Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Moon Castle Part 2: Skeleton Castle and Counterfeit Castle

See part 1 here.

3. The Skeleton Castle

The city of Gafferdy had a huge necropolis.  Within its crypts, generations of dead were revered, respected, and consulted.  When Gafferdy was destroyed by the Siege Castle, the city's honored dead strove to protect it.

The dead roused too slowly to save the living.  However, the necropolis succeeded in driving off the invaders and building the Skeleton Fence.  The powerful undead raised new ranks from the fallen and then fortified the city against further invasion.  They walled themselves off from the outside world, creating a city where the dead were the only citizens.

Now, the innermost parts of the ruined city are walled off, with the bone-white walls of the Skeleton Castle clearly visible from afar.

The Obstacle of the Skeleton Castle is getting past the Skeleton Fence.  Any living thing that passes over the Skeleton Fence dies.  Only the dead may pass freely.  The Skeleton Fence is very difficult to destroy.

The Breadcrumbs of the Skeleton Castle are:
 - Near the Cemetery Fence, there are several things (graffiti, undead parrot) that mention how Modest Madroff the Smuggler can smuggle you into the Skeleton Castle.
 - It's easy to track down Modest Madroff.  He died five years ago, and was buried in the cemetery back at the City of the Moon.
 - You'll probably need to beat up the Cemetery Kids to get access to the cemetery in the City of the Moon.  They have a large bell that they stole from Madroff's grave.
 - The grave is a small dungeon.  If you bring any light source into it, zombies will attack you.  If you make a wrong turn, zombies will attack you.  If you ring Madroff's bell, you'll hear Madroff ringing his corresponding bell to guide you through the dungeon.  (Any bell will work, not just the bell you recovered from the Cemetery Kids.)  Inscriptions at the beginning of the grave will inform you to (a) bring no light, and (b) ring a bell.
 - Meet up with the now-undead Modest Madroff, now captaining his sunken ship, the Modest Maiden through the rivers of the underworld.  Pay him the fee (1000g or his other bell) and he'll transport you.  It'll be exciting and spooky and eventually you'll arrive at the Skeleton Castle.

Alternatively, just find someone who will turn you into undead.  Then you can cross the Skeleton Fence without dying.

Alternatively, just find a way to get invited into the Skeleton Castle.  There's a skeleton princess somewhere that is looking for a suitor.  Do I hear wedding bells?

The Skeleton Castle is a massively overbuilt mausoleum, fortified against armies.  Lots of intelligent skeletons, honorable skeletaur knights, necrophidiuses, etc.  They'll probably assume that the characters are simply unrotted ghouls, since there are never any living creatures in the Skeleton Castle.  "Hey new guy!" they shout.  "Come eat some of this dead fisherman that someone threw over the fence!  He's nice and bloaty!"

Other fun skeletons: elephant skeletons, giant skeletons, self-assembling skeletons, skeletons who liberate their brothers from the flesh prisons of their enemies, hungry coffins, a graveyard nymph.  Didn't Scrap write a list of fun skeletons?

If the dungeon has a gimmick its going to be converting half the party to undead to solve certain puzzles, but honestly undead dungeons are so much fun they don't really need a gimmick.

The Skeleton King is basically a meta-lich, formed by all the heads of former ruling families fused into one big skeletal lump.  He probably looks like Gravelord Nito.  Powerful spellcaster, but prone to bickering and infighting.  Obsessed with spies.  Terrified of the Siege Castle.

The Local Allies are probably some hilariously somber pilgrims, struggling to pay a visit to their departed loved ones.  A little old lady, a tearful lumberjack, etc, all straight from a funeral.  Expect quests that involve treating the undead respectfully.

Also expect some horrific shit, because the undead are good at being both Halloween-spooky and inhumanly cruel.

by manbearpagan
I've decided not to write up the castles in order.  Partially because it's a loose order (the player's can mostly do them in any order they want, with the following exception).

7. The Counterfeit Castle

So the Moon King is basically withdrawn from his day-to-day ruling.  It's up to his lieutenants to run his evil kingdom.

One of his lieutenants is the Puppetmaster, who takes notice of the party and conspires to eliminate them.  His plan is to invite all enemies of the castle to a party where they will all be killed.  This nefarious plot unfolds as castles are cleared.

The party cannot access the Counterfeit Castle until at least four castles have been defeated and four of the swords reclaimed.

There aren't really any Breadcrumbs or Obstacles for the Counterfeit Castle.  It just shows up.

One very important thing about the Counterfeit Castle: it's a shoddy imitation of the actual Moon Castle.  The map is almost identical, which will greatly assist clever players.  For example, a obvious treasure in the Counterfeit Castle might correspond to a well-hidden treasure in the same place within the Moon Castle.  You'd never find it unless you knew which part of the wall to smash.

After 1 Castle Cleared

The evil city announces plans for the Festival of Dreams.  Fireworks, candy, a dance contest, etc.  Most notably: the doors of the Moon Castle will be opened on that night, and everyone will be allowed to enter and petition the Moon King.

The Puppetmaster hopes that this will draw out enemies of the Moon King, and he hopes to assassinate them all in one fell swoop.

After 2 Castles Cleared

The Festival preparations begin.  Lots of construction.  Wood, sawdust, plaster.  Huge armies of cotters are brought up from dusty basements.

After 3 Castles Cleared

The Festival preparations are in full swing.  Lots of errands (quests) that need to be performed.  Lots of happy people, for once.  Optimism.  The party is encouraged to build a float, to be entered into the parade.  The prize is a mask.

After 4 Castles Cleared

The real Moon Castle is removed to the Shuddering Mountain, far away.  This happens in the dead of the night.

A fake Moon Castle is built in its place, and a brilliant rainbow bridge constructed over the chasm.  Banners are hung.  This is what the cotters have been building these last few weeks, but it looks cheap and hasty (because it is).  This is the Counterfeit Castle.

If the party decides to enter the Counterfeit Castle, they will be surprised at how shitty the castle looks from up close (gaping plaster, sagging woodwork).  Once inside, they will be subject to a brutal assassination attempt.  Probably puppet ninjas, portcullis traps, and cloudkill.

If the party burns it down, it will be rebuilt by the next day.

After 5 Castles Cleared

The Counterfeit King becomes impatient and arrogant.  Mooncalves begin to venture out from the Counterfeit Castle's towers at night.  The evil city becomes a more horrible place until the party clears the Counterfeit Castle.

If the party continues to avoid the Counterfeit Castle, eventually it becomes an open secret with the Puppetmaster sending murder puppets after them, screaming "COME TO MY BIRTHDAY PARTY WE MADE A CAKE FOR YOU!" in increasingly deadly + deranged combinations.

The Miniboss is the Counterfeit Dragon, of course.

The Boss is the Youthful Moon King, a knight.  He is actually a puppet controlled by. . .

The Real Boss is the Counterfeit King, a wizened wizard atop the throne.  He is actually a puppet controlled by. . .

The Actual Boss is the Puppetmaster, hiding the rafters.  He is actually a puppet controlled by. . .

The For-Real Actual Boss is the Real Puppetmaster, hiding in a flying theater above the castle, poorly disguised as a cloud.

Your Local Allies are the unfortunate cotters.  Most of them just lie down in the gutters and watch the clouds pass overhead, but a few still have ambition and drive.  Expect some proletariat quests, as well as some heartbreaking ones "please take care of my family--they think that I am dead".

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Moon Castle: a Zelda-Inspired Dungeon Campaign

I've been trying to play through all of the Zelda games.  It's been a journey.

Anyway, there's something about the simplicity of it all that resonates.  Go to all of the dungeons, collect all of the items, defeat the evil boss in the center of the map.

Of course, I still want it to be OSR, so it has to be a sandbox.  And nothing should be a mandatory gate--players should be allowed to wander, exploit, and invent.  Bread crumbs will be placed (extensively, since I want all roads to lead to Rome) but fences will not.

The only things that I write seem to be the things that I'm actually running.  I just through some fresh level 1s onto the map last Wednesday (starting a new IRL campaign) so I'm undeservedly optimistic that this little zygote will come to term.

by zikwaga

The Moon Castle

Once a meteor fell onto the land of Gafferdy, and killed a great many people.

It wasn't a meteor, it was a piece of the moon, and no one was killed.  At least, the people that were killed weren't really killed; they got back up and were alive again.  They were different, though.

It wasn't a piece of the moon, it was a castle, and inside of it was a throne as white and as luminous as the moon.  The castle seemed to flow out from it like frozen milk.  Whoever sat on the throne inherited countless realms, all dreams, all imaginary.

The Moon Castle was claimed, eventually, and consolidated.  A city grew around it.  Rivals were destroyed; neighboring cities were razed.  Eventually the castle was the power center on the whole peninsula.  Even the dragon Beyoc was tamed.

And one king refused to yield his throne, as his predecessors had.  He was old and bitter and cruel, and he died seated in it.  And then something crept in his skull that had lingered in the throne, or perhaps some hidden corruption was finally revealed when the curtain of life was pulled back.  But then everything changed.

That was a generation ago.

Now the city is an evil place.  People starve, and the most desperate sell their bodies to the castle.  Their souls are moved into shells called cotters, the cheapest form of animate soul-vessel.  It's nothing more than a clay shell filled with dirt and ashes.  They no longer hunger or tire, but no longer do they feel the joys of the flesh.  Eventually the body crumbles, and the soul moves on to whatever afterlife it is due.  Or, more commonly, the soul despairs and loosens its hold on the clay construct, and the body is then reclaimed and rented to another.

Cotters are charged rent on their bodies, due on the first of each month.  Rent is usually required to be paid in a day of service, rather than coin.

They cannot speak.  They barely have faces.  They are almost blind.

The vacated bodies are then leased to lesser demons called poes.  Poes have skin and warmth, but their interiors are mostly filled with a strange mixture of smoke, blood, and light.  Young poes (incorporeal demons who have only just arrived from the underworld) usually behave like madmen for the first couple of weeks.  Having a body is a heady experience.

It is dangerous to kill a poe.  Unless you capture the escaping spirit, it will certainly report you to the authorities for the destruction of its skin.

Demons have been invited into the city.  Moneylender demons with golden skin and enormous horns.  Landowner demons who house dozens of servitor birds in their wooden bodies.  Guard demons that crawl over the roofs, enforcing strange laws that change almost daily.

The final castle is the Moon Castle.  It squats in the middle of the map, and its spires are rarely out of sight.

The players can choose to challenge the Moon Castle at any time.  Who knows how far a clever, lucky level 1 character can get?  

The Moon Castle has no gate and no key, but there are two large obstacles.  First, there is a chasm that surrounds the castle.  Second, the dragon Beyoc roosts amid its spires, watching for uninvited guests, and there are never any invited guests anymore.

Beyoc doesn't sleep because Beyoc is always sleeping.  His eyes are closed and his breathing is slow.  The Moon King steers him through dreams.  Who knows what he would do if he were woken?  Or what it would take to wake him?

The interior of the castle is unknown.  It is believed to be full of lunar organisms, demons, and dreams.  

The Moon King's power waxes and wanes with the moon.  The poes are only active during the night, and behave like extremely sleepy/drunk people during the day.

The Moon King rules through dreams, and all citizens must report their dreams to him.  (Dream audits are conducted to apprehend those that shirk this vital duty.)  People must sleep for 10 hours every day.

It is unknown why he does with all this collected information.  (But you can bet its something nefarious.)

The Eight Dungeons

Each dungeon is going to have multiple trails of breadcrumbs that converge on its door.  Some will be hard-locked and will require certain conditions to access.  Others will be soft-locked, and can be accessed as soon as you find out where it is.

Each one has a boss. Each boss has a connection to the Moon Castle, and a piece of the story that it tells.

Will there be a magical sword that you need to power up?  Maybe.  

Will there be a magical weapon in each dungeon?  I like that idea more.

The first two dungeons are common knowledge.

1. The Forest Castle

When the Moon Castle began attacking the forests (for lumber, but also to kill everyone who wouldn't immigrate to his new city), the druids fought back.

The druids lost, and all their people perished, but their counterstroke was deadly.  All of the survivors were turned into carnivorous plants--both defenders and attackers both.  None of the invading army survived (except for the Siege Castle, which limped away).  Now the place is full of carnivorous flora, preying on intruders but also on each other.

The Obstacle of the Forest Castle is simply fighting through the hungry forest, or finding a way to convince the plants not to attack you.  (Remember that they used to be soldiers.)

The Forest Castle is the remains of a natural cave system that the druids once dwelt in.

The Boss of the Forest Castle is King Golma, an earth spirit that the druids once served.

Your Local Ally is the Plague House, which is inhabited by four friendly plague demons.  Each demon wears a mask to keep the disease in--they've decided that they like humans too much to want to kill them.  They try to invite guests, and to be gracious hosts, but guests invariably succumb to the diseases eventually, so they try to survive on afternoon visitors and written correspondence.  Their names are Cholera, Typhoid, Cancer, and Plague.  

2. The Siege Castle

A thousand siege engines, heaped together, held together by a spine of twisted spears.  It plods along on armored feet, each made from a thousand iron boots.  It's head is a nest of ballistas and trebuchets.  

It was the Moon King's greatest weapon.  Now that the peninsula is pacified (and his attentions have turned elsewhere), the Siege Castle is retiring on the battlefield where it legs were first broken.

The Siege Castle wants war.  It wants to feel spears clash against its skin.  It wants to burn battalions under its lava spigots.  It wants to scoop up knights in its jaws and crush them inside their armor until the pulp runs down its chin.

But it can't move.  It's rusting apart, dying a slow death.  Rain has accomplished what armies could not.  It dies like a wolf; Fenris after Ragnarok.

It is still hungry.  It is still capable of assimilating metal and weapons into itself.  It is still capable of growing.  (That's how it got so big--it returned from the war bigger than when it set out.)

It has servants, too, but they are clumsy things, meant to kill, not to repair.  The knowledge and the tools needed to mend it are in the city.

At night, you can hear it groaning out on the battlefield.  You can see the forge-fires still smoldering behind its ribs.  Every once in a while, it makes an attempt to move.  You can hear the anguished metal tearing from a mile away. 

And yet it does move, slowly and painfully.  Every month it drags itself a few feet closer to the Moon Castle.  Does it still wish to curl up at the feet like a loyal dog?  Or does it wish revenge for its abandonment?

The Obstacle of the Siege Castle is just approaching it.  It fires at anyone that it sees approaching.  Expect trebuchets.  There's a whole battlefield surrounding it, probably with some trenches still intact.  It has also fortified itself against entry, but the metal is rotting apart.

The Siege Castle is the inner workings, the parts that were meant for human occupation.  The barracks, the command center.

The Boss is the Siege King, who is basically the rancor handler (Malakili) in Return of the Jedi, except he shepherds the Siege Castle instead of a rancor.

Your Local Allies are the Red Ring Army, a bunch of punks and pit-fighters that have befriended the Siege Castle by hosting gladitorial combats where the Siege Castle can watch.  They treat the Siege Castle like a Roman emperor when deciding when to kill an surrendering opponent.  

If the Siege Castle nods, they live.  If it roars, they die.  It doesn't nod very often.

Expect lots of gladitorial matches.

Other Castles

3. The Origami Castle - the same small dungeon repeated again and again and again with different themes, navigation is accomplished by non-Euclidean fuckery.

4. The Queen's Castle - the queen shrank her castle and her family, keeping them safe inside her own body.  This is the flesh dungeon.

5. The Skeleton Castle - a city that became a graveyard, EVERYTHING IS SKELETONS, SKELETON KING

6. The Slime Castle - the water dungeon, creating when the Moon King destroyed a merfolk city, degenerate merfolk

7. The Mirage Castle - they tried to escape the Moon King by hiding their utopia inside a desert mirage.  It didn't work; the Moon King found them in their dreams, where they are now imprisoned.

8. The Counterfeit Castle - a cheap mockery of the city and the actual castle, useful as a preview of what the actual castle holds.  Expect puppets and paper mache.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


So, you're playing D&D and you're fighting some orcs.  All the orcs are armed with feather dusters, so they actually incapable of harming anyone.  And your DM doesn't give XP for combat, so they'll  yield 0 xp upon death.

This combat is a waste of time.  You're just rolling dice until the orcs die.

The encounter is shit because the encounter has no impact.

Impact: the ability to permanently change the game.  The opposite of impact is fluff.

Impact correlates with how your players care.  If no one's invested in the outcome of this encounter, it's hard to have fun.  I think a lot of DMs make the mistake of crafting low-impact encounters.

I'll start by talking about combat encounters, but a lot of this applies to non-combat encounters as well.

by Jakub Rozalski
How To Increase Impact

Deplete Resources

Yes, depleting their spells/HP/potions is a form of impact.  It's low impact, almost by definition.  We can do better.

In a lot of published adventures, the fights are strongly stacked in favor of the PCs, who usually don't have to spend many resources to win.  The only reason to run a combat like this is to make the players feel cool/powerful (not something I recommend designing for--it happens on its own, when it's deserved) or to teach them the rules (and there are better ways to do this than wasting everyone's time with a fluff encounter).

Killing Characters

For most players, this is the most impactful thing that can happen.  It's also shitty when it happens.  We can have a talk about how much lethality is desirable on another post, but the point I want to make is. . .

High risks make people pay attention.  For this reason, difficult combats are necessarily high-impact.

Dear non-OSR readers: this is one reason why OSR folks are always advocating for potentially lethal combat.  Not because we enjoy rolling new characters, but because the combats are more significant.  It's the same reason why lots of sandbox DMs are okay with players deposing kings, burning down cities, and basically just making a mess of things.

I'm not gonna argue that you should make all of you combats brutally difficult.  Easy combats have their place.  But if you are going to make an easy combat, it needs to be impactful in a different way (see also: the rest of this post).

It's entirely possible for a high-lethality combat have everyone attentive, stressed, and bored.  Being trapped in a room with a wight, and no way to hurt it, rolling dice for 20 turns while all of your characters die inevitably.  (This is no different from the feather duster orcs, really.)

If you find yourself in a low-impact combat, hand-wave it.  Last time I played D&D, my players ambushed three old (non-magical, level 0) priests.  Combat took 30 seconds because I just let the player's narrate how they won.

Mutating Your Character Sheet

When I say "attack all parts of the character sheet", this is what I'm talking about.

This is a pretty broad category.  Yes, it includes actual mutations.  This is me telling you that giving the orcish raiders an Axe of Mutation is a great idea.

You can destroy items (rust monster), drain levels (wight), etc.  (PSA: big negative effects like that should be telegraphed and players given a chance to avoid the combat.  Don't ambush players with wights.)

You can also mutate items, mutate spells, turn gold coins into copper coins, turn copper coins into silver coins, permanently blind a PC, permanently give a PC the ability to see in the dark, mess with stats, mess with skills, steal an item out of their inventory, burn all the scrolls in their inventory with dragonfire, change their sex, give them curses.

And remember, all of these effects should be telegraphed before you smack the party with them.  The idea is to get the party invested in the outcome by raising the stakes, so it doesn't work if the players don't know the stakes.

Angels who can forcibly convert your character to their religion.  Since it takes a few "hits" before the PC converts, they have time to run away (which is the point of HP, really).

Nymphs who convince the party to live with her for a two years can also have a pretty big impact on the game.  Players should know the risk before they seek out a nymph.

And everyone knows to avoid gurgans.  Ew.

"I Search The Body"

Yeah, bread and butter.  I know.

PROTIP: Increase player investment by having enemies wield the cool item in combat; don't just leave it in their pocket for them to discover afterwards.

It doesn't even have to be magical.  Like, give one of the orcs a whip with an eagle claw on the end of it, and an eagle skull on the handle.  Fucking awesome.

Or they have crazy potions.  Permanently lose a point of Con to enter a super-rage.  Make sure at least one orc drinks the potion during combat, with more vials visible inside his vest, so the players know what they get if they win.

Or like, the next time the players crit on the orc, the orcs coin purse rips open and coins spill out all over the floor (in addition to the regular effects of the crit).  Show players what the stakes are.

Gaining XP

Yes, this is a thing that exists.

When I used quest XP in my Pathfinder games, I used to give the players a handout with all the available quests on it, and the associated rewards.  I kind of roll my eyes at that sort of thing now, but it accomplished the goal of showing what the stakes were.

Relates to Other Parts of the Map

This is what I mean when I say "random encounter doesn't mean unconnected encounter".

Maybe the really well-dressed orc is the chieftain's son, and asks to be ransomed back when he surrenders.  (Random encounters need to be connected to things outside of themselves.)

Maybe they're saving the king's life.  If they lose this combat, the king will be assassinated.

This is also a chance for your players to show their values.  Let them have the ability to change the game map, and make sure they know it.


Maybe the fact that one of the orcs are in the castle at all means that someone probably smuggled them in. . . but why?

Maybe one of the orcs has an incomplete map of the nearby dungeon.

Maybe the orcs promise to give you the password to the Wyvern's Tower if you let them escape.

They can also convey setting information, or useful information about the dungeon.

The orcs have their hands tattooed black, indicating that they've trained in Ungra, specialize in killing mages, and were hired at a steep cost.

One of the orcs is carrying lockpicks and is covered in recent acid burns.  (Nearby lock is trapped with acid hoses.)

Fluff is Okay

There's nothing wrong with a fun combat.  Fluff has its place.

Respite: Easy combats can be a nice respite after a recent meat-grinder.

Power Trip: Maybe you're playing with ten-year-olds and the birthday boy needs a magic sword.

Ambiance: A corpse being eaten by hungry ghosts can really set the mood.  (No useful information was learned, no real interaction except observation).

Personal Goals: There's no benefit to it, but maybe one of the PCs swore an oath to humiliate every bard they came across.  Whatever.  It's important to their character concept.

Comedy: Fighting drunk goblins in the middle of a pig stampede.

Just remember that you can raise the impact without raising the difficulty.  Maybe give one the goblins a red-hot branding iron.  Same damage, but now the character has a QQ permanently seared into their rump.

-Doesn't change the game.
-Can still be interesting (e.g. you meet peacock-man being devoured by hungry ghosts; he has nothing interesting to say or give).
-Can be good for an ego trip.

Using Impact Wrong

Impact is not the same thing as fun.  Use it in ways that your players react to.  Maybe they're scared of dying and despise lethal combat.  Maybe they want to be heroes and respond really well to civic heroics, such as king saving.

Just be mindful of impact the next time you throw a random group of 3d6 goblins at your party.  Don't let it be just fluff.

Monday, October 2, 2017


There is a voice crying out in the wilderness, babbling nonsense with locust-stained lips, scratching chaos into the dirt beneath her.  This is SCRAP PRINCESS, who is shunned by the WISE and feared by the BRAVE.  Her writings consist of nothing but NONSENSE and THE EGGS OF GAWPING SERPENTS.  Wise men shun both, lest they be afflicted by POLYPS and SNAKEBITE.


The opposite of a dragon is a wurm.  Like dragons, they are also hoarders and destroyers, but they tend to seek the metaphysical, rather than base metals.

Wurms are brothers to whales.  They are most closely related to certain breeds of malformed horses native to the Londeep Swamp, which feed on algae and bird's eggs.

They are hairy, limbless things, like pink-skinned slugs or shaggy worms.  They do not fly, but instead burrow.  Their features vary, but in most cases their faces tend towards the mammalian, and sometimes even the simian.  They have flattish faces, with forward facing eyes, and their teeth are often blunted.  The smallest of them is a furlong in length.

They lay fertile eggs, but compulsively devour their young.

HD 12+  AC plate  Bite 2d8 + swallow
Move human  Burrow 1/2 human  Int 10    Mor 7

*Slurp (30' cone, save or be pulled into mouth)
*Aura  (100', unique to each wurm, see below)
*Attendants (2d6, unique to each wurm, see below)


Its skin is bright gold, and it weighs 484,000 lbs.  Its expression has been described as fatuous.  It enjoys eating elephants, and this is how it does it.  First, it breaks the elephant's legs.  Then it sucks on the elephant for about 18 hours, like a gobstopper, until the elephant's skin comes off.

It lives in the Tau Solen, where it churns the rivers into pinkish foam.

The Laughing Wurm consumes joy.  That is why it is so happy.  All creatures in its aura must make a Charisma check each turn.  On a failure, they lose 1d6 Wisdom.  If their Wisdom reaches 0, the PC stops and sits down, overcome by regret, nostalgia, and nihilism.  Wisdom lost in this way is recovered as soon as they leave the aura.  They regain 1d6 Wisdom if an ally dies or is swallowed (first time only) or if something motivating occurs (first time only).  Creatures in the aura are unable to benefit from it.

The Laughing Wurm is surrounded by 2d6 despondent ibises (1 HD each).  Initially inert, they will attack once they wurm is bloodied.

When the Laughing Wurm is killed all creatures in 1000' must save or celebrate together for the next 1d20 hours.  Expect to spend the time dancing with wolves and kissing ibises.

The Heart of the Laughing Wurm is a tiny, shriveled grey thing the size of a fist.  It can be used to make a make any sentient creature suicidal.  (50' range, creature saves, failture means that they will attempt to kill themselves in the next 24 hours.  The heart is not used up by a successful save.)

picture unrelated
by Marco Nelor

The Verdant Wurm is bright, grassy green, except for its teeth (which are white) and its gums (which are red).  Its expression has been described as incredulous.  It enjoys impersonating a grassy hill, something that it is very bad at, since all the adjacent hills will be dead.  It weighs 660,000 lbs.

The Verdant Wurm consumes life.  That is why it is so vibrant.  All creatures in the aura lose 1d6 HP per turn (half on a successful save).  For each HP lost in this way, a butterfly is born from the Verdant Wurm's back.  They attack as a swarm.

The Verdant Wurm begins surrounded by 2d6 butterflies.  They are not true insects, and lack mouthparts or reproductive organs.  They have only a single leg, like a razor blade.

When the Verdant Wurm is killed, its stomach spills open and a forest grows explosively.  All creatures in 1000' must save or take 1d20 damage from being speared, tossed, or crushed.

The Heart of the Verdant Wurm can be used to restore a creature to life.  Creatures restored to life in this way will return larger (+1 Str), dumber (-1 Int), and with shaggy green hair.

Other Wurms

Slow, Conquerer, and Heartstring.  TBA.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Inextricable Grace of Elves

I've written about elven psychology, linguistics, origin, military, weapons, half-elves, and their infinitely looping kingdoms at the end of time.

But one thing I haven't written about is what it's like for the PCs to actually encounter true elves, face to face.

Should I do a recap first?  I feel like I should.

Boring Elven Lore Shit

Originally, you had baseline humans.  When transhumanism resulted in True Elves, they basically started running the show.  They made slave-races for different tasks: spacers (halflings), soldiers (orcs), laborers (dwarves), while the baseline humans went extinct, only leaving various races of subhumans (bred to be fulfill different types of magical sacrifices).

Eventually, the technology slipped away and the True Elves lost the ability to create more of themselves.  Their degenerate offspring are the High Elves (who are the Low Elves) and they are the most beautiful creatures on Centerra (save nymphs and such).  The True Elves have either left the planet or jumped ahead to one of the temporal estates at time's end.

Elves have the best civilization and the best historical records because many of them were spared the Time of Fire and Madness; they were safely living on Eladras when it happened, a tree that grew downwards from the moon.

(I thought I wrote a post about Eladras, but I didn't.  It's roots are still in the moon, pieces of its trunk form some of the orbital biomes, its branches fell in the Dustwind, and its seeds were used to make grow Aglabendis.)

So the High Elves live forever, magical and powerful, isolating in the beautiful places they have claimed for themselves (often forests).  Each High Elf city is ringed by Wood Elves, the outcasts that society has deemed too ugly or too offensive to dwell among them.  (They're still extremely beautiful by pseudo-medieval standards.)  Elves claim all beautiful things, not just beautiful forests (which sometimes resemble parks) and so sometimes the wood elves are more like beach elves or mountain elves but you get the point.  They're the dirt-elves that range away from the parties plazas.

And then percolating through all elven society are their slave-races, except they'd never call them that.  They are their little brothers and little sisters, and they are enslaved by love.  They love their older siblings, and revere them even though they aren't allowed to sit at the same table as them, or even speak to them directly.  These are the half-elves (elf-men and elf-women) who are sterilized adult humans who have been created via semi-elfification of stolen infants, the alchemical orcs who have been restored to some of their original prowess as super-soldiers, the ashakka who are wooden golems powered by elven ancestors, and all manner of magical bullshit that they are capable of conjuring.

Most people think that half-elves are the true elves, since those are the ones that sometimes engage in trade.  Most scholars know of the furtive Wood Elves, and believe them to be the true elves.  And a vanishing few mortals have been to the elven cities and met the High Elves (who are the Low Elves) and believe them to be the true elves.  And everyone is wrong once again.

How Elves Talk

The thing to realize is this: unless you've been living in elven society for a few hundred years, you're going to offend someone terribly within a few seconds of walking in the door.

Remember that all of elven society is predicated on beauty and positivity.  Unpleasant things are corrected, removed, or ignored.

A smelly adventurer with blood in his mouth and shit on his boots represents an extremely significant challenge to etiquette, best avoided altogether.  An adventurer will find it nearly impossible to access an elven city, because they really don't want you in there.

But even within the elven city, all discussion of unpleasantness is avoided.  This means that they avoid discussing pretty much all of the outside world.  Talking about unpleasantness is an offense that entails punishment: shunning, resocialization classes, and in the most extreme cases, banishment to the wood elves.

If you could sum up the elven civic philosophy, it would be this: don't inconvenience others.

More specific advice on how to talk to an elf.
  • Don't talk about unpleasant things, you may make someone uncomfortable.
  • Don't make too much eye contact, you may seem intimidating.
  • Do not ask questions about absent friends, something bad might have happened to them.
  • Hell, don't ask questions at all.  That puts a burden on the other person to ask.
  • Compliments are basically mandatory.  A lack of compliments is basically an insult.
  • Don't talk about things that the other person might not know about.  If you don't know if the other person knows something or not, it is best to approach the topic obliquely.
Conversation is best limited to safe topics.  Pretty things like the clothing that the other elf is wearing.  Local music.  Delicious food.  Art.  Culture.  Weather.  Reminiscing about other happy times.  Inside jokes.  

You might think this sounds boring, but elves are brilliant and clever and pretty.  They're always alluding to other things, connecting different areas.  They're hilarious.  If they were talking to a human they liked, they'd be careful to only refer to areas of culture and history that the human was likely to know about, in order to avoid making them self-conscious of their ignorance.  Humans love hanging out with elves; they're like humans who have learned how to avoid offending people.

An elf who was interrogating you might stand at the other end of the room, look out the window, and wonder aloud "I wonder where my kinkajou is?  It's almost time for his massage."

That's remarkably direct, for an elf.  That's bad news.  You're about to be slowly lowered into a vat of acid over a 36 hour period.  You better tell her where her kinkajou is, dude.

You might think the inability to ask questions is a bit limiting.  You'd be correct.

Books are the exception.  When an elf is alone with a book, the pretense is dropped.  After all, there is still a need to learn about the actual world.  And if an elf wishes to learn about unpleasant things in the privacy of their own home, they are certainly allowed to do so, as long as they don't inconvenience others.

Written and spoken words have very different purposes in elven society.

Another workaround is the use of intermediates.  A servant hears a politely coded message, conveys it to a subservant in a less polite form, and then the subservant will meet with another elf's subservant, and the two of them will have a plainly spoken discussion.  Then the resolution will make its way back up to the elf, who is then informed of what he has decided.

Sometimes the elf is her own subservant, in a different guise and identity.  This is actually pretty common in elven society--compartmentalizing their identity into polite and impolite forms.  While wood elves might use masks to accomplish the same thing, high elves use glamours and actual transformations.

This is an advantage in fighting a high elf.  If you surprise them with combat, they'll usually refuse to fight until they can assume their "war face" (combat identity).  They're very good at running away, but try to make that first combat count.

Pretense is as important as air.

Unpleasant things are usually disguised as something else.  Combat is often referred to as dancing, but even that euphemism is becoming worn and distasteful.  Combat is now often referred to as "music appreciation" or "physical listening" or something similar.

The distaste is now even rubbing off onto actual dancing, which was beginning to have a more negative connotation due to its association with combat.  So dancing is now referred to as "joyful warfare" or "imitating the wind".

How Elves Live

Usually alone or in romantic pairs/trios/quartets.  Except not alone alone.  Each elf has a large estate consisting of their "family" of non-elves (half-elves, alchemical orcs, human sycophants), servants, playthings, protectors, and fashion statements.

Like if an elven household was a dungeon, it might be a redwood with a pavilion at the top and a branching complex in the roots.  It would have a romantic pair of elves as the "bosses".  One room might have 3d6 "little brothers" (alchemical orcs armed with crush gauntlets and jump jets) and a ziggurat made of hot tubs.  Another room might have Sir Hembriss the Curator, a charmed rakshasa who does hair and makeup.

Elven households are very diverse, because fashion.  No elf wants to show up to the gala with the same color rakshasa as their rival.

I've painted a pretty negative picture of elves, but there are plenty that take good care of their adopted families.  Many of them are effective mentors, and a few are even friends with members of their household.

Children aren't common because (a) some elven cultures practice population control, and (b) raising an elven child is risky and unpleasant.  Too much messy biology, too much disappointment and death.  It's also incredibly expensive: the same magical manipulation that improved human stock into elves also made them dependent on magical technology that is absent, faulty, and/or poorly understood.

For example, the elven fetus was never meant to be grown to parturition inside a uterus.  They were designed to be grown in a vat.  And since those vats no longer exist, the elves have had to invent some pretty drastic workarounds.  Expensive, unpleasant, and especially risky.

This is true for all stages of an elf's development, not just pregnancy.  Elven procreation requires a lot of infrastructure and technology.  It's not an exaggeration to say that an elven hospital is the third parent, since mom, dad, and magic all make tremendous and necessary contributions to the final product.

This restriction means that you'll hardly ever see elves living in the slums.  An elf will have wealthy parents, or they'll never make it past the first trimester.

How Elves Fight

Some cultures of elves will just run away, in order to don their war identity.

Other cultures of elves will fight you directly, but under the pretense of "dancing with you".  This requires having a bard nearby, who will strike up music during the combat.  If the bard stops playing, the pretense drops, and the elf will be forced to fight you directly.  (This makes the combat worse, not easier.)

How do you shoot an arrow at someone indirectly?  You shoot it very high, so that it takes a high, arcing path.  That makes it easier to pretend that you were shot by accident, so as not to upset the elf.

Couldn't you just hold your shield over your head and be safe from elven arrows?  Well, no, because high elven arrows don't fly in a straight line.  They're curved so that they fly in spirals.  Elves do other tricks with the fletching, such as ablative rachides and clockwork oscillators, that make the arrows fly in even more complex patterns.

Then they spend a few decades mastering it.

This means that elvish arrows are essentially useless in human hands.  (The inverse is not true.)

<sidebar>Elves really hate to see anyone else using their toys.  There are various ways to accomplish this, such as covering them in diseases that only affect humans to remaining inert unless surrounded by elven DNA (which is easily bypassed by anyone wearing elfskin gloves).</sidebar>

Elves are capable of producing pretty much every entry in the monster manual, but they prefer bodyguards who don't leave a mess.  Stranglers (such as a lesser wind) and devourers (such as an ooze) are ideal.  Elves really hate it when their bespoke stuff gets broke.

They also aren't above simply paying you to go away.  Giving an adventuring party a large ruby works fine: they have plenty more gems.  Besides, a large ruby in the hands of mercenaries is likely to bring nothing but turmoil to human lands, without making the humans any wiser, more numerous, or more powerful (all things that elves seek to prevent).

The elves would find it hilarious if it wasn't already so eye-rollingly banal at this point.

How Elves Die

The pretense persists until their dying breaths.  It is an inextricable part of their souls.

Consider the words of Milasham vin Valtir, an elf who was stabbed in the aorta by adventurers while attempting to recover her stolen kinkajou.

"Look," she said, reaching into her breast pocket and pulling out a bloody hand.  "I have found rubies."