Thursday, 14 May 2020

Neural Networks in Mysterious Ways

It's no secret that I don't like Clerics in D&D. I struggle with making gods important while making sure my setting still makes sense, and I don't like that they're often just relegated to healbot.

Hopefully, this is an alternative that fits for Fantastic Voyage, my Eldritch Apocalypse Gaslamp Fantasy setting.

This weird line of inspiration has essentially got me to put Clerics in a game where there are no gods besides a Lovecraftian pantheon, and no holiness of any kind. Thanks mate, could not have done it without you.
What started it all

 You are a worshipper of h'HiMiK, an old machine. A neutral network apparently given life by Pre-Sighting magics. Most of what the old machine spouted was gibberish, but on rare occasions it wrote text that was very helpful to your people. It was kept as a curiosity but worshipped when it printed out a weird mess than when followed, led the struggling community to a new source of water. Six months later, it produced instructions to create a substance that was harmless to your people, but deadly to the creatures attacking your home town.

As the world has begun to recover from The Sighting, the worship of h'HiMiK has continued to spread and is currently a sanctioned religion in the New World Empire.

Nobody knows if h'HiMiK is actually its name. That was the first thing it printed to the settlers and it ignores further requests for its true name.


Follower of the h'HiMiK Machine

Starting Equipment: A holy symbol made from sticks of RAM, a vial of Blackwater (see below).
Starting Skills: Computers, Gambling

A: Spells Via Neural Network, Hypergeometry
B: +1 spell, Blackwater
C: +1 spell, Neural Networks in Mysterious Ways
D: +1 spell, Library of Babel
You have 1 MD per h'HiMiK template you possess.

Spells via Neural Network: The machine occasionally contacts you, fills your head with a jumbled mess. Each level, you gain spells, starting with 3 (or however many your GLOG's wizard starts with normally). The thing is, these spells are randomly chosen (if they weren't already), from random sources of GLOG magic (the GM is encouraged to ensure every spell is usable to the player, but spread as many potential sources as possible)
Comment: In my hack, spells are chosen on level-up, and the randomness only comes from scrolls found in the world. These followers are going to be the exception to the rule, where their entire spell is randomised. 

Hypergeometry: Nobody knows whether it's your faith or the machine acting through you, but you are sometimes able to turn a construct or eldritch horror by pointing your holy symbol at them and shouting the words the network pours into your mind. They get a saving throw, but should they fail, you have spoken the exact right combinations of words and phrases needed to get them to back off for a while. As long as you concentrate and do nothing else, the creature can't attack you nor move any closer towards you, and will back up if it's within 20ft of you. If you fail to turn a creature or your concentration is broken, you can't attempt again until you level up.
Comment: Yeah, it's turn undead, and yeah the name is a Delta Green reference. Weirdly, the GLOG Clerics I looked at for inspiration didn't have turn undead, so I wrote this from scratch. I may put a limit on the ability if it proves too powerful.

Blackwater: The chemical compound that's lethal to supernatural creatures wasn’t invented by your people, but through begging the machine for help your home learned the formula. During downtime, you can use about 30sp's worth of ingredients to brew a vial of Blackwater. Blackwater is essentially holy water in a world where there are no gods or angels. It's very toxic to supernatural creatures.
Comment: Holy water in campaign setting where there is none. You could replace this with a ritual to manufacture holy water and it wouldn't change a thing. If it's cheaper in your setting, you may want to adjust the price.

Neural Networks in Mysterious Ways: At your games' long rest equivalent, a Follower with no MD remaining can ask a question during their evening's meditation and receive an answer from the network. The GM is encouraged to provide an answer with an actual neural network (such as talktotransformer.com), and then adjust it to contain a clue to the answer they were seeking.

Library of Babel: The machine spits out another combination of letters into your mind and scribbling this down, you realise that while this is a spell… it's new. The GM homebrews a spell with a name prompted from a neural network, and catered towards the kind of thing the player wants, if they have offhandedly expressed these wants during play.
Comment: I love how Lexi's wizards on the crateredland blog make their own spell for free at Template D. All Wizard-types in my hack do this. I figured this is the way to keep consistency with all the others while putting the same spin on it we did with the rest of the list. 


Final Thoughts

It's a dumb idea, but I kind of love it. Computers are a bit high-tech in my setting really (tech rarely passes the 1920s, and when it does it's often more magic than technology), so I picture this machine looking something like the full-sized Enigma machine.

I can see the Template C feature being a pain for a GM who isn't happy with improvising complete gibberish. An alternative trait could be:

Neural Networks in Other, Equally Mysterious Ways: At the start of each session, your GM selects one additional spell. You can cast this spell using your MD until the next session, where it is replaced by another random spell.

I don't like this trait as much as it's essentially the same as the way the class gets magic, but it's better than leaving a gap level at Template C I think.

Oh, and there's no healing for this class as I've written it. My hack's pretty generous with how much a rest heals, as are most GLOG hacks I've seen. If this isn't the case for yours and you want this class to go full cleric, making one of their three starting spells a healing spell is probably the way to go.

Monday, 13 April 2020

JACKALOPE 2020 - Eight Encounters for the Riverbank

Jackalope 2020

It's like Santicorn but I guess we didn't want to wait until Christmas. That's cool.

Note: Encounter 2 is about a giant spider. There are no images of spiders on this blogpost.

Vance requested
"A mini-adventure/crawl/collection of encounters for characters travelling down a river - may be either the driver of the adventure or just that randomness that happens on a journey".

So for this, I'm going to write a couple different things, with hooks and just a things for characters to see on their journey. 8 encounters for a group sailing down the river bank. For the sake of this table, I'm assuming that the PCs are on a boat, but I think these work fine anyway.

Each encounter is intended to stand on its own. Either just use this table or take the ones you like and put them on your table.

I'm also assuming that the PCs are at least fairly low level. It shouldn't be too hard to scale monsters up if you feel the need to. The Worst Hydra's stats were based loosely off of a Plesiosaur from the monster manual, just at a lower level.

1d8
Result
1
A Glimpse of the Ferryman
2
Black Widow
3
Brightflies
4
Cult Meeting, You Weren't Invited
5
Do You Know Who I Am?
6
Hoi Polloi
7
The Man on the Riverbank
8
The Merchant from the Weirdest Place


A Glimpse of the Ferryman:
"Folktales tell us a lot of the river Styx, but what they often leave out is the Styx kinda exists with the rivers around the world. Catch the right river at the right time, and you'll catch a glimpse of the ferryman, helping a soul pass on".
  • This is a nighttime encounter, preferably while the PCs are camped on the riverbank. The PCs on watch catch a glimpse of Charon himself- it's obvious, definitely enough to not require a roll. The PCs see a spectral figure rowing a similarly-incorporeal boat, with 1d3-1 other spirits riding with him. This skiff has an otherworldly glow about it as it follows the stream down river.
  • It doesn't interact with the PCs at all, but should the PCs follow the ferryman down the river (there's no roll needed provided they keep a brisk pace and don't stop for anything), the boat will eventually turn a blind corner and disappear into the ether. The PCs then notice that a tree stump nearby has a pouch on it. It contains some coin- Charon has no use for the money given to him by those who hire his services, so he leaves it behind when he passes through back to the netherworld.
  • If anything is following the PCs or if you have a burning desire to throw a combat encounter in, immediately after the PCs follow this trip to the end is the perfect time to do so.


Black Widow:
  • The PCs pass through a wooded area, and the grim forest makes everything feel a lot more claustrophobic.
  • It's not long before the PCs see skeletons, webbed into the trees. It's a nasty sight.
  • There are two Death Widow spiders here, huge nasty grey spiders with the image of a red skull on their backs.
  • The death widows watch from above the treetops, though the most perceptive PCs will notice them very quickly.
  • The Death Widows have a limited amount of innate spellcasting that's related to necromancy- they can animate webbed up corpses within 60ft or so.
  • Before the encounter begins, the widows ensure they've been seen by the PCs, and that they are preparing. Then, corpses in the webbed trees will attempt to grapple PCs that get too close, and every now and again one will break free of the webbing and attempt to grapple a PC that's out of their reach.

Death Widows
  • Armour: as Chain
  • Hit Dice: 3+3
  • Hit Points: 16, 15
  • Move: Standard, Climb 2x Standard (including webbing)
  • Damage: 2 bites 1d6 each
  • Cut Them Loose: Instead of attacking, a Death Widow that's near their webbing can cut loose 1d6 Webbed Victims.

Webbed Victim
  • Armour: None
  • Hit Dice: 2
  • Hit Points: 1
  • Move: Standard
  • Damage: 1d2 + Grapple


Brightflies:
  • Passing through this area, the PCs notice swarms of butterfly-like creatures fly all around the banks. These are Brightflies, a common insect around these parts.
  • They'll be all around the PCs ship (but rarely passing onto it) for a day or so. At night time, Brightflies glow in beautiful iridescent colours.
  • This encounter's only real feature is that the PCs have a beautiful show tonight from the lights of these bugs. 
  • Of course, they won't clock that for a few minutes when you first announce that.
  • Should your players be the kind who enjoy roleplaying in-character, this is an ideal moment for them to just take a breather and do their thing for a bit.
  • If not, this is a good time to have them feel safe for a little bit before something else comes afterwards.
  • At the GM's option, one player knows that Brightflies are harmless. Another player "knows" brightflies are an ill omen.


Cult Meeting, You Weren't Invited:
  • The PCs aren't alone. They see them up ahead. There are multiple tents built around a single wooden shack and a small stone tower that appears to have been a lot taller once upon a time.
  • At the GM's option, the PCs may see a few humanoid figures in this campsite. Or they might all be in their structures.
  • There's a small outpost of cultists here, that worship the monster that inhabits this lake. They bring their human sacrifices here. The creature is like a Hydra, except it's only got one head. The Worst Hydra has more in common with a tiny plesiosaur than a hydra.
  • The cult leader is a human named Elgar, and he's a 3rd level Magic-User, though at the GM's option he may have a couple cleric spells too. Most of the rest of the cultists are 0-level, with one or two 1st level Fighters in the mix.
  • Elgar's headdress is notable because it's exquisite craftsmanship, with many scales, a crown made of bone and on the top there's a bone-carved plesiosaur reaching out. While Elgar wears this headdress, he can attempt to control prehistoric creatures directly in a nearby radius, and call for assistance 1/day in a much longer radius. It works automatically on prehistoric creatures with 5 or fewer HD (i.e. virtually none of them if you're running the dinosaur stats in the old-school monster manuals), and creatures with more get saving throws to resist.
  • The 1st level Fighters are Elgar's more elite cultists. They're decked in armour that's leather covered with a few fossilied bone parts on top to reinforce it a bit. Each might have a really cool helmet made from a small dinosaur skull that's been hollowed to fit a human head.
  • At the GM's option, Elgar may carry one or more additional magic items. I'd suggest potions, scrolls, rings and talismans, especially ones he may get to use if the PCs attack.
  • The cultists themselves are mostly armed with wavy daggers and clubs in the shape of plesiosaur heads, although a few are armed with scimitars and some with shortbows. 
  • The tower is where the worship happens. There is a trench in the riverbed that passes through to the tower's underground. Sacrifices are brought into cages with false bottoms and they are fed to the Worst Hydra by pulling a lever and dropping them in.
  • The cult isn't actually hostile to the PCs immediately. They're clearly deeply strange, but as they have a lot of sacrifices already, they won't do anything to PCs that don't do anything to hurt them first. They are willing to trade a few nice art objects for supplies, which may be worth more than the supplies when the PCs return to a settlement.
  • The tower is off-limits to visitors. They say it's sacred to them. If the PCs enter, they won't see the secret entrance to the cult's worship room right away. There's a spiral staircase at the back that goes up to a second floor and should go up higher, but most of the tower is gone and the second floor is now the roof. An illusion obscures the fact that the staircase goes down into a basement as well.

The Worst Hydra:
  • Armour: as Leather
  • Hit Dice: 4
  • Hit Points: 20
  • Move: Swim Standard
  • Damage: bite 1d8
  • Vanish into the River: The water is deep and murky enough for the Worst Hydra to vanish while its under the surface. It's neck is also long enough for it to reach more or less anywhere on the boat that is uncovered.


Do You Know Who I Am?:
"The vodyanoi is a water spirit, appearing as a naked humanoid with a frog-like face, greenish beard and skin like a seal. Their eyes burn with red-hot coals, and their magical abilities are weirdly inconsistent"
  • The PCs get this encounter while travelling down the river. Vasser, a Vodyanoi rises up out of the water at a spot where only one PC can see him, and he attempts to cast Charm Person (or your games' equivalent) on them.
  • Should the creature pass their saving throw, Vasser will try to play it cool and defuse the situation, relying on the PC not knowing that was indeed a spell Vasser tried to put over on them. If it escalates, he will flee, but continue following the PCs' boat, and try again with someone else, but while invisible this time.
  • If Vasser successfully charms the character, he will tell them to go and get one of their friends, and repeat the same process. Then, he and these two PCs are going to attempt to take the barge by force.
  • Vasser will not show himself to the other PCs, instead choosing to order the PCs under his control via the Message spells he has. He might cling onto the underside of the boat with Spider Climb or even just tail it as the PCs work.
  • Vasser wants the PCs' treasure, and he's doing all the underhanded stuff he needs to to get it.

Vasser the Vodyanoi
  • Armour: as Leather
  • Hit Dice: 6
  • Hit Points: 21
  • Move: Standard, Swim 2x Standard
  • Damage: 2 swipes 1d3/1d3
  • Innate Spellcasting: Vasser can cast Audible Glamer, Change Self, Message and Spider Climb at will, Charm Person 3 times a day and he can cast Invisibility and Levitate once per day each. He will use his at-will spells to mess with players as best as he can, while he'll save his once per day spells for absolute emergencies. He counts as a 6th level caster.
  • Vodyanoi's Gaze: Vasser can use his red eyes to shoot a red-hot laser beam that shoots forward in a 20ft line, once per day. All creatures in the line take 2d4 points of damage, save for half.
  • Saving Throws: Vasser saves as a 6th level Wizard or your system's equivalent.



Hoi Polloi:
  • The PCs come across a loner fishing at the lake. He will wave at the PCs when they come over.
  • The man's name is Mace, and he claims to be a loner who subsists off of fish and game, and occasionally sells what he's got left over and fur products to get some stuff from some nearby settlements.
  • PCs chatting to him about these things can get information on nearby areas, possible future encounters and a few heavily exaggerated "war stories", especially if they trade him some alcohol or cheese.
  • He's not got a lot on him now, but if the PCs were to wait at this point he could bring some of the stuff on his cart.
  • This is a trap. Mace is part of a group of morally questionable adventurers. He's the groups' ranger. When he goes to get his cart, he also informs the rest of his group that they have a possible mark.
  • The idea is Mace's group is smaller and weaker than the PCs, so they're going to use the element of surprise to their advantage as best they can. You can also adjust the morale of these guys down a bit. They pick their battles and know when to run. If they do, you might have a possible recurring enemy on your hands.


The Man on the Riverbank:
  • The PCs see a single humanoid man on the riverbank, only half-looking at them, also looking at a pocket watch he has in his off hand.
  • The man seems to know everything that the PCs are going to do, and is counting down for something. He does not respond if they call out to him, though will use the Shield spell or similar magics to protect himself if he is attacked.
  • As the PCs pass the man, he very quickly hops over their boat and onto the other side of the bank.
  • If any PCs attempt to intercept this guy, he ducks and dodges as if he knew that was coming, and he zig-zags in just the right way that unless the PCs come up with some way of catching him that you the GM definitely didn't see coming, he'll get away.
  • If pressured, he'll use the Shield or Haste spell on himself, but he won't if he can avoid it.
  • After he gets away, out from the woods (possibly from chasing him) are a group of Orcs/ Gnolls/ Human Bandits/ something else. He deliberately timed this so that the PCs will be attacked by the raiders that 
  • Assuming he gets away, the PCs will learn that this isn't the only weird occurrence today. The man is going to be in the next dungeon the PCs raid. He's a powerful sorcerer who learned through future-scrying magic when his own death is going to be, and he's doing everything he can to ensure that doesn't happen, not knowing that seeing his own death has decided that it will happen.
  • When this second encounter happens, he has just the spells/ tactics he needs to counter the PCs for the first few rounds, but after that point he will rapidly get overwhelmed.
  • His belongings are mostly unexceptional except for a book of insane scrawlings and the pocket watch. However, if you wish to put a magic item on his person, that would make sense too.
  • If a spellcaster holds the pocket watch and focuses into it, they get a glimpse of a possible future. I've considered this item as simply a vision of a possible death that the PCs now know to avoid or as a d20 that they can roll in-advance and substitute any d20 roll for, but I like the former more than the latter.
  • The book of insane ramblings, when examined, explains what's happening here. If someone stares into the clock for too long in too short a period of time, you see a vision of your death, and each time you dream at night you dream of the same death, with a few minor details changed each time. The rest of the book is a record on exact times certain events happen (including the PCs passing through on the barge), and a big list of possible ways to survive this day (all scribbled out).


The Merchant from the Weirdest Place:
  • The PCs find another encampment on the side of the riverbank, at a makeshift port.
  • Several tents line up and down the bank, there's about 100 people here in total.
  • This is the crew of a few weird merchants. If your campaign setting has a particularly strange and gonzo country that the players haven't seen yet, these merchants are from there.
  • Otherwise, you should describe their fashions and habits as very strange to whatever the norm is as of the PCs- they could have a weird exotic headdress, bright yellow, twisted into a weird contorted shape and bells of silver hanging from the top.
  • Most of these merchants speak broken common, but are not foolish. 
  • There are a few figures that co-operate with the merchants- humanoids with pale red skin, clad in silks (each of these are sorcerers from a guild in their homelands. Their spells vary, but all know Comprehend Languages & some more exotic spells the PCs have not seen)
  • The other important figures are weird ogre-like creatures with a more elephant-like appearance in brass armour. Each carries a huge hammer.
  • The merchants are trading goods, spells and tales from their own lands, and tales include a city on stilts where giant monkeys rule, an undersea palace on a plane where there is an ocean without a surface, and a parallel world where one city moves like clockwork on a mechanism that was old when humanity was young. It's up to the GM whether any of these places exist, and if there's any strange places in your own setting, describe them too.
  • The goods can include exotic weaponry and armour, fruits that function as healing potions, spells that haven't existed in this campaign setting at all up to this point or other things that are ideas that you've had that feely wildly out of place compared to the rest of the setting.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

The OSR Game Pitch

Had a chat with some folks on the OSR discord and someone was looking for a game. Their issue- it's quite difficult to communicate sometimes what a game is about. After all, straight B/X, GLOG, Electric Bastionland, Stars Without Number and Carcosa are all OSR, and someone going in expecting one and getting another will be surprised.

I had the idea to make a form that a GM can fill in just to get people to have an idea of what's to expect in their games. There are a few entries to fill:

  • There are a few yes/no options for some popular house rules and stuff.
  • There are a list of magic systems, the GM can tick all that apply.
  • There is a list of statements that the GM can number to point out how far in one direction their campaign is.
  • Beneath that is a small spot for GMs to put their Appendix N list (or perhaps an abridged version).
The idea of this is that GMs who want to start a game can just post this link somewhere in where they're advertising, and people can get a good idea of what they're getting into.

The link is here: LINK, make your own copy and fill it in.

If you have any suggestions for things to change, or add or any questions about it, let me know!

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Secret Santicorn 2019

SECRET SANTICORN 2019 - THE TEMPLE OF LETHE
Got a prompt from Zoeology from the OSR Discord this year. It is as follows:
"Some kind of temple/shrine dungeon based around ""water = knowledge and/or memory"". Preferably not the evil cult kind of temple"

I'm not sure what level they want it or what kind of setting its for, so I'm not really going to focus on the level and I'm going to make it broadly compatible with D&D-type games.

I've made a bunch of rooms but deliberately left some stuff empty- namely the second floor & the room the Cocytus room connects to. The former cause I want it to be open enough for a bit of homebrewing to fit what they want. 


The latter is empty because I ran out of steam on the night of the 21st.


INTRODUCTION FOR THE GM
This dungeon is situated underneath a waterfall. It's incredibly ancient, belonging to whatever your precursor race or ancient culture or campaigns' equivalent. Local legends cite it as the place you go when there is something you want to forget.

In a way, the legends are sort of correct. The temple of Lethe is really a place where people came to remember, as well as forget. It was a place of knowledge and power. In addition to the clergy, an order of hydromancers often came here on pilgrimage.

A few things to explain, before I continue:

  • I have virtually no sense of scale. Adjust the size of the rooms to your leisure.
  • Likewise with costs & values. I have enough difficulty pricing stuff in my own games where I wrote the item list.
  • I often use LotFP style skills in my game. Since reading what the "Architecture" skill is for, I try to put hints for it to be used at least once in each dungeon.
  • 30ft is how fast a Human moves in one round. Any creature that's sprinting moves double.
  • I always roll HP for monsters, and I generally roll terribly. That's why monsters in this dungeon have not insignificant HD. Adjusting the stats for a monster should be pretty easy if they're a bit much.
  • I like to use Giant Spiders as monsters because I find the concept terrifying. I've not got any pictures of spiders posted here and you can very easily substitute the spiders for giant geckos or something if you are or you have an arachnophobe in your group.
  • I've not got a lot of experience writing dungeons lmao

The dungeon map


THERE ARE TWO WAYS IN
Atop the waterfall the library is built in, the castle-like second floor can be seen. It's not hard to find and PCs can come across this area without hearing any rumours about it prior.

The intended route is the one that's implied in the rumour- going down the ravine and behind the waterfall goes to the intended entrance (PCs that go this route start at "The Entrance & Library", and work upwards).

Alternatively, PCs with some climbing equipment and something to ride across the river can follow the stream above, and scale the side of the tower wall, before taking the steps down.


THE ENTRANCE & LIBRARY
The entrance is easy to find. It's a cave entrance that's been hollowed out. PCs travel through an entrance point with multiple pillars holding it up, before reaching the true entrance inside the side of the ravine.

Two somewhat large stone doors (each about 8ft tall, wide enough for a horse and cart if both are opened, and with a glass window above) situated immediately behind the water fall. You can even get there without getting wet, cause there's a dirt path that loops through a hole in the rock. Large enough for a horse and cart to get there.

Actually getting the doors open is quite difficult, however. Something behind them is stuck and not budging.
  • The doors can be forced open with a successful open doors roll/ strength check/ whatever else you are doing.
  • A suitably powerful burst of magical force can knock the doors open.
  • Someone smashing the window above can climb in to see that a small fallen bookcase is blocking the entrance. It can be moved quite easily by characters with at least average strength. 
Lifting the bookshelf up reveals a crushed skeleton beneath it. This person was attempting to escape from one of the spiders, and died when the spider knocked the bookshelf onto him. He's got a pouch with some silver in it, a rope with a grappling hook, some mouldy rations, a smashed lantern and a couple pitons. Tucked inside one of the pockets of what's left of his coat is a map of the local area, with the dungeon entrance circled.

Immediately to the PCs' right is a desk that's currently abandoned. This is where the receptionist for this area worked from. The desk has a few things of note in it:
  • Lots and lots of papers. A PC that sifts through these for at least 20ish minutes uncovers a notice by the head of security that activity surrounding the Ammonite room is to be more closely monitored.
  • On the floor underneath the desk is a Wand of Fire Extinguishing.

When the PCs pass through, you may have them make perception checks (if that's a thing) or if they turn up something in a search, they find a second skeleton of a human adventurer not far from the collapsed bookshelf.

The first room is large, and at first extremely dark. It is circular and far larger than the entrance into the cliff face could expectedly be- it's a 100ft radius circle, but with bookshelves and reading nooks all around. PCs that search around see some wall sconces, but not nearly enough to illuminate something of this size.

DM NOTE: If you aren't switching out the spiders for something else, then PCs could well catch sight of webbing if they look around or up at the ceiling. Light being brought into the dungeon (see how in a second) also illuminates it, revealing webs around the place.

Three Giant Water Spiders have made their homes in this area, each tunnelling in through a different way. Obviously, they might not all be in at once. Roll for wandering monsters as soon as someone enters the dungeon. Any result indicating a wandering monster in this room means that 1d3 of the Spiders have caught a glimpse of the PCs in the entrance.

Giant Water Spider:
  • Armour: as Chain
  • Movement: 30ft, Cl30ft, Sw30ft
  • HD: 3+3
  • Bite: 1d6 + Poison
  • Size: L- 8ft diameter. These things are horrifying, but there is an edge the PCs have over them- the bookshelves are closer than 8ft together. To keep pursuit, a given spider will have to follow their quarry over the top of the bookshelves, or spend a turn reorienting itself to walk along the side of them.
  • Slim Pickings: While the spiders generally coexist, pickings are scarce and they will fight over any unconscious PCs. Players can take full advantage of this.
  • Escape: While the Spiders are nightmarish in the dungeon, they are hungry and impatient. They will struggle to fit through the entrance door to give pursuit (and likely won't bother if the PCs get out faster and flee). Similarly, they're too desperate to hang around the entrance and wait for PCs to possibly come back.
  • SPLAT: I'd rule that successfully collapsing a bookshelf onto a Giant Spider inflicts at least 2d8 damage to it (no save) and halves its movement speed until the end of its next turn. Can possibly do more damage if you collapse several shelves on it, do it with some serious force or the GM is impressed.
  • Play Dead (Optional): If you're feeling particularly evil, the first spider to be reduced to 5 or fewer hit points plays dead. It will immediately attack the first creature to go into its melee range once they don't believe it is a threat anymore.
My intention as a GM is that these spiders are tough but not invincible even for low level parties. They're also very possible to escape in a chase.

Each of the spiders has a lair, which is dug into either a wall or the floor somewhere in this huge room. This is the first hint that there's a lot more water to be found in this dungeon, as each has pools of water located at the bottom.
Altogether, the spiders have Type C treasure, divvied up between incidental treasure in each of their lairs.


POINTS OF INTEREST - THE LIBRARY
In the centre of the leftmost wall of the room is a wheel, not unlike those you'd see on a pirate ship. Turning the wheel requires a bit of Strength (a strength test or your games' equivalent, people can aid to boost it. Succeeding opens a valve in the centre of the ceiling, and both water and either sunlight or moonlight will pour through. This has a few effects:
  • If it's daytime, the light pouring through will illuminate almost all of the inside of the library a lot better. The spiders will retreat to their lairs and the dark parts around the outside. If the PCs haven't seen the spiders yet, they may catch a glimpse of one or more scurrying across the tops of the bookshelves.
  • If it's night-time, some light will come through, but not much. Only the immediate area surrounding the fountain will get any illumination.
  • Either way, water is pouring onto the kappa statue in the centre (see below for the significance of this).
  • Water passing through also sets most of the ancient mechanisms back to life.
  • While the main library relies on sunlight, some of the other rooms (particularly ones that would be inhabited during closing hours) are lit up from a minor enchantment when the water is flowing.  Parts of the piping visible in some of the rooms are enchanted to glow when in contact with water.

In the centre of the main room is a fountain. On top of this fountain is a weird statue of a humanoid creature. It has a bowl-like head, a beak and a shell like a tortoise on its back. It's stood upright. The ancient text reads "the Librarian" beneath it. 
  • PCs who pass an Architecture or Stonecunning check or whatever notice that the statue not only looks out of place with the rest of the art, it's made out of a different type of stone.
  • A bit of detect magic will determine strong alteration/transmutation magic coming from the statue, and Identify will determine it as a petrified Kappa. Water poured into the kappa's bowl, either from something the PCs do directly or from opening the water valve (above) will reverse the petrification. The Kappa is very stupid (INT 6), but very strong (STR 18). He doesn't have a name, and was nicknamed the Librarian by the prior inhabitants for his enthusiasm.
  • While poorly lit at the moment, it's situated in the middle of a reading room that strongly resembles a nice garden, with some grass, some chairs and a small, nice wooden bridge over the top of a small, currently dry stream.
  • When the water is activated, this stream will rapidly fill in the first few minutes of the activation.

The Librarian:
  • Armour: As Chain
  • Movement: 30ft, Sw 40ft
  • HD: 2
  • Claws: 1d6/1d6
  • Size: M. The Librarian is a bit taller than a dwarf, but shorter than an elf.
  • Tough Shell: Attacks from behind count as targeting Plate +1 instead of its normal AC.
  • Regeneration: The Librarian regains 1hp per round.
  • Head-Bowl: The Librarians' bowl in its head must contain water. If the bowl is emptied, he is immediately petrified again.
PCs awakening the Librarian roll for reaction rolls when they meet him, but more favourably (with advantage, or a small bonus, or something). He can tell something weird is going on, but he's got little reason to be hostile to who he perceives as pilgrims and scholars.

If the PCs befriend the librarian, there's a lot he can tell them about other things in the library. Obviously he doesn't know about the spiders or why the place is in a state of disrepair, but he knows about traps and may (1 in 6 chance for a given thing, if unsure) have overheard some interesting things about some of the loot in here. The librarian cannot offer any insight into the "Stone Sage", though he has heard that something illicit was rumoured to be going on in the Ammonite room, though nothing was actually found.

The other point of interest in the library is another collapsed bookshelf, just in front of the Nautilus room. Nothing underneath it, but very close by is a skeleton that has multiple yellow flowers growing on it. This is the first hint of a Yellow Musk Creeper being located in this dungeon. It's been sending out "scouts" but most have been killed by the spiders.


THE NAUTILUS ROOM
The Nautilus room is in the north west side of the main library section, and the door is initially sealed, with the hinges on the door being in a strange, stone and metal mechanism. A big lock in the middle of the door sits just beneath a carving of an ammonite and old glyphs adorn the top of the carving. The glyphs simply say Nautilus. They can be in either the common tongue or some ancient text that makes sense for your campaign setting.
  • Studying the Glyphs reveals with a passed Languages/ Traps/ something else check that one character on the door doesn't fit in with the rest of the word. It also looks considerably newer. Detect Magic also reveals that this out-of-place character is the only one that is magic.

Attempting to pick the lock triggers the Glyph of Warding that is the out-of-place character hidden among the others. It deals 2d8 damage or half on a passed saving throw. The trap is triggered prematurely if the door is opened by activating the valve and bringing water onto the statue. This means it's unlikely to hurt anyone if activated this way.

If water is powering the dungeon, the Nautilus Room is well lit by illuminated piping. It is clearly a place of worship, with one door at the far end, an altar with several interesting symbols placed at it, a fountain on the west side and tapestries on each wall.

Also inside the room are two zombies, wrapped in a weird ivy with yellow flowers. Both look at the PCs before skulking at them, with improvised bludgeons or hands outstretched. There is a third, partially obscured because it has grown into the northeast wall of the room just behind the door. It's quite visible- nobody is going to miss the corpse in the side as long as there's light of some sort- but anyone who attempts to open the door without killing it first will be attacked by this zombie. It gets advantage on its to-hit roll and bites the target on a hit.

Yellow Musk Zombies:
  • Armour: Unarmoured
  • Movement: 20ft
  • HD: 2
  • Unarmed Strike/ Improvised Weapon: 1d6
  • Size: M
  • Grab and Bite: On a natural 20, the Musk Zombie bites a target viciously. Fortunately for the player, this doesn't actually do anything special beyond bonus damage. They'll learn this if they meet the Musk Creeper in the Ammonite room or simply wait.
  • Fire Susceptibility: Yellow Musk Zombies take double damage from fire.

The altar has multiple interesting items for the PCs' taking- four holy symbols of your campaigns' knowledge deity or deities, two silver symbols worth 10sp each and a very high quality holy book with a thick leather cover wired with gold, worth 75sp.

Of the various tapestries on the wall, two are damaged by the zombie growing into the wall, but they are all beautiful works and the two that aren't damaged could easily sell for 200sp each if one could roll them up and get them out of the dungeon. That could be quite an ordeal for a party that hasn't kill off the water spiders yet though.

DM NOTE: Setting fire to a musk zombie could spread to a damaged tapestry, and if the players are not careful this could also spread to a pristine one…

The fountain is the final interesting thing to be found in this room. It's exquisitely made and while very immovable, it is filled with seemingly clean water. The fountain has two magical properties:
  • 3/day, it purifies water in it, guaranteeing that it is safe to drink.
  • Any number of times, one can choose to gain knowledge from the bowl. The bowl can answer easy and trivial questions for free, but for particularly difficult ones characters seem to just understand it requires compensation in coin or in memories. A character can sell their personal memories, memorised spells or other things in exchange for knowledge from the bowl. With enough compensation, they may even be able to learn spells or even the command words to magic items they've not been able to activate thus far!

The door in the Nautilus room takes the character to what appears to be some bedchambers. Despite being quite a big room with multiple bunks, only about half look lived in, the others being unmade and their footlockers empty. A second altar exists in the south-west corner of this room too. This one is similarly decorated with minor treasures.


THE AMMONITE ROOM
The Ammonite room is located in the south-east side of the library. Like the door to the Nautilus room, it's sealed in the same way until the lock is picked or the valve released. The Librarian can tell the PCs that this is the magic wing of the library, with its tomes being on occult research. It's where most of the wizards who travelled here worked.

When the ammonite room is opened, the PCs will have a few rounds to search the room before they begin to hear a hissing sound. This is the secret door into the adjacent room opening- which they can see if they search the room.

Interesting loot that can be found in the Ammonite Room:
  • Two Potions of Healing can be found on a workbench in the leftmost side of the room.
  • Quite a few of the tomes are very old and soaked, but a few interesting tomes Ghouls and their Habits, The Nature of the Fossegrim, Sightings of the Lady of the Lake & Advanced Alchemy Volume II can be recovered. Each can be kept and studied by the more studious members of the party or sold off for an alright sum.

After the door completes opening, two Yellow Musk Zombies with swords on their belts and clad in makeshift armour enter the room, with their hands up. If attacked, they will fight back (as the stats above, but dealing 1d8 damage on a strike and having armour as chain). While raspy, the voice of the rightmost zombie will ask the party to speak with its master. If they refuse, then the zombies will become quite insistent, though will not become hostile until the party attack them.

Their "master" is situated in the other room. It is a Yellow Musk Creeper, a giant telepathic mass of bright green ivy with yellow flowers. It can use its power to devour the brains of its victims and turn them into undead servants but it is facing a difficult problem- the spiders. Its undead are too stupid and simply too weak to fight them off, and they are interfering with its ability to send scouts to the surface. In addition to its two guards that have contacted the PCs, there are three more hidden inside the creeper itself which will wake as soon as the creeper is attacked.

Yellow Musk Creeper:
  • Armour: As Leather (bulb), or hits automatically (tendrils)
  • Movement: Immobile, but it can reposition its tendrils to cover or uncover the chest it is guarding.
  • HD: 3
  • Creepy Tendrils: 1d6/1d6/1d6. These melee attacks can reach anywhere in the room. It makes three tendril attacks a round but has 1d10+2 in total.
  • Puffs of Pollen: Instead of attacking, the Creeper can puff pollen in the face of a creature within 10ft of it. They must save or be entranced and walk into the plant.
  • Drain Intelligence: A victim who is in the plant loses 1d3 points of Intelligence each round. If their INT is reduced to 2 or less, they are resurrected as a Yellow Musk Zombie under the Creepers' control. The zombies retain any armour, weaponry and HP the character had, but fight as 2HD monsters. Lost intelligence that doesn't turn them into a zombie slowly returns over some time of rest.
  • Telepathy: The Creeper can telepathically communicate with anyone who is within 60ft of it, and can telepathically control its zombies anywhere on the same plane.
  • Susceptible Point- Bulb: The Creeper's tendrils can be cut, frozen or burnt, but the only point of it that takes damage is a bulbous root in the centre and growing out of the floor. They take double damage from fire. 
  • Size: M
Characters who have taken INT damage from the creeper and haven't regained it all yet feel very dizzy, and have extremely short term memories. They must make INT checks to remember even basic things they did just a moment ago. PCs with low-to-mid intelligence will play like Dory in Finding Nemo until they get some proper rest in.

It doesn't expect the PCs to care about that. It does expect them to care about the treasure chest of magical loot it has had its minions gather from the parts of the dungeon which it has explored. It also offers the assistance of its two zombies to help complete the task. This is really to ensure it doesn't get double-crossed.

This specimen is one-of-a-kind, and was accidentally created when two wizards were experimenting with infusing golem-type magic into ivy to create a magical assassin. This is the illicit activity that was going on inside the Ammonite room. It was hidden in the secret room.

The creeper will also say multiple lies to the PCs if it feels that it would be beneficial to, including:
  • It cannot be harmed by nonmagical fire
  • It can only be killed by magical fire and/or silver weapons
  • It has only killed people that have attacked it.
  • It can control minds of people who get too close.
  • It can use its psionic powers to do other things.

The chest could contain any of the following:
  • Potions
  • Enchanted Weaponry or Armour
  • Magical books
  • This is an excellent place to put a spell scroll with one or more spells, as well. If you're running GLOG, I'd suggest spells from the Book Wizard on crateredland may be a good fit. Divination is another good school for spells here.
  • Nothing. The Creeper intends to betray the PCs after they've been weakened fighting off three huge spiders, and turn them into its own zombies.

THE COCYTUS ROOM: 
The Cocytus room is dead north of where the entrance is. Opposite side. It's technically locked, but as one of its doors has fallen off its hinges, there's no real need to go and activate the valve to get into here. If the valve is activated, this room is the most well-lit of them all, with a pool underneath the glass-steel floor glowing softly.

It's probably a good idea to though, cause some people have been living in here. A tripwire connected to an axe mounted in the ceiling is in the corridor heading down, and it's a lot less obvious in the dark. (1d8+1 damage if triggered, half damage on a save).

Once the group enters, they are greeted by two lion statues opposite each other and a few bookcases ahead. PCs who examine this room will also note that the wall in the northwest side of the room has partially collapsed. This is one of the giant spider lairs, and if there is at least one spider still alive, it's pretty likely that one will be encountered in this room.

Behind the furthest bookshelf is another pair of double doors, both unlocked, and both more intact than the previous set. This leads into a corridor that has another trap- a pit 30ft down. There's a skeleton there, with some other adventuring gear.


THIS IS THE POINT WHERE I RAN OUT OF STEAM
There were a few more ideas I had, but hadn't figured out how to properly implement. Feel free to add these:
  • The reason the bedrooms were sparse was because the head priest was aiming to cut costs & embezzle money, by replacing librarians and other staff with a stone sphinx. Was hesitant to include it because the PCs are already activating one statue when they're releasing the Kappa from petrification.
  • Archer Gargoyles (AC as chain, Movement half human, HD 1, 1 stone shortbow 1d6, Resistant to mundane slashing/piercing weapons, Size S)
  • The traps in the Cocytus room were set by a paranoid wizard who believes the entire library belongs to him, despite the fact that he's simply not skilled enough to get rid of the dungeons' other inhabitants.
  • Hidden records in the arch-priests' room, detailing all the memories that have been sold. This would allow PCs who use the fountain in the Nautilus room to know what memories they could trade for.
  • Potions of Memory- Drinking one can recover a memory you have recently lost, and either undo INT damage or recover a spent spell.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

BEHOLD, THE UNDERMINER!

There's a challenge on the OSR discord to make new Dwarves. Now, I already changed how dwarves were in my original campaign setting. They were a race of sapient ape-people, more like Norse dwarves, named dwarves because of their dwarflike proportions. Size actually varies wildly. To take a break from having dwarves and humans being racist bastards like they are in most fantasy, I just made them comrades since the dawn of time. 

While changing a lot, it's not particularly interesting. That's fine for my home games- I want people to know what dwarves are when they look at the race list, after all. Save the weirdness for sasquatches and slugmen, and all that.

I think this take on dwarves is more in line with the spirit of the contest:


Every now and again, a person disappears. The ground beneath them is always torn up, but no other trace of them can be found. Just about any time people are hired to find out what happened, they come back empty handed. Some people say this is coincidence. Dragons, subterranean worm monsters and other monsters are responsible, surely.

This isn't true, and it's not fair either. True, dragons tend to make literal fortunes after being terrible to people weaker than them, but in this situation they're victims, same as us. People disappearing isn't the work of dragons. Dragons occasionally disappear under the same circumstances, and they blame us too. But if they were still here, they would all tell us that it wasn't any of us- it was the work of the dwarves, and this knowledge is what was their undoing.

Dwarves live underground for most of their lives, and so people don't really get that good a look at them. There's a lot that's speculated, but people generally accept that dwarves are shot human-looking guys with big beards and a thirst for alcohol.

That's what they want you to think. Well, the alcohol bit is real. But the rest is merely an illusion. Dwarves being terrible at magic and having absolutely no aptitude for it is exactly what they want you to think. In truth, the race of Dwarves long predates the races of men, elves and whatever else you have in your setting. They know magic, they wrote magic.

Why else would they be inherently magic resistant?

Dwarves really look like mole people, and they live under the ground. They have long since removed the need for physical labour in their society- why work, when you can have golems and elementals do it for you? While elves were making fire, dwarves discovered incantations to bind fire elementals to their will.

Of course, everything going fine in the only safe part of the underdark quickly led to boredom. Stories told of a land on the surface, and while too lazy to leave their caverns, many dwarves desired to see this overworld. Several diviners in their number prepared new clairvoyance spells, and ran them through hunks of crystal to see the brave new world with their own eyes.

Now, the highest in their society live in deep caverns, reverse skyscrapers. They observe the world through the finest quality crystal balls and subtly manipulate the world above through powerful enchantment magic. Nothing escapes the eyes of the Court of the Bat.

Dwarves have been guiding the development of the races above the earth for millennia, using enchantment magic and agents posted to the surface to ensure things go exactly the right way.

For that particular dwarf's vision, anyway.

They are not some incredibly organised force of evil. In fact, recent generations of dwarves (these past few centuries) have led the influencing of the surface world to get off the rails a bit. Discord brews in every dwarven building. Every dwarf has a vision for the surface world, and few correlate. One dwarf might wish to cause a war, while others prevent it. The resulting chaos means that while things are always seen by one of the dwarves below, it's not always going to be responded to or even remembered ten minutes later. Hell, the dwarf watching the PC do something might even approve.

The dwarves are also faced with a new problem: adaptation. The ancient invocations used to influence the minds of the mortals above are not as effective as they were two millennia ago. Dwarves constantly casting these spells every minute of every day for this length of time will do that. The spells don't always work anymore, and the dwarves are losing their grip on the surface world.

And as they can't micromanage the surface world as effectively any more, they can no longer be sure they silenced everyone who finds out the truth about the dwarves. Someone is going to find out. The secret is going to get out.

And there is going to be hell to pay when that happens.


Using This in a Game
In the above interpretation, the Dwarves are a decadent race, too proud to admit that their obsession with the surface world is causing them to live on borrowed time. They have neglected their own world in favour of manipulating the one above. Dwarven cities are mostly abandoned, but kept in excellent shape by the golems and elementals that work their jobs every day as usual.

Dwarves have also mostly forgotten the spells that their ancestors wrote. While most dwarves are still extremely high-level casters, spells outside of the Enchantment, Divination & Conjuration schools will be much less common among them. They are huge on spells that can hide things, make things appear different, plant suggestions in the heads of targets and modify memories. If a spell can theoretically be used to further the masquerade, chances are the Dwarves know it.

While most of the dwarves obsess over the surface world, a growing number simply don't care. Realising that their ancestors' obsession was just that, a movement to cease all interference with the surface world is gaining a following. These dwarves work on being as brilliant as their distant ancestors were, inventing new spells, finding a purpose in life that isn't messing up another person's, just to see what happens.
This group will almost certainly be what player-character dwarves belong to. Mechanically, PC dwarves use the same rules for whatever dwarves normally do in your D&D of choice, with a few notable exceptions: 
  • In games with race and class separate (like my game), if Dwarves couldn't already, they can be in magic-using classes. 
  • In games with race-as-class, the Dwarf PCs have at least limited spell ability, or may instead choose to apply the most important dwarf racial traits to a Wizard class instead, with a few drawbacks to roughly balance it out.  
  • Either way, Dwarves have an additional ability- ten minutes of uninterrupted ritual casting can put on a very convincing illusion of the kind of dwarf people believe they really look like, for about 24 hours or so. This isn't so much a racial ability, as a ritual that every dwarf child is taught at an extremely early age. Depending on your setting, it might be especially important to keep these illusions up, else you may be burned at the stake. 

My Thoughts
I'm glad I could finally think of something for one of these GLOG challenges!

I originally intended this to be "aliens but abducting you underground instead of upwards", and then I had a few epiphanies about dwarves' magic resistance and how they could plausibly have invented the crystal ball. I'm sure I'm not the first to think about these. In the end it's become a bit like an illuminati that has really lost sight of its original goals.

The obsession with observing the surface gives me a reason to have a decadent race of overlords, but I feel like it could also be a hamfisted screens = bad message, and I'm not convinced I like it. I'll probably tweak this a lot more before I get close to using it.