2017/05/23

OSR: Boss Fight: The Blizzard Eel

Stats:
HD 6 Attack 14 Defense 14 Jaws 1d6+3, Knifeguts 1d6
Fly 16 Int 6 Mor 8
Appearance: like a pelican mixed with an eel. All white glass and teeth, tiny wings along the flanks of its snake-like body.
Wants: to eat warm-blooded creatures, protect its nest, ambush

Attacks 

Each round, the Blizzard Eel can perform any or all of the following attacks.

1. Gulp and Charge. Moves 20 this round instead of 16. Charges an isolated target and attempts to swallow them whole. Requires an attack roll. If successful, the target takes 1d6+3 damage and is swallowed.

2. Churn. Creatures that are swallowed take 1d6 piercing damage per round while trapped in the creature's knife-lined guts. They can crawl to the creature's mouth with a successful Strength test. Any melee attacks against the Blizzard Eel while swallowed gain a +4 Attack bonus, but two-handed weapons, bows, etc. cannot be used.
 

If there are no isolated targets, the blizzard eel will circle, using the storm as concealment. It will not target anyone in full plate armour (it dislikes metal) or anyone who looks pointy or spiny. It will vomit out anything poisonous, and for convenience's sake, the snow will negate any fall damage. The eel will eat up to 6 humanoids or horses. It's big. Really big. It flies by magic and it's skin is like leather.

The blizzard itself blocks vision past 10, but in bursts you might be able to see up to 30'. The eel will pick a dense swirl of wind and attack from concealment. The last thing you'll see is a huge tooth-lined mouth and two tiny red eyes. It's like being hit by a hungry bus.

The blizzard eel is the first encounter of the Steam Hill dungeon. It is not designed to be fought. It's designed to make the players run away. It won't attack them on the stone stairs up to the dungeon, so all they need to is stick together and move as fast as they can towards the stairs. The eel will eat their guide (unless the party somehow convinces their guide to stick close to the group, in which case a Scald Zombie will get him during the night). The DM should actively encourage the party to run instead of fight.

If they do fight though, the eel is designed not to slaughter them immediately, and to give them a chance to survive for one or two tense rounds.

2017/05/22

OSR: The Secret of Steam Hill, Session 1, Part 1

Another group of novices asked me to run a "D&D game" for them. Unlike my Tomb of the Serpent Kings game, I wasn't given a lot of direction regarding preferred gaming styles.

One player is a veteran of my games and is wise to most of my tricks but had never been in one of my OSR games. One of the other players was also reasonably experienced. The rest were totally new. The Tomb of the Serpent Kings dungeon was designed to be as cliché and classic as possible. I had a little more freedom here, but I still wanted to hit the traditional notes. I'm still using the GLOG system, and it's still working well. The party consists of:

  • RAAA-ger (Roger) the Barbarian, an Owlling, and formerly a clerk. A heavy book fell on his head and, when he awoke, he became convinced he was a mighty warrior from the untamed steppe. He wears only a loincloth (and carries a dress loincloth for special occasions) and scowls a lot. Imagine a burrowing owl with a battleaxe.
  • Sir Gilesworth the Knight, who isn't really a knight. He is - was - butler for the Hargreaves family. This doesn't make him a steward, to be clear. He served wine and maintained the vast cellars of a grand medieval household, along with the associated plates, cups, and other furnishings. He was also, should the occasion require it, bodyguard and champion of the family in minor disputes, and could claim a dilute noble ancestry.
  • Bob. Bob is a wizard, as far as anyone else knows, but he's a very strange sort of wizard. The only spell he seems to be able to cast summons a giant headless pig named Goamloamer, who trots along, glows faintly, and does nothing else but produce body heat. Bob is also a flyling. His appearance and diet distress everyone.
  • Blahriel the Elf Wizard. was once a wet nurse to the Hargreaves family, an unusual profession for an elf. She won't speak of why she left, but insists that the child in her care "grew up healthy". [knight] has hinted that the child grew, at least. Needless to say, while employing an Elf brought the family prestige at first, it may have lead to their downfall.
  • Biscuit the notorious Highwayman. A houndling (described as "corgi-like" by the player), Biscuit is a poet, and has written long sorrowful poems of life as a bandit and brigand. Wanted posters (put up by Biscuit) are all over Elderstone. In truth, Biscuit has never robbed anyone, but the romance of a lawless life has a powerful appeal.  

The party was hired by Lur the Enchanter, one of Elderstone's richest and most eccentric wizards. He was convinced that the legendary Steam Hill (far beyond the Loathsome Bog, in the Irenian Mountains) concealed a magical artifact of great power. The party could keep whatever non-magical trinkets they found, but in exchange for a very modest reward, Lur commanded them to seek out the hill's mysteries and return to Elderstone.

The group of exiles, vagabonds, and eccentrics set out immediately. Lur had kindly purchased tents, blankets, and moderate rations for them, but the group was otherwise completely unprepared for a long journey. Lead by a drunken, half-blind, and scruffy ratling named Alfred, who was hired for his expertise in mountain treks, the party set off into the wilderness.
Glacier Valley, Evgeny Tchebotarev

Eight days later, exhausted, frostbitten, and filthy, the party reached the high plateau of Irenia Ulterior. They had passed through Bogrest, through the Loathsome Bog by a narrow dirt and clay track, and high into the uncharted and uncivilized mountains beyond. As soon as the legendary Steam Hill was within sight, a terrible blizzard crept up on the party and engulfed them in white. The Steam Hill and its twisted tree-covered slopes were lost from sight.

Alfred shouted "Follow!" and, half-blinded by snow, the group convened behind a large tree. After a few moments of noisy bickering, they set off in closer order, sheltering behind Goamloamer, the Warming Pig, summoned Bob. The suspiciously pink animal kept them safe from the wind, but sadly, did not save their guide Alfred from being devoured by a giant blizzard eel, a dragon-like creature made of glass and pale scales.

The group didn't panic at first. Only a few of them had seen the blizzard eel. They clustered around Goamloamer, weapons facing outwards, and moved as quickly as they could down the valley. Unfortunately the headless pig could only move at a walking pace. A few moments later, Biscuit was also scooped up and swallowed by the blizzard eel.

After a moment of silence, Sir Gilesworth shouted "Leg it!", jumped on his horse, and rode at full speed for the base of the Steam Hill. He'd spotted a staircase during a gap in the blizzard, and reasoned that the blizzard eel couldn't fit inside. After a moment's hesitation, Bob followed, sending Goamloamer and Blahriel into the storm. Blahriel had announced her intention to rescue the poor houndling. The rest of the party left them to their fate.

Roger, meanwhile, had become stuck in a snowbank. Convinced that the blizzard eel was breathing down his neck, and that ropes thrown to him by the party were the eel's terrible tongue licking his flesh, the barbarian struggled and frothed and sunk deeper and deeper into the snow. Bob and Sir Gilesworth, avoiding the wild axe swings of the

Miraculously, Biscuit wasn't dead. The eel had swallowed the poor houndling, but it's cavernous knife-guts worked slowly. Biscuit was badly wounded but crawled back and upwards, emerging from the eel's mouth. Unfortunately, this left the houndling in an excellent position to be impaled on the blizzard eel's fangs.

Blahriel loosed several arrows into the eel, but the blizzard spoiled her shots repeated. Annoyed and frustrated, the eel turned, swooped out of the blizzard, and devoured Blahriel in a single gulp. Lacerated and wounded, Blahriel stabbed at the eel's guts until the creature crashed into the valley floor.

Seeing that the danger had passed, Sir Gilesworth cried "To the rescue!" and raced down the valley floor, stopping to retrieve the barbarian. Bob followed.

Amazingly, both Biscuit and Blahriel were still alive, but just barely. Biscuit had lost and arm and a lot of blood, while Blahriel merely had a few broken ribs and a dozen punctures. Biscuit had also taken a few blows to the head. The rest of the party tried to stop the bleeding. Bob had a suspicious familiarity with wounds and injuries.

All that could be found of Alfred was his hand. The party dragged their wounded comrades to the foot of the stairs on the Steam Hill. The ancient stone stairs leading up were shallow enough to allow the party's horses to be lead up, even though the coating of ice and snow made the stairs treacherous. 100 feet above the valley floor, the party reached the end of the stairs and found a strange set of buildings. 


A mix of ancient stone pillars with new wood buildings. No plaster, no paint, just damp wood and old yellow stone. And, perhaps not surprisingly, steam and heat. Steam billowing from a large warm pool. Steam creaking from cracks in the ground. A warm haven in a blizzard. The party broke open the first door they saw and piled inside. 

Breathing Earth, Evgeny Tchebotarev


What would they find in the halls of Steam Hill? What treasures and dangers would they uncover in that mythical place? Would any of them survive?










2017/05/17

OSR: Elves and Elf Wizards

Frogling scholars insist that humans are, by rights, "Hu-lings". The hu was a small, pink, extremely ugly creature that resembled a naked mole with hideous teeth and patches of greasy fur. Just as froglings resemble frogs, so did humans resemble the hu.

They also insist that humans exterminated the hu out of a sense of shame. According to various satirical poets, the hu was a greedy, wasteful, promiscuous, puritanical, and stupid creature.

Elves are to humans what humans are to the (possibly mythological) hu.


Rose, exellero


Take a human and fix the mistakes. Organize teeth. Fix eyesight. Improve hearing. Improve skin. Build in a resistance to disease, age, and fear. Clean up the chaos of the mind. Elves are humans 2.0. They are better than you because they were designed to be better than you.

And they are beautiful, like moonlight or the lure of an anglerfish.

Elves live in Foreign Parts. They are never from around here. No nation ever has an elf neighbor, but nevertheless, the elves surely must have nations. You can even visit them, if you have a guide. They are built in the most unlikely and beautiful locations in Creation. Climb a winding mountain pass, and then climb six other mountains, and you might find a tiny elf village at the end, without roads or stairs.

The elves farm in glass gardens and eat rare fruits. They live in birdcages. They don't worship the Authority but they do respect him. They cannot do anything practical: no practical shoes, no sensible hats, no ordinary architecture. Everything must be Art.

High Elves are to humans what humans are to ants. Elves are their interpreters, or their pets, or their experiments. They own beauty the way merfolk own the sea. Anything beautiful is theirs by right, to be claimed by sovereignty of nature.

High Elves are purely magical, in the same way dragons and unicorns are magical, and they are so mysterious, aloof, alien, rare, and dangerous that they might as well not exist, from a gameplay point of view. Write them in as needed. They have goals and agendas, but not ones you can understand. If you're an Elf, you either work for a High Elf, or you've escaped or fallen from your birdcage.


untitled, Sungryun Park


Being an Elf is the best. Being an Elf Wizard is even better.


Elf Wizards



Perk: Gain 1 extra MD while touching a tree at least 50`high. Roots count. You start with a bow. 
 The bow is more important than it sounds. As a low-level elf wizard it will be your only source of damage. The extra MD can potentially be amazing. There aren't many ways to get extra MD in this system and 50' trees are surprisingly common.
Drawback: If you are scarred, disfigured, or filthy you must Save each morning or be unable to cast spells that day.
 But here's the big downside. Sleep rough, wake up grubby, and stop being an Elf Wizard for the day. Lose a leg? Get a bad rash? You're effectively demoted. Watch out.
Cantrips:
1. Create a pleasant musical ringing sound.
2. Any target you hit with an arrow counts as being at range “Touch” for the purposes of your spells.
3. Touch a wound to prevent it from bleeding. You do not negate any damage, but you to stop blood loss (and remove the Blood Loss condition). Faint white scars will still form.
Your cantrips are decent. The 1st has many uses. As one of my players said, "When the donging stops, the elf is dead."

In this setting, spells are creatures. Wizards have brain-guns that shoot bullet-ferrets. Elves do things a little differently. Their spells are naturally generated, symbiotic creatures bound to their soul and substance. They still need a spellbook, because you want to keep your spells safe, but their books are elegant gossamer creations embroidered with platinum thread. An Elf Wizard is like a magical sculpture garden or a music box. They are made for entertainment. To a High Elf, that can mean a lot of different things.


Spell List

Some of these are stolen from Goblin Punch.
1. Clarity
R: 30’ T: [dice] creatures D: 0
Target makes another Save against a emotion-affecting effect (fear, anger, sadness, pleasure, pain). This can affect yourself.
Elves view the world through schoolteacher eyes.
2. Speak with Birds
R: 200’ T: birds D: 20 minutes
You can talk to a bird, and it can talk back. If there is a party of 3-6 adventurer's moving through the forest nearby, a random songbird has a [sum]x10% chance of knowing where they are and if they're doing anything extra weird. Birds of prey are rarer, but more observant.
It's "speak with birds" not "make friends with birds". Your average forest songbird will happily sit on an elf's shoulder and tell them all sorts of Disney-branded secrets. Your average mountain eagle will show up, demand food, scream at you about politics and all the people and sheep it's killed, and then leave in a huff.
3. Blossom
R: touch T: plant D: permanent
Touched plant flourishes. Seeds germinate, flowerbuds swell and bloom, and a sickly plant regains vigor. Heals [sum] HP to a plant creature. If cast on a fruit, the fruit will grow up to the maximum normal size or 2x as big (whichever is smaller). Yes, you can use this to double your rations, as long as your rations are fruit or vegetables.
Elves, in this system, also eat half the usual rations (1 per day rather than 2). Using it on food would be a shame though.
4. Illusion of Youth
R: touch T: creature D: [dice] days, or, if [sum] > 12, permanent (until death)
Touched creature is cloaked with an illusion that makes them appear to be in their physical prime.
Elves age slowly, but their last few decades condense a lifetime of ugliness. This spell cloaks you or your companions. You'll probably want to cast if before meeting a High Elf. Remember, you can't "see through" illusions, but you can pop it with a good solid blow.
5. Locate Animal
R: [dice] miles T: creature D: [dice] hours
Name a common animal. You now know where the nearest example of the animal is.
Oh hooray. If the areas is infested with manticores, they count as common creatures.
6. Unseen Orchestra
R: 0 T: self D: [sum] minutes
You are surrounded by the harmonious sounds of a five-piece band for the duration of the spell. The exact instruments vary caster to caster, and the unseen band can play any song you've heard before. It cannot duplicate speech. You can also opt to center the effect on an adjacent location, rather than on yourself.
Bear in mind that you start with 2 of the 6 spells listed above and a bow. Good luck, Elf Wizard!
7. Floral Salvage
R: touch T: creature D: 0
Flowers (caster chooses the type) erupt from the target's wounds. Target takes 1 damage for every point of damage it has already taken, not exceeding [sum]x2. Save for half. If this damage kills the target, their corpse is entirely consumed by plant growth, and turns into a beautiful tree covered in flowers. Height is 2d4 x creature's HD in feet.
And then, possibly as soon as Level 2, Elf Wizards go from "princess jukebox" to "double fireball to the face". Bear in mind that with the bow-related cantrip you can hit a target with an arrow, deal 1d6 damage, and then cast this spell to (at a bare minimum) double your damage. You also get a tree out of it.
8. Beautify
R: touch T: creature or object D: [sum] hours >6 permanent
Target made more beautiful. Dirt falls away, pimples disappears, teeth whiten, lice vanish, gouges fill in, and varnish looks new again. Will also restore 1d4 points of Charisma if damaged, to former max.
 While Illusion of Youth is merely an illusion, this is the real deal. You won't get any younger but you and the things you own will look as good as new, or possibly better. Expect Elf Wizards to cast this on themselves openly (just in case), and on their allies (secretly, if required).
9. Magic Missile
R: 200' T: creature D: 0
Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no save. As an Elf Wizard, you have to fire this spell using a bow. The spell is the arrow.
I don't have much to say about Magic Missile, except that it's clearly an Elf spell humans domesticated.
10. Serpents of the Earth (Elf)
R: touch T: section of natural soil or stone D: concentration
[Sum] enormous serpents of HD 1d4 crawl up from the dirt. They have Attack 13, Defense, 13 and deal 1d6+HD damage, except for the 1 HD serpents, which are small and bite for 1 damage + deadly poison. Serpents are not controlled by the caster. They're just pissed off snakes.
The Authority buried the Primordial Serpents deep within the earth, but Elves know how to call them up again. This is not always a wise idea.

Emblem Spells
11. Elegant Judgement
R: 200' T: 20’ diameter D: 0
Does [sum] damage, Save vs. Charisma for half. Like a fireball, but the flames are purple and gold. Creatures with 17 or more Charisma, non-sentient creatures, beautiful objects, the dead, or other Elves are immune to this spell.
More straight up-damage... or is it? I'm sure there are other uses for this spell.
12. Rain of Arrows
R: 200' T: 20’ diameter D: 0
Does [sum] damage. As fireball except that the caster fires an arrow into the air (which turns into a multitude) and the damage is all piercing damage. Doesn't work in places with low ceilings (less than 100').
Another straight-up damage spell. Really, you're only likely to pick this one if you aren't taking Elegant Judgement or Magic Missile. It's here to give you options.

If an Elf Wizard can survive to Level 4, they will become one of the more formidable damage-dealing casters in the game. Early levels do not give them tools for survival. It's a very risk-reward setup.
Mishaps:
1. MD only return to your pool on a 1-2 for 24 hours
2. Take 1d6 damage
3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then make a save. Permanent if you fail.
4. Agony 1d6 rounds
5. Blind for 1d6 rounds
6. Lose one MD for 24 hours.
Nothing too shocking here. This is one of the less harsh mishap tables.

Doom of the Elf Wizard:
1. Lose the ability to cast spells for 1 day,
2. Lose the ability to cast spells for 3 days. Lose the ability to fire a bow or draw a blade for 3 days.
3. Lose the ability to cast spells permanently. You can wield only your nails and teeth. You can only speak in monosyllables.
This doom can be averted by winning the trust and patronage of a powerful High Elf, or by building a tower near some site of astounding natural beauty.

The Doom list is less forgiving. You slowly regress to a less enlightened form. Your carefully crafted substance is unraveling. The magic of a High Elf can save you, or your own sense of beauty and truth will keep you together. Otherwise, you'll collapse at the seams.



2017/05/16

OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings, Session 4

Continued from here. In which the party strikes a bargain, four characters learn to fly, and cutlery is the only source of XP.

The Party:

A nameless human Paladin of the Voice. Not very bright, but unshakably faithful.
Thomas, a toadling elementalist wizard, formerly a shepherd. Accompanied by his last remaining sheep.
Franklin, the Iron Frog. A frogling, a knight, and a sensible man.
Antonia Barracuda, a fishling thief, and a sensible lady.
Spackles. Slugling illusionist wizard and children's entertainer. 



The Party, as of Session 3


Session 4:


2017/05/14

OSR: Bring Out Your Dead


Your medieval OSR settings should have the Plague in it. Not just a plague, but the Plague, a recent memorable scourge that changed the world. A good medieval setting references the War, but forgetting the Plague means ignoring a huge part of human history. The Plague gets a one-liner on many OSR tables or adventure introductions. It deserves more than that.
Death and the Bishop, 1541, Heinrich Aldegrever

Before we get into the RPG-based stuff, here are a few quotes from 2300 years of human history, and some background music.

Not many days after their arrival in Attica the plague first began to show itself among the Athenians. It was said that it had broken out in many places previously in the neighborhood of Lemnos and elsewhere; but a pestilence of such extent and mortality was nowhere remembered. Neither were the physicians at first of any service, ignorant as they were of the proper way to treat it, but they died themselves the most thickly, as they visited the sick most often; nor did any human art succeed any better. Supplications in the temples, divinations, and so forth were found equally futile, till the overwhelming nature of the disaster at last put a stop to them altogether.
 The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
During these times there was a pestilence, by which the whole human race came near to being annihilated. Now in the case of all other scourges sent from heaven some explanation of a cause might be given by daring men, such as the many theories propounded by those who are clever in these matters; for they love to conjure up causes which are absolutely incomprehensible to man, and to fabricate outlandish theories of natural philosophy [...] But for this calamity it is quite impossible either to express in words or to conceive in thought any explanation, except indeed to refer it to God. For it did not come in a part of the world nor upon certain men, nor did it confine itself to any season of the year, so that from such circumstances it might be possible to find subtle explanations of a cause, but it embraced the entire world, and blighted the lives of all men, though differing from one another in the most marked degree, respecting neither sex nor age.
 The Plague, Procopius
In 1349 [the Plague] resumed in Paris, spread to Picardy, Flanders, and the Low Countries, and from England to Scotland and Ireland as well as to Norway, where a ghost ship with a cargo of wool and dead crew drifted offshore until it ran aground near Bergen. From there the plague passed into Sweden, Denmark, Prussia, Iceland, as as far as Greenland. Leaving a strange pocket of immunity in Bohemia, and Russian unattacked until 1351, it had passed from most of Europe by mid-1350. Although the morality rate was erratic, ranging from one fifth in some places to nine tenths or almost total elimination in others, the overall estimate of modern demographers has settled - for the area extending from India to Iceland - around the same figure expressed in Froissart's casual words: "a third of the world died."
A Distant Mirror, Barbara W. Tuchman. If you have time, I'd really recommend reading the entire chapter.
In 1918 an influenza virus emerged - probably in the United States - that would spread around the world, and one of its earliest appearances in lethal form came in Philadelphia. Before that world-wide pandemic faded away in 1920, it would kill more people than any other outbreak of disease in human history. [...] Epidemiologist today estimate that influenza likely caused at least fifty million deaths worldwide, and possibly as many as one hundred million. [...] One cannot know with certainty, but if the upper estimate of the death toll is true as many as 8 to 10 percent of all young adults then living may have been killed by the virus.
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry
It's almost as if there is a blind spot in our view of history that prohibits us from grasping the devastation of a Plague, of a scourge that kills on in ten or one in three of our neighbors, families, and peers. The survivors write histories and chronicles, sometimes in desperation. "I leave parchment," Brother John Clyn of Ireland wrote in the 14th century," to continue this work, if perchance any man survive and any of the race of Adam escape this pestilence and carry on the work which I have begun.”  

But the memory fades almost immediately. The next generation builds few monuments. There are thousands of WWI memorials but only a handful of memorials, mostly plaques and tombstones, for victims of the Spanish Flu. Similarly, while a cult of death arose in 15th century Europe, it rarely referenced the Black Death directly. It's almost too grim. We can understand war and violence, but disease escapes us. Survivors often launch into a period of excess, not just while the plague rages and life seems cheap, but for years afterwards. The "Roaring Twenties" and the elaborate pageantry of 14th century France could be seem as reactions to the vast, merciless mortality that "embraced the entire world".
The Triumph of Death, 1562,  Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Here are 3 options for including the Plague in your OSR games.

1. About to Happen

2. In Progress
3. Just Past


1. About to Happen

At some point in your game, the Plague will arrive, and everything will go to hell. Add an entry called "Plague Omen" to  your Rumours or Encounters tables. Once it's been rolled 10 times, the Plague is here. Mixed in with other tables, your PCs might not suspect anything until it's too late.

1d10 Plague Omens

1. There is sickness in the camp of The Enemy. Surely, God has punished them for their wickedness
2. A distant and once-prosperous city fallen into a sudden decline.
3. A common trade good is no longer available, and no one knows why.
4. A rare herb or flower is suddenly in demand in a trading port, worth its weight in gold.
5. A nation across the sea has closed its ports and burns any ship approaching. Their king has gone mad, it is said. 
6. Flocks of crows are flying south in huge numbers. 
7. A learned astrologer cast a horoscope so terrible and momentous that he sold all he owned and rode into the wilderness.
8. The King's nephew has fallen ill, and the most learned doctors in the land gather around  his bedside.
9. A rider gallops by, his face pale. He bears the livery of a distant kingdom and carries ciphered letters.
10. Someone the PCs know writes them a letter in a shaky and blurred hand, referencing dozens of past letters (undelivered), a terrible sickness, and God's wrath.

The Plague arrives without warning, like a sudden and terrible storm. You might see it on the horizon in the smoke of burning towns, or hear it in the dockyards or the alleys. Everything is normal the night before. The PCs wake up to screams and disaster. The world is falling apart and they are not immune. By the end of the week, they might all be dead.

1d10 Early Encounters
1. A caravan of priests, fleeing the area.

2. A riderless horse with a fine saddle.
3. A sick man, shivering in the streets, coughing blood.
4. A house abandoned, its inhabitants dead overnight, its windows open.
5. A raving doctor, promising all he has for a cure, for a rare ointment, for a chance to escape.
6. Bells begin to ring and don't stop until the ringer dies.
7. Fire spreads across a district

8. Looters, moving from house to house methodically
9. A doctor selling dubious cures by the dozen. 
10. 1x10x1d10 infected men, women, and children, heading for a landmark.


2. In Progress

The Plague is a fact of life when the game starts. The game is post-apocalyptic, like the Road, but with swords. Carts carry the dead to mass graves. Cities are abandoned. Armies rot in the field. The world is falling apart, but unlike the mad first few days, this is a slow and inevitable decline. Edicts are announced. Governments struggle for control.

1d10 Late Encounters

1. Work crews in masks, walling a family inside a house.
2. An abandoned cart full of corpses.
3. A banquet held by the infected and the dying in the middle of the street
4. A new edict declaring a curfew, a travel ban, a new tax, a general amnesty, or some other law. It is completely ignored.
5. A beggar, wearing the clothes of a noble, dancing around a fountain.
6. 2d10 flagellants whipping each other and praying.
7. A spray of gold coins and gems dropped by a dying looter.
8. A barricaded and fortified house. Does anyone still live inside?
9. Fanatics burn clothes, tapestries, books, heretics, sinners, and the dying .Anything that might offend God is flung into the pyre. 
10. A roving doctor sells bundles of herbs and flowers, guaranteed to ward off the infected air.

Yet life continues. You can buy food in the marketplace. You can charter a ship, raid a dungeon, seduce a princess, attend a tournament. The world struggles on, in a changed and diminished form, but there are pockets of light and peace. The Plague has become accepted. Panic has faded into fear, fear into dull resentment and rage at the inevitable, or at God, or at mortality.
Anyone who survives the Plague might become richer. Labour is scarce, wages rise (despite laws passed against it). Looting is endemic, buried treasure is common. Some trade routes, cites, and villages fade forever. Some prosper. In a changing world, the PCs might be able to leap several rungs up the social ladder, or topple those in power.



3. Just Passed

It is over.The Plague is a memory, an affliction of past generations. The living stumble through a diminished world, one where violence and disorder are more common. The ruins of the past, from empty villages to overgrown fields to weather-worn castles, stand everywhere. Eat, drink, and be merry, for the world has just escaped destruction, or is perhaps on the brink of it. Taxes are higher than ever.

If your game takes place in this era, the PCs will be able to buy and hold land more easily than they would otherwise, but hiring mercenaries and assistance is more expensive. The world is also more chaotic and disordered. Rulers cry out for a return to morality, but sink further into excess. Most people recognize the signs of plague, and most rulers know how to prevent its spread: isolation, often by walling the dying up in their own homes or blocking gates and roads.


100-200 years between major plagues seems about right in a medieval setting, but minor flares will accompany any major plague like shocks around an earthquake. 


 
Black Death at Tournai, 1359, Gilles le Muisit

Mapping

For each populated region, hex, city, town, or whatever on your map, roll 1d6. That's the percentage (10%-60%) of the population that will die, is dying, or died during the Plague. The population will decline further for about 30 years before slowly recovering. Some areas in northern France did not reach their medieval population levels until the modern era.

Death and Infection


Test for Infection:
Urban per day
Rural per week
Isolated per month

"Isolated" means "the Plague Carrier can still get to you but strangers can't". If the carrier can't get to  you, you are safe. The PCs do not know this. They don't know any of the stuff below, even if they are educated and well-read.



Base Chance of Infection
Raging (About to Happen)50%
Stable (In Progress)5%
A Memory (Just Past)N/A
If the Plague is over, the PCs will not become infected until the cycle begins again. 

+10% if malnourished
+10% if infected with any other disease or serious illness
+10% if in intimate contact with anyone infected

+10% if wounded
-10% if young/elderly or in the prime of life. Roll per plague to see which group is less likely to die.

If anyone in the party is of a different race or ethnicity than the local area, they have a 20% chance to be more susceptible (+10%) and a 50% chance to be less susceptible (-10%). If they are of a wildly different race (spiderlings, lizardlings), the chance of infection is always 1%, but if they do become infected, the Plague will spread from them to any others of their race with astonishing rapidity.


Spells like cure disease will cure the Plague, but will not grant resistance. You can still be reinfected. There are historical cases of people being infected with the Black Death in the morning and dying by sunset. Even a cleric with 4 castings per day can't save everyone.

If you are infected, use whatever disease rules your system has in place already, unless they seem insufficiently lethal. If that's the case, use the rules below. The Plague might have a name, but it won't be "cholera" or "influenza" or "ebola". It will be "The Plague of Justinian" or "The Red Death" or something equally evocative. Your players shouldn't be able immediately to associate it with a real-world disease.

Disease: the Plague

Each morning, or after 2hrs of strenuous activity, Save. If you fail, take 1d6 Constitution damage until you are cured or die. If you pass 2 consecutive Saves, you are cured, and are forever immune. Your Constitution damage recovers at a rate of 1 point per day, during which time you can still infect others.


Chances are pretty good that the Plague will infect at least one PC. The other, uninfected PCs then have a choice: flee, or try and save their friend and risk infection. Starvation and dehydration will kill them even if the Plague doesn't. The Plague should be treated like a "dragon between you and the exit" scenario in its potential for a total party kill.

The party could also go on a quest for a cure (unlikely), a deserted castle or monastery to hide in (more likely), or just loot everything in sight and hope they survive. 


Extra Tables

1d10 Carriers of the Disease (roll once per Plague)
1. Rats and Dogs (fleas)
2. Ticks
3. Sheep and Goats
4. Swine
5. Cattle
6. Horses, Donkeys, and Mules
7. Mosquitos and Flies
8. Water
9. Air
10. People only

1d10 Symptoms of the Disease (roll as many times as you'd like per Plague)
1. Bloody cough

2. Black pustules
3. White pustules
4. Headaches and trembling
5. High fever
6. Weakened and locked muscles
7. Open sores and rashes
8. Constant effluvia
9. Blindness 
10. Vomiting bile

1d10 Dubious Cures
1. Urine
2. Bloodletting

3. Heat and bundling
4. Bludgeoning
5. Prayer day and night
6. Ice cold water
7. Branding
8. Crushed pearls
9. Rainwater mixed with lime and gelatin
10.  Wine mixed with charcoal

2017/05/13

OSR: Building a City - First Section

There are dozens of easy ways to build a medieval city for your games. Here's my hard, difficult, and tedious way. If any of my players are reading this, take note. Your GM is an idiot.
 

The First Section: Corpathium
Go to Last Gasp's excellent city generator. It's been getting  rave reviews since 2014 for a very good reason. Don't worry if you don't really understand all the references to the Godless or the Vermintide. I don't. I'm here for flavour and mapping. In the next post, I'll use other PDFs and tricks to add details.


2017/05/11

OSR: Chromatic Dragons

This post is mostly an excuse to use the art of halycon450. There are hundreds of "dragonomicons" out there. This one is mine. You might find some of the content boring but I hope a few lines are useful.

Once, there was one dragon, or one kind of dragon. It's unclear. The stones remember it. They say it lived before the Authority created the moon and thousands of years before mortals were invented. The Sunlight Dragon was immortal, invulnerable, and one of the most terrifying things the Authority had ever created. It devoured primordial trolls. It devoured everything.

The stones aren't sure what happened next. Some of them say that primordial trolls built a giant prism of completely normal, nonmagical matter. Some say that the Authority himself interposed His form (the most perfect conceptual triangle) in the Sunlight Dragon's flightpath.

The Sunlight Dragon (or Dragons) was split into 8 Chromatic Dragons, and ever since their descendants have bounded around Creation, still powerful, still immortal, and still immensely proud, but flawed and incomplete creatures. All dragons love flattery, and all dragons hoard things, but no two dragons are alike, just as no two sunsets are alike. All dragons are intensely magical. They are difficult to kill.

Some dragons have made alliances with the elements. The terms of these alliances are inscrutable. It is unknown if dragons have allied themselves with the winds to allow them to fly, or if they fly under their own power. The winds always change the subject.


Red Dragons

Disposition: Wrathful, Short-Sighted, Impatient, Cruel
Common Hoards: Swords, Shields, Corpses, Coal, Crippled Knights
Elemental Alliance: Fire

Red dragons are warm enough to boil water. They glow like a hot stove. They are the slowest and dimmest of the dragons, but they are also the most ferocious. They delight in combat. Most have scars and embedded weapons. Some bite limbs off knights or particularly interesting warriors and keep them as trophies. Red dragons that are allied with fire elementals have glowing guts and breathe gouts of choking fire. Those that rely on their own power breath rays of pure heat, invisible and utterly deadly. They live in caves, accumulate food and worshipers, and occasional rise to destroy a city and devour the army sent against them. Dragons allied with fire elementals must devour fuel. Coal is the most common, but there are legendary dragons who grew enormously powerful by consuming pure troll oil.





Orange Dragons

Disposition: Lustful, Curious, Vindictive, Ostentatious, Insecure
Common Hoards: Beautiful People, Artwork, Books, Gemstones
Elemental Alliance: None

Orange dragons are beautiful, even in their war-forms. They are natural shapechangers and shift forms as easily as a human putting on clothes or armor. Of all the dragons they love flattery most, and will even reward artists who create works to suit the dragon's whims. Once a work has been admired it is added to the hoard: a vast raft of paintings, a nest of sculptures, a library of poetry, all fixated on one topic; the dragon itself. They build palaces in impossible locations. A bored dragon might change itself into a human, visit a city, and show off its form and skills. They take lovers, become patrons of the arts, live for decades without aging and then, one day, take offense and erupt into their furious war-form and savage an entire district. Orange dragons are not as smart as they think they are. Pointing this out is unwise. They do not breathe any elements or rays but most learn to cast spells.




Yellow Dragons

Disposition: Greedy, Secretive, Manipulative, Obsessive
Common Hoards: Coins, Deeds, Lawyers, Ascetic Monks
Elemental Alliance: Stone

Yellow dragons are Creation's greatest bankers. As immortal beings, they are risk-adverse to the point of mania. If you miss a payment, they'll fly over your city as a gentle reminder. They have vast reserves and minds like machines. No one is sure who first taught yellow dragons the principles of loans and interest rates. It's possible, as they claim, that they invented the idea. They live in great marble and granite halls, hollowing entire mountains to make mazes and vaults. Their ancient alliance with stone elementals lets them fly through stone as if it were water and makes a bare vault a deathtrap for thieves. Some breathe sand or cannonballs of stone. Ancient yellow dragons can reduce a city to rubble in a few hours. They assemble (and pay) legions of accountants and lawyers, and keep property-less monks as curiosities. Creatures who willingly resist temptation amuse them. The greatest Dragon Banks conduct themselves like nation-states and grant knighthoods and honours with solemnity equal to any mortal kingdom.




Green Dragons

Disposition: Envious, Melancholic, Decadent, Spiteful
Common Hoards: Animals, Prisoners, Rare Metals
Elemental Alliance: Acid

Green dragons made a poor deal with acid elementals. They can breath horrifying clouds of caustic gas, or spray concentrated streams of acid that melts plate armour in seconds, but the dragon's skin is coated in acid sludge. Their bodies are living toxic waste dumps. Mortal creatures burn near them. Green dragons secretly resent their condition but are too proud to alleviate their misery. Instead, they poison farmland and rivers, watch animals die in their presence, keep prisoners and taunt them, and seek metals able to withstand their caustic effluvia. They live in slick tunnels, often half-filled with sludge or water, and but conduct themselves like kings in exile. You can offer little to a green dragon. Some alchemists have bred slave races for them in exchange for mercenary services.






Blue Dragons

Disposition: Gluttonous, Quick-Witted, Fickle, Wise
Common Hoards: Sunken Ships, Spices, Raw Ingots
Elemental Alliance: Water

Swimming as fast as they can fly, blue dragons are a well-known terror along the coast of some nations. They can grow large enough to swallow whales whole. They sink ships by accident or by design, dragging the wrecks to the bottom and building wooden cities in the cold and sunless depths. No creature is more feared in Creation. From the bottom of the sea to the highest clouds, nothing can escape the predatory gaze of a blue dragon. But for all this, the dragons are not cruel or vicious monsters. They choose their targets with care. They can be reasoned with, and even bribed with herds of cattle or barques of fish. Their alliance with water is not always a calm one. While the dragon might call rainstorms or whirlpools, water elementals sometimes race ahead to warn sailors and fishermen. The can breathe jets of water but prefer to use their teeth and claws.




Indigo Dragons

Disposition: Slothful, Contemplative, Domineering, Distracted
Common Hoards: Music, Furs, Slaves, Magic
Elemental Alliance: Lightning

Rarely encountered in Creation, the indigo dragon is a sticky, indolent creature that dwells in forgotten temples, disused catacombs, and collapsed cities. It seldom attacks outside its den. Indigo dragons are involved in passionate affairs with lighting elementals, and the strain of the relationship distracts them from most concerns. They can charm with a glance and set armies of slaves on half-mentioned tasks. They learn and use magic only to make their lives easier. In battle, they are terrifying foes. They breathe torrents of lighting, a crackling wave that can kill an entire army in one pass. Most consider it a blessing that these dragons rarely find the need to use their arsenal. Above all else, they prefer to be left alone but they will pay to have annoyances, from flies to mountain ranges, removed.





Violet Dragons

Disposition: Proud, Maniacal, Ascetic, Predatory
Common Hoards: Bones, Buildings, Crowns, Historians
Elemental Alliance: None

Of all the chromatic dragons, the violet are the most delighted to merely exist. Other dragons validate themselves with hordes or flattery. A violet dragon knows exactly what it is; perfection. This maniacal self-obsession drives them to live on craggy mountaintops or unadorned caves. Carved stone would only weaken them. They collect buildings of other races to mock, the crowns of deposed kings, books of fallen empires, or the bones of the famous and the powerful. They attack on a whim and retreat beyond retaliation. Their fangs cut soul and flesh alike. They breathe an invisible, deadly light that sets the air on fire and sings like shattering glass.* Those struck by the beam of a violet dragon go blind or develop hideous skin lesions. Violet dragons can fly through the upper air of creation and bask in the light of the sun without ill effect.

*Like the purple beam from Shin Godzilla, but made of ultraviolet light.


Octarine Dragons

Disposition: Unknown
Common Hoards: Unknown
Elemental Alliance: None

Also known as comets. Scrying and interviews with stones that fall from the sky indicate that comets are gigantic dragons the colour of pure magic. No one knows where they go, or why they do not visit Creation's surface. Scholars believe that an octarine dragon's presence would usher an age of madness and death across every land. Their appearance in the sky heralds the death of kings, the fall of empires, an explosion (often literal) of wizards, and strange prodigies in every land.