Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Blank space and mechanical fluff

Perhaps my favorite part of any character sheet is the 'appearance' section, especially if it has an area for drawing a character portrait.

People should be allowed and encouraged to engage in creative pursuits, irrespective of technical skill, and it helps them to explore the character. Likewise, when I'm having trouble fleshing out a character, it can really help to have some guidance or framework to start with. To this end, part of the character creation process in my game generates connections to the larger setting, along with open-ended questions inviting further worldbuilding on the player's end.

one million by Lois van Baarle

It's important to have this kind of blank space, and sometimes it's necessary to point players toward it. Some games try to make every part of character development mechanical, and I generally find that to be a very clumsy, unhelpful approach (generally mind you, there are exceptions) much like trying to mechanically simulate every physical element of a fight or adventure. Oftentimes it's best to just leave the relatively unimportant details up to the players, they can reason a situation intuitively or come up with interesting details for themselves.

Part of this is how magic users in Skies Below must keep an arcane focus to use their magic in combat. This can be any item they possess, such as a wand, tome, or lute, or even such items as a hat, flaming sword, or key. The arcane focus doesn't do much mechanically, besides adding some tension if it gets lost or stolen, its main purpose is to make the player think about their magic, what it looks like and what it says about their character. A character who casts magic through a musical instrument might think of their character as sort of a bard, or one with a blanket may think of that as a shelter the character has held onto their whole life.

Tavern Hijinks by Lap Pun Cheung

Now I'm extending this philosophy to some of the martial classes. In order to enter rage, a berserker must perform a brief, ritualistic action such as eating a certain food or calling out a warcry. Similarly, to use their cooperative abilities, the infantry must use a team name that the party has agreed on. These mostly won't impact actual gameplay, but will push players to add a bit of character building to their PCs, and the infantry's team name encourages them to talk to the other characters and really work together creatively.

Berserker rage ritual
  1. Shout out "For mount and stone!"
  2. Call out "Blood of the bloodmaker!"
  3. Declare "By the skulls power!"
  4. A quick, violent dance.
  5. Don a fierce mask.
  6. Remove a placid mask.
  7. Swallow a flame.
  8. Bite into shield.
  9. Devour raw meat.
  10. Drink personalized draught.
  11. Anoint in sacred perfume.
  12. Anoint in ash.
  13. Anoint in honey.
  14. Cut a rune into chest.
  15. Shatter a clay disc.
  16. Rip a sacred cloth.
  17. Crush a soul cricket.
  18. Crack knuckles.
  19. Tear off shirt.
  20. Clasp hands in a moment of meditation.
Holographic battle by Diana Tsareva

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Killers, competitors, and pursuers

Hunters of Blades

The greatest of warriors can only live in a river of blood. They must cut their way through any who would stand in their path, and must cut away all who approach in challenge. So it is for they who hold the Final Knife, a powerful dagger which can pierce any target, feed on blood, and sustain its bearer. To a Hunter of Blades, this bearer is known as the Quarry, the mightiest among them and also the target of their order. They seek to slay the Quarry and take their weapon, by any means possible. There are many hunters, and only one Final Knife, though within the order are a number of artifacts in their own right, each possessing that same preternatural ability to sever. Any who pursue Shekull, the current Quarry, may call themselves a Hunter of Blades, but only those who have killed and claimed one of these artifacts is a true contender.

Blood Armor by Alexander J

Honor Bearers

The stronger a foe you face, and the greater of their strengths you strike against, the more honorable your contest. Long ago, the Mail of Honor was rent, each ring of the invincible chainmail separated and scattered far across the realm by means unknown and unimaginable. Each of those rings holds a tiny fraction of the mail's incredible power, but those who have gathered them cannot wear it until the day they unite them all. There is only one way to do this, they have found; through fair duels. The Honor Bearers have long known not to kill their fellows, as the links they hold will only flee and become lost once more. When two knights challenge each other however, they find themselves encircled in golden flames, and wielding similar weapons. The flames serve to bar escape or interlopers into the fight, and the weapons do no harm save for taking a link from whoever's flesh they first strike, and granting it to the victor. One can enter into this order by either finding a Link of Honor in the wilderness, or by convincing a knight to duel them despite yet bearing no links. It is said that whoever finally wears the Mail of Honor will become truly invincible and unstoppable, but they have contested for decades and none are closer to success than years more of victory.

Duel of the Fates by Zezhou Chen

Pursuants

Speak no oath unless it may be the last thing you say. There is power to be had if one seeks an old Appellant and slays them, power to be drunk from their clay skulls and eventually bled back into the Hungering Well when the slayer becomes and Appellant themselves. The well's Pursuants each have taken up a cause, and proven themselves worthy of its gift by defeating one of those half-living hosts, the remains of another who has fulfilled their own final duty to themselves, in doing so giving up that self to the means of another. The worth of those who aspire to quest must be challenged, for the failures leave the well's power to trickle out unattended, into the world beyond it. Perhaps once the well itself was some god, spirit, or knight, driven by its own willful purpose, driven eventually to seek power and become an eternal cycle of purpose, power, and exploitation. Now there is no means by which it can be gleaned whether this was ever true, or even if it still is seeking out some hidden goal.

Noble Lord by Dominik Mayer

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Trees Are Dreaming

In the realm of sleep, all things are as they dream. Even the smallest stone has dreamt eons into an immense and incomprehensible palace, while the fish have only half slept, leaving faint trails of malformed light. The trees have spent their years between slumber and half awake, and the eldest have formed great realms.

Fairy tree by Lisa Parfenova


  1. Sea of dirt, so full and rich that a human could live on it, so long as they can stomach the taste.
  2. Roots shoot across the ground, spearing through the dream's trespassers as easily as soil.
  3. Malformed lumberjack with axes for fingers and saw blades for teeth, mindlessly hacking at the trunk and biting off branches.
  4. The tree is immeasurably tall, reaching branches and leaves up to grasp around the sun. The light is dim and green.
  5. It is gently raining without end.
  6. Razor winds tear at leaves and branches, not a leaf can sprout without being ripped away.
  7. Dusty, choking sand spreads as far as the eye can see, the tree is withered and struggling.
  8. The air is choked with flying termites and aphids, swirling around the bitten, scarred trunk.
  9. Lightning stings and rips away at the tree frantically, storming relentlessly.
  10. Little misshapen dream-people rip off chunks of wood, crafting them into strange geometries which then begin to grow, setting roots and sprouting leaves, consuming the thieves that built them.
  11. Branches reach out as far from the trunk as possible, but instead of leaves they sprout only flame.
  12. The sun slides across the sky in unnatural directions, the tree twisting and warping itself as it tries to catch the light.
  13. The ground is bark, sprouting branches and leaves indiscriminately.
  14. An earthen tunnel, moist and warm, with roots above forming protective hands.
  15. A seed tumbles down an endless hill, over sharp and rough stones.
  16. An immense tree travels the dreamland, roots dragging the trunk swiftly along.
  17. Snow is piled up on each leaf, burying the roots as ice coats the trunk and branches.
  18. Fruit swell and fall from the branches, to be carried off by small half-recognizable rodents that gently plant them far away.
  19. Many fruit drift above only empty air, many of them large enough to stand on.
  20. A grove of ancient trees hum a low, haunting song that echoes across fields of swaying grass.
Halo 4 multi player prop
Worm Tree by Jason Borne

Thursday, December 26, 2019

On the nature of things: what they are and why

Stone is the basic form of existence. It is hardy, colorless, and heavy, generally unmoving when left to its own devices. Color is what turns stone into other things, granting it growth, motion, reaction and other things, often at the cost of its immutability. The four colors infused purely into stone cause it to become either natural fire (orange), ice which melts into water (green), lightning (indigo), or oil (yellow). The art of sorcery is generally the manipulation of these colors, not necessarily the elements themselves, and often the more purely distilled the color is the harder it becomes to truly control. Lightning is an exception here, as its indigo power is rarely ever diluted and so there is much knowledge on manipulating it in that purest form.

Material studies by Torsten Gunst

Dread illusionists, the arcane deceivers, manipulate the image without touching the material at its core, controlling the color without the 'stone' as it were. This power is profane and can only lead to ruin.

Where color determines the properties of a substance, spirit is the form of it. Most materials have no spirit, and can thus be reshaped freely without losing their properties (it has been discovered that almost everything does in fact have a spirit, though it is usually quite rudimentary. The spirit of crystal, for instance, may be that it persists only in hexagonal patterns, an extremely simple spiritual form). Plants have slightly more defined spirits, and animals even moreso. Most animal species share a spirit with their kin, including humans, though the soul has a strong tendency to impact the spiritual form.

A soul is simply a more advanced, particular extension of the spirit, which is so developed only in humans and other thinking beings. Because of the unique and advanced ways it can develope, generally no two souls are alike, and this can have an impact upon the prospective spirits, often turning a human spirit into that person's spirit, a subtle but important distinction for those who practice shifting arts. It may be noted that animals cannot be cursed, and this is a simple product of their having no soul; a curse is a wound upon the soul, as much as any cut or bruise upon the flesh. Minor curses can be healed with mild bed rest, as they are shallow cuts and scrapes on the soul. Deeper, more powerful curses require careful, lengthy processes of healing. The holy powers of saints utilize this process, pulling spiritual energy into their soul and tearing away bits of it in order to grant that energy to their allies, and more experienced saints can even learn to utilize these rends in their soul offensively, attacking the souls or even the flesh of enemies.

The summoning sisters by Antoine Collignon

Much study has been done with regards to silver and the functions of undeath. It is clear that the undead are similar to the living afflicted with a curse, as can be seen with vampires, who were long considered undead despite often suffering no death between humanity and monstrousness. It is now consensus that undead are given malformed souls that eat away their spirit, granting something that is almost life but often far more finite. On the other hand, many cases of immortality are reached through undeath, perhaps with souls that are reinforced using parts of the spirit, malforming the body but keeping the mind alive indefinitely? Regardless this is perverse and unnatural, and no further writing should be done upon the subject.

Similar to undead, artificial souls are created when a golem is animated. Imprinting the holy word upon a tool forms a unique embossing of the creator's soul upon the spirit of the tool, which must have originally been crafted with intent. Naturally occurring objects can be used as tools physically, but they have no spirit for it and reject the artificial soul. Because of this, some claim that golemology is a darker, more unnatural art than necromancy, and will one day destroy us all! This is preposterous, golems are quite useful and docile, and have never destroyed anyone when used properly. It is possible that a fusion of necromantic and golemary arts could yield a living golem, capable of creating more of its kind... but this strays too far from the known and established.

Household Golems by Ben Wanat

Of course these findings are irrefutably true and thoroughly proven through rigorous testing. Any wishing to dispute or disprove this work may find their way best to a tavern, where they shall engage in discourse with any drink of their choosing.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Blood spilled


  1. Hardens into the beginnings of a cathedral or bridge.
  2. Sprouts into brightly colored flowers with black stems.
  3. Shows an uncannily perfect reflection along its surface.
  4. Hangs in the air, jagged and motionless as it sprayed.
  5. Drifts in the air, gently bubbling and floating upward.
  6. Squirms and crawls away in every direction like worms.
  7. Draws together and swells upward into orbs.
  8. Sways along with your own motions.
  9. Ripples unnaturally, with strange spikes and patterns.
  10. Shimmers with milky rainbows like oil.
  11. Dries quickly into crimson ash, clumping into itself.
  12. Reaches out with numerous tiny hands.
  13. Opens eyes that watch the fight proceed.
  14. Swirls around as though building toward a whirlpool.
  15. Sinks into the ground, absorbed unnaturally fast.
  16. Falls into a pattern like letters, completely unintelligible.
  17. Shimmers with subtle internal light.
  18. Casts a long shadow as if it were much taller.
  19. Lands in a grid pattern of perfect squares.
  20. Whispers loudly, but cannot be understood.

Creeptober Day 29 : Blood - The Bake-Kujira's Curse by James Gowing


Working on a much larger post, probably going to try and write larger, more elaborate posts that will take longer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Magical Beasts

Most of these are drawn from Greek mythology, though there is inspiration drawn from other locales such as the Qilin, a Chinese creature.

Legendary beasts with mystical traits and abilities, they are often too powerful for regular hunters to capture, but can be butchered by victorious warriors for useful materials. Most have unique spirits so powerful they are almost like unto souls themselves, which makes them confounding for a witch's powers, and causes their corporeal flesh to erupt in blue sparks when struck with bronze.

Gorgon

HD: 4
Found: solitary in an abandoned island temple

Appearance: as a woman with scaled skin and venomous serpents where should be hair. None have seen her face and lived to describe it.
Voice: soft, lamenting
Wants: beauty and isolation
Tactics: careful, defensive

Attack: +2
Defense: +3
Speed: +1

Abilities
  1. Cursed visage: any who look upon her face must make a magic save or be frozen in stone, as well as mirrors which reflect her image.
  2. Snake bites: light damage plus poison.
  3. Claws: light damage, instantly destroys stone.
The gorgon's head can be wielded once slain, to petrify enemies with a magic check.

Medusa by Amir Briki

Cockatrice

HD: 3
Found: 1d6 in swamps near roads

Appearance: as a small beaked dragon with a feathered neck and birdlike legs. The beak glints with a dull shine of magic, and its eyes are deep with malice.
Voice: cawing but with a hint of gargle, trailing into a hiss.
Wants: to protect toads and kill basilisks
Tactics: aggressive and repetitive

Attack: +1
Defense: +2
Speed:+3

Abilities
  1. Petrifying peck: normal damage, gradual petrification. Magic save negates, on three failed saves target turns to stone.
  2. Claws: light damage.
Cockatrice beaks are highly valuable to alchemists, and could perhaps be fashioned into a spearhead by a very careful weaponsmith.

Basilisk

HD: 5
Found: solitary in a petrified village, coiled around a heap of eggs

Appearance: six-legged lizard crowned with a web of horns and glaring hatefully.
Voice: low hissing, imperious and threatening
Wants: to rule all reptiles
Tactics: careful

Attack: +2
Defense: +3
Speed: +1

Abilities
  1. Deathly gaze: once per round the basilisk can look at a target and wound them if they fail a magic save.
  2. Bite: medium damage.
Basilisk eyes are highly treasured but caustic items, and the horns make excellent decoration for their resemblance to a crown.

Legends Beast: The Basilisk by Sean Bricknell

Catoblepas

HD: 2
Found: solitary on plains, near poisonous plants

Appearance: an unhealthy but not starving bovine, with a large downward pointed head and long thin neck, its swollen purple tongue briefly visible as it grazes.
Voice: rasping moo
Wants: poisonous plants to eat, soft places to rest
Tactics: slightly passive

Attack: +1
Defense: +1
Speed: -5

Abilities
  1. Petrifying breath: once per day, hits everyone in a melee the catoblepas isn't in, or one target it's fighting. Paralyzes all targets for 1d6 rounds, strength save negates.
  2. Head slam: heavy damage to prone targets.
Somber creatures, they are not overly violent but will defend themselves as any beast would. They are immune to any poison ingested, and in fact delight in such activities. Catoblepas skulls can be valuable as a novelty for their distinctive size and weight, but their saliva is a potent paralyzing agent, and the stomachs and tongues are of great use to alchemists.

Harpy

HD: 1
Found: 2d6 along forest roads near cities

Appearance: small feminine torso and head with birdlike wings and legs.
Voice: shrill and demanding, unintelligent
Wants: to steal food and sparkling valuables
Tactics: cowardly

Attack: +1
Defense: +3
Speed: +4

Abilities

  1. Claw swipe: either to steal food or attack for light damage. Mostly to steal food.
  2. Regurgitate: any poison or dangerous objects they have eaten can be spat back as a breath weapon. Generally light damage, agility save for half.
Harpy stomachs can be useful to alchemists, and the feathers are large and beautiful.


Hydra

HD: 6
Found: solitary in an enchanted garden

Appearance: many (1d6) serpentine heads sprouting from a corpulent reptile body.
Voice: hissing
Wants:
Tactics: protective but aggressive

Attack: +2
Defense: +2
Speed: -3

Abilities

  1. Bite: medium damage plus poison.
  2. Regeneration: each head has 6 vigor. When severed, it will regrow two more heads, taking half as much vigor from the body. If the body is killed by regrowing heads, they crawl away as giant serpents, hoping to regrow as new hydras.


Hydra by Markus Neidel

Nemean lion

HD: 5
Found: solitary in a cave with two entrances

Appearance: an unusually large lion with shimmering golden fur and gleaming claws.
Voice: ringing roar
Wants: to eat humans, destroy steel works
Tactics: highly aggressive

Attack: +2
Defense: +1
Speed: +3

Abilities

  1. Claws: medium damage, armor piercing 3.
  2. Bite: heavy damage.
  3. Invulnerable pelt: completely prevents damage from cuts, reduces damage from stabs to 1, and reduces damage from strikes by 1.


Qilin

HD: 6
Found: 1d6 near ancient castles

Appearance: quadrupedal scaled creature with a broad, benevolent face, hooved feat, and softly glowing antlers, with sparks of flame flickering around it.
Voice: soft and gentle but impossible to ignore.
Wants: justice and peace
Tactics: well considered

Attack: +4
Defense: +2
Speed: +6

Abilities

  1. Antlers: light damage plus fire damage if it has judged the target as wicked.
  2. Bite: medium damage.
  3. Flame of justice: tongues of flame whip around its body, dealing heavy fire damage. Will save negates.
Divine creatures which are light as a feather, and filled with a soft divine light. They can create and control flames near their body, and can surround themselves with this heat to rise in the air. Whenever struck with a melee weapon, they are flung out of combat as if they had successfully retreated. Their antlers and scales are very valuable on the black market if you can collect them, and their lungs can be used to make bellows that create flame, or a sack full of fire.


Qilin by Katie Langford

Simorgh

HD: 8
Found: unique at the top of a mountain

Appearance: a wolf-headed dragon with claws like a lion.
Voice: loud and intimidating, but caring
Wants: to protect the abandoned, eat elephants
Tactics: well considered

Attack: +3
Defense: +4
Speed: +3

Abilities

  1. Bite: medium damage. If the target fails a strength save, they are gripped in its jaws and take 2d6 damage each round until they escape.
  2. Claws: heavy damage.
  3. Plumage signal: the simorgh knows whenever one of its feathers are burned, and flies there immediately to assist anyone it has gifted a feather to.

Zal and the simurgh by Clara TESSIER

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Drunken Adventuring

Alcohol is important in adventuring. It's a tough life, it's not a normal job, and it's incredibly dangerous. Characters can take a drink on their turn to restore 1d6 vigor. Every five drinks their drunkenness increases, to tipsy, then drunk, then smashed. Each level incurs a cumulative -1 to attack and defense, and the character will black out 1d6 rounds after getting smashed, followed by rolling on a carousing table at GM's discretion.

This was the main hero image to showcase all of the different glasses in one shot.
Bone Wine by Mary Williams

A bottle or mug of low alcohol or a shot of liquor is one drink. Characters can drink about a bottle or five shots worth in a round.

Midnight vodka: fermented of the star potatoes in a strange icy land, the fluid is inky dark, with twinkling motes of light floating within.
Blood ale:
Lamping whiskey: somewhat bland liquor that can be used as lamp oil if necessary.
Spider's wine: fermented from bodies of insects in Tarix. To some it is particularly delicious, to others deadly.
Grenbiir: fermented of a particular grain, it only comes from Drumbin and is unpopular elsewhere. They also produce green bread, which outsiders often think is disgusting.
Gonne tea: a strange kind of wine from far off lands that is said to 'kick like a crossbow.'
Goblin blood: extremely sour ale that is widely derided, but some claim it is an acquired taste.

flat diffuse to amuse
Hand study by miki bencz

Many thanks to Sam, Wisteria, and my sweetheart Jack Tatters for some much-needed information about alcohol! These rules were much sloppier and dumber before their help.