2021/02/17

40k: Crassus Command Vehicle

 Brace yourselves for 40k minutiae.


The Praetor Armoured Assault Launcher is usually pictured open, with its bank of ludicrous missiles on display. When closed though, the vehicle's shape is very striking. Since the Moribundan 1st Armoured Regiment doesn't use missiles or rockets, a Praetor wouldn't fit the general theme. I decided to convert the vehicle into an mobile command bunker; an upgraded Crassus Armoured Transport.


Illustrations of Imperial command scenes always feature loads of interesting details. Holoprojectors, withered servitors, skulls, cables, robes. This isn't a clean Star Trek bridge. It's closer to a submarine or a feudal throne room.

I don't normally do vehicle interiors or mini-dioramas, but the Praetor has basic interior details. After a long bath in paint remover and many hours of scrubbing, the vehicle's interior was ready for basic blocking.
The Imperial Guard commander (based on a Titan pilot) is the focus of the scene, and the only seated figure. In front of them, advisors squabble and gesture.

The Master of the Administratum types on an autoscribe with one hand while gesturing upwards with the other. The miniature's base is a Solar Auxilia commander, with a Genestealer Cultist head. Love the goggles. The base figure is ridiculously ornate and perfect for the scene. The plain shaven head creates a nice contrast with the layers of buckles, scrolls, and tiny gears.

The Master reads from a book held by a kneeling Servitor (not show in the blocking because it kept tipping over). The book contains a few subtle Inquisitorial symbols. Perhaps the Servitor is not all that it seems.

The servitor subtly points downwards with its right hand, while the Master points upwards with their left. In standard Imperial symbolism, this indicates that the Master is supporting the action in question, but is wrong, while doctrine (represented by the book), does not support the action and is correct.

The Tech-Priest's right hand is an iron claw. Their left, flesh, holds a dataslate. The exact symbolism is obscure. They do not hold an Omnissian Axe for three reasons. First, openly displaying a weapon inside an Imperial command vehicle would be a breach of protocol. Second, the miniature didn't come with one. And third, it wouldn't have fit inside the hull.


The last member of the tableaux (so far) is an Imperial officer, possibly representing the Imperial Navy, possibly the Commissariat. Depends on how I paint them, I suppose. Apparently this figure came with the Lucius Pattern Warlord Titan head. I'm not sure how I got it. The figure holds a scroll case in their right hand, but conceals it behind one leg, symbolizing an opinion withheld.

I'd like to put more figures in the scene, but the vehicle's roofline drops suddenly towards the rear, so there's not a lot of space. I'm planning on adding a small shrine and a kneeling Ministorum priest, facing away and to the side.
The floor will be covered in cables, parchment, and candles (and skulls, of course). I'll also try to stick a few extra servitors and acolytes into the mix.

I want to create the sense that this Imperial commander is surrounded on all sides by contradictory advice, overwhelming and irrelevant information, factionalism, ritual, and prayer. Their pose is fixed, passive, staring straight ahead. Are they listening and evaluating or gripped by apathy and madness? In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, is there any difference?

2021/02/11

OSR: Wizard Libraries

Under this paradigm, a library full of spellbooks is like a mink farm or a cattle ranch, with all the associated problems. Spells can accidentally crossbreed, cast themselves (with disastrous results), devour each other, or slowly fade.

Sensible wizards keep a spell on one page of a spellbook and fill the facing page (or several pages) with explanatory notes, warnings, and useful notes.

Spellbooks don't burn. Scrolls burn (that's their job), but spellbooks are written on thick vellum. Powerful spells are trapped in gemstones, lead sheets, or gold wafers. Setting fire to a magical library seems like a great way to ruin a wizard and level their tower, but in practice, it usually just scorches the furniture and irritates the cleaning spirits.

Cascade failures (where one spellbook fails and sets off the next spellbook) are possible, but wizards usually space out critical volumes and insert mundane books, lead buffers, or blocks of wood between active works. Magical librarians would feel at home in a nuclear safety course. Incidentally, a good scroll case is designed to turn an accidental magical explosion into a magical shaped charge. Anything directly in front or behind of the scroll case is going to have a very bad day, but the carrier, protected by the tube, might survive.

Sensible wizards also use early warning systems. These days, industrial wizards buy auto-buzzers and colour-coded charms. In the old days, a stuffed alligator and some special herbs served the same purpose. Any escaped necromantic spells might earth in the alligator instead of in the wizard; some herbs react to spells or ambient magic in unusual ways. Wizard kitsch serves a purpose. If a wizard finds a strange rock that vibrates whenever fire magic is cast, they'll probably stick a bell on it and use it as a paperweight, because you never know.
 

Books of Theory

The saying goes, "Before Principia Arcana, nothing." Principia changed the world. Old magical theories, no matter how elaborately documented or embellished, were swept into the dustbin of history. A few wizards might keep copies of Druidic Laws or Statgolger's Elements to show their erudition, but they aren't reference works.

The saying continues "After Principia Arcana, a lot of bickering." The core principles of the paradigm are widely understood and rigorously tested. The details, such as the Eightfold Theory and the Problem of Classification of Spells, are hotly contested. Every season sees a fresh fleet of books printed in Endon. Keeping track of their arguments, let alone reading all of them, would take a legion of wizards. Most shrug, pick a few ones with decent titles or reputable authors, read the first few chapters, and leave them to decorate a shelf. Industrial magic requires more than mere theory.

History and Poetry

Was Cuthbert Coldhand's sword really "so sharpe it cleft / light itself in twain / and scattered half-rainbows like tears to the ground"? Did wizards of old really raise mountains or cut new paths for rivers? Where are the fabled cities of Ithicon and Luuur, whose sorcerers once ruled the known world? Wizards, in their idle hours, like to paw through volumes of forgotten lore, both for inspiration and for potential clues.

Untranslated works in obscure languages fetch high prices at Endon's auctions. Forging them is a lucrative art.
 

What Not To Do (And How Not To Do It)

Few wizards are willing to admit that they turned 40,000gp of funding into a small lake of sludge, an ocelot that can sing, and a permanent odour of buttermilk. A wizard has to balance the humiliation of publishing their failures with potential gains in revenue, credibility, and survival. The nascent academic publishing system in Endon is more of a newsletter distribution mechanism; wizards publish papers by stuffing notes under doors, taunting rivals, or writing screeds to the editors of papers.

Since spectacular disasters tend to destroy all notes, experimenters, equipment, and witnesses, reconstructing events that lead to the final "hrm, that doesn't look right" moment is a difficult art. Retrograde scrying is possible, but grows increasingly fuzzy near high-powered magic events. Wizards with the skill and experience to examine the wreckage tend to stay away from smouldering craters. The mob might mistake them for the perpetrator. The greater the disaster, the more speculative the reconstruction. Criminal prosecution can uncover all sorts of interesting details. The courts of Endon are notoriously slow, corrupt, and ignorant of magical matters, but when the public good is at stake they can force wizards to explain extremely complex concepts in absurd levels of detail. Court transcripts (copied by diligent scribe-spells) form a solid core of many libraries.

The line between "cautionary tale" and "instruction manual" is very thin. One wizard's disaster might be another wizard's desired outcome.

Bottled Memoirs

Wizards with more money than sense buy and store bottled memories. Drink one and you gain a new memory. If the seller was honest, it might be a titillating, scandalous, or thrilling memory.

Memories are fickle things. Without links to other cues, a new memory fades quickly. It's not an immersive experience (despite promises on the bottles). It's a memory; it's in the past, and all the irrelevant details are fuzzy. Drink too many and your own memories will get mixed up.

Some wizards are said to store crucial trade secrets in memory bottles, but it's a device from melodrama, not from life. The safest and most useful place for a secret is in the wizard's head.

More than one wizard, haunted by youthful hubris or foolish decisions (the kind that arrive suddenly in the night and make one want to gouge out one's forehead with a metal brush), has prised offending memories out of their head and stuffed them into bottles, to be stored and ignored. Editing your own past is a recipe for disaster; your past mistakes inform your present self. Still, it's a tempting prospect. Woe betide the burglar who downs a draught labelled "A Night With A Princess of Thule" and gets a brainful of "My First Date And The Horrible Aftermath", courtesy of a frugal wizard reusing bottles.

Extracting a recent memory from a trained and willing individual requires a trivial spell. Extracting a buried, distant, or complex memory requires a dangerous and experimental helmet, the services of a dubious physician, a human-sized centrifuge (#41 in the catalogue), and some bottled lightning.
 

Animated Pornography

The oldest enchanted illustration known to Loxdon College features, according to the prudish catalogue card, "two nude figures encountering difficulties while attempting to fold a bearskin rug". Chronoscrying puts the illustration's age after the invention of fire but well before the invention of trousers. Students, of course, use "encountering difficulties" and "folding a bearskin rug" as euphemisms.

Moving illustrations of every act imaginable (and some you can't imagine, even with the aid of explanatory diagrams) are available in Endon for the right price. Owning them is technically a Moral Crime, but punishment (if any) depends on the nature of the acts illustrated, and the outrage that can be mustered locally.

The largest enchanted illustration known to Loxdon College (though not officially) is "Custard Accident #4", a 12'x'18 canvas currently in possession of an anonymous coal magnate.

Book Lists and Useful Tools

I was going to write my own table of books, but a) there are plenty of tables and generators out there, b) MIR has an abundance of name tables, c) the course list in this post can double as reference book titles, and d) the temptation to make them all puns was too high.

Elfmaids and Octopi
1d100 Books Found In A Dungeon
1d100 Worst Books In The World
1d100 Blasphemous Books of the Black Library
1d100 Books of Shadel Port
 

One Hundred Grimoires
Donjon Tome Generator

The Library of William Morris
Listing to Port (tagged) books
Pulpcovers.com

The Stygian Library


2021/02/10

OSR: Generic Laboratory

Patrick Stuart set a challenge. I needed a generic laboratory for a chapter of the Monster Overhaul. Lo and behold, it all worked out.

Original: Pits of the Black Moon by Dyson Logos.

It's about as poetic as those dreadful sonnets students are forced to write and about as artpunk as an office photocopier used to make zines, but it's done, and (hopefully), it's useful.

Small Dungeon Considerations
  • I try to aim for 6-12 rooms. Fewer than six isn't really a dungeon; more than 12 doesn't fit on one page in the format I've chosen, and often leads to duplicated ideas. This limits map selection. Having a d# of rooms lets GMs easily roll a random room number.
  • I try to pick maps where the natural room order (if you start numbering where the PCs enter the dungeon and increment in some sort of logical path) matches the layout on the page, so each room's description is close to its number. Sometimes (like in this map), it doesn't work perfectly, but it's something to aim for. Dyson has so many maps that picking one is often the hardest part of a generic dungeon; this challenge was helpfully specific.
  • I edit maps to make them fit the page, the concept, or the format restrictions. Dyson's maps have shadows so rotating them can lead to odd effects, but trimming off a few rooms or adjusting some details is trivial and can significantly change the nature of a map. In this case, I cut off the entire left wing of the dungeon.
  • I try to strike a balance between evocative language and impenetrable prose. These generic dungeons are supposed to be instant GM assistants. Every line should add meaning or utility, but if a GM has to stop to untangle a sentence, the generic dungeon becomes less useful. Distilled essence of dungeon or Reader's Digest pablum? Your call.
  • All generic dungeons (and all bestiary entries) receive periodic punch-up passes, where I try to identify boring bits, excise dull words, and look for repeated adjectives.

Here's a bonus Generic Grotto.


2021/02/05

OSR: Thomas Infolded

Straight from a nightmare I had.

Thomas Infolded is, by most definitions, a cannibal. He eats people. Technically, he infolds them. He weighs twenty two and a half tons, but he can fly.

And he looks just like anyone else.

Imagine the outline of a human being on a sheet of paper. That's a normal person.

Thomas has the same outline, but the paper inside the outline is crinkled and warped and extends backwards and forwards. There's more surface area. There's more Thomas. A lot more Thomas.

He eats people by touching them and folding them into his body. For a few seconds, they look like they're falling into his flesh, as if he's much farther away (and much larger), or they're shrinking. And then there's a ripple and warp and he's whole again.

He eats people to gain their memories and their powers. He's a polymath. He speaks most languages. He's a very powerful wizard (but keeps it hidden in his infoldings, so you'd be hard pressed to detect it from a distance).

Stab him, and fresh hearts swim to the surface. Thomas's outline is human, but the filling isn't. Not really. Not anymore.

Thomas has a lot of HP. Physical damage is irritating but rarely dangerous. He's eaten people who can regenerate; he heals very quickly. He's hard to assassinate; his infoldings have eyes in all directions. He's hard to poison and hard to trick. He can fake his own death (he's done it more than once).

It might be possible to kill him by letting him eat someone unpalatable or fundamentally unstable.

He's strong, but not overwhelmingly strong. There's only so much muscle you can cram into a human-shaped outline. He's smart, but his brains still take time to process information.

But he's been alive for a long time. He's eaten several immortals. He's not done eating yet.


2021/01/27

OSR: Massive Community Hexcrawl - Complete

 The Massive Community Hexcrawl is finished. 42 different people contributed hexes and encounters. Starting from nothing (no prompts, no direction, no theme or direction), the hexcrawl grew organically into a post-apocalyptic science fantasy wastelandcrawl, the sort of thing you could use with Ultraviolet Grasslands, Acid Death Fantasy, or stick next to Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, or mash it up with my unofficial World of Rust bestiary.

V 1.7 PDF


Final Notes
It was really interesting to see how the project developed. I tried to stick to a format that would avoid some of the worst issues with community projects and (despite the extended timescale), it worked. The main delays were on my end.

The strict character limits were usually followed, but some people either missed them or didn't care. I had to do a fair bit of editing and, in a few cases, ignore submissions that didn't really fit the theme or provide any added utility.

People tended not to submit encounters. It's strange that writing a hex is easier than writing a good random encounter, but not too surprising. I had to write a fair number of them.

The hex and encounter formats (first tested in the Veinscrawl) are as robust as ever.

Enjoy! And thanks again to everyone who contributed. The whole thing is licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0. If anyone feels like making alternate maps, handy tools, or extra content, drop a link in the comments.