2017/05/27

OSR: Medieval Stalemate Simulator (or Six-Dimensional Warfare)


Such extraordinary efforts of power and courage will always command the attention of posterity, but the events by which the fate of nations is not materially changed leave a faint impression on the page of history, and the patience of the reader would be exhausted by the repetition of the same hostilities, undertaken without cause, prosecuted without glory, and terminated without effect.
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XLVI, Edward Gibbon. Historians quote Gibbon like theater students quote Shakespeare; because it's fun. I'm writing a d100 table of "Phrases from Gibbon to Ruin your Rulers"


Medieval warfare, between the 4th and 16th centuries, in any part of the world from Spain to Syria, was not fun. War never is, but medieval wars are particularly tedious, bloody-minded, and repetitive. Most of the time, armies sat and waited for something to happen. They burned fields to deny their enemy food and to try and force a battle. They chased each other like sprint cyclists, waiting for the other army to make a wrong move. Actual pitched battles were rare. "Between 1071 and 1328 in Flanders, frequently invaded, there were only eleven battles of note."

While knights could execute astonishing feats of arms, feigned retreats, and coordinated charges, the neglect of peasant levies and mercenaries (who were sometimes ordered to remain in permanent reserve, in case the glory of the mounted charge was diminished) often spelled disaster. But even if an army utterly crushed its enemies, the real failure of medieval warfare, the cause of centuries of strife, was the inability to exploit a victor or set coherent and achievable goals. An army could win a great battle and, within a few years, nothing would have changed. From Persia to Flanders, the same stories play out over and over.

It seems like you could make that into a table.

Six Dimensional Weather idea is so good I've spent the last few days adapting it to all sorts of topics. I've never liked linked tables, but this thing is perfect. I've got hexes on the brain.
Minor War


Here's how it works. Pick two belligerents. There are a ton of tables out there for generating kingdoms, barons, sultans, warlords, etc. I'm not going to write another. You should pick a cause as well. All Wars need a cause.

Roll a d6 per week of the war. Start in the middle (the war always starts with stalemate). Move hex to hex, week by week. If you hit an edge, slide to the next adjacent hex if the side you hit is sloped, or stay in the same hex if it's horizontal or vertical.

The typical campaign season was between 6 and 12 weeks, depending on the size of the war, the cause of the conflict, the proximity of the two sides, and few other factors. Just pick a number. After your campaign weeks are up, the war stays in stalemate until the next campaign season or major event. Each year, restart from the central "Stalemate" hex.

You can say that the war ends at any point, particularly if the causes are no longer relevant, the initial leaders die, or there are a string of disasters. The war automatically ends for 1d10 (exploding on a 10) years if you land on the "Truce" hex. After those 1d10 years are up, once side or the other breaks the truce and the war starts all over again. During the truce, there's a 50% chance each year of a new war starting (against a different enemy).

Major War
Same deal for Major Wars. The campaign season for a major war is 8 to 12 weeks. The "Siege" hexes mean critical, complicated sieges of capital cities or fortresses. Sieges are pretty much constant. Any "Stalemate" hex could mean "there's at least one siege going on somewhere". These wars are designed to churn in the background of your game, helped by material from here.


Death of a Major Figure
Side 1 1 Leader
2 Spouse of Leader
3 Heir of Leader
4 Ally of Leader
5 Major Religious Figure
Side 2 6 Leader
7 Spouse of Leader
8 Heir of Leader
9 Ally of Leader
10 Major Religious Figure

Religious Strife
1 New Religion Arrives
2 Miracle
3 Long-Forgotten Heresy Revived
4 New Heresy Developed
5 Church Conclave
6 Someone Married a Pagan
7 Unwelcome Divorce
8 Influential Visionary, Hermit, or Scholar Appears
9 Leader of Side 1 Excommunicated
10 Leader of Side 2 Excommunicated


You can easily adapt this system for a gonzo game by replacing the "stalemate" hexes with "plague of tigers", "alien invasion", "time travel" or whatever else tickles your fancy. Just remember to think about proximity and chains of events when you're adding hexes.



Example Minor War: King Crimson II vs the Count of Nebers


Year 1
King Crimson (pronounced like "saison") wishes to reclaim his ancestral patrimony, the province of Louchanc, from the duplicitous Count of Nebers. The province changed hand centuries ago and has been fought over ever since. The King plans a six week campaign owing to the weather. He does not seek any major allies.


Week Roll Result
0 N/A Stalemate
1 2 Stalemate
2 1 Minor Victory
3 6 Religious Strife
4 6 Slide to Minor Defeat
5 4 Stalemate
6 3 Stalemate

The first week of the war holds no surprises, but the Crimson forces push across the river Tholp and take the town of Unterammarbau. This minor victory sours immediately. Under pressure from the Duke of Nebers, who is also his uncle, the Archpriest excommunicates King Crimson. While the King writes conciliatory letters to the pontiff, his forces, demoralized and burdened by plunder, are pushed back across the river. When the season ends, both sides are back where they started, except poorer, wearier, and with fewer soldiers.

It's just coincidence that we ended up back in the middle hex. You can end the season anywhere, but you always restart from the centre next year.

2017/05/24

OSR: Plants, Forests, Gardens, and Dryads

If every rock, river, and flame is an elemental, are there also wood elementals?

No. That would be silly. Plants are alive in the same way that other mortal creatures are alive. They are fragile. You can't kill a stone elemental and get dead stone (you just get smaller elementals), but you can kill a tree and get dead wood. Plants live in the same conceptual world as people, while elementals are live inscrutable, alien, and separate lives. Elementals play by different rules.

Trees

Some ideas nicked from here.

They think at a rate proportional to their growth speed, but it's always too slow. Fast-growing trees like poplar can actually react to mammal actions, but for most trees, people are like gnats. Fire is an explosion. A forest fire is like a nuclear blast. Chopping down a tree happens faster than they can react. It's like getting hit by lightning. Actually getting hit by lightning usually happens when a lightning elemental falls in love with a tree... or an ancient forest fire.

Lightning-stuck trees that survive become wizards. It's how you get magical wood for wands and staves.

Trees aren't malevolent by nature. They have to be taught. They have to be shown that axes are dangerous, that fire is deadly, that the strange gnat-things that buzz through the forest are evil. Only then will they act, and it's often too late. They can't see, but they can sense heat. Their sense of smell is very different and limited to other trees and plants. They can sense vibration and they can hear reasonably well, though only by their leaves and roots. Most trees are like blind and isolated snails, and are about as intelligent.

Talking to a young tree is like talking to a pigeon. You can do it, but you're not going to learn much. The older a tree gets, the smarter it gets, but unless there's a reason to shape its intelligence it will become fiercely stunted and introverted. They develop personalities after 50 years and complex inner thoughts after 100. They communicate via pheromones for formal discussions and, if they're smart, via vibrations for emergencies.

Any tree can get up and walk, but it's painful and uses up years of energy reserves. These can be replaced by magic, so if you see a walking tree, chances are a wizard did it.

Trees can be taught languages. Elves love doing this, which is why most trees speak elvish. They don't grow mouths and faces and they definitely don't talk, but if you've got a telepathy-like spell, or you're willing to be trained, you can commune with a tree. If the tree doesn't know a language this can be frustrating and deeply confusing. Druids burn talking trees.

Elves gain extra magic from trees because the High Elves made an ancient pact with primordial trees. No one is entirely sure what the bargain involved. A tree that is used to boost spells has a 1-in-6 chance of becoming a spellcaster itself (and learning its first spell in 1d100 years).




1d6 Ancient Scheming Trees

1. This tree has spoken to both druids and elves and secretly despises them both. If there is an elf in the party, it will drop a branch on it (2d6 bludgeoning damage, Save vs Dex for half) and laugh for weeks. If there are druids nearby, the tree can smell them, and will try and send the party to kill them (if the party is strong) or send the party away (if weak).

2. This tree is religious. It wants to be made into a temple or a holy icon. If its body serves the Authority, its soul will surely enter heaven. If you help, you might be visited by an angelic tree later in life. 

3. This tree was struck by lightning and survived. It wisely hides the lightning scar behind new growth and, if questioned, pretends to be a helpful and slightly eccentric ancient tree. Three centuries of growth, also carefully hidden, have made this tree suspicious and hungry for power. It can cast (with 4 MD) the spells haste (trees), become delicious, lightning bolt, control weather, and fear. It has slowly and patiently trained the entire forest around it to think, speak, and obey. It is biding its time for now, but it may accept apprentices and allies, particularly if they are also spellcasters. A tree hiring a person is like a person hiring a mosquito to give someone else malaria.

4. This tree is dying, and knows it. The soil around it is foul or turning to sand. It wants the party to carry its seeds or seedlings far away and plant them somewhere. It's desperate. It's not entirely sure what to offer the party in return, but it does remember the site of a nearby battle or duel. Maybe there's something buried in the ground.

5. This tree found a buried creature that didn't want to stay dead. It has decide this is a matter for people to deal with. When the party approaches, it will release the creature from its roots. Shade from the tree conveniently shields the creature from direct sunlight. 1. vampire 2. wight 3. zombie 4. undead horse 5. skeleton 6. some ancient evil.

6. This tree is a murder-bomb planted by the druids and nurtured since infancy. If the party approaches, it will spend all its energy reserves killing them. Roots (1d6+2 damage per round, Save once to escape, otherwise they've got you), branches (2d6 bludgeoning, Save vs Dex for half), pheromones (call druids and other animals), and leaves (visibility reduced to 10'). The tree will die of exhaustion after 1d10+1 rounds.

Bushes, Shrubs, and Grass

The lesser creatures of an ecosystem dominated by trees. Grass is as smart as krill. Shrubs and bushes are as smart as sheep, though much less mobile. They just don't have the energy reserves to uproot and run away.

In films, even the worst and most evil forest has nice clear paths around the base of trees. That's not always how it works in real life, most of the time. Woody bushes are everywhere. In some places, you can move through a forest about as fast as you can swim. The bushes will poke holes in your clothes and tear your hair and get down your boots and generally make life miserable.

If you're lucky, this is just a natural consequence of leaving the road. If you're unlucky, druids have been here and taught the bushes the smell of metal and worked leather. The bushes slow you down while the druids hunt you, or while a tree gets ready to drop a branch on your head. A well-trained bush will deliberately puncture your waterskins. Many of them have thorns and irritating poisons.

Everyone thinks ferns are useless.


1d6 Unusual Forest Plants

1. Water Daisies. Like quicksand, but flowers. Both druids and elves love them for the same reason.

2. Goatberry Bush. Grey, compact, and highly mobile. Stores all its energy in oils and waxes. Burns really well, if you can catch it. At the first sign of danger, the goatberry bush runs away on root-legs and plants itself somewhere else. You can tame it with offerings of dung. A handful of berries has a 1-in-6 chance of granting you a haste-like effect for 1 round, but no matter what, they will give you terrible indigestion. In the high mountains there are entire herds of goatberry bushes, and in some isolated regions, goatberry farms. Goatberry farmers are quick-witted but proverbially short-tempered. They covet bismuth.

3. Spelleater Ivy. Very rare. Any spells cast within 20' are absorbed by the ivy. It immediately grows a new 10'x10' section per magic dice of spell (or spell level) absorbed. The leaves are faintly octarine. Contact has a 1-in-6 chance of inducing temporary Wizard Vision. Eating or smoking the leaves causes astonishing visions and requires a Save vs Insanity. If you dry spelleater ivy, you can make anti-magic armour. Wise wizard don't bother. The armour explodes after absorbing 1d4 spells, releasing all the spells and burning the wearer.

4. Bloodbracken. A predatory plant. The seeds grow underground, sending out parasitic roots and drawing in nutrients. A few thin tendrils with unremarkable green leaves reach the surface. The bloodbracken is waiting, growing. The seedpod, now the size of a melon, strains and creaks. If a creature of sufficient weight steps on the soil above it, it will burst. A cone of red branches sprays upwards like a land mine, impaling and shredding. One moment, nothing. The next, a 6' tall red twiggy bush growing through the body of your friend. The body rots and provides nutrients for the bloodbracken to grow and produce seeds. It's entirely safe in this form. Dig around the base and you'll find bones and possibly treasure.

5. Molegrass. To most people, a completely ordinary tuft of flax-like grass. Molegrass sends out hollow roots. The roots are poisonous to prevent mice and other creatures from living inside them. If threatened or damaged, molegrass retreats down into its root-tunnels and emerges a few moments later from a different spot. Walking through a field of molegrass is like scattering an army of tuft-headed fairies before you. Molegrass is sometimes called "conqueror grass" for this reason.

6. Hornet Coral. A woody fibrous bush that's struck up a symbiotic relationship with hornets. The plant provides stability and fibre for the wasps to build their nests. The wasps sting the everliving fuck out of anything that tries to eat the bush. Assuming a good food supply, hornet coral can stretch for miles. Creatures that can tolerate the hornet's stings, parasites, and food-slaves (hornets also farm), also live in the reef. I'm surprised these don't exist in real life, to be honest.

Bonus: Reannual Grapes. A persistent error in Creation, reannuals are plants you harvest the year before you plant them. This is tricky work. Only a few monastic sites cultivate reannual grapes. It's easier than harvesting other reannual plants, but if you ever fail to plant or harvest last year's crop, paradox angels show up and burn down your monastery. Similarly, reannual wine (or counterwine, as opposed to table wine) gives you a hangover the morning before you drink it. If a PC mysteriously has a hangover in an area where counterwine is sold, they need to drink some as soon possible or paradox angels might arrive and set everything on fire.

dense under brush

Gardens

Shrines to domesticated plants. A big wheat field is impressive, but a garden is a tiny segment of the wilderness made perfect and smooth. Dogs are tamed wolves. Gardens are tamed forests. We tell stories about how real life ought to be, and we build gardens to make nature the way it ought to be.

Needless to say, druids hate gardens. If they ever found out about greenhouses filled with rare jungle plants they'd probably die of rage.

Garden Wizards are powerful because they tame the forest and drive back starvation. They'll walk a belt of trees down the hill to stop a flood or protect a field from the wind. They can clear a new field in hours instead of years. Rural folk might applaud an Orthodox Wizard and his fancy tricks, but they'll line up to marry a Garden Wizard. 

Dryads

Some people think dryads are "tree-lings", a race of people with plant-like features. They're wrong. 

Ghosts are the souls of creatures that don't know they're dead, or are too insane to care. Dybbuks and vampires are created when a creature knows it is dead but has the strength to carry on, at least for a time. A fleeing soul can possess an animal but the arrangement is temporary and unpleasant for everyone involved. Ever wondered why cats are so weird?

But a fleeing soul can also possess a young plant. Trees are preferred because they are magical reservoirs with weak souls. As the tree grows, the new soul inside of it forms a burl, and if conditions are right, eventually springs free as a dryad. Their past life is mostly forgotten. All motivations and ambitions are cleansed. Having wood for brains does that to you.

Dryads are ludicrously magical, like unicorns or dragons. They have simulated biologies. They have a heart that pumps sap, leaf-lungs that breathe air, but they don't need them to live. They're vestigial, or comfortable, or eccentric. They don't start out gendered, but sometimes they remember bits of their past life and change their forms accordingly. Alternatively, they pick forms that appeal to credulous travelers. Dryads build strange little houses or clearings, filled with half-remembered glimpses of their past life.

It's difficult to fight a dryad. They can walk through plants. The forest will never harm them. They are also mostly harmless, so druids and elves and people leave them alone. If a dryad likes you, it will try and make you stay and live with it. Dryads are very forgetful. They might not realize you've died of dehydration. If a dryad hates you, it will retreat to its grove and unleash nearby trees and shrubs.


Until I Say, Ryan Alexander

Dryad Stats

As a vampire, but replace "needs blood" with "needs sunlight" and "weak to sunlight/holiness/garlic/silver/whatever" with "weak to cold, darkness, and unkindness". I don't care if the statblock doesn't make sense. Also, dryads aren't undead.
Spells: charm, fear, sleep

Plant Walk: dryads move through trees like water. They can swim up a tree and emerge in the crown, or burrow into the roots. They can compress to fit in a 1' tree trunk. They love playing hide-and-go-seek.
Heal: the touch of a dryad restores any character to full HP, but does not heal any injuries. Plants flourish and grow.

Dryad Past Lives

1. Evil Sorcerer King
Not evil anymore, just kind of callous. Has a small army of 1" high disobedient plant servants. Lives in a tree turned into a tower. Is working on a fragmented and forgotten scheme, like a child building a moon rocket out of motorcycle parts.

2. Spurned Lover
Driven to suicide, in fine romantic tradition. Wants a loving companion who can never leave. Ever. Starts off as adorably awkward, ends up stabbing you with roots through the eyeballs.

3. Peasant Farmer
Has a tiny garden with rare and, in some cases, unique plants enhanced by magic. Will offer you a feast. Feast may have side-effects. If you've got a random potion table, apply it to the tomatoes.

4. Lost Child
Adorable, tiny, and capricious. Has a puppy named Dog. Actually a giant, extremely surly bear that will sit patiently while the dryad puts flowers in its hair. Will swat the heads off anyone who makes the dryad cry.

5. Highwayman
Sleek, elegant, and charming. A mature dryad, pretending it knows more than it does. Wants shiny things to bury in the ground. Thinks it's growing a golden forest. 1-in-6 chance that the next time the party passes by, the dryad returns their valuables plus a basket full of tiny identical copies, with stems attached.

6. Explorer.
A mobile grove. Might be a walking tree, might just be the dryad hopping along and spending the night building a nest. Wants to look at maps. The dryad knows a lot about the local region but 50% of the information is false or nonsense.

Mushrooms

Are not plants, and deserve their own post.

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 black 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

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 Lurm 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, Lurm commanded them to seek out the hill's mysteries and return to Elderstone.

The group of exiles, vagabonds, and eccentrics set out immediately. Lurm 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 their comrade, retreated to the stairs.

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. 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.