Monday, November 21, 2022

Augury - Pan, His Majesty in Yellow

 

Nymphs of rain and despair, the Greek deity Dionysius, a mortal shepherd stolen from his world, and the jealous god Hastur… Who would ever imagined that Peter Pan and the King in the Yellow would mix so nicely? That is precisely the theme of the Pan, His Majesty In Yellow (PMIY), a beautiful hexcrawl for Old School Essentials, currently in his last week of crowfuding.

After a brief introduction (and a poem!), the book opens with a nice “Once upon a time…” section devoted to the weird and mysterious life (and death) of Hyas or Pan, touching not only upon the original source, but also in Greek mysteries and the Hastur legendarium. These days I am usually wary of background in OSR modules (as I don’t by OSR for that reason), but PMIY managed to make it not only succinct (just 2 pages) but also very flavorful. After it we get a d66 Things Pan Might Say, followed by more details on the (very weird) Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. In PMIY, Pan is the centre of a struggle between Hastur and Dionysius (or his nymphs). As a result, Pan’s spirit is fragmented and quite mad, split in different personas (including Captain Pan, a pirate, and the evil King in Yellow), while Hastur seeks to reclaim him. If this sounds confusing and dream-like that is precisely the idea. It works beautifully with Hastur’s own mythos. Yes, we get (various) stats for Pan and they are all scary!

The next part is a full description of the Neverborn Islands, including maps (one with hexes), encounter tables, and the weird planar rules of the fantasy realm. “Fantasy” is the word here. The Neverborn Island operate on dream logic and much of the new mechanics are about that: memory loss is a constant threat and death is not the end (this last bit is perhaps the most distinguish factor in PMIY, a campaign setting where forgetting who you are is a lot more dangerous than dying). However, travelers be aware: Pan CAN kill you (permanently). Oh, and yes, if you believe hard enough you CAN fly! The unique mix of new rules makes the Neverborn Island a very interesting scenario to visit and I am already tempted to attach it to most of my current settings just to see what will happen.

Each part of the Neverborn Islands get a small but flavourful description, followed by a few adventure hooks. My favourite locations are those where the dream-like atmosphere and “unrealness” of the setting are highlighted, such as the Dog’s Cemetery. There are a lot of cool references here and there, such as in the Emerald Island and in the Hydra’s Teeth. After the gazetteer, we are presented to the Underhome of the Neverborn Islands (i.e., please insert you favorite dungeon here) and to Carcosa. Both Hastur and Carcosa itself are more of a background threat than a NPC and a location, and PMIY recommends using them to generate an atmosphere of dread and alienation.

The next part of the book is about Denizens, which ran from wonderfully illustrated bleeding trees, blue wolves, and mermaids, to a surreal version of Captain Hook (the undead fairy-slaying pirate, who pillaged Carcosa). Yes, we get a description of the Jolly Roger Pan, together with a map! PMIY’s version of the crocodile is called the Chronodile, a magic warping gargantuam monstrosity. Creatures have stats for OSE, but use some concepts from D&D 5E, such as legendary actions (which work quite nicely in my opinion, but leaves some of the creatures really tough). Other Denizens include the various faeries, Sir George (THE Sir George), the gingerbread demon, a statless Hastur (but with stats for his shadows), the Kraken, Ladon (the famous Hydra), Lost Children, among others. There is a lot of stuff here. PMIY also offer new magic items, including Captain Hook’s coat, the Chronodile Scale, and (of course) the Tatters of the King.

PMIY is a unique book. The flavorful atmosphere, mixing Barrie’s original work with Greek mythology and Ambrose’s Carcosa is so cool that I would still recommend the book even if there were not stats for the Denizens. The fact that the author uses the “original” Hastur and not the Cthulhu pastiche is a plus for me and the part of the setting that I like most. I think that the unique Denizens are a bit too powerful, especially those that use 5E-like mechanics, but that is counterbalanced by the normal monsters, most of which are there more to be interacted with rather than fought (especially the fairies, mermaids, and Lost Children). Finally, it is impossible to read PMIY and not compare it with Neverland by Andrew Kolb. Neverland picks Peter Pan after the events of the original novel and extrapolate a unique OSR for hexcrawling (while updating the setting in matters of sensitivity). Its monsters are some of the best of the OSR. PMIY is widely different. It is a fever-induced mélange of Classics, Ambrose’s alienating Weird Tales, and horror. Both Neverland and PMIY are amazing works and I am happy to have them in my collection. That said, Neverlands is a flavorrful but traditional hexcrawl, while PMIY is a surrealistic, cruel, and tragic scenario. You can visit the Neverborn Islands and try to make sense of it, but if you try to engage it as traditional hexcrawl you will end mad or in the belly of Chronodile in a short time (and yes, that is a compliment!). PMIY reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands at its best: a dangerous and beautiful world that doesn’t make sense where your goal is to keep your wits and survive until you can scape it. In fact, I like it mix of fantasy and horror so enthralling that next time I won’t send my players to Ravenloft, but to the realm of Pan, His Majesty in Yellow, below the Hyades and above Carcosa.



Sunday, August 28, 2022

Augury - The Book of Ebon Tides (D&D 5E)


This review is based on the PDF of Kobold Press’ Book of Ebon Tides. Although tailored specifically for their Midgard setting, it offers an interesting plethora of characters for the Shadow Realm, which is a demiplane that is made of equal parts of Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, eastern European legends, D&D famous’ Demiplane of Shadow, and the Feywild (but as if seen through a delightful darker glass). The Shadow Realm was discovered by the goddess of moon and magic Hecate who, after fashioning it more to her liking, populated it with goblins, shadow fey (the Scáthesidhe) and their servants, besides bearfolk, human night worshippers, and other races.

After that brief history, the book details the eerie and mutable nature of the Shadow Realm. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the plane. Unlike the Material Plane, the only things that are eternal in the Shadow Realm are, well, shadows. Everything else is affected by the so-called ebon tides, which produce slow and dream-like but constant changes: rocks, trees, and other physical landmarks, even entire forests and mountains, inexorably change their location and even aspect. The natives discovered ways to bind or hold certain places together through unique magic and materials, such as wood taken from the holy wood of Hecate. These isles of stability are connected through the equally magical Shadow Roads. The book provides a table with suggested manifestations of the ebon tides to increase the setting’s weirdness. The Book of Ebon Tides also provides further details on holydays, weather, gods, fey etiquette, and customs.

We next get to “Umbral People and Heroes”. Here we get new races: bearfolk (the shadow bearfolk subrace), darakhul (the Midgardian High Ghoul, with new templates for bearfolk and shadow goblin), the famous shadow fey, the luminous lunar elves, the rare sable elves, the cunning and provocative shadow goblins, and umbral humans (with the subraces changeling and gifted). We also get stats to play with the fey-like quicksteps, the squirrelfolk ratatosks (with the subraces ekorre and tradvakt), erinas (spiritfarer), shades (Stygian), ravenfolk (sublime), satarre (unbound), and gnomes (wyrd). In terms of Midgardian lore, the sable elves are probably the most interesting one, presenting a decadent and weakened branch of the ancient elves that once shaped worlds like Midgard itself. Mechanically speaking the most interesting entry is the Gifted Umbral Humans, which represent mortals who made some pact with the fey in exchange of power or a perk. The ratatosks are a bizarre mixture of themes (squirrels, celestials, Yggdrasil… you name it) that are not only remarkably original but offer some very fun options as a race (specially the tiny ekorre). Finally, it is worth mentioning that all the races receive the most recent D&D 5E mechanical treatment, with flexible options for ability scores for example.

The Book of Ebon Tides also offers plenty of new options in terms of subclasses. We have the Circle of Shadows (druid), the College of Shadows (bard), the community-based Keeper Domain and the mandatory Shadow Domain (both for cleric), the original (and unexpected) Light Weaver Origin (sorcerer), the poison-obsessed Mother of Sorrows (warlock), the Shadow Arcane Tradition (wizard), the smoke/mist-based Shadow Gnawer (barbarian), the Umbral Binder (rogue), and, finally, the charismatic Way of the Prophet (monk). Seeing in darkness or similar forms of darkvision are, obviously, ubiquitous here. And yes, I did miss a new Fighter archetype.

The next part of the book is about magic. First we get rules on how illusion spells (with the shadow and illumination keyword) are empowered in the Shadow Realm. There is even some advice on how to describe the malleable nature of that plane through some spells. I wished that the book devoted more attention to that last bit, as I feel it is what makes the Shadow Realm so unique and different from other planes, Shadowfell, or Feywild. After that we get into the meat of the chapter: new spells! I am more mindful of flavorful then merely tactical spells and the Book of Ebon Tides did not fail me. There are plenty of awesome magic here, such as the 1st level Blade of Blood and Bone (you can create and store a magical dagger made of your bones and blood) and the grotesque 7th level Charnel Banquet (a disgusting but invigorating repast). There are a lot more of those: Child of Light and Darkness, Conjure the Ferryman, Conjure Giant, Deep Roots of the Moon, Doom of Poor Fortune… originally, I ended listing basically 90% of the new spells here. Usually, I can’t bother even reading magic chapters in most book as they are so bland, but the Book of Ebon Tides is simply otherworldly (no pun intended) when it comes to magic. I would buy the PDF for this chapter alone.

‘The Nature of Shadow’ feels like a continuation of the book’s introduction, further detailing the weirdness of the fey plane. How to get in (and out) of the Shadow Realm, its beasts, features, hazards, traveling, and my favorite one: Shadow Corruption. The Book of Ebon Tides builds its planar corruption mechanic upon the chassis of one of D&D 5E’s most neglected (but potential) rules: Exhaustion. So, here we get a 6 levels chart of progressive Shadow Corruption that gives not only disadvantages but also a few perks, such as (surprise!) darkvision. It is a simple but flavorful way to build a new mechanic and I quite like it. The chapter also details a few specific locations.

The next bit of the Book of Ebon Tides is all about intrigue: we get more details on the fey courts and their servitors. These courts are like locations and are more detailed than the previous chapter. Some are little more than a giant manor, while others are basically cities. Among those there is, of course, the one ruled by my favorite Midgard NPC/villain: the Court of the Moonlit King. This is one of the biggest chapters of the book and there is a lot to process here, all pure campaign setting. There are even details on fallen courts. In ‘Realms Beyond the Courts’, we get further places to explore, such as Fandeval, the City of Goblins, and Merrymead, the City of Revels. Again, there is a lot to use here.

Next, we reach the deities of the Shadow Realm, each one with a full description, including some good DM advice, such as Midgard’s wonderful approach to gods and goddess trough masks, which lend a lot of mystique back to religion (something that I sorely miss from most D&D books). ‘Monsters and NPCs’ comes next with 25 new entries, including stats for a lot of ready-made NPCs such as bearfolk, elves, goblins, among others.

The Book of Ebon Tides, like any other D&D sourcebook, has its own chapter of magic items. Like spells, these are usually things that I usually pass by, but the magic paraphernalia lovers are for a treat with some 80 new items among weapons, armors, artifacts, and wondrous items. I often feel that good magic items are more about telegraphing to the reader the unique flavor of the setting than just “kool powerzs” (although I also like nice powers), and the Book of Ebon Tides sets a good example. We have the Book itself as an in-world wondrous item. Remember that bit about the Shadow Realm being flux and malleable? Well, the Book of Ebon Tides is how you funk with that. Other examples of flavorful or just outright awesome magic items are the various memory philters, the illusion seeds, Hecate’s Lantern, and my all-time havoc-unleashing favorite: the collapsing mountain (yeah, your read that right).

The Book of Ebon Tides closes with three Appendixes. The first one has tables describing lesser magic items. These are pure gold and I love when authors take some time to create these trinkets, as they always are a lot more flavorful to a setting than endless lists of new magic swords or staves. There is also tables on fey pranks and tricks, court fashion, pets and mounts, food, cantrips, omens, secrets, lore and weird servants. The result is that these tables (and the awesome art) manage to pack more flavor than a lot of chapters put together. More importantly, they are useful to any fey-themed campaign.

The second Appendix has encounter tables, while the third Appendix has a list of monsters separated by terrain (very good) and CR (not very useful in 5E). We also get some battlemaps for generic locations, such as a fey court, roads, and dark woods.

Before I forget, the Book of Ebon Tides (to my surprise, given the flux nature of the place), also has a beautiful two pages color map of the Shadow Realm (of the type that you would love to have printed and hanged on your wall).

The Book of Ebon Tides is a refreshing surprise in terms of 5E sourcebooks as it manages to be not only an original reading (in crunch and flavor) but it is useful both for players and gamemasters. The Shadow Realm’s planar nature makes it easy to attach it any world or campaign. For old Midgard fans, it is a must, providing perhaps a first full picture of the world, especially for those like me that love to play around Zobeck and the original locations of the campaign setting (where the shadow fey have a strong presence).



Thursday, June 30, 2022

Boku no Hero Academia (A Minimalist) RPG

From time to time I create small hacks of some RPG from my collection so that I can play with my kids. I’ve been doing this for so long (since my daughter was around 4-5 years old and now she is 10!) that I am faced with two interesting consequences: my children don’t want to play anything “bigger” in terms of RPG as they love these DIY games; and they consider the agency and liberty of actions in TTRPGs to be so fun that they have a hard time playing other games (board, cards, etc.).

We have been watching the awesome shonen anime Boku no Hero Academia, about a world where around 80% of the Earth population has some kind of power (or Quirk as they say). “Super Hero” is a profession and the best super heroes of Japan train at the prestigious university UA. So that is where I am setting our games. We have played around 6 sessions so far and it has been blast.

The system is minimal and was not only by awesome minimalist games, but also the OSR, FKR Movement, and RPGs such as Blades in the Dark (besides other games by the great John Harper) and, more recently, GROK?! (by Lester Burton).

I ended up creating the character sheet first and then coming up with rules for it. The basic roll is trying to roll 4+ for success. Under normal conditions a 4+ is a success, but with the proper narrative position and impact it can be a “yes, but…” or a “ yes, and…” success. With the proper advantage even a 3 might be a “no, but…”.

The three bigger in the character sheet represent Mental, Social, and Physical stats. The player writes the proper attribute at the side of each die. For example, during a fight, if your Physical is a d8, you roll the d8 and a 4+ is success.

The d4 is a disadvantage. Each time I feel it is appropriate I might ask for a d4 roll to see how hampered you are by your disadvantage (with a 4 been the only way to ignore it). Right now, my son’s PC disadvantage is that his body does not support his powers at maximum effect, where my daughter’s PC gets nausea if she by using her powers too much in a short time.

The main circle to the left is where your write your main concept/power. The comic balloons to the right are for power stunts, secondary powers, special moves, equipment, allies, and other assets. I let my kids each start the first game with two balloons filled, besides the main circle.

The circle and the various balloons are like aspects and open new narrative actions (like flying, blast, invisibility), depending on your powers.

The explosive balloons to right are for wound conditions and other impairments (even mental or social ones). Once they are all filled you are knocked out/defeated.

In combat, you can choose to continue fighting after that, but after each hit you must mark off one of your 3 stat and a balloon. You cannot use an action based on a die or balloon that is marked. Once all 3 stats are marked you are dead.

Oh, I almost forgot, the row of stars at the bottom is the XP system. Each game session my kids mark one star. Once a group of stars is marked, they “level up” (at first you only need one game session to level up). Each time that happens they can add a description to a new balloon or try to bump up one of their 3 stats, although the later requires two advances (I am still tinkering with that). I also let then change or refine the description of a balloon are filled with each level up, to represent their progress or evolution.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Monsters In Media Res


The Monster Reaction table is my favorite rule of the entire OSR. In fact, I like to use it even outside of its original purpose. For example, when I want nonbinary results (it even uses 2d6, my favorite mechanical roll). But this post is not about that. In fact, it is about using Monster Reaction to further flavor encounters.

Traditional OSR games (especially retroclones like OSE) are extremely lethal in general. That is not an error but a feature. Look at the Monster Reaction table (OSE Classic Fantasy Basic Rule p. 49) carefully. According to it, only about 2-3%* of all the encounters should start right away as combat. Almost 25% of all encounters will have unfriendly monsters but that does no mean that they will attack.

*I suck in statistics, and might be wrong, but I hope you get the point.

That opens up a lot of opportunities. In fact, considering the Monster Reaction table, most creatures met by the party will be busy with something else instead of “patrolling” the dungeon or wilderness (of course, except things like constructs and most undead).

Using regularly the Monster Reaction table is a great to inject a different feeling to your OSR games, but it does require a good deal of improvisation skill by the referee to make it work properly. Here are a few ideas to further inspire your games if you decide to use the Monster Reaction rules. They are not to be used always but should provide some help when you are at a loss on what to do. Obviously, those suggestions also use 2d6.

Monster Reaction Result: 2 or less – Hostile, attacks

2

The creature can talk, even if that is not possible to its species. It will pretend to be neutral, and offer advise, but as soon as it gets the party in trouble, it will attack cruelly and seeking to maim rather than kill. It doesn’t need to roll morale.

3-5

For some reason, the creature enters an uncontrollable berserker rage upon seeing the party. The focus of its rage might be a specific member of the party (maybe it even knows the name of the character), a type of character (elves, clerics, etc.) or something carried by them. It doesn’t need to roll morale.

6-8

The creature attacks but stays on the defensive and tries to hold the party there. It is expecting reinforcements (maybe others of its kind, or help from another monster in the adventure, or even it might be charging up a specific and unique power).

9-11

The creature is wounded from a previous encounter (roll or chose against which monster). Reduce its hit points (-1 to -4 for each Hit Dice) and final XP accordingly. It will stop attacking if the party retreats and it is more vulnerable to morale checks.

12

The creature is maimed (maybe a missing eye, scarred hide, lost natural attack, etc.) by someone like a member of the party. It will seek to avoid that specific member and might have to roll morale if attacked by him. Nonetheless, if it survives, it will desire revenge in the future.

 

Monster Reaction Result: 3-5 – Unfriendly, may attack

2

The creature deeply fears something otherwise innocuous possessed by the party. If it can get rid of it, it would love to devour, kill, or attack the party.

3-5

The creature is just a scout and will attempt to attract the party to its allies. Only then it would risk an attack.

6-8

The creature dislikes the party but desires something else (a treasure, control over a specific place, to defeat another monster). That is more important… at the moment.

9-11

The creature only hesitates because it was wounded in a previous encounter (roll or chose against which monster). Reduce its hit points (-1 to -4 for each Hit Dice) and final XP accordingly. It will try to buy time to heal or find refuge.

12

The creature misjudges the power of the party, believing them to be a lot more powerful than they look. If given proof otherwise it will attack.

 

Monster Reaction Result: 6-8 – Neutral, uncertain

2

The creature is actually an outsider, like the party, and desires some treasure or magic item in the adventure. It may even ally with the party but it will never divide its desired spoils.

3-5

The creature is running from another encounter (roll or chose another encounter). Probably scared. The pursuers will arrive soon.

6-8

The creature will slowly try to flee, but only to keep following the party from a distance, until it makes up its mind.

9-11

The creature just killed another monster (roll or chose another encounter). For now, it just wants to rest or heal. If necessary, reduce its hit points (and XP) to reflect the previous combat.

12

The creature seeks something possessed by the party (food, a new weapon, a component for a spell, or something weird that is otherwise essential to it). It is willing to trade or follow the party for a while to convince them. It will flee if hurt and probably it will be hostile in future encounters.

 

Monster Reaction Result: 9-11 – Indifferent, uninterested

2

The creature is not what is seems and is in fact more powerful than it looks. It could be a shapechanger, spirit, construct, extraplanar, etc. (if in doubt, just change it to a magic creature with a few HD more or make resist to non-magical attacks maybe). It does not understand pretty much anything about the world.

3-5

The creature is obsessed with hunting or killing another monster (roll or choose another monster). If the targeted monster is a potential future ally of the party that is even better.

6-8

The creature is trying to find another of its kind (its mate?), who is trapped or lost in some location of the adventure. Instead of another creature, it might be looking for an item that once belonged to it.

9-11

The creature is completely amnesic or somehow lost.

12

The creature is actually a mirage, illusion, or haunt. It will ignore the party unless interacted in a strange way (through magic, song, riddles, prayers, or offerings). At best, it might offer a place of refuge or rest. At worst, it might curse the party or force them to expend resources.

 

Monster Reaction Result: 12 or more – Friendly, helpful

2

The creature cannot tell the difference between its kind and others (or does not care). For example, if it is an orc, it will believe that all party is composed of orcs. It is possibly mad.

3-5

The creature seeks protection (or revenge) against another monster (roll or choose the monster) and it thinks the party is the answer to that.

6-8

The creature is ridiculously helpful as long as it is fed with something (rations, candles, paper, etc.) or entertained (with songs, fire, etc.). A turn or two without that and the creature becomes agitated. If the situation persists, it might flee but not before attempting to the take its “favorite” character with it (or some item that it believes to be the source of its desire, such as a wizard’s grimoire if it likes paper).

9-11

The creature is completely in love with one member of the party. It is also very possessive and jealous.

12

The creature is a civilized demihuman, polymorphed or cursed in its current form. It cannot tell the party directly of its condition, but only through signs or indirect clues.

 


Monday, June 27, 2022

Augury - Tome of Heroes (D&D 5E)

Tome of Heroes is latest 5E product crowdfunded by Kobold Press. I have fond memories of the Zobeck Gazetteer and the amazing Midgard Campaign Setting (Wow! Almost 10 years!) and the Tome of Heroes is in many ways may door coming back to that setting. However, while it does have iconic elements from Midgard, it is not necessarily a setting sourcebook. Quite the contrary, we are talking here about a massive expansion for D&D 5E regarding new options for players: 316 pages of content, spread though seven chapters of a beautiful illustrated book.


The first chapter is all about new races and subraces. We have the centauroid Alseid, the almost mandatory Catfolk (Malkin and Pantheran), the definitely obligatory Drow (Delver, Fever-Bit and Purified), the hedgehog-folk Erina, Minotaurs (Bhain Kwai and Boghaid), and the Mushrromfolk (Acid Cap, Favored, and Morel). There are also new subraces for the classics: Dwarves (Fireforge and Spindrift), Elves (Dunewalker and Frostfell), Gnomes (Shoal and Wyrd) and much love for Halflings (5 subraces: Courtfolk, Hinterfolk, Rivefolk, Urban and Winterfolk!). Finally, there is the weird: the cthulhian Satarre (basically you play what sounds like an Elder Race from the Void) and the Shade (which are kind of materialized ghosts who seemed, only at first, to be alive… but they can be also echoes or memories left after someone’s death… as I said: weird).

All of above comes with interesting bits of lore from Midgard that can enrich any setting. Now, there are a lot of refreshing approaches to traditional concepts too. For example: the crazed (or not so crazed) Derro seems to be lots of fun to play, with plenty of insanity, mutations, and psychic awareness for everyone’s taste. However, for me, the real gems are the Darakhul and the Gearforged. Darakhul are the high ghouls of Midgard, but they work perfectly also as Lovecraftian ghouls or just as your basic undead race. Both Darakhul and the Gearforged come with subrace-like templates, which allow you to build, for example, a Darakhul who was a dragonborn before becoming undead, or a gearforged whose body is built like a kobold. The Darakhul’s Imperfect Undeath and the Gearforged’s Living Construct traits are the friendliest approach that I have seen so far to those concepts in 5E.


Chapter 2 is about classes. The Barbarian gets the lion-based Path of the Booming Magnificence, the infernal-themed Path of Hellfire, the fey- (and teleport-) based Path of the Mistwood, the self-explanatory Path of the Dragon, the skald-like Path of the Herald (your friends can rage with you!), the premonitory Path of the Inner Eye, and the plant-based Path of Thorns. Bards get new Colleges: Echoes (yup, you get echolocation), Investigation (perfect for Pathfinder fans of that class), Shadows (weird mix of bard and ninja I guess), Sincerity (the most original one, with a troupe-style mechanic), Tactics (almost a warlord!), and Cat (definitely a ninja). The new cleric domains are Black Powder (my favorite!), Hunt (totally Ranger-like), Mercy (the most original one, dealing both with healing and death), Portal (probably the most fun to play, specially for players that love using teleport through the battlefield), Serpent (you’re a yuan-ti/serpentman), Shadow (magic ninja!), Vermin and Wind. New Druid Circles are Ash (Phoenix-based and very flavorful), Bees (very weird and specific), Crystals (for character optimization’s afficionados), Sand (if you are a fan of the 90s’ The Mummy this one is for you), Green (spirit animal companion), Shapeless (ooze-lovers) and Wind. Fighters get two new Fighting Style Options (Gunfighting and Buccaneer), and 6 new Archetypes: Gun Mastery (for your usual gun fu), Chaplain (a healer), Legionary (fighting with pals), Pugilist (a much-needed non-monk unarmed combatant), the awesome Timeblade (my favorite, for anime and time travel fans), and the Tunnel Watcher. Monks get 7 new Monastic Traditions: Way of the Concordant Motion (for monks that like to empower their allies with ki), Way of the Dragon, Way of the Humble Elephant (seems like the Dwarven Defender prestige class from the old 3rd Edition days, but it is a monk), the potent Way of the Still Waters, the Way of the Tipsy Monkey (for Jackie Chan fans like me), the bow-based Way of the Unerring Arrow, and the Way of the Wildcat (this one, plus the new Pantheran subrace, and you have basically a Thundercat). Paladins gain the Gunfighting Fighting Style plus 6 new Oaths. Both the Oath of Justice and the Oath of Safeguarding offer interesting tactical powers to control the battlefield, the first one focusing on the enemies, the later one on your allies. Oath of the Elements is self-explanatory, while Oath of the Guardian is another set of powers all about boosting allies. Oath of the Hearth is like a “Paladin of the Frozen North” archetype and Oath of the Plaguetouched is an undead-bane Paladin, but one with an amazingly flavorful description. Rangers can choose between Beast Trainer, Grove Warden, Gunslinger (an interesting choice as this is usually a Fighter Archetype), Haunted Warden (you get a spirit instead of an animal companion), Snake Speaker (another serpentman archetype), Spear of the Weald (limited to Alseids), and Wasteland Striders (Cthulhu Rangers!). Rogues can become Cat Burglars, Dawn Blades (radiant blasters divine thieves?), Sappers (by far my favorite… bombs and demolitions! What its not to like?), Smugglers (good at hiding stuff and using a bit of magic), Soulspy (another divine rogue), and finally the also spellcasting Underfoot (another archetype limited to one race: the Erina). Sorcerers bring a plethora of new Metamagic Options (17!) plus 5 new Origins: Black Powder (the already classic Gun Mage trope), Cold-Blooded (more serpentfolk!), Resonant Body (a sound themed sorcerer), Rifthopper (portal sorcerer), Spore, Wastelander (Cthulhu/ooze sorcerer). The Sorcerer Origins are all very flavourful and well detailed. My favorite class, Warlock, gains new 20 new Invocations. I consider Invocations to be the source of many of my favorite builds of Warlock, as they allow you to play a really unconventional characters in terms of most D&D/d20 games. While most Tome of Heroes’ Invocations are not that much “outside of the box” they do allow you some cool tricks (Convulsions of the World lets you create small focused earthquakes for example) and also a new concept (what I call the ”Forest Warlock” or “Druid Warlock”). New Patrons include Ancient Dragons and Animal Lords (both classical elements of D&D), as well as the Hunter in Darkness (“Predator Warlock” I guess), Old Wood (which fits nicely with the new Invocations), Primordial (the most original for me, where you serve non-Cthulhian chthonic entities or mystery deities), and Wyrdweaver (basically your pact is with chaos itself). Closing the chapter we have new Arcane Traditions: the Cantrip Adept (a very interesting and unusual concept, but that I would love to try at my table), Courser Mage (a weird spellcaster that uses bows and focus on surveillance and stealth), Familiar Master (boosting your familiar), Gravebinding (practically a white necromancer), School of Black Powder (more gun magery!), the School of Liminality (another weird theme that deals with chances and space), and the Spellsmith (a specialist in manipulating the energy behind spells, using it to gain an extra boost). Wizards are by far the place where the Tome of Heroes really went outside of the box for ideas.


Chapter 3 is for Background and Feats. The new Backgrounds are Court Servant (you play Alfred), Desert Runner, Destined, Diplomat, Forest Dweller, Former Adventurer, Freebooter, Gamekeeper, Innkeeper, Mercenary Company Scion, Mercenary Recruit, Monstrous Adoptee, Mysterious Origins, Northern Minstrel, Occultist, Parfurmier, Scoundrel, Sentry, and Trophy Hunter. To my surprise I am old fashioned when it comes to Backgrounds and I really love when their Features are purely narrative (no game mechanics). Kobold Press usually don’t do that. Nevertheless, they managed to create interesting Features, such the one for Court Servant (you are the perfect valet and thus hard to notice). On the other hand, Parfumier is an awesome Background that completely missed the opportunity to create a cool Feature (just give her a super nose for smells or olfactory memory, for example). Mechanic-less Features that I really liked were Destined (you’re a Chosen One), Forest Dweller (you can find safe havens in woods), and Monstrous Adoptee (you were raised by monsters and know their locations as well as how to interact socially with them). Destined and Former Adventurer are not only wonderfully original but also classical themes that I am surprised to never have thought of them as Backgrounds. Mysterious Origins is a nice way for a player to tell the Dungeon Master to create a backstory for her character (something which happens quite a lot at my tables).

Still on Chapter 3 we have 15 new feats. This part of Tome of Heroes has something for everyone. From traditional stuff like Diehard, Forest Denizen, and Giant Foe, to amazingly flavorful things like Floriographer (a new secret language, like Druidic) and Part of Pack (you can talk with wolves and summon a pack). Two of the new feats, Draconic Rune Casting and Hedgecraft, are linked with new magic systems detailed later.


Chapter 4 is about adventuring gear, where (obviously) firearms have their own section. Besides new armor, weapons, poisons, tools, and trinkets, we also have new special materials (cold iron, peachwood, soulbound steel, wave-washed steel, and windforged steel). This is possible the most setting-heavy chapter, bringing a lot of unique elements of Midgard, such as the elven memory spheres and the ghoul saliva paste. There is an entire section on clockworks, as well as new vehicles and war animals.


Chapter 5 is what sets Tome of Heroes as a true expansion of D&D. Here we have a lot of new rules for the game. In Downtime, there are options for Court Reputation, Crafting a Masterpiece, Creating Preserves, Creature Care, Criminal Enterprise, Foraging, Magic Plant Gardening, Managing a Trading Company, and Manor Ownership and Operation. All those activities came with subsystems, most through victory points and complications. While all those activities can be handwaved by most Dungeon Masters using the Core Books, Tome of Heroes provides concrete rules for those that prefer a more robust approach. Bear in mind, some activities can get quite complex and become minigames – and yes, I’m talking about Managing a Trading Company and Manor Ownership and Operation, which consume most of the chapter (Who does not love tables and a spreadsheet?).

The next bit of Chapter 5 is a new rule: Group Themes. This idea is something that I discovered in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition and since them I want to use in every game that I run (another awesome use of that rule is in King of Dungeons). Basically, a group theme is an adventuring party template. Tome of Heroes has Imprisoned, Haunted, Homeward Bound, and Wardens. Each entry comes with a basic description, game hooks, and group benefits (small mechanical bonus). The entire idea is really good, easy to use, and can help many tables to keep a better focus at their goals. The chapter also has guidelines to create your won Group Themes.

Chapter 5 closes with Weapon Options, a series of weapon-based actions that any proficient character can use. Examples are Assail (to distract and force him on the defensive), Disarm, Leash (better rules for whips), Pinning Shot, among others. These maneuvers are, more importantly, a good set of guidelines for Dungeon Masters and players who would like to further differentiate weapons. However, considering the Action Economy of D&D 5E and how most parties are obsessed only in dealing damage, many of the described maneuvers might seem suboptimal without a proper narrative contest (for example, creating a combat where disarming or restraining a foe might be more important than just wounding him).


Chapter 6 is about magic, a strong suite from Kobold Press if you have been following their Deep Magic line. First, we get two new magic subsystems, accessible through feats. The Draconic Rune Casting allows you to create runes by spending spell slots. Once created those runes can be active to change parameters of other spells. For example, the Dubito rune allows you to to double the duration of one spell, while Frigus allows you to change the original damage to cold damage (it works on 3 spells before fully expended). The next subsystem is Hedge Magic, with deals with the magical properties of plants. It is basically a magic herbalism system that require components rated by their rarity. It is the most flavorful system in Tome of Heroes but one that does require bookkeeping (and possibly maintaining a magic garden in some instances). After that the chapter closes with a plethora of new spells (35 pages of it to be more exact).


Chapter 7 has new magic items. Some are a munchkin’s dream, like the Axe of Many Strikes (hit your friends, store the damage, then unleash in on your foes!) or the Javelin of Teleportation (strike and teleport the target to any place within 60 feet… but at least it has a save). Other are very flavorful, such as the Cloak of Tentacles, the Momentblade, the Pouch of Runestones, and the Potion of Infinite Possibilities. This is one of the best chapters and has a cool magic item for everyone’s tastes.

In many ways the Tome of Heroes feels like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Chapter 2 of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, plus Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, but on steroids! It has a bit of everything that I expected from an official D&D expansion and it is a great source for many campaigns to come. For Midgard fans it is almost obligatory as it brings home to 5E many of the themes and options that were alluded even by the first version of the setting, 10 years ago! (I am talking about stuff that grounds in the social aspects of the setting, such as Court Reputation system.)

Monday, May 16, 2022

Bestiarum vocabulum: Omoluzu, the Roof Demons


My wife gave me last year Black Leopard Red Wolf, the amazing African sword & sorcery tour de force by Marlon James. I am still in the fourth chapter, and I just can’t stop reading that beauty! So, following this blog tradition of adapting everything that excites me into the D&D mash-up blender, here is an awesome monster from the 1st chapter: Omoluzu, the Roof Demons. This adaption is how I see this lovely critter and not based on any further research.


Read this beauty!


Omoluzu, the Roof Demons

Omoluzu are ancient demons from the beginning of the world (or the multiverse). In fact, they might be
remnants from a previous world or existence, upon which the Material Plane was later built. Sages have long debated where the Omoluzu (the world means both singular and plural) came from, with theories ranging from frozen and forsaken hells, the black sands of Yondo, to the Negative Material Plane, among others.

The most telling sign of the Omoluzu is that their existence is somehow inverted in relation to other creatures of the Material Plane. Omoluzu are only found in the roof or ceiling of any structures, including caverns, ruins, and dungeons (the famous folktale of the Drowned King has Omoluzu showing up in the ceeling of even an extraplanar court, which means they can reach other planes). Their “natural” state of existence is of constantly inverted gravity. Omoluzu only “fall” out of a ceiling when killed and their bodies are immediately destroyed and rendered to smoke (although there are rumors of adventurers blowing up the roof and sending Omoluzu “falling upwards” and disappearing in the sky).

The Roof Demons’ body is completely black, as tar, without any visible organ, although they are clearly humanoid shaped. They are famous for their swords made of blinding light, which kills victims without leaving any visible wounds. Omoluzu are tireless hunters. It is whispered that once they taste your blood you will never find a safe roof for the rest of your life.

Omoluzu understand most Material Plane languages, but no one has ever heard them speak. Marginalia in Nkou’s Roll of Deviltries mentions that a mentalist once tried to establish mental contact with Omoluzu only to start screaming and falling upward into the ceiling, forever disappearing into a darkness pool that theoretically led the Roof Demons’ mysterious world.

Omoluzu are completely silent, but their coming is easily to spot. They are heralded by hissing and cracking sounds, as if the roof was melting or boiling. After a few second, the sound is followed by literal cracks in the roof, from which a bubbling darkness, almost as tar, can be seen. It is from those rifts that the Omoluzu come.


Art by Ana Toledo.

Here are stats for 3 RPGs that I am currently tinkering with: DCC RPG, 13th Age, and OSE.

DCC RPG

Omoluzu: Init +4; Atk sword of light +1d7 melee (1d8+1d7); AC 16; HD 5d12; MV 40'; Act 2d20; SP see in darkness 60', immune to mind-altering spells, mighty deed of arms (d7), roof demon, sword of light, tar body; SV Fort +2, Ref +8, Will +2; AL C

Roof Demon: Omoluzu fight from the ceiling without any penalty and can jump to reach even prone foes. They can freely withdraw from enemies without triggering counterattacks.

Sword of Light: wounds by this weapon leave no mark.

Tar Body: only wounded by magic weapons or fire.


13th Age

Omoluzu
4th level wrecker

Initiative: +8
Vulnerability: fire 

AC 20                   HP 50

PD 14

MD 18

Sword of light +9 vs. AC (2 attacks) — 8 psychic damage.
Miss: 1d4 psychic damage.

Demon Mind: any successful attack against Omoluzu targeting MD causes 1d4 psychic damage in the attacker.

Fear: while engaged with Omoluzu, enemies that have 18 hp or fewer are dazed (–4 attack) and do not add the escalation die to their attacks.

Roof demon (1/battle): Omoluzu can pop free from all enemies.

Tar Body: Omoluzu have resist 12+ against attacks targeting AC or MD.

Tireless Hunters (1/battle): as a free action, when a nearby enemy moves, they must roll a hard save (16+) or they are intercepted by the Omoluzu. The Omoluzu can pop free from an enemy to move and intercept the target. 

Group ability: for every two Omoluzu in battle (round up), one of them can use come here! as a free action once during the battle.

Come here!: the Omoluzu can execute a melee attack of +10 vs. PD to capture a target and grapple them into the ceiling. Keeping the target grappled is a free action for the Omoluzu, who can keep attacking. Captured targets are stunned until they roll a hard save (16+), try a maneuver to free themselves, or the Omoluzu holding them is forced to disengage.


OSE

AC 7 [12], HD 4 (16hp), Att 2 × sword of light (1d6) or grab, THAC0 16 [+3], MV 90’ (30’), SV D8 W9 P10 B10 S12, ML 12, AL Chaotic, XP 75, NA 2d4, TT None

Mundane damage immunity: Can only be harmed by magical attacks or fire.

Spell immunity: Unaffected by acid, cold, illusions, poison, sleep or charm spells.

Roof Demon: Constantly under inverted gravity but they are adept at fighting enemies on the floor. They can jump to reach prone enemies and they can withdraw without suffering attacks.

Grab: Omoluzu grab one target and pins them into the ceiling (save vs paralysis). Pinned targets are automatically hit by other Omoluzu.

Sword of Light: leaves no wound mark or any sign that the target is hurt.

 

The Curse of the Omoluzu

The Curse of the Omoluzu is one of the most dread curses known in some realms. To condemn someone to be eternally hunted by the Roof Demons is a work of the darkest magics and the wickedest hearts. It requires first a bit of fresh blood just taken from the target. The blood is then tossed into the ceiling, while the dark power command that triggers the curse is uttered.

As profoundly evil curse once is uttered, most users somehow corrupted (while the victims are easy condemned to a quick and painful death, or to a life in the wilds). In OSE, a change of Alignment to Chaotic and potential loss of divine powers are maybe in order; in DCC RPG the one responsible for the curse can change his Alignment to Chaotic or perhaps receive a corruption of the referee’s choice; finally, in 13th Age, this curse can be reflected by a negative background (“Wielder of diabolic magic”), and the user can be forced to change one of his Icon Die to a relationship with the Diabolist, or something like that. There are tales that this curse could be used without consequences to right a divine wrong, but that is open to debate.

Once cast there is no know cure to the curse, except perhaps divine intervention (or dying and being raised from the dead). There are rumors that claim that the Omoluzu only hunt a cursed target in the original place where the curse was uttered (so, theoretically, a target cursed in the Materila Plane would be safe in any other plane). Of course, a “safe” way to avoid the Omoluzu is to never go under roof… forever.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Embrace chaos! (Or "Campaign/Adventure Building in 13th Age")

 

I am currently running my 2nd campaign for 13th Age. I usually start writing a 13th Age campaign only after the players created their characters, particularly their Unique Things and Icons Relationships.

My usual creative process for adventures is preparing an introductory game session (with 3-4 combat encounters at most and two longer social or explorative encounters). I leave things quite open to account for Icon Rolls and usually present the main issue in a vague way (an imperial fort needs help, an elven noble needs protection, orcs are pillaging the region, etc.).

I usually use Icon Rolls at the start of an adventure and then every two to three game sessions. The first session of a new adventure also has a montage, where my table usually insert all kinds of madness and I start fitting those into my own planning. With the foreknowledge of Icon Rolls and the result of the Montage, I fit everything within my planned campaign. I usually create adventures around themes or arcs. In my last campaign the second arc was “a basilisk was loose in Concord and is wrecking chaos, the PCs are sent to deal with it” (this occupied a good chunk of game sessions and included minor encounters and quests).

With my 2nd campaign I started asking for Icon Rolls basically at the beginning of every game session (unless it was really a short session or one where basically nothing happened). I love creating all kind of main and side plots for my players to explore (and tons of NPCs). I usually know where the campaign is going to, as I usually start sketching where I want the PCs to be at Champion and even Epic Tier.

So, that is my modus operandi. That said, what I noticed in my 2nd campaign is that I often found myself struggling between the craziness created through Montages and my initial campaign arcs and planning. After some hesitation at first, the table really started liking Montage and the creation of NPCs through Icon Rolls. To give you an idea, during the campaign I got a flying saucer abducting the party’s ranger (so that he could be transported a few miles and meeting the rest of the team), magic prostitutes (yeah, your heard that right), the legendary King of Snakes (friend of the Elf Queen)… the most tame thing that ever came out of my players’ feedback was a party of drow druids (which soon became infiltered derro but let us not get ahead of ourselves).

I was planning to run a campaign dealing with the rise of the High Druid, the war between civilization and nature around New Port, and hopefully the Stone Thief. Then it hit me: my players are having a blast creating all kind of NPCs, plots, and other stuff that I never imagined. They are loving it! And I’m having an amazing ride by not knowing what is going to happen. Better yet: I don’t need to prepare “my campaign”. I just need to embrace chaos. And I did precisely that. I stopped writing. When I run out of material, I just prepare a new Montage (or wait for one or two Icon Rolls and more NPCs/factions). They are creating everything for me and it was never so liberating to run a campaign where I really don’t know what is going to happen (it is like running a hexcrawl/sandbox without all those mechanical tables getting in the way). I will probably never prepare a 13th Age game again (at least not in the common sense).