useable). Writing paragraph after paragraph about various dieties and locations doesn't help. It's just... words. What a GM needs are tools. I've written about a few tools in this post, but here are some additional notes.

A GM doesn't have access to spectacular visuals or sound cues. They can turn the book around to show the players some art, but that's not always feasible (or even wise; a good description can be far more evocative than a piece of art). Players tune out after a sentence or two of readaloud text.

Information is impermanent. Unless a player took notes, the description happened and then vanished into the past. In a video game, you can revisit an area, check an item description, or replay a conversation; RPGs do not have that luxury.

In between RPG sessions, real-world events will cloud memories and obscure details. "Where were we? Who were we fighting? What's that giant snake talking about?" Good notes help, but a GM can't force players to take notes or pay attention. 

Therefore, a setting guide needs to rely on tools that a GM can access:

Whenever possible, descriptions should use elements already present in the players' minds to create the shared imaginary world. Call up a castle and a castle appears; the players know what a castle looks like. Sure, everyone's imagining a different castle, but in one word the GM has set the basic framing of a scene. A handful of descriptive words and modifiers fill in the colours.

The first description of a scene should give the players enough information to make immediately relevant choices. If there's a giant dragon sleeping on a pile of gold, the GM should definitely mention it, and fill in architectural and textural details later.

But as the players move through a scene or interact with the world, the GM can introduce layers of description. It's an overgrown chapel with an altar. It's a wooden altar, painted to look like marble. The bowl atop the altar is made from the horns of a stag. The horns are untouched by the moss and algae that coat every other surface in the chapel.

In a Souls inspired RPG setting, every detail should matter. Everything should be part of a larger pattern, because there's so little information being conveyed. Everything presented in a setting guide should connect, in some way, to some other element or hidden plot or world system. If an altar is made of wood, it's made of wood for a reason. If a ring is made of silver, it's made of silver for a reason. It allows players to make educated guesses about the world, and experience the joy of discovery when their inferences are rewarded. It also lets the GM improvise with confidence.

Perfect coherence is impossible for any author... but it's worth aiming at, and it's worth convincing your readers (and players) that yes, this was all planned. Whenever possible, smile gently and take the credit. 

Themes and visuals can be repeated in different areas, or reinforced by similar phrasing. The chapel's guardians wear cloaks of lichen and masks of bark. They flee before anyone wearing a crown. Their blood is black and thin, like stagnant water.

Presenting this information to the GM in a useful and consistent manner is crucial. The days of chapters of two-column lore text are over. This information can fit in random encounter tables, items, NPC descriptions, location descriptions, weather tables, etc, etc. You don't want a GM to feel as if they have to quote the text verbatim, but you want to provide high-quality prompts that they can weave the written words into a fluid description.


Secrets, Secrets, and Secrets

I'm not a fan of RPG books where vital setting elements are hidden from the GM. If there's a murder mystery, summarize the plot early in the book. If there's a metaplot, provide a handy chart. Try, as much as possible, to make the GM's life easy. Let the players puzzle out the solution (or one possible solution), but don't force the poor GM to pick through pages of purple prose to discover Nepotian the Merchant is really Nestorpot the Heretic in disguise.

But since people sometimes buy RPG books to read, not to use, it might be advisable to include some less relevant mysteries for the GM/reader to uncover. Vital concepts (such as Iron, Gold, and Water in the Iron Gates setting) should be fully explained to the GM, but subtle patterns could be left as surprises for readers and players alike.

Since the Iron Gates setting is based on stories from the real world, readers, GMs, and players can use real-world knowledge to assist in-game. The material isn't a 1:1 adaptation, and reading the Alexander Romance might provide too many spoilers, but patterns present in the Iron Gates setting will resonate with other stories known to the players.

Example: The Stag and the Unicorn

There is much to be surmised, but little that a cautious investigator would care to affirm positively, about the symbolic meanings ascribed to the unicorn in pre-Christian times. Several bits of evidence concur, however, in the suggestion that for a very long time one-horned animals have been regarded as emblematic of unlimited or undivided sovereign power.


In the Book of Daniel (chapter viii) there is recorded this strange vision: "And behold, an he goat came from the West on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns . . . and ran unto him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and stamped upon him." Later in the same chapter we are given an interpretation of this vision: "And the rough goat is the king of Grecia, and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king."

The one-horned goat of Daniel's vision, in other words, stands for Alexander the Great, and the whole allegory depicts his triumph over the hosts of the Persians, represented by the two-horned ram. The interesting thing is that the one horn should be chosen as a symbol of superior power. One can readily understand it as a symbol of single and supreme sovereignty, and it is permissible to paraphrase the sentence quoted above so as to make it read: "The great horn that is between his eyes signifies that he is the supreme king." Exactly the same symbolism is found in the pseudepigraphic first book of Enoch, in the ninetieth chapter: "And I saw till horns grew upon these lambs, and the rams cast down their horns; and I saw till there sprouted a great horn of one of these sheep, and their eyes were opened. And it looked at them and it cried to the sheep, and the rams saw it and all ran to it." The one-horned sheep of this passage, according to the notes of R. H. Charles, must be Judas Maccabaeus.

- Lore of the Unicorn, Odell Shepard

In opposition to the singular horn of the Unicorn / the singular power of Kingship / control / legibility, we have the Stag, whose branching antlers represent opposition to anthropocentric order. Consider the White Stag of Arthurian legends. Both the White Stag and the Unicorn are otherworldly and proverbially difficult to capture. 

So, in the Iron Gates setting, creatures with one horn will be associated specifically with Iskandar, and creatures with multiple or branching horns will be associated with the outer darkness and wilderness. Will this association ever be relevant to the players? Probably not. But if they pick up on it, and find an amulet with a unicorn on it, they might make a connection.


40k: Deconflagrators and Sump Pirates, Painted

Sump Pirates

The Sump Pirates of Necromunda, as previously stated, do not exist. They are an underhive story to frighten children. When they appear, it's as if a mythical beast has suddenly and inexplicably burst into the mundane world. When they retreat, their victims invent explanations for the destruction and death they inevitably cause.

Members of the gang often wear masks, whether to filter out sump toxins, shield their identities, or to protect from a hypothetical memory-altering gas. Jump packs and grappling hooks are common.
Sump Spiders allow the Sump Pirates to raid across the Hive and beyond. While slower than many wheeled or tracked vehicles, it can climb walls or paddle through toxic rivers. It also carries an autocannon, a terrifying weapon in any gang conflict, as well as a rear-mounted heavy stubber.
The unusual camouflage pattern on Sump Pirate vehicles may serve to conceal their hull shapes during raids, or it may be mere tradition.
The Sump Strider is the capital vessel and roving war-base of the Sump Pirates. Festooned with weapons, the Sump Strider allows the Sump Pirates to raid with impunity.

Its terrifying war-mask bears a mysterious vent.

Kits: The Sump Pirates are a mix of various Necromunda gangs and spare parts. The Sump Spiders are Age of Sigmar Arkanaut frigates with 40k Defiler legs. The Sump Strider is an Arkanaut Ironclad with Knight legs. Buying these kits new and mashing them together is probably not a good plan. I just happened to stumble across them (or parts of them) at a convenient time.

How do the Sump Pirates maintain their cloak of unnatural secrecy? Are they the ancient remnants of a marooned Navigator house? Warp-touched pskyers? The owners of some mysterious artifact or source of mind-altering sump gas? Who knows.

The Deconflagrators

In the Dark Grimness of the Future Imperfect, things still catch on fire that should  not be on fire. The Deconflagrators rush to the blaze, connect hoses to ancient skull-shaped hydrants, and pour foam and water onto the flames. They are respected by citizens and outlaws alike, for the brief life of a Deconflagrator is spent in constant service.

Rubber melts and cloth burns, so the Deonflagrators ride on iron wheels and shroud their bodies in hissing cryosuits. With suitable ritual preparations, a Deconflagration Wagon can survive the heat of an alchemical fire or promethium spill. 

Kits: The Deconflagrators are based on Forgeworld Titan crew. The wagon is a modified Goliath Truck with wheels from (of all things) the Forgeworld Malcador Infernus. The foam cannon is based on an old Ork cannon.

Other Underhive Denizens

Two other models for Necromunda/Inq28 games: an Inquisitor on a bike from Wargame Exclusive and a humble water-seller. Pretty soon I'll have enough vehicles to run a Necromunda-themed 28mm Gaslands race.

Side Note: It's really odd that The Great Race (1965) predates Wacky Races (1968). It feels like it should be the other way around. The Great Race has all the hallmarks of a misguided adaptation, yet it's the origin. Oh well.