Wednesday 30 July 2014


We are sort-of almost half way through the latest Scrap Princess/Patrick creation. Though Scrap is taking the lead on this one so really it should be 'Scraptrick'.

Anyway, its a beastiary, mainly, called I think something like 'Velvet Horizons' except not becasue that will change. Its very different in tone than DCO or Veins Of The Earth. It's much... brighter? More lively? A bit more surreal and fleshy and less sad and sorrowful.

(This isn't really that great an example but it is the rough half-way point.)


This Hippo-sized omnivorous creature is feared, respected and scrupulously avoided by all.

The Snapkeg is a freshwater beast moving in herds through swamps and rivers. It is very large, very heavy and, when it chooses to be, very fast. Each Snapkeg has a huge, round bluegreen body with three legs on each side. These legs are usually curled up by the Snapkegs side as it floats gently with only its upper head and back above the surface. Each has a large flat tail which it uses to gently propel itself around. The Snapkegs head is very like that of a snapping turtle, except much larger. Its turtle-like beak curves round in two jaws of smooth sharp bone. It cannot chew, but its enormous, rough and mobile tongue, which can project far outside its head, does the work that molars do in other animals. Often they lie semi-sleeping with the tongue hanging trailing in the water like a large rough mat.

The jaws are incredibly strong and sharp and if anything moving comes within range the Snapkeg will rapidly retract its tongue and bite violently at whatever is nearby. It will rarely hunt or pursue prey, being mainly herbiverous and snapping away at watery weeds, its flesheating is mainly opportunist, or in response to territorial incursion.

Herds of Snapkegs are often sleepy and slow, but at night, or if roused, they can become very violent very quickly. On land they cannot run for very long distances but the space they do cover is swiftly and unstoppably traversed. If the herd alpha feels its territory or dominance is being challenged then it will rouse itself and attack straight away and at extreme speed. Once stimulated into a combat state the rest of the herd will usually follow.

Snapkegs play a major part in the religious myths and oral tales of certain cultures due to a number of interesting physiological quirks. Firstly, they cannot dissolve metals and in fact find them very toxic, and they find it very difficult to vomit, doing so only in situations of extreme stress, usually if cornered. If a Snapkeg accidently eats anything with a certain content of metal, that meal will be diverted to a kind of bile duct or appendix where the meal in question will be coated with a kind of preservative slime and stored in perpetuity. This same slime has a preservative effect on animal flesh, meaning, if a living being is swallowed whole it can sometimes survive in a kind of suspended animation for an unmeasured period of time.

Snapkegs can grow to be very old. Sometimes they puke up gold and iron tools.  Sometimes they puke up ancient men swallowed long before, bearing iron swords. Sometimes the men are still alive. Some faiths think there is a timeless world _inside_ the animal. A world like ours, but frozen in time. It plays a major part in the creation and afterlife myths of several cultures. Many tales begin with an ancient hero being vomited up by a Snapkeg. it is popularly believed that *anyone* vomited up by a Snapkeg who still lives, has a destiny as a hero of some kind.

Some say that only Kings can ride the Snapkeg and that to be able to ride one is a sign of royal birth. others say no-one can ride a Snapkeg and this story is used by kings to get rid of challengers, many hero tales include the challenge of riding one as a subtle death sentence, often dodged or re-interpreted by trickster hero’s favoured by the common man.

Others say the call and clashing jaws of the Snapkeg warn of danger. Again, many (usually the same people who didn't believe the stuff about kings and hidden worlds) point out  that because the Snapkeg *is* unbelievably dangerous, if you can hear one that’s not good.

The skin of the Snapkeg is highly resistant to the slashing and piercing damage of edged weapons. A cloak made from this skin is extremely valuable and useful. It's jaws can be made into a kind of Scimitar of bone, incredibly sharp. The feared nomads of the Mistwarren Moors use the reputation of the Snapkeg by wearing these cloaks and using these bone scimitars on their raids, they are said to be 'one with the swamp'.

In fact the nomads of the mistwarren moors are as terrified of the Snapkeg as everyone else. Most of the cloaks are fake, the swords are often metal painted white. Even the real versions are often recovered from bodies killed by some natural event.

Everyone is fucking terrified of the Snapkeg and they should be because they will bite the living fuck out of you and it takes a small army to stop a herd of them once they get riled up. The fact that they are so slow and indifferent and do not predate on man means people ignore them and let them migrate close to settlements. Then, if they go crazy in the night, or decide to hang out in the centre of town, there is not much people can do. Added to this the fact that many local religions regard them as semi-sacred makes people very leery about even trying to kill them. And people do want to kill them. They will bite your fucking legs off if you get close.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

d30 Transformers Plot Points for D&D

1. The master of a creaking prison-ship keeps pet hyenas with armour woven into their skin.

2. Guards whose faces themselves are glyphs of warding.

3. An explosive fire that burns away flesh to chrome, leaving a field of fleeing desperate chrome sculptures.

4. An apparently-noble paladin who uses his injuries as a weapon to seduce the weak to loyalty as they heal him.

5. A wizard who sees through the eyes of forearm-sized dragonflies.

6. An imp imprisoned, tortured into recording the knowledge from two severed daemon heads.

7. A pack of evil killers, stupid when alone but commanded in detail by white coils that sprout from their left ears.

8. An angry failed wizard builds futile golems of scrap to guard the virginity of his sluttish daughter, too late, it is already stolen by a bearded rogue.

9. A man so patriotic he keeps a flag outside his house, several inside his house, wears a mask with it on and paints his horses armour in its colours.

10. A warrior who loves people, cursed to only speak in quotes he hears.

11. A sculpted spray of swords, when grasped, reveals a secret store of magical weapons, for giants.

12. A noble fills a town with trained stunt men and women to enhance the drama of every duel.

13. An invisible force hauls every metal object into the sky above a cities streets, then drops them. It is searching for something.

14. Noble giant warriors, transformed into brave but savage gigantic beasts.

15. The douchebag paladin from 4, frees slaves promising them freedom, then immediately threatens to kill them if they don't do what he wants

16. The douchebag paladin reveals the power of flight to escape from a dangerous situation. He always had it, just didn't use it till now.

17. A foolish mage builds a golem with stolen memories from a daemons head, and is surprised when it turns evil.

18. A sorcerer creates a weapon that can become any kind of weapon, but 50% of the time becomes a pointless luxury product.

19. A guild of mighty illusionists, secretly funded, and effectively owned by a guild of wealthy merchants. Each spell must contain the identity of a consumer product.

20. A group of knights who can transform into their own steeds, they never need mounts and may pass in secret.

21. A mighty kingdom betrays a group of noble knights, it assassinates them and uses their magic armour to make golems to fulfil their role. (Then they ahve to fight the empty suits of their dead friends.)

22. The douchebag Paladin promises never to take another human life, then rides a monster through the city streets, laughing as it incinerates people.

23. A brawny Lvl3 fighter with a squashed face who threatens everyone, claims to be a misunderstood genius, shows no evidence of this.

24. An impudent knight carries a surfboard on the side of his horse, though he patrols the plains, he thinks this 'hilarious'.

25. A man hides his family from monsters inside a glass box.

26. Greedy traitors trade murders for a seed of death from an ancient race.

27. A zone where physical impact strikes logic itself, s the longer a battle goes on the less sense anyone is allowed to make.

28. A hunter who's featureless mask is a a flowing list of targets.

29. A sexy female geologist has nothing to to, so sculpts dinosaurs from ice at the end of the world.

30. An obviously sinister femme fatale turns out to be highly competent and good-hearted. Surprising because up to this point everyone in the story of a different race was either a childlike idiot or evil.

Sunday 27 July 2014

5e SAVAGES Hunter Class

So my four classes for SAVAGES were going to be Fighter, Thief, Hunter and Shaman. Fighter and Thief should remain relatively unaltered. Shaman is a mish mash of Cleric and Magic User. Here is my first attempt at a Hunter Class.

HD d8
ARMOUR Any non-metallic
WEAPONS Simple, Simple Ranged, Martial Ranged, Shortsword, Scimitar, Trident, Whip, Bolas.
SKILLS Three from, Animal Handling, Insight, Nature, Perception, Stealth, Survival, Medicine

EQUIPMENT, choose either

a Net              or b Whip
a Mace           or b Trident
a Blowgun       or b Sling
a Hunting Trap or b Spyglass
a Manacles      or b Caltrops

A Trident or Whip can entangle if you use it. It requres an opposed roll between you and a hit target to maintain this.

Bolas, thrown (30/120) d2 Damage, entangles as net, one target only.

In a natural environment you can track creatures. This is either a WIS or INT roll to which you add your proficiency bonus.

The total amount rolled is the distance you can see into the past. The first digit is the number of words  the DM must use to tell you what you have found. If you find anything at all the DM must always give you a direction.

So if some Orcs have passed in the last ten hours and you roll '13' the DM would simply say 'Orcs, North'. If you roll '35' the DM might say 'Five Desperate Orcs, North'. 

When the environment allows it, you can build traps. Describle the actions it will take for you to build one to the DM. You roll using either yout INT or DEX, whichever is higher, plus your proficiency bonus.

The total of your roll is the difficulty for the target in spotting your trap.

The DC is 10+ the die size of the damage you would like the trap to do. So a d3 damage trap has a DC of 13. A d10 damage trap has one of 20. It takes minutes equal to the die size for you to build the trap.

Roll with disadvantage to trap anything at least two size catagories larger or smaller than you.

If you take the full time required you roll the DC check yourself. If you are cut short by any period, the DM rolls the check and does not tell you the result until the trap is triggered, spotted, or fails.

Lvl 1:  Tracking and Trapping.
Lvl 1: You count as having Stealth if you are in a natural environment, hiding and still. If you already have Stealth, take advantage on the roll under these circumstances.
Lvl 2: Birdsong. In a natural environment where birds are present, your passive perception check includes up to a mile radius if you have it in sight.
Lvl 3: Add an extra attack if at least one of the weapons you are wielding entangles.
Lvl 3: Climbing no longer costs extra movement.
Lvl 3: Add your DEX or STR Mod to the distance covered with a Running Jump.
Lvl 4: Ability Score Improvement
Lvl 5: Beastmaster. You gain the ability to tame and train the following creatures. If Orc - Boars & Dire Boars. Gnoll - Hyenas, Hyenadrons and Trolls. Goblin - Wolves, Worgs and Spiders. Mantis Man - Giant Insects. The creatures must be found, captured, tamed and fed in-game. You can naver have more than HD worth of creautures equal to your CHA bonus tame at any one time.
Lvl 6: Expertise. One more Proficiency.
Lvl 7: Entangler. Enemy saves against your entangling attacks with disadvantage.
Lvl 8: Ability Score Improvement
Lvl 9: You know what the weather will be like tomorrow.
Lvl 10: Ability Score Improvement
Lvl 11: Monster Language. Learn one monster language and add your Prof bonus to any test you ake to communicate with them.
Lvl 12: Ability Score Improvement
Lvl 13: You can now track incorporeal creatures like ghosts.
Lvl 14: Blindsense 10'
Lvl 15: Proficiency: Wis Saves
Lvl 16: Ability Score Improvement
Lvl 17: You can calm or tame any natural unintelligent creature with half your HD or less. Only one at a time. They may not obey but will not attack.
Lvl 19: Ability Score Improvement
Lvl 20: You can track Death. If Death has passed nearby you can follow her path and find those recently dead. Be aware, if you overtake Death and find the target alive, the real target may be you.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Savage Races

+2 CON 
VISION, you have darkvision
SKILL(S) Intimidation
ADVANTAGE on any save caused directly by man.
WEAPONS Simple bludgeoning weapons
LANGUAGES Orc, Savage Common

CARNIVORE. You can farm beasts and prefer to eat those or hunted game.

FEATURE Hard to kill. You roll Death saving throws with Advantage.

Race Base Height Height Modifier Base Weight  Weight Modifier
Orc           4'8"               +2d6            110 lb.     × (2d4) lb.

You grow an half an inch and add d6 pounds every level. If you grow to over 8 feet high, change your size to Large,

AGE 3d6
Average lifespan 40 years

You are  BRUTAL ORC (+3 STR)
You can never raise your INT by any means. It never go above what you roll in character generation.

You are CUNNING ORC (+1 STR)
You are proficient with Simple ranged weapons and have the Stealth skill.
You understand, but do not speak another common racial language. Orc, Gnoll, Goblin, Human Common, Elf, Dwarf or Halfling.

+2 INT 
SIZE Small
VISION, you have darkvision
WEAPONS Simple Light Melee Weapons
LANGUAGES Goblin, Savage Common

OMNIVORE. You can survive on almost anything.

FEATURE You can move through creatures one size larger.

Race   Base Height Height Modifier Base Weight  Weight Modifier
Goblin          2'7"        +2d4                   35 lb.        × 1 lb.

AGE 4d6
Average Lifespan 50 years.


You are a CREEPY GOBLIN (+1 DEX)
You gain proficiency with blowguns, nets and whips.

FEATURE Hamstrings. If you inflict lethal damage on a humanoid creature  one size larger than you and are holding a bladed weapon, you may convert this into a slash that cuts their hamstrings, crippling them but leaving them alive.

You know two more languages of any race, and can imitate the voices of those races to a fair degree.
You are skilled in Performance and Deception.

+2 STR
ADVANTAGE You roll against fear with advantage if a failure would mean letting down your group or exposing them to danger.
WEAPONS You are proficient with Polearms, Swords and Leather Armour.
LANGUAGES Gnoll, Orc, Goblin, Troll

CARNIVORE. You actually prefer eating intelligent creatures.

FEATURE Smell. You are skilled in Perception when it comes to smell. If you gain the Perception skill from any other source your bonus when you smell is doubled.

Race Base Height Height Modifier Base Weight  Weight Modifier
Gnoll     6'6"                +2d6               130 lb.     × (2d6) lb.

Average lifespan 35 years


You are a HUNGRY GNOLL (+1 CON)
Like most Gnolls, you like eating more than you like killing
Your speed is 40. You are proficient with the longbow.
You have a Halberd OR a Longbow with 3d8 arrows.

Also called a 'Flind'. Unlike most Gnolls you like killing more than you like eating.

You have a Unique Gnoll weapon called a Flindbar, in which you are proficient. This is a pair of chain-linked iron bars which you spin at high speed. With this weapon you can attack twice per round for d4 damage. In addition any target of equal size holding a one handed weapon must make a DEX save or have their weapon torn from their hands.

This weapon is a sign of high status amongst Gnolls and other Gnolls will respect it, if not you.

+2 DEX

CARNIVORE You seldom hunt other intelligent races for food. You do find Elves utterly delicious though.

  • You never wear armour.
  • You never need to sleep.
  • Your antennae mean you take no penalty for fighting at close range in darkness.If unarmed you can attack five times, four claw attacks and a bite attack.
  • If holding a weapon you can attack with the weapon and a bite attack. You can only ever hold up to two weapons.

You always begin at two years old. As you get older more of your natural abilities become active. This happens as you age, not as you level up.

  2           13                         d2               
  3           13                         d3                                   leap
  4           15                         d3
  5           15                         d4                                venom
  6           17                         d4                           dodge missiles

LEAP You can leap 20 feet straight up or 50 feet forward. You cannot leap backwards.
VENOM This bite causes parylisation for rounds equal to the extent by which the victim failed their save.
DODGE You can dodge physical missiles by successfuly rolling your unmodified DEX against the To-Hit roll.

LANGUAGE Neither your strange mind or your insectile jaws are well constructed for understanding or using the language of others. In a time sensitive situation you must make a standard INT roll use or understand spoken language.

Race          Base Height Height Modifier Length Length Modifier Base Weight  Weight Modifier
Mantis Man     6'6"              +2d6              10             2d6               130 lb.         × (2d6) lb.

Average lifespan 35 years.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Maps of the Mermen

The road is the geography

On the surface of the earth the hills, rivers and valleys are important to us mainly because we walk everywhere we go. The exact height and incline and the condition of the ground, anything that makes it easier or harder to get where we want.

If we were birds, how would we think about geography? Well, it would be pretty complex. They live their lives in close connection to the ground, they eat and sleep there and most of their threats come from there so they would certainly keep a close eye on what’s happening. They probably wouldn’t care about short but steep shits in inclination that can define human life. They would notice a hill but a fence, wall, or a fortress, would be nothing to them really.

What's really going to fuck up a birds day is the wind. If the wind is in the wrong position or going the wrong speed or at the wrong height or full of hail or whatever then that has a massive degree of control over where the bird can go. So the mind of the bird is split. It has a huge degree of choice over where it goes, and it needs it because its probably burning a huge amount of energy to do anything and is only ever a day away from starving to death in most cases, but that freedom is based on the condition of another element of as great complexity as the earth yet less predictable.

If we could move though space in our dreams and wake up on the other side of the world yet could never fully control exactly how those dreams would go then we might begin to understand a little of the life of the bird. Two worlds, fluxing, interlinked.

But the key point here is that shit on the ground matters because we are on the ground and it matters to birds because they also interact with the ground.

Now, do fish fucking land at any point?

Not really. A few live on the surface of the bottom of the sea. Most float and swim. Several interact with that surface. Almost none that I know of land on the bottom of the sea.

And in the sea, food doesn’t come from below but from above, or all around. The system of the sea is that generally stuff comes from above and is collected in larger and larger animals and at some point, if you are a fish, one of the will interact with you by either being eaten or trying to eat you.

We would have to say that as much as birds interact with the surface of the earth then fish must interact with the bottom of the ocean much less.

So we come to the maps of Mermen and Tritons. How much would these maps show the bottom of the ocean?

The answer is not that much. An earthbound fortress has much less utility if anyone can attack from the 'air'. Walls are almost meaningless. Hills and valleys have some effect. There are various complex and interesting things happening on the ocean floor that must be accounted for. Lava flows, rivers of ultra dense saline water etc.

It’s the other way round from on the surface, in the sea, civilization is a pattern of movement, poverty and rebellion are still because stillness is bad. If you are trapped in a still piece of ocean then nothing is brought to you and getting anywhere is as hard as it is going to get so pirates and the Orc equivalents of the sea will hang out in flat still central patches of sea where there is not much going on, the deserts of the oceanic world. They will raid from there because its always going to be difficult for an organised people to reliably project force outside its accustomed routes.

In addition, on land we would consider the nature of the soil and environment as of prime strategic significance because that decides how much life it can support and what your population density might be, but in the sea the ocean floor has very little effect on that, what matters is the salinity, density, temperature, light levels and any confluence of currents, along with the migratory habits of any animal life, these are the source of your crops and these will define your population base.

On a coast or in a reef this might be different but think how small these places are when compared to the great deeps of the ocean.

What really matters is the speed and direction of the current because more than anything that decides where you can and will go. In a strong North-heading current any attack moving north will be rapid but almost impossible to retreat from, any attack moving south will be very difficult and unexpected but super easy to retreat from if you need to.

Add to this that probably everything is moving. So what matters is not position but vector.

Forming a local, or global 'loop' in which a current feeds back on itself is  of tactical and strategic value because if you control the whole thing then you can reinforce yourself from any point by simply feeding military force into the loop. In the same way, breaking or interrupting such a loop would be something wars were fought over.

A small coastal or in-ocean loop is a duchy or nation, a gigantic global one is an empire. The emperor of the Mermen has, not a palace, but a migration. Actually he probably has a migrating palace in or around a migrating city.

(The city will be modular and the high status parts of it will be towards the 'front' or head of the flow so everything they drop and discard will drift past the lesser areas, the slums are at the back and rubbish and bits of crap from the whole life of the city drifts past there in a continual stream.)

If two great interacting oceanic loops are in a state of conflict, then the area where they meet may be a chaotic 'border princes' area with tiny bubbling kingdoms carved out in the midst of disorder.

So if there are ruins, they might be built on the ocean floor, or moveable cities that have sunk, but they are probably still floating around somewhere, far far away from the civilised paths, or deep in the cold zones.

The maps of the mermen will have ocean floor features mainly as navigational aids, in the same way we use mountaintops, or stars, as means to make your position, not as places to go or the means to get there.

Probably, considering the difficulty of producing even basic 3d maps the oral culture of mapping will be much more powerful. The song lines will give linear routes exactly as they would for non-literate human cultures and the shifting intersections and layers would be given by changing ‘decision points’ in the structure of the song. Information about depth, salinity, light, current etc could be given by rhythmic and tonal variations and shifts in poetic construction, which can pack a huge amount into a very small cognitive space and still be remembered and transmitted.  (So, for instance, a shift in oceanic depth for a route could be signalled by an actual shift in tonal depth in the song describing that route.)

And that is why mermen and mermaids and whales are singing all the fucking time, they are trying to work out where they are, running through the map of a complex shifting three dimensional environment in their heads.

Monday 21 July 2014

Hwæt Mike Mearls

Ok, Mike Mearls here is a way to manage the inevitable crushing system bloat of 5e without it making the whole thing both byzantine yet also somehow bland.

We all know player options sell more than GM options. So any corporation is going to end up overproducing these and jamming out splatbook after splatbook with crap you can add to your character. This will both increase the amount of complexity and powergaming and yet also, somehow, make everything a bit more vague and woolly.

A game where everyone playing is a weird living crystal of some kind might actually be kind of good. But a game where a living crystal teams up with a Minotaur and a Doppelgänger  and a Hill Dwarf probably won’t be. It takes a kind of pressure off the creation of the world. None of these things can be truly strange or 'other'. The charge of their discovery is lost. The fusion-like power you get when you introduce something utterly unpredictable into a coherent world system is lessened.

But this is a tide in the hearts of men and especially in the hearts of Americans. Because in America everybody must have access to every choice. Taking away or limiting choice can never be considered a good thing. Oh, small groups of individuals might cling together on a temporary basis to play games with highly-focused limited options. But doing this makes them perverts and they know it. They will always be the minority for such a thing works against the spirit of the land. Why can't you be a Ninja in FauxEurope? WHY? THIS IS AMERICA AND YOU CAN BE ANY DAMMN THING YOU WANT.

In the same way, for a variety of reasons, people, and  Americans in particular, will never be entirely comfortable with the 'Other' as a powerful presence in serial fiction. The Borg can be terrifying once, but then you get a sad Borg, and a sexy Borg and a conflicted Borg who feels odd about being a Borg and Borg babies.

Can Orcs be 'evil'? It’s a stupid question in some ways but it will never ever be gone from the communal mind, partly because its the West* and partly because its America and you just said that an entire race/species can be evil. And it doesn’t matter how far the representation gets from reality, it nudges a wound in the nations soul. It will never be an entirely comfortable idea. There will always an exile Drow, there will always be a Noble Savage Orc there will always be a bad guy that it-turns-out-has-a-point-and-who-are-the-real-monsters-anyway-could-it-be-MAN?

And the corruption, or, in this case, blandification, or humanising of the 'other' makes for bland boring stories of adventure because the whole point of adventure, its central charge, is to come face to face with Something Else, something from Outside.

So, to recap.

1. Hasbro will be producing lots of Player-Facing stuff.
2. Everyone must have MAXIMUM CHOICE because FREEDOM.
3. The charge of the Other will always be lessened.

This is a way to ride that wave in the least frustrating way. Instead of turning the wheel of liberalism half-way round to its customary middle-volume position. Spin that motherfucker 360.

Instead of producing books about other worlds or realities where the Player Races are different but the Others are the same array, produce books from other moral worlds and cultural realities. Produce books from the perspective of these cultures where they are the heroes and we (and elves, dwarves and hobbits who are our aspirational shadow selves) are the other.

Lets look at how this might go.


Player Races;
Orcs, Goblins, Gnolls, maybe Thri-Kreen

Normal D&D is the points of light pressing out into the surrounding darkness like a spider web.  Instead, this would be a collapsing natural world. A world of tundra, mountains, forests and ancient sacred deeps slowly being strangled by an encroaching and consuming civil order. The races that live here are not reaching out, but being pushed back in irregular patterns. They are martial, vital cultures who, yes, might eat a guy but it’s nothing personal.

Adventures are, instead of going into dungeons: breaking into villages and towns, and even cities in the end game. As well as dealing with monsters and all the usual D&D stuff. Treasure could be food or land. There could be multiple civilised peoples with different attitudes and a patchwork of old/new lands with different challenges.

'Monsters' sneaking through a semi-civilised area is like Heroes sneaking through the wilderness.

(If you want to be extra-sure to not offend the parents, make the evil empire extra evil, fascist, racist and nasty even to its own so when you take it on its all right really dad.)


Player Races;
Drow, Duregar, Svirfneblin, Myconid, Olm, Kua-Toa? Quaggoths?

Ok even with a lot of fudging this one is going to be a bit evil. But, all you need to do to make it acceptable is have the players face off against things that are even worse and do it in ultra-dangerous circumstances. World-conquering daemons, Mindflayer Crusades.

Cunning members of ancient hidden cultures battle and destroy immortal evils deep beneath the surface of the earth. Decadent but brilliant badasses pull mad intrigues against even-badder scum. Or just: a mixed group of low status adventurers put aside racial resentments and, to everyone’s surprise, become ultra-competent league of problem solvers. It would be a bit like mid-run Breaking Bad crossed with the A-Team.


Player Races;
Skeleton, Vampire, Revenant, Ghost? Lich? Mummy?

Skeletons level up into Skelton warriors and Death Knights, or become Liches if they get good enough at magic. Non-corporeal is tricky but could give them increasing abilities to affect the world as they get stronger. Basic spirit can level up through poltergeist, to shadow or ghost.

A city of the dead like Mievilles High Cromlech. Obsessive ritualised timeless society.  Missions based on memories or sorrows or requests to retrieve particular relics and fragments of the dead. Down time periods take place over centuries, not years. Char Gen could be you are all made in the same dungeon by the same necromancer, then heroes attack.


Player Races;
Tako, Triton, Merman, Sea-Elf?
(Ok I read through all the 'good' underwater player races and they are rubbish.(Except maybe Tako))
Ixitxachitl, Sayhuagin, Locathah.

No-one ever does the ocean as it is meant to be done and that’s because they treat it as a big dish. Like an alternate map, but underwater. It's a complex, fluid three dimensional flowscape. The real continents and nations are not the shape of the land beneath the sea but the currents and layers of the seas itself. The different trophic zones are like bordering countries, the great oceanic flows that bring warmth and cold around the globe are like continents.

Different races and cultures dominate different vectors and layers. Many of the cities move. Everyone underwater thinks of it as the 'real world' not as an addendum to the land. Because you would if you had access to the majority of the planet.

There are numerous deep-sea caves, so that solves that problem. Missions could be to the ruined palaces carved upside down under the arctic ice, to the lightless trenches, to the undersea volcanic borderlands where fire and water meet. Plus, numerous sunken cities. Floating cities built underwater and lost or abandoned, drifting, full of ghosts and a thousand years of accumulated clumped together history. Like undersea Space Hulks. The cursed city of Repak-Noh appears drifting silently on the borders of the Troposphere, before it inevitably falls back into the midnight zones and is lost for another millennia. Who shall investigate its gleaming portals? You. You shall. Underwater D&D, not as a holiday, but as the main game.


Player Races
Ehhh, Githanki aaannd the other space/psionic ones? Shardminds? Ok this ones a bit of a reach.

I suppose your base is the realm of madness and dreams and reality itself is the dungeon. A nest of freezing time knotted space inhabited by strange beings.

Anyway. To sum up.

The point is that you could have all of these in the same world, but they would remain different and powerful to each other because the each inhabit a different kind of moral and experiential universe. Yes, you can do crossovers, but the dead are always strange to the living. The sea is always strange to the land. The 'savage' is always strange to the civilised.

They are all heroes but they are heroes inside their own worlds like everyone is, and the difference between those worlds lets you have difference and diversity whilst keeping them strange to each other, so when they show up in each others stories they are still reasonable monsters.

Kids are used to this because they know it’s from Warcraft and its ilk where everything is playable, yet separate.

Each would be a different kind of game, but all you would need for each one is a new players handbook. The basic engine underneath would remain the same. Maybe new ideas for missions and xp. And your items and treasures from one book can be the treasures and monsters for every other book.

*Yes I'm sure they have this kind of thing in the 'East' as well and that 'West' and 'East' are troubled concepts, thank you Richard.

** I know Richard, I know.

Sunday 20 July 2014

5e Underdark Background

Here is an experimental 5e Underdark background that might actually be useful to someone.



You are proficient in Athletics when the test is for a climb. If you are already proficient in Athletics, you are doubly proficient (count your bonus twice) but only when the test is for a climb.

You are proficient in Survival and doublly proficient when deep underground.

You can never become skilled in above ground Nature, it will always be alien to you.

You know the Silent Speech and can communicate with another who knows through subtle gestures that are not obvious to others.

You have Darkvision but are always at disadvantage in sunlight unless wearing special goggles or some kind of occluding device.


A small tool or object of your choice, made from human bone.

A small but powerful lamp, made of strange metals.

Strips of a dried but unidentfiable meat.

A secret tattoo showing a specific underground route known only to you.

A fine, strong silk rope.

Any of the weapons acquired through character generation that possess parts of wood, instead have parts of metal or bone. The hilt of your sword is bone, your arrows are thin steel etc.

You have one clothing item of deep blue-black silk. This is regarded as high quality above ground, though you think of it as normal. If anything you are wearing is leather, it is the cured skin of a particular sentient race, you think of this as normal.

Click or look under the break and roll.

Saturday 19 July 2014

The Egyptian Queen

On the fourteenth day, as they broke the door to the chamber, there came
a soft gonging from somewhere deep; the ground beneath their feet

rippled, enough to coat their boots with dust. And, touch by touch,
   the light...
Canoptic jars, grave dolls, small flasks that once held honey. The

cracked under their hands; and, when they shifted the lid, a cloud of bees
came out, although...came forth...was what she wrote, the only woman

to see this: unmarried, a known hysteric, soon sent home to 'rest
and repair' , her journal somehow lost. The gateway stela gave clues:

[lacuna]...TEARS OF RA...the locals knocked up a basic counter-
   weight gantry,

then worked through the night by Tilley-lamp to crate
the smaller stuff, before chiseling the image of Anubis off the frieze.

The flasks were etched with a hieroglyph depicting a bee,
which does mean 'bee'...came forth the queen, dark-eyed and tremulous.

- David Harsent

Wednesday 16 July 2014

It was now necessary for the country to die.

Black Lamb & Grey Falcon

Page 582

“But the Austrian Empire had numbers. It had at this moment little else; it had so little virtue or wisdom or even common sense that again and again the student must marvel that this was the same state as eighteenth-century Austria. But what it had it used, and it sent back its armies in September. This time they enjoyed a certain disgraceful advantage. During the first invasion they had laid waste to the country, pillaging the crops, burning the houses, murdering the civil population: at least three hundred and six women are known to have been executed, as well as many people over eighty and children under five. So the Serbian Army had this time to retreat over a devastated countryside which could give it no food and offered it much discouragement, not diminished by the floods of civilian refugees, some Serbian, some from the Slav parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all hungry and footsore and with tales to tell of the enemy’s malign brutality. There might have been panic had it not been for the spirit of the Karageorgevitches and the higher command. King Peter hobbled up to some troops that were wavering under an artillery fire to which their army had no answer, and said to them, after the manner of a Homeric general, “Heroes, you have taken two oaths: one to me, your king, and one to your country. From the first I release you, from the second no man can release you. But if you decide to return to your homes, and if we should be victorious, you shall not be made to suffer.”

They did not go. To lead them General Mishitch, the grave and reluctant regicide whom King Peter had refused to dismiss, now appointed fourteen hundred young students as non-commissioned officers. Of these boys, who before the war had been studying at Belgrade, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Paris, one hundred and forty survived the war. Arms came suddenly to this army, sent from England. These men who were so spent that they no longer lived by their experience but what is known to our common human stock, these boys who had no experience at all and therefore were also thrown back on that same primitive knowledge, alike they forgot the usual prudent opinion that dying is disagreeable, and valued death and life and honour as if they were heroes who had died a thousand years before or gods who were under no necessity to die. They flung themselves again on the Austrians. By the end of December they had retaken Belgrade. They took down the Hungarian flag that had floated above the palace and laid it on the steps of the Cathedral when King Peter went with his generals to the mass of thanksgiving for victory. They had to thank the Lord for a real suspension of natural law for when the Austrians had withdrawn over the frontiers there remained behind rather more Austrian prisoners of war than there were Serbian soldiers.”

Page 584

“In September the invasion began. By October the Serbian Army which now numbered a quarter of a million men, was faced with three hundred thousand Austro-German troops under the great strategist Mackensen, and as many Bulgarians. It was now necessary for the country to die. The soldiers retreated slowly, fighting a rearguard action, leaving the civil population, that is to say their parents, wives, and children, in the night of an oppression they knew to be frightful. Monks came out of the monasteries and followed the soldiers, carrying on bullock-carts, and on their shoulders where the roads were too bad, the coffined bodies of the medieval Serbian kings, the sacred Nemanyas, which must not be defiled. So was carried King Peter, whose rheumatic limbs were wholly paralysed by the cold of Autumn; and so too, before the retreat was long on its way, was Prince Alexander. The internal pain that had vexed him all year grew so fierce that he could no longer ride his horse. Doctors took him to a cottage and he was operated on for appendicitis. Then he was packed in bandages wound close as a shroud, and put on a stretcher and carried in the procession of the troops. It is like some fantastic detail in a Byzantine fresco, improbable, nearly impossible, yet a valid symbol of truth, that a country which was about to die should bear with it on its journey to death, its kings, living and dead, all prostrate, immobile.”

Tuesday 15 July 2014

On Composition

 From the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-71)

“It is with thoughts, as it is with words; and with both as with men, they may grow old and die. Words tarnished, by passing through the mouths of the vulgar, are laid aside as inelegant and obsolete. So thoughts, when become too common, should lose their currency; and we should send new metal to the mint, that is, new meaning to the press...

After all, the first ancients had not merit in being originals: they could not be imitators. Modern writers have a choice to make; and therefore have a merit in their power. They may soar in the regions of liberty, or move in the soft fetters of easy imitation; and imitation has as many plausible reasons to urge, as pleasure had to offer to Hercules. Hercules made the choice of a hero and so became immortal.

Must we the, not imitate ancient authors? Imitate them by all means; but imitate aright. He that imitates the divine Iliad, does not imitate Homer; but he who takes the same method, which Homer took, for arriving at a capacity of accomplishing a work so great. Tread in his steps to the sole fountain of immortality; drink where he drank, at the true Helicon, that is, at the breast of nature. Imitate, but imitate not the composition, but the man. For may not this paradox pass into a maxim? Viz. “The less we copy the renowned ancients, we shall resemble them the more.””

Sunday 13 July 2014

My Thoughts On Making Adventures

Now I have not only read adventures but published an adventure, I am going to talk about what I think I have learnt from it.

Making things for RPG’s is totally unlike any other form of writing. Because of that it requires a different structure of work to bring it into being. An average RPG book will contain maps, descriptions of people, descriptions of monsters, descriptions of specific objects and descriptions for rules (spells and magic) that specifically alter or subvert the reality that the rest of the work is trying to establish.

In addition to that, we add the element of time. Not only the makeup or ingredients of events are described, but the form or shape of actions proceeding through time is also part of the creation. Some products narrow the evolving nature of events to a sharp and pre-defined point, some allow the reactions of its individual parts to expand without restraint, but all must account for time.

Even to reduce an RPG book to its simplest most abstract form, a list of things, it would be a list unlike any other. To include time makes it still stranger, and we consider all this without the addition of rules to simulate a fictional reality. I’m talking here mainly about supplements and adventures, not rule books or systems.

Because there are so many different qualities of thing that go into making an RPG product, its creation requires a different structure of work. That is, the plan of action and arrangement of work and effort that goes into making it.

The plan of action for a novel might go like this.

1. Have idea.
2. Research.
3. Write it.
4. Send to publisher.
5. Edit it.
6. Publish.

It is an overwhelmingly linear process in which only one thing is being done at each moment, and usually by one person at a time.

What follows is my best guess for what a plan of work should be like when making RPG products. This is not the plan I have used, it’s a utopian guess at what might be possible.

1. Idea

A powerful idea should be of a kind wide enough to encompass and inspire spatial areas, living beings, strange objects and unusual situations of the necessary type. It must have psychic energy. This is the undefinable aspect of a work that in its creation inspires and drives the creators, provides means to harmonize effort and different parts into a constructive whole and, when complete, infects the end user with the desire to construct the idea within their own mind and transmit it to others via performance.

We can say that if a product has psychic energy and almost nothing else it may still be considered a ‘good’ product. It lives within the mind.

It is at this stage that a great deal of vague yet powerful information may be produced. This is good. This is what you show to people and say “its going to be kind of like this”. Imagine it as deeply in your mind as you can.

2. Art

Other than raw text, art is the most powerful projector of psychic energy.  It is the most immediate partner to the raw idea and its influence on both the creators and the audience is almost as strong as the nature of the core idea itself alone. Begin searching for and talking to, artists, right away, stay in contact with them and pay careful attention to the art they produce.

From this point on, words and art advance together, in conversation with each other.

3. Informational Architecture/Physical Format

Think deeply about the interrelationship of information in the product. Maps? NPCs? Monsters? Situations? How and when do they interact?

This is an act of great subtlety. The informational architecture of the product must be both useful, expressive of the nature of the thing, and fluid enough to accept changes during construction. A powerful general concept is best.

At this stage, also decide on physical format.  The estimated, page size and rough page count. This relates to both the informational architecture of the product, but also its sale, cost and distribution.

A4 has more information on a two page spread, A5 has less but is more viewable on tablets. How much information will the user need to access at any one moment?

So now you may have up to four people involved at the same time. A writer, an artist, a layout specialist and a printer or publisher.  All of these people are acting in parallel, not in a linear one-after-another fashion.

4. Two Page Spreads.

THIS IS IMPORTANT. Each page and two-page spread should be a discrete chunk of information.

What does that mean?

It should refer mainly to itself and describe a single piece of imaginative machinery. Like a map on one side and key on the other or a portrait on one side and NPC description on the other. Or a complex social situation on one side and EVERYTHING you need to run it on the other.

Work this out during the conception and thinking about layout, then write to the layout.

(This means you are paying someone to layout a book before you have written most of it.)

Some information is good at providing psychic energy, this is the rocket fuel of the product. Some is good at living mainly in the memory.  Neither of these need be utterly bound to the layout schema.

But if information must be referenced, then it should be accessible as one.

Again we are reminded about the difference between A4 and A5. A double A4 spread, if artfully compressed, can contain a huge amount of interrelated information. It can also allow space for art and maps to ‘breathe’, allowing them an greater intensity of impression.

It can also allow space for marginalia.  Small images or glyphs applied to the borders or gutters of a page. If these are used then they should have a use. They should never be simple copied bits of imagery intended to give a book the right ‘feel’. A purely aesthetic use is still a real use but here the creator must be watchful. Space is a resource.

A% likewise has many advantages regarding cost, publication and ease of use. In addition its compression of information may be useful and help to ensure disciple in the writer.

5. The Turnaround.

At this stage, an idea has been worked out, some writing has been done, some art has been done, a physical format has been decided, a method of publishing has been decided, a basic informational architecture has been chosen.

This is the middle part of the process. Not the end.

Now you must look at the art.  Work out what the artist is good/bad at. Re-write or re-emphasise the product to take advantage of unexpected good qualities and minimise the impact of non-optimal qualities.

Allow the good aspects of the art to push the creation of the product in unexpected directions. Did someone draw a servo-skull? There can be rules for that. Did they put something strange on a map? There can be text for that.

How is the informational architecture working? Does it look effective and expressive or should it be re-arranged?

6. Write the Product

Complete the writing. Write with intensity. Over-write and then narrow down. Compress as much psychic energy and usefulness into as little space as possible. Treat each page and spread as a little icon or piece of jewellery.

7. Edit the Writing.

Get all the comma’s and full stops and spelling and basic formatting and crap right before you send it to layout.

8. Assemble.

Combine it all. Since you did most of the architectural work already, and prepared page layouts, this should be simpler and faster than layout usually is. Instead of loading a complex series of interrelated aesthetic and informational choices on one person, right at the end, then waiting while they struggle with them alone, it should be done during the creation.

And then you are done.


Focusing on things in a linear way puts less cognitive pressure on each individual piece of work, if you try to balance many things at once the pressures do not double, they multiply. This leads to the possibility of each individual piece lacking intensity and imagination because the creator was also doing the work of a producer at the same time and they got distracted and stressed out.

 In addition, while a linear design process will take longer it is in some senses, more robust. A parallel process like the one described above works if you can get a bunch of people working on something at the same time. This means that any tiny glitch in the life patterns of any individual actor can fuck up things for the whole process. It’s like a dance, everyone must move at once. A linear process can have delays, the work can simply sit there, waiting for the next person to take it up.

The element of risk of both time and money is also increased with parallel creation. You cannot stop and save up, you spend money in the middle of the process. I imagine this would take some nerve.

So there is much to be said for linear design.


There is probably a list like the one above, just as long, to be made about what you do once your thing is made. I don’t really know much about that as yet.

I will remind everyone who has read this far that this is not a description of what I have done, but a dream of what could be done.