Monday, July 25, 2016

Keeping Towns Weird

Every D&D town should have a couple of weird NPCs that use some sort of magic or super-science as part of their trade and daily routine. This is a True Fact and is not up for debate.

For the hexcrawl I’m running now, I was initially planning on writing up a couple of those weird NPCs and then assuming everything else in town was fairly normal (well, normal for a town of pseudo-Japanese dinosaur people anyway).

I was also only planning on including two settlements. With this default method, more settlements = more prep work.

Instead, I’m testing out this subroutine where I have a list of skilled trades that are represented in each of these towns, writing up some sort of weirdness for ALL of the trades I’m listing. Each NPC tradesman has a 1 in 6 (maybe 1 in 4 we’ll see) chance of being weird, rolled when the PCs first meet that NPC. Otherwise, their businesses operate pretty much how you’d expect. I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of trades I forget for now, so this list might grow. I’m intentionally leaving out food producers for the sake of my own sanity.

Between this method, the philosophy table (from which I can pretty effortlessly extrapolate the personality of the ruler and the laws of the town), and the events table (which, for me at least, tends to impact the game a lot more directly than a traditional rumor table, which is good), more settlements = more emergent complexity (another good thing) without any extra prep work at all (even better).

Also it occurs to me that if I was running a game in a borderland area between two (or more) dominant cultures, prepping one set of those three tables for each culture would be a really easy way to make sure they’re distinct from each other, while still baking enough variety into the towns themselves to keep them interesting. 


Slave Merchant- Possesses a gateway that leads to whatever location in the world is currently experiencing the most human(oid) suffering. She doesn’t like to go through it herself, but is always sending groups through, and there’s always plenty of citizens who could use the money. In my game, the continent is currently in 16th century Earth (nicknamed the General Crisis by historians), so the gateway could lead to pretty much any place I feel like.

Gunsmith- In addition to regular flintlock weapons and ammunition, produces exploding “dragon shot” bullets that explode on contact, doing an extra 2d8 damage in a 15’ radius. A critical failure would mean the bullet explodes inside the firearm instead, destroying the gun and hurting or killing the marksman. They also have a chance to explode if the person carrying them takes fire damage. Dragon shots can be used with slings, but don’t gain enough speed to explode on contact. I could see clever players setting something/someone on fire and then using these with a sling— in that case I would rule that they explode every time.

Blacksmith- His magic hammer, which allows him to work at a superhuman pace, has been stolen. He suspects his estranged brother, the master blacksmith in another settlement, of being behind the theft.

Gardener- Grows three varieties of lotus, each of which is a save-or-die poison when eaten but can be distilled into potions.
Tiger Lotus (black & orange): Hallucinogen that allows the drinker to see into the 4th dimension for 2 hrs, but forget most of it when they come down. The PC essentially sees their entire life laid out before them at once. Save vs magic to remember one useful thing from either the future or the past. The player gets to choose what it is but it must be something that their character could potentially learn or experience at some point in the future. This can be presented as a statement (there’s treasure buried under a tree in the town square) or a question (fuck you dm how do i open this stupid magic door). Since this information is remembered from the PC’s past or future perspective, it also has a 1 in 6 chance of being completely wrong.
Fire Lotus (red & yellow): X-ray vision that can’t be turned off for 4 hrs.
Midnight Lotus (black & purple): 150 lb telekinesis for 30 min.
She also sells these potions for 500 sp each.

Beekeeper- The honey produced by this beehive can be rubbed into open wounds to heal all HP damage the character has taken in the last day. Does not cause limbs or organs to grow back, just heals over the stump or eye socket or whatever. The patient also permanently gains 2 points in a random physical attribute (STR DEX CON) and loses 2 points in a random mental attribute (INT WIS CHA). No known alchemical process can reproduce these effects, even starting with the same unusual mixture of pollen the bees gather in this area. Always leaves badass scars.

Chandler- A holy man whose candles incorporate incense, dyes, and carved sigils to reproduce the effects of certain spells (beneficial first or second level divine spells) whenever they are lit. Users need to spend at least ten minutes holding the candle (the dripping wax hurts in a narrative sense but causes no actual HP damage) and meditating on the flame to receive the spell’s effects.

Silk Farmer- Whispers to his specially bred and trained silkworms, who follow his direction to weave their own silks into finished garments of the finest silk, dyed in impossibly intricate patterns. He cannot cast or even truly learn magic, but can direct the worms to weave spell effects directly into the fabric under a spellcaster’s close supervision.

Printer- In addition to the usual weekly propaganda rag, she can produce monoprint maps that change based on the viewer’s location like the GPS on your smartphone. They do not show secret areas unless it’s one of those deals where the door itself is obvious but the way to open it isn’t.

Fletcher- His arrows have been imbued with a sort of intelligence, and will change course to fly toward anyone whose name is written on their shafts. The name ritual must be performed by a magic user at the end of a ten minute ritual. Some of his arrowheads are specially forged to carry poison, but he keeps those in the back and doesn’t show them to customers he doesn’t trust.

Jeweler- His grandmother was a sorcerer of some power, who left him with a set of twelve iridescent luckstones. She also showed him how to turn them into jewelry that grants the wearer a +1 bonus to AC and all saving throws. Bonuses from multiple luckstones stack. He’s only made a few of these over the years despite many offers from would-be customers, and still has 5 of the luckstones left.

Beastmaster- Breeds, trains, and sells a (mostly) randomized dinosaur species. The animal’s size is tiny, it is about as intelligent as a human child, and can speak and even learn new languages.

Watchmaker- Has been experimenting with clockwork robotics. Could use the help of a magic user in researching artificial intelligence (treat as assisted spell research) and would offer that magic user a serious discount on these steampunk golems in the future. In addition, the grateful watchmaker would count any money spent by the magic user on this research towards the first purchase.

Glass Blower- Her elaborate, sculptural hookahs take advantage of hyperdimensional geometry and their compositions seem to change depending on the angle they’re being viewed from. Every time someone smokes stardust out of it, roll to see what happens to them. 

  1. PC becomes host to their own future self. The entity refuses to directly reveal secrets of the future to their hosts, but sometimes whispers hints to them about how best to deal with their immediate situation. Once per day, the host can try to commune with the entity. This has a 2 in 3 chance of one roll automatically achieving a critical success. The number of uses per day increases by one each time the host levels up without the entity being banished or dispelled in some way. Each use triggers a save vs. madness with advantage; failure means the entity has partially taken over and the host must save to avoid it taking over during any period of increased danger or stress (as defined by the dm). If it takes over, it decides to proactively kill the viewer’s allies, since it remembers them betraying it at some point in the viewer’s future.
  2. Mirror image, six images with no duration limit. These are alternate versions of the smoker pulled from adjacent realities, like the LotFP version of the spell. They’re usually annoyed about their predicament and they argue with each other and the PC a lot, but they have no choice but to follow until they all die horrible deaths one by one. The PC needs to make a wisdom save each time this happens or permanently lose one point of wisdom (because it’s driving the character slowly insane). If you’re using something like Arnold K’s insanities table you can have the player roll on that instead.
  3. The PC is physically transported to the upside down or the loud side of voivodja or carcosa or whatever for the duration of their high (4 hours). If the rest of the party wants to follow, each PC that takes a hit automatically gets this result. If anyone dies there, their bodies and possessions immediately return to wherever they were when they smoked.
  4. The PC gains the ability to sidestep between this and other possible worlds for the next hour, dragging their companions with them, but does not have complete control of the ability. Each time the PC decides to use the ability, they may change one thing about the world, but the DM also changes one thing, and doesn’t tell them what it is. Whatever version of reality the PCs wind up in at the end of the hour is where they’re stuck, i.e. all changes made by the high PC and the DM during this hour are permanent.

There are more I'd like to come up with something for but this is taking too long to write and you get the idea.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Tale of Potential Poop

In Sunday night's Black Hack game, the party (Allison the 12 year old 21st century alice, Kalasso the wandering saurian priest, and Chevalier d'Eon the mage) made their way to one of the saurian towns in the Hojo Mori rainforest. I didn't have any specific NPCs or events in mind, so it was pretty much all driven by the players and the dice.

The guards stopped them on the way in, and Kalasso almost immediately asked if anyone inside needed healing. It turned out that there was something wrong with the local lord's heir. Before approaching the castle though, they wanted to go find a beastmaster and see about incubating this rotjaw egg they'd acquired previously. After a brief discussion, they elected to have a sort of coffin-cart made, in which they'd simulate a rotjaw nest by filling it with dung and mulch, and bury the egg in that. Then they got distracted by a crazy-eyed fortune teller.

Once some gems were sold off and a deal had been struck with a local carpenter, they went up to the castle. Inside, they learned that the hatchling had been in a coma for a week now, and the court healer was stumped. Kalasso examined the patient but failed to make a concrete diagnosis, even with the comprehensive book on jungle diseases that Allison suddenly realized she had stashed at the bottom of her backpack.* Then Chevalier thought to cast detect magic, and discovered that this was actually a curse designed to look like a disease. The party went to ask the crazy fortune teller what to do, and she told them to talk to the spirits in the caves at the other end of the map.

*If you aren't familiar with the Alice class from A Red & Pleasant Land, they have this "exasperation" ability where if they get really stuck, the situation changes in their benefit in some randomly determined dream-logic kind of way.

So the plan at this point was to stay the night at the inn, then go pick up the completed incubation wagon from the carpenter's shop, find some farmers to fill it with fertilizer, and start a three day journey to the spirit caves. This plan was derailed when I rolled for that morning's weather and got "flash flood." When the PCs got to the carpenter's shop, he and his family were bugging out in high quality canoes. The PCs found a boat in the attic that was big enough for them and the (still empty) wagon and got out alive, but headed in the opposite direction from where they wanted to go.

So now I have a group of players with "gather a big pile of shit and rotting plant matter" as an explicit short-term goal.


1 The local lord's hatchling has been in a mysterious coma for 3d4 days. The healers in town are all completely stumped because it's actually a magical curse. The hatchling will have a 1 in 8 chance of dying every day after day 14.

2 The town is about to begin its week long Festival of Ancestors. The sequence is: opening procession, drug fueled partying, ceremonial defeat of death & peak partying, final night devoted to somber reflection.

3 A famous acting troupe is in town. Their play recounts the events of one of Hojo Mori's legendary exploits and takes advantage of illusion magic. The conquest of the goliaths and the binding of the cave spirits are popular subjects.

4 The town is currently besieged by whichever of the other local lords likes this one the least. The two sides are evenly matched and waiting for each other to make a move when the PCs show up.

The town is celebrating the hatching of the lord's healthy new heir. The egg has been secretly been exchanged with the offspring of a sorceress and a powerful demon.

6 Slave revolt! These towns usually keep a variety of species as slaves. If the lord of this town doesn't believe in slavery, the saurian citizens are rioting.

7 The majority of a hunting party has been slain by a jungle tyrant. Their funeral is today. The ceremony is a sky burial on the roof of the castle's tallest tower, with the whole town watching the sky lizards in mournful silence.

8 The local lord is hosting a Tournament of Champions tomorrow. The prize is an amulet that gives its wearer a +2 bonus to all saving throws. It also has the secret, nearly undetectable power to act as both eyes and ears for the lord.

9 An ambassador is here, with servant and bodyguards, representing one of the other lords in the region. There is a 1 in 3 chance that the ambassador is a spy and/or an assassin.

10 Grisly murder scenes are the work of an unsuspecting saurian were-raptor.

11 The town is currently rebuilding in the wake of a flash flood. Expect all goods to be sold at 1d4 times their regular prices. 1 in 3 specialty items simply aren't available right now.

12 The eggs of four peasant families have gone missing over the past three weeks. The party may enter but no one may leave until the culprit has been found.

13 The whole town is convinced that a local hatchling is some kind of messianic figure, loudly agreeing that obviously mundane, routine occurrences are miraculous portents.

14 The local lord's financial advisor has been assassinated. His three potential successors are the only current suspects; each has a 1 in 4 chance of being guilty (leaving open the possibility of a conspiracy or another killer with a different motive).

15 The PCs arrive in the middle of an execution. The condemned tradesman's wife is convinced that he was set up. She's right, but no one wants to hear it. The man is being executed for possession of heretical documents that were planted in his desk.

16 One of the local tradesmen is trying to unite the rest of them into a guild. The various business owners in town have agreed to hold a vote one week from today. The local lord is opposed to this, but must allow the vote or risk an uprising.

17 A goliath enslaved as a pit fighter has become so successful that he's almost ready to buy his freedom. His master would see him die before allowing that to happen, but would risk a riot if this charismatic fan favorite was openly murdered.

18 Slaves and citizens alike have been falling prey to a brain-eating plague. Every day in town, each PC has 1/12 chance of contracting the disease via mosquito bite. INCUBATION 24 hrs, DURATION 7 days, INCREMENT 6 hrs, EFFECT 1d2 permanent INT damage.

19 A power-hungry mage has recently failed to take the stronghold, causing lots of collateral damage. Expect all goods to be sold at 1d4 times their regular prices. Everyone is suspicious and resentful of all visiting spellcasters right now.

20 The local lord has recently had a mystical experience that caused them to add a core belief to their personal philosophy, possibly calling one of their previous beliefs into question. Conversations in town are dominated by this paradigm shift and its implications, which are still trickling down, slowly, to the general populace.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Shadow of Hojo Mori

There is a continent with many names. Many of them are spoken in the language of its native inhabitants, an ancient race of saurian bipeds. They are all descriptive names, if you understand that language, and many of them are contradictory.

It is indisputable that this continent exhibits certain unique properties, but there are different points of view regarding the precise nature of these qualities. As a result, what the dwindling highland empire refers to as the One True Land, some others call Exodus or the Wandering Isles, and still others call Nexus.

There are other sentient species there too, from what may or may not be other places, depending on whether other places truly exist, which the saurians consider a matter of debate. They tend to assign this place the name of their cultural concept of hell.*

There is a dense rainforest on this continent, named for the saurian who once ruled it with an iron fist, Hojo Mori, whose kingdom died with him. His descendants seem incapable of working together, and only only hold any authority within their own isolated settlements. They are feudal lords who only promise protection to those within their own city walls, and there are many dangers in the wilderness.

The place is overrun not only with dinosaurs (or rather, what the dinosaurs may have evolved into if they had escaped extinction eons ago), but also traces of the many outside cultures that Hojo Mori brought here long ago to enslave and exploit.


Abandoned Mining Colony
  • Emerald mine, abandoned 30 years ago when the earth into which the mine was carved was granted sentience and mobility by magical eco-terrorists. Anti-bodies formed in the shape of earth elementals and slaughtered anyone who couldn’t escape in time.
  • A few of the gems are in easy-to-spot locations on the first level. The elementals, stomping around below, sound like the faint echoes of heavy industry at a distance.
  • Lower levels contain more gems guarded by elemental antibodies. The elementals are incredibly loud, and have no chance of sneaking up on anyone who isn’t deaf. They exist as part of a hive mind that allows them to co-ordinate their attacks and defense, effectively adding +2 HD in combat whenever two or more elementals are present.
  • The lowest level contains a hive-mind crystal. Destroying it triggers a massive earthquake that collapses the mine.

Bronze Jungle Tyrant
  • Inspection of this huge, elaborate statue of the regional apex predator (basically like a t-rex but more so) reveals that it’s actually a vehicle with six seats in the head.
  • The activation gem (glows a brilliant white, is the size of your head, probably being worshipped by some feral tribe of filthy humans or elves or something) is missing.

Frozen Pond
  • A mace is half-buried in middle of a wide, frozen pond. The air here isn’t any colder than the surrounding rainforest, except within a foot or so of the ice itself.
  • There’s the skeleton of a sea monster visible, trapped underneath the ice.
  • Dislodging the mace requires a successful strength check and causes the pond to instantly melt, freeing an undead two-headed plesiosaur that attacks immediately, and dropping whoever’s standing on the surface of the pond into the water.
  • Three trigger words are inscribed on the mace’s handle, in the personal cypher of a long-dead saurian artificer. When these words are muttered before striking a contiguous body of standing freshwater, the mace causes the water to change phase as appropriate. The trigger words are codes for “liquefy,” “solidify,” “vaporize,” and “condense.”
  • the trigger words can also be used to cause additional elemental damage. When attacking a human, for example, the “vaporize” trigger word would cause 1d6 fire damage as the water content of their blood turned to steam, and the “solidify” would cause 1d6 cold damage as it became ice.

Bone Dog Encampment

  • Semi-nomadic escaped slaves taken from a universe where canine bipeds naturally grow partial exoskeletons. Only females are present.
  • PC bone dogs have hit dice and combat abilities as fighters, have advantage to wisdom tests related to scent and hearing, natural armor as chain, and a bite attack (but cannot use manufactured armor). Typical NPCs have from 1–4 HD and are usually armed with clubs or spears and bolas or slings. Their leader, Argluff, has 6 HD and wields a katana.
  • Their community won’t survive past this generation on its own, as the males were all killed in a unsuccessful insurrection attempt.
  • They need help to accomplish at least one of three goals: to get home or, failing that, to find some means of perpetuating their society here; either way, they also desire genocidal vengeance against their saurian ex-captors.

*The rare exceptions are usually those that have actually proven somewhat successful in this environment, such as the insectoid hive-minds, whose name for the place translates as Newhome. The individual hives have no names — the insectoids simply think of them as either This-Hive or Not-This-Hive, which are more similar conceptually to me/you than to here/there.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Glass Caves of Carcosa

This is me fucking around with layers and stuff, trying to refine a concept I was playing with a while ago (that Patrick "Maze of the Blue Medusa" "Deep Carbon Observatory" "Fire on the Velvet Horizon" Stuart riffed off of riffed off of on his blog; odds are good that you've already read that post if you're here. if you haven't you should cause it's way better than anything I would have thought of). I wasn't planning on sharing the map originally, so I didn't give the colors much thought as I was drawing it, but now it looks like it belongs under some weird sword & planet setting like Carcosa.

I might extend it in the four cardinal directions in the next few weeks. There's a slight chance I'll get ambitious about it and start illustrating individual chambers. I might never get to any of it. WHO FUCKIN KNOWS NOT ME