Saturday, July 31, 2021

Powerblogging through my disparate thoughts on an alignment-focused campaign

Two of the six players in my game quit their jobs and have embarked on a cross-country road trip with their girlfriends having what I hope is the time of their lives, flying rugged and free through the veins of America. Another player just moved and is stoically attempting to return his life to a comfortable equilibrium. A fourth is also unemployed and devoting the brunt of his time + spiritual/mental energies toward a creative endeavor while also, somehow, looking for a job. All of this is to say: the Last Planet campaign, which I have written briefly about before, is on hold. That’s fine. These things happen. Since we’re all friends, we’ll inevitably start playing D&D again eventually. 

But now that the campaign is on hold, my creative drive is left to drift and wander on its own without a weekly game around to orient it. I’m sure plenty of other people have experienced this—when not preparing for and running a regular campaign, all those old unused ideas start to come out and roam around your mental landscape, while simultaneously your significantly more receptive to any new idea you come across because you don’t need to expend the mental energy thinking about how you can implement it into your game.

What this means for me is that the kernel of a new campaign is beginning to form in my mind. I’ve had a bunch of different ideas and things I wanted to try that I haven’t been able to yet. And now I’ve reached the point where I might actually have something here, and it’s time to set the ideas down on the page. 

Ahn Doo Jin

The campaign is based around the premise that alignment is the most important factor in the game.

What would this look like? Well, I could see this as meaning that religion would have to be a pretty big deal. The way alignment makes the most amount of sense in my head is as some sort of large cosmic-scale conflict between law and chaos, which manifests itself in the material plane spiritually just as much as physically. 

Societies would be much more oriented toward their specific alignments, though not in the Law=authoritarian, Chaos=libertarian sort of way. In the original framework for alignment presented by Poul Anderson in Three Hearts and Three Lions, the Nazis were said to be agents of Chaos. This would suggest that chaotic societies are organized around strength and power, but that could also include like insular group power, so that anarchistic communes would also be chaotic. Whereas lawful societies would be more diffusely organized around monarchy, aristocracy, bureaucracy, (democracy?), and both would also have a strong religious authority, for reasons stated above. 

I have a lot of thoughts about alignment. I think that the classic Law/Neutrality/Chaos scheme is more interesting than the nine-point AD&D version because in my mind Law and Chaos are more interesting concepts to throw cosmology at than good and evil. Once Good and Evil are introduced into the alignment scale, they sort of take precedence over law and chaos because they’re easier concepts to grasp onto, and most characters end up being some flavor of good or neutral unless they want to be edgy and contrarian. But good and evil have been done to death already, and planning a setting where good and evil are axiomatic truths where some people (or species, actions, etc.) are inherently good while others are inherently evil is a whole can of worms I don’t care to get into.  

That doesn’t mean I don’t think good and evil should not exist in the setting, only that they ought to exist like they do in the real world, where good and evil are mostly just descriptive terms that are shorthand for much more complicated and nuanced behaviors. No evil person considers themselves as such, only that other people are evil. 

I’m also really not interested in the sort of both-sides-kind-of-suck Moorcockian view of Law/Chaos, since it leads to the lame kind of “moral grayness” where players have to choose between two equally bad outcomes or, if available, go for the third-way balance/neutrality/moderation option that is clearly better than the other two. 

The best way I can think of to thread this needle between 1) Law and Chaos being more than stand-ins for good and evil while also 2) not being essentially equivalent to one another is to have alignment represent beliefs and values, like opposing religions or governing principles. Sort of like how Gygax originally intended it. 

My vision for the campaign is for it to adhere sort of close to the original concept of D&D’s classic implied setting, since I’ve been doing pretty much the opposite of that for quite some time. It’s going to be a points-of-light sort of deal, where human civilization is mostly oriented toward law but actual settlements are few and far between and the wilderness is chaotic (though not completely Chaotic) and dangerous. While civilization itself is lawful, humans are just as predisposed to law as they are to chaos, which means that some human settlements will also be chaotic. Monsters, too, would be primarily chaotic, but not inherently; they might just be more predisposed to catching the chaotic wavelengths that flow through the universe. 

That gives us Law as the side of humans and human societies, barring a few exceptions, and chaos is the side of monsters and humanoids, once again barring a few exceptions, and the wilderness as a sort of neutral but dangerous middle ground. This is good—I want elementals and nature spirits and stuff to be neutral. Demihumans are also neutral, as they are uninvolved in the cosmic conflict between Law and Chaos, but they can take sides if they like. 

So so far Law and Chaos represent differing governing ideologies that aren’t really that different in the first place, they’re both expansionist and also spiritually opposed to one another. It’s more of just a justification for me to allow for orcs to be antagonistic to players without being inherently evil or neutral enough to be like “haha gotcha, bet you feel like an asshole now” when it is revealed that they’re just trying to live their lives when the PCs came along and killed them. Sometimes It’s good to have the players feel justified in their actions.

Why are lawful and chaotic people/societies opposed to one another? The cosmic conflict. The “point” of the campaign is that Law and Chaos are vast, opposing forces and our planet is just a little proxy war in the midst of a much larger struggle.

Making this all manifest in the game would actually be pretty easy: everyone the players come across would have their goals and motives oriented toward their alignment. Circumstances players confront would be contingent on what they have written down on the alignment slot on their character sheet. Gods and demons would be prominent forces in the campaign world. Otherwise, it will still be D&D as normal.

Following the very useful and not-at-all ill-considered advice in the F*fth Edition DMG, I made a whole cosmology for the campaign before doing anything else. Why? That’s a good question. Anyway, it’s based around gnosticism and Qabalah and the Blakean mythopoeia and other high-minded and pretentious things I’ll get into in a later blog post.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Micro Post Monday: Goblin Kings

"In the goblin lair lives a goblin king," reads the goblin entry in the Moldvay monster section. I like the phrase; it's got a pleasant meter to it that lends some appropriate fairy-tale whimsy.

Goblin kings are, per the rules, 3 HD creatures (with 15 hp) that get a +1 damage bonus and a 2d6 squad of 2 HD goblin bodyguards. Tolkien already did the generic "goblin, but bigger" goblin king in the distant 1900s so we should be emboldened to leave that sinkhole of creativity and journey forth into newer realms of possibility. Here are some alternative "kings:" 

  1. A huge, tumorous maggot. The goblins prevented it from pupating, and instead feed it non-stop in long ant-like assembly line so that it just grows, and grows, and grows.
  2. A David-Bowie-looking elf with a magic crystal ball. He likes mischief and singing songs about being mean (or something, I don’t know, I've never seen the movie).
  3. An unsettling avian puppet effigy. Made of wood, feathers, and guano. It's piloted like a mech by a team of goblins, who inexplicably work in such perfect sync that the effigy seems alive. If any of the pilots die, other goblins will hurriedly climb into the wood frame skeleton and take their place. 
  4. A giant goblin toddler, about the size of a full-grown cow. It’s all the goblins can do to keep him fed and entertained, for they fear nothing more than his tantrums.
  5. An ancient corpse desiccated beyond recognition. Its limbs are long and bone-thin, and its face is just blue-black skin stretched over an eyeless skull. It’s shamanic bodyguards claim to be the interpreters of its strange decrees, which are delivered in the low groans that occasionally escape its mouth.
  6. A captured, half-crazed adventurer. One night he was just getting settled into his bedroll, but the next thing he knows he’s chained to the throne somewhere deep in the goblin warrens. The goblins worship yet always humorously misinterpret his commands. Many failed escape attempts have left him frazzled and desperate.
  7. A tall, beautiful, exquisitely muscled paragon of goblinhood. Unfortunately, not much more intelligent than a typical goblin.
  8. A haggard wizard who fancied at one time that he should vat-grow his own horde of goblins. He realized only too late, of course, that goblins are much more trouble than they’re worth, but he just can't seem to get rid of them. Spells known: Charm person (goblin), Ventriloquism, Mirror Image.
  9. A grim, sinister warrior covered in terrifying armor. He calls himself “The Overlord.” He's got all the trappings of your generic grimdork villain: glowing eyes, booming voice, preternatural hatred of insolence. The goblins are scared out of their mind by him but he’s no tougher than a 3HD fighter.
  10. Looks like a goblin, sounds like a goblin, acts like a goblin, but... it’s definitely not a goblin. Whatever it is, it looks to be wearing an ill-fitting goblin suit: The skin sits too slack in some areas and too tight in others, weird bits of hair peek out from frayed seams, and the face doesn’t move as much as it should when it speaks. Very conspicuous to anyone who sees it, but the goblins have no idea it isn’t one of them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Stock Thousands of Unique* Hexes Instantly** With Google Sheets

If you’re experienced with Excel or Google Sheets, this will be painfully obviously endearingly quaint and charming. If you don’t, you’re in luck, for I have delved into the hoary depths of the Google search function and consorted with the occulted knowledge of YouTube tutorial makers to gain the requisite understanding necessary to formulate this rather simple and straightforward method of stocking hexes. All so you don’t have to. 

Humble preamble: This method isn’t meant to replace the more considered planning and preparation that goes into creating a hexcrawl campaign. It’s just meant to make the whole endeavor a little easier. 

The method involves coming up with a list of items you want to stock your hexes with (settlements, lairs, all that good stuff) and then randomly assigning them to the hexes. It’s the same principle as rolling on a random table for each hex, but the benefit of using a cold soulless machine over the tactile analog pleasure of dice and paper is that you can play around with a much bigger list of items and the whole process goes a lot faster. Score one for the robot uprising. 

Step one: open a fresh Google Sheet. This might work on Excel but I don’t know; I can’t try it because the Office plan I didn’t know I had has expired and now I have this shitty little icon sitting on my computer that I keep forgetting to get rid of. Anyway, in Column A write out your list of hex numbers. If you separate hex rows and columns with a period, adjust the decimal place one to the left or else every hex column that ends with zero will be cut off. Frustrating, but we persist.

I forgot to move the decimal place over in my example images. C'est la vie.

Step two: In column E, make a big list of all the things you want on your hex map. Don't be too specific—this is the random table that the formula is going to be rolling on, so you should account for the possibility that each result could appear many times. That being said, I find it helpful to include multiple versions of the same thing to get one level of detail deeper. This also helps for weighting the table, which I will get into more later. 

So for instance, instead of just having "ruins" four times on the list, I included four different types of ruins: Lizardman, Giant, Cyclopean, and Weird (the useful catch-all for any type of ruin I want to include that isn’t covered by the other categories).

Do this with fortresses, settlements, castles, temples, towers, dungeons, monster lairs, and/or whatever else you want your players to come across over the course of their wondrous adventures. Add in the basic stuff, add in setting-specific stuff, maybe even add in things you don’t have a clear idea of yet and so you can come up with the details later. Consider including placeholder entries like "Special" so you can add in more elaborate and boutique stuff later, if that suits your fancy. 

All told, I ended up making 60 different hex items. In order for the below formula to work, you will need 60 items as well.

Step three: Click on the first cell in column B, and then paste this into the formula bar (next to the fx symbol):


Edit: try =INDEX($E$1:$E$120;RANDBETWEEN(1;120)) if the above formula doesn't work


(If you're not using 60 items, your numbers may need to change)

After that, select the cell, click on the little blue box in the bottom right corner, and drag it down to fill in the rest of the cells in column B.

INDEX returns the contents of other cells, and RANDBETWEEN chooses a random number between two parameters. In this case, the formula is choosing a random cell in column E between 1 and 120 and displaying the result in the cells of column B. 

Make sure you include the dollar signs or else the function scale will shift up one with every cell, meaning it would go from E1:E120 to E2:E121 and so on. Obviously since you’re copy/pasting this isn’t a concern but this took me way too long to figure out and I want to put it here to make sure NO ONE gets confused by this EVER AGAIN. 

Notice the range goes to 120 when I only have 60 hex items. I want some hexes to be empty, so that the map isn’t too cluttered and so I can fill in more stuff later if need be. A matter of personal preference.

Because of the inscrutable workings of Google Sheets every time you update the spreadsheet, all the cells produced by the formula will change. There's probably some way to prevent this but what I do is just copy all the cells and then in a new sheet go Paste special -> Paste values only.

Repeat step three in column C if you want more items per hex, which you should, because one thing per hex is BORING. 

Play around with the numbers and proportions. If you want a sparser, more terra incognita hexcrawl, expand the function ranges to make more empty hexes and have a low number of settlements compared to everything else.  

Don’t take weighing the table too seriously, unless you’re really into ensuring there is a realistic proportion of castles to settlements or whatever. If you have way more ideas for temples than you do fortresses but you want roughly the same number to be on the map, just condense multiple ideas into the same cell. 

This tool is just a jumping off point—play around with it until it spits out something you can work with and then go from there. 

Next steps: Adjust, reflavor, and season to taste. 

Look at your hex map and your list of semistocked hexes. Get a feel for the ecosystem, what the dialogue between the points of interest and the natural geography may be. Why might things be located where they are. 

Take Hex 25.19 in the example image. Within it is both a wizard's tower and a mutant's lair. Perhaps the mutant was the victim of the wizard's foul experimenting, but he escaped the tower and now plots his revenge. Or maybe the wizard and the mutant our allies, and the mutant has agreed to defend the wizard's tower in exchange for magical boons.  

This is where you do that DM thing where you iterate on idea fragments until they are fleshed out to your liking. Knowing just the content of a hex, its terrain type, and the nearby locations should develop in you a strong enough creative foundation that can you expand on easily, or even spontaneously at the table if need be. 

The same principle of dungeon stocking applies to working out your hex map: you’re obviously allowed to change results if you feel like it would make a better campaign, but also let the weird idiosyncrasies fuel your imagination. Why are there five castles in this tiny stretch of jungle? What the hell is a haunted mansion doing in the middle of a desert? You tell me. Figuring this stuff out and coming upon these “discoveries” is one of the real joys of being a DM, I-M-O.

And that’s just about all there is to it. 

*some work will be required to distinguish hexes stocked with the same contents

**"instantly" does not include the time it takes to set up the material required for the method to function.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Three monsters from the Last Planet

These are some creatures I made for my homebrew Last Planet setting. There isn't really any "natural" fauna in the Last Planet, instead all creatures are some flavor of mutant or the product of bio-engineering. Originally I had intended to come up with an elaborate generator to make a bunch of unique creatures so the players would never run into the same type of twice, but I scrapped that idea when I realized it's actually just more fun to make up new monsters or use ones I find on blogs, modules, etc. Random generation is great for inspiration, There's nothing that can really be gained by having a bunch of mass-produced monsters with formulaic stats and abilities. Even if they all are distinct—all equally unique, all equally forgettable. So the lesson here I guess is that small-batch artisanally crafted monsters are superior to randomly generated ones. Who knew. 


HD: 12 AC: 3 [16] Att: 2 x slam (1d8) or Acid Spray.

Move: 120’ (40’) Morale: 8 No. Appearing: 2d8

Slam: +4 to hit against human-sized creatures or smaller. If both attacks hit, the target is knocked to the ground. 

Acid Spray: 1-in-4 chance each round to spray of acid out of it's trunk. Deals 2d6 damage in a 30' line, save vs. breath for half. The target's AC is increased/reduced by 1 if the save is failed and they're wearing armor. 

Hide: Acridon hide is is an incredibly tough and can be used to make acid-proof hazmat suits. Getting a suit made costs 60 sp and requires an expert the likes of which are usually only found in big cities. 

Acridons are tuskless mastodons with bright orange fur and big, emerald insect eyes that bulge out from their face. Their trunk is tipped with many fine holes like a sprinkler hose. Acridons congregate around acid lakes and radiation zones, and are known to make long pilgrimages to new regions when the specific kinds of flora and fauna they feed on becomes too scarce. They can spray highly corrosive acid from their trunks, which they use to partially digest their food before they consume it as well as for self-defense. 

Bolt Beetles 

HD: 1-1 AC: 7 [12] Att: None

Move: 40' (10') flying, or 180’ (60’) flying (see special). 

Morale: 9 No. Appearing: 1d10 (2d12 if a nest is encountered)

Charge: A bolt beetle can spend its round flying up to 60' in a straight line while radiating volatile energy. Every creature in its path must save vs. magic wand or else take 1d6 damage.

Note: if you're playing with theater of the mind combat, a bolt beetle can hit 1d4 PCs per turn. If players specify that they position the PCs so that they are not standing in-line with one another, the number of PCs a bolt beetle can hit drops to 1d2 and the PCs must move at effectively half speed in order to account for maintaining their positioning.

Bolt beetles are the size of your fist, with knife-like wings and a horn shaped like a lightning bolt. Their shell is so iridescent that it's hard to tell what color it is, but close up they range from vibrant green to a deep electric blue. Their elytra is made of a special material that stores the kinetic energy expelled by their wing beats. They often fly together in lazy patterns, but when they are agitated or need to defend the nest, they can release this energy to rocket forward and drive off the invaders. When they charge, they emit a bright green light and shoot out sparks like an angry firecracker. 

Hyperlion (pronounced like "Hyperion," but you can call it hyper-lion if you want. I'm not your dad.)

HD:AC: 6 [13] Att: 2 x claw (1d8), 1 bite (2d6) or 1 x horn beam (2d10 exploding)

Move: 150’ (50’) Morale: 9 No. Appearing: 1d4

Horn beam: If the beam deals more than 25 damage and the target survives, they immediately gain 2,000 xp and the undying respect of the hyperlion. This can only happen to a PC once in their lifetime.

Mutant hunter: Hyperlions attack mutated humans on sight, and will always prioritize mutants in combat.

Hyperlions were originally created to serve as weapons in the ancient war between the Veiled Kingdom and the Men of the Crystal Pyramids. Both sides fell in the conflict, but the hyperlions remain. A hyperlion is a mighty creature so thoroughly suffused with power that their blood runs white-hot and when they roar it sounds like the beat drop in a late-2000s dubstep track. They have platinum-blue fur, a wispy fuschia mane, and a spiraling unicorn horn that crackles with energy. From their horn they can fire a crimson beam of energy that carries with it part of the hyperlion's very life-force. The beam is remarkably dangerous, but it is said that some who have been stricken by it and survived have incorporated part of the hyperlion's essence into their own. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

A Coherent yet Still Interesting Narrative Framework to Explain How the Standard D&D Magic System Works: a Love Story

What is magic? 

Magic is the process by which the unreal is wrought upon the real.

How does it work?

The prime material plane is made up of countless minor dimensions all stacked on top of one another like pages in a book. Our reality exists as an overlapping concentration of those dimensions into a singular whole, surrounded by countless peripheral dimensions not quite incorporated into the planar realm. If our plane is considered Reality, than all the surrounding ones exist as Unreality—dimensions that are not within the Real. Magic is what results from when one or more peripheral dimensions are drawn into our reality.

Every spell is a specific event, an occurrence that results from the meeting of the real and unreal. The procedure of casting a spell is an invocation (often temporarily) brings forth unreal dimensions into our reality in a way specified by the spell’s description. A spell's effect is not necessarily the entirety of the event, but merely the most prominent and major result. For instance, Fireball doesn't just produce a fireball, but rather creates a wholly unique phenomenon where resulting fireball is the merely most observable effect. The peripheral results of a spell's manifestation are negligible, at least to most beings in our reality. Often, it is only potent extra-planar entities that are able to register a spell's impact beyond its primary effect. 

What are spell levels?

A spell’s level refers to how many dimensions are drawn into our reality. First level spells pull one dimension, second level spells two, and so on. The most dimensions anyone has ever been able to draw is six (hence why there are no spells above sixth level), though it is conceivable that more can be pulled—and have been in the distant past, which could account for all the weird persistent magical effects we see in dungeons.

What about spell books and scrolls?

Consciousness is the aspect through which we are most connected to the dimensions of unreality. In order to cast a spell, one must organize their mind in such a way to act as a sort of "hook" which can latch on to the unreal and pull it forth into our world. The act of preparing spells from a spell book involves establishing the specific mind-state required to hook another dimension and pull it into our own in a manner that results in the spell being cast.

What is actually laid out in a spell book are simply the passages, sigils, and runes which the mind can focus on in order to induce the mind-state required for a given spell. Every MU has their own personal methods of recording spells in their spell book, so every spell has a unique entry in each book it is recorded in. This is why Read Magic must be used to discern the spells in an unfamiliar spell book. "Memorizing" a spell is merely a shorthand term to describe the process by which a MU develops a hook within their mind, working off of the esoteric guides set down in their spell book. 

Once a spell has been cast, the transdimensional hold is cleared from the MU's head and the unreal dimension slips back into the astral periphery.

A spell scroll is essentially a partially cast spell that must be completed by an MU. The act of creating a spell scroll involves creating a partial dimensional hook that is activated once the scroll is read. The process of activating a scroll often destroys it or renders it inert, because it is the power invested in the scroll itself that is drawing the unreal into our dimension. That is why scrolls are single-use. The process of transcribing a spell from a scroll to a book is actually a rather involved process, because it requires working backwards from a single spell preparation to create a method for which the spell can be prepared by the MU. Hence, there's always a chance of failure when copying a spell. 

How does this account for magic items, potions, magic creatures, etc.?

While the dimensional incursions caused by spells are almost always temporary, not all of them are. Magic items exist as nexus points where multiple unreal dimensions are folded into our reality. The same can be said of magic creatures. 

Extraplanar creatures summoned from other dimensions are somewhat more complicated. Some extraplanar creatures slip into our plane through the spaces of astral void between dimensions, whereas others are drawn into our universe through the same process as magic spells. Some entities exist in both the real and unreal dimensions simultaneously.

What about Clerics? 

Cleric magic works exactly the same way as MU magic, except it's the Cleric's deity that grants them the power to draw unreality. This is why Clerics do not need spell books. 

What's the point of all this?

I have a confession to make: I'm not satisfied with how baseline old-school D&D handles magic. 

I know, I stake my entire reputation on these controversial opinions. Sometimes they need to be said. 

But for some reason, I just can't tear myself away from by-the-book magic. I've explored other options. I've flirted with GLOG magic, fell for Wonder & Wickedness, and had a bizarre stint with a homebrew system that's better left unmentioned (now I know why they call it a heartbreaker). But through it all, I've always come back to the classic system. Despite its imperfections, its lack of coherency or a basis in fantasy fiction, it's still irresistible to me. Maybe the problems that I have with it are really just problems that I see within myself. Hmm. 

So one day I thought to myself "I can make this work. I can make a framework for the standard D&D magic system that makes narrative sense and fits with the 'Weird magic' without having to change anything. I don't have to settle. I can have it all."  


I need a system of magic that ties all the existing gameplay elements into a framework while still maintaining some semblance of esoteric weirdness. I want to avoid the completely flavorless standard assumptions about D&D magic without inventing a whole new system. I am neurotically fixated on having it all make sense—but not like logical sense, more sort of narrative sense—and "be cool." 

The idea behind this magic "system" (really, magic flavor) was to take the assumptions of D&D magic and make them into something coherent. 

These assumptions are...

  • All spells work the same every time they are cast.
  • Spells have a hierarchical system of levels, and spell slots work in the same way.
  • But not all magic exists within this hierarchy, as demonstrated by magic items, artifacts, and magic dungeon features.
  • There is no "latent" or "background" magic. Going off of the assumptions put forth by Anti-Magic Shell and other anti-magic effects, magic is not a universal constant but instead something that only manifests under certain conditions.
  • Spells must be memorized but are forgotten immediately after use.
  • Spells written out in books and scrolls must be deciphered through magical means. 

No more than one or two of any of these assumptions exist anywhere in the fantasy fiction on which D&D was based. Yes, Jack Vance invented the concept of spell memorization and slots and stuff and we love him for it, but anyone who's read the Dying Earth saga will tell you that D&D's magic is a far cry from whatever it was Rhialto could do. 

This leads to an interesting conclusion: D&D magic broke new ground, creating an entirely separate milieu from anything that came before it. 

A lot of people, especially in the OSR, say that magic is something that ought to be stranger, more chaotic, dangerous, and unknowable They fix magic by implementing variable effect tables, mishap systems, alternate casting mechanics, and so on. Or they don't fix it at all, and just imply that magic is zany and occult while every spell in the system works the same way every time it's cast. 

There's nothing wrong with grabbing that DIY spirit by the horns and using it to build a bunch of supplemental and alternative materials for casting, but there’s a lot that can be said for the magic system as it exists in the book (the book being B/X and it’s counterparts). 

D&D magic was made from a game-forward design perspective: the spells all have discrete effects that often solve, or at least address, common issues that players face while playing the game. Light resolves the issue of illumination. Knock resolves the issue of locked doors. The spells all do things that players might find immediately useful.

A lot of OSR/post-OSR/OSR-like/artpunk/Old-school-inspired DIY/rules-lite/SWORDDREAM/neoclassic D&D/heartbreaker homebrew/Etc. designers go in the exact opposite direction. Rise Up Comus' Sorcery is a Sword Without a Hilt is perfectly emblematic of this sort of mentality: all the spells are explicitly designed to be weird tools that have no direct solution to any of the immediate problems adventurers contend with, and there are many bizarre catastrophes that can befall a poor spell caster. And it's great! I think Mr. Comus did a terrific job with the spells and the system. But despite being ostensibly OSRish, it's a far cry from what the original spells in the original games were like. 

This clearly just points to the fact that everyone already knows, which is that the OSR and its electron cloud of offshoots are all distinct from what "classic D&D" was like.  

Instead of trying to make new mechanics to fit the nebulous, fantasy-fiction system of magic, why not create a system based on the then-novel mechanics and concepts laid down by Gygax and co.? What can we find when we fill in the gaps and create a narrative framework within which the entire D&D magic can function coherently?

Much of the work people have done to make strange, chaotic, interpretive magic mechanics is fantastic. But sometimes, you just have to dance with the one that brought ya. Love takes effort. Love takes work. But if you find the right one, it's worth it all and more. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Mosquito Men

They are mostly known as Quistids, and they are exactly as wretched as you would expect. They stand around four and a half feet tall and have fuzzy mosquito heads. Their arms are gangly, and they have tiny needle-like fingers. Their clothes are dusty and out of style, but sported with a clueless confidence that elicits endless frustration in others. Their wings hang from their back like tattered scarves, always blowing in the wind and annoying those around them. 

Their probosces are often kept curled and carefully tucked under their chin. It’s been said that in some hidden alleyways you can find little speakeasies where they congregate with one another away from the rest of the world. Yes they drink blood, but it's not blood from the living—and what about you, huh? You eat meat, but does that mean you’d take a bite out of a live cow?

Quistids get a perverse satisfaction from correcting others. They put on an elaborate show of “hiding” their embarrassing proclivities, only to get overbearingly defensive at the slightest comment. Their words buzz with self-satisfied indignation.

Quistids have a preternatural ability to annoy others. Unbeknownst to most everyone (Quistids included), they feed on frustration. It doesn’t nourish them like blood, but it sustains their spirit. The more annoyance draw from others others, the stronger and more defined their ego becomes.

When isolated from others, Quistids are mindless and violent with little more intelligence than an actual mosquito. They have been known to assault travelers without provocation, swooping down from the sky on their fibrous wings and baring their long proboscis like a saber. 

Naturally, most Quistids live in cities where a denser population means more frustration to feed on. They live in the noisy parts of town, in buildings that always smell a little funny, where the windows are always drafty and the roofs leak when it rains.


Despite their proclivities, Quistids are fairly benign. Many are more or less integrated into their community, while others prefer to keep to themselves. But occasionally, something goes wrong.

Some Quistids become aware of their nature and how the frustration in others feeds them. Often times they just take this information in stride and don't think too much of it, but certain Quistids desire to exploit it and learn to amplify their aura of frustration and further feed their ego.

When a Quistid turns malicious, the simple annoyances they cause hardens into bitterness and rage. A whole neighborhood could fall under the influence of a single malicious Quistid. The people become cold and withdrawn, fights start easily and often turn violent, and things just generally become more shitty and unpleasant all around. The Quistid grows more and more potent, until their bloated ego bursts through the seams of their psyche and begins to manifest in the physical world. The malicious Quistid’s body warps into something else entirely, twisting to reflect a gross combination of their idealized self-image and the harrowing rancor of their spirit. The psychic emanations cause their surroundings to alter as well—things get cold, tarnished, sticky, and moist; piles of trash and refuse manifest in the corners; everything smells of mold and water damage. The whole environment becomes almost consciously inhospitable. 

Affected vermin become fat, fleshy menaces. They develop sphincter-like mouths from which flick hungering probosces, and faceted eye clusters sprout on their backs. Humans, too, can be affected: they get overtaken by inarticulate, feverish rage, picking at scabs with swollen fingers or beating each other until their knuckles turn blue.

How to use Quistids

Throw them in your city encounter tables. It helps if they are engaged with a group that the PCs will likely butt heads with, so have your crime bosses and urban cultists use them as henchmen. Let them show up at inopportune moments, when the PCs are embroiled in something else and really can’t spare the time to deal with mosquito men. Make sure that the players get adequately frustrated whenever they show up.

Eventually, somewhere in the city, a Quistid is on the verge of turning malicious. 

As things start to get worse, other Quistids start to get nervous. They’ve been tolerated well enough up until now, but the more self-aware ones know that one malicious Quistid is enough to get the whole population be ousted from the city. Or worse. 

The city needs a savior from the malicious Quistid. And the Quistids need someone who can deal with the issue before they all get blamed. If circumstances get bad enough for the Quistids, more and more will become malicious. 

So the Quistids come to the PCs and ask them for help. The players should be pissed off at them by this point, but obviously the right thing to do is to help them, so you get a nice and simple moral quandary.

If the PCs choose to help, they track down the malicious Quistid, make their way through the horrid environment, and put a stop to the monster. Maybe they kill it, maybe they show it the power of friendship. It's up to them.

If the PCs fail, the malicious Quistid would eventually get killed by a group of upstart adventurers/mercenaries that the city hired. The group wins acclaim, and begins to lead the efforts in hunting down other Quistids and executing/imprisoning them before they turn malicious. The group rises in prominence, until eventually it is shockingly revealed that they are not who they seem, have some sort of ulterior motive, etc., etc.

If the issue gets resolved, everyone is happy. The Quistids are eternally grateful to the PCs and the city is able to keep its hands clean. But... what caused the Quistid turn malicious in the first place? Could it just have been by chance? Or did something, or someone, give them the means to turn bad? Was it all just a distraction to cover some deeper conspiracy??


HD: 1-1 AC: 7 [12] Att: 1 x proboscis (1d6) or by weapon.

Move: 120’ (40’), 60’ (20’) flying.  Saves as a 1st-level thief.

Morale: 6 No. Appearing: 1d6

Treasure: 1-in-10 chance a Quistid is carrying a valuable piece of jewelry or gemstone worth 1d100x10 sp, otherwise they carry nothing but garbage. Lairs have d6-d4 (minimum zero, obviously) pieces treasure. 

Limited Flight. Quistids can’t fly for more than one minute at a time, and are unable to attack or act on the round they begin flying. 

Pester. Quistids can attempt two attack rolls instead of one. If both succeed, the Quistid prevents their target from attacking for one round, or takes something the target is carrying in their hands, or does something else similarly frustrating. If either or both rolls fail, nothing happens. 

Malicious Quistid

HD: 6 AC: 6 [13] Att: 2 x claw (1d6), 1 x proboscis (1d8 + blood sucking)

Move: 90’ (30’) Saves as 4th-level thief.

Morale: 8 No. Appearing: 1

Treasure: As a normal Quistid. Additionally, in the process of turning malicious, a Quistid’s eyes become hate-filled rubies worth 2,000 sp each. The rubies burn with an inner light for 1d6 days after they are extracted, during which time whoever carries one on their person gets a +2 bonus to attack rolls but suffers a -2 penalty to reaction rolls, including reaction rolls made while in a group with others. The rubies may be more valuable to chaotic wizards and cultists while they are glowing.

Blood sucking. Regenerates half the damage dealt with their proboscis, rounded down. 

Incensing aura. While in the presence of a malicious Quistid, all failed rolls may result in some additional penalty as determined by the DM. For instance, failing a roll to accurately throw a flask of oil results in all the oil leaking out of the flask and on to the attacker. 

Summon creatures. Takes one round. Summons grotesque creatures from the surrounding area to come and fight for the malicious Quistid. 1d8 1 HP creatures (rat-sized), 1d6 1/2 HD creatures (dog-sized), 1d4 1HD converted humans (unarmed and unarmored), or one 20x20 insect swarm (13 hp, automatically deals 2 damage to armored/4 damage to unarmored creatures in swarm area, only damaged by fire, extreme cold, etc.). All summoned creatures have a moral of 12.

Image credits go to this guy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Cyborg Generator

Here is an Appendix D-style generator for cyborgs. Enjoy. 

AC: Ascending: 14–17 (13+1d4) / Descending:  5–2 (6-1d4) 
HD: 4–9 (3+1d6) 
Attacks: 3 per round. Determine attack types below.
Movement: 120' (40')
Saves: As fighter of equivalent HD
Morale: 7, or whatever best matches the cyborg's temperament.
Alignment: Any, though often Neutral.
No. Appearing: 1 or 2d4, whatever circumstances dictate. 

Thermal Vision. All cyborgs have thermal vision.

Durable Build. A cyborg's mechanical elements make them more resilient than a typical human. Cyborgs can fall up to 50' without taking any damage, can hold their breath for up to 10 minutes, and gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against poison. Cyborgs usually weigh twice as much as a typical human.

Robot Strength. A Cyborg's melee attacks deal +1 point of damage due to their physical augmentations. 

Lightning absorption. Lightning bolts and similar electrical shocks temporarily increases a cyborg's HD and melee attack bonus by 1d6. This effect lasts for 10 minutes. Any damage the cyborg suffers during this time is first reduced from the pool of additional hit points granted.

Water vulnerability. Cyborgs sink in water and completely deactivate when they are submerged. 

Appearance and Attributes Table:


1.  Exposed brain tank.

2. Human face stretched over robotic skull.

3. Underlying machinery visible through damaged dermal layer.

4. Subtle tech components on an otherwise mundane face.

5. One half of the head is dominated by bulky machine apparatus.

6. Chunky helmet with insectile or horn-like antennae. 

7-10. No special features.


1. Metal jaws. Strong enough to bite through steel. 

2. Crackling speaker. Has 4-in-6 chance of successfully mimicking other voices and sounds.

3. Cathode ray oscilloscope that displays the cyborg's vocal waveforms. The oscilloscope can be modified on the fly to measure other sorts of waves.

4. Rubbery gas mask attached to the head with wires and tubes. Immune to poison gases and other inhalants. 

5. Looks normal but can open and expand to reveal a small cannon. 1d8 damage, range 120', can only hold one shot at a time. 

6. Cords and wires run up the trachea and into the lower jaw right behind the chin. The cyborg's voice has a tinny echo like it's coming from a loudspeaker, and can be amplified up to three times as loud as normal. 

7-10. Ordinary human mouth.


Special eyes have the same visual ability as a normal, along with an additional benefit and a unique appearance. 

Roll d6. 1-3: One special eye. 4-5: Two of the same eye. 6: Two different special eyes.

1. A dark patch with two small lights at the center. Roll 1d6: the eye grants 1-2: Radar sense (to "see" sound waves). 3-4: Full-color night vision. 5-6: Ultravision.

2. Telescope eye. Sees up to three times as far.

3. A bright orange lens. Fires a laser beam, 1d6 damage and +1 (in addition to other bonuses) to hit.

4. A single-cut opalescent gemstone. Grants True Sight twice a day. True Sight can see through invisibility, detect objects and entities in the astral plane, and detect a creature's alignment and intentions. Shapeshifted creatures appear as their true form superimposed over their present appearance.

5. A big lens with a crosshair reticle across the surface. +3 bonus to ranged attack rolls. 

6. A flat white lens with thin concentric circles on the surface. Grants x-ray vision.

7. Subtle visual prosthesis that looks like a normal eye but with technical components replacing the iris. Can record up to 10 minutes of video. Includes a minuscule projector 

8. A dark red lens embedded deep into the eye socket. Grants "tracker vision," allowing the cyborg to perceive footprints, fingerprints, and other subtle bits of evidence that indicate where people were and where they went. Can also recognize individuals based on unique biological identifiers regardless of whether or not they're appearance is disguised or obscured.

9. A screen of colored glass hooked up to a small scanner device. Once activated, it tells the cyborg the target's HD, attack types/weapons, and any general strengths and weaknesses. Possibly grants other information as situationally appropriate.  

10. Techno-Visor. Possesses three random robot eye abilities. Replaces all other special eyes. 

HAIRSTYLE (if applicable)

1. Wild mane of hair standing on-end due to static electricity.

2. Huge neon-colored mohawk. 

3. Long, straight hair cut to perfect uniformity.

4. Color is a synthetic bluish white, otherwise styled normally.

5. Thick braided cords.

6. Untamed mess of knots and scorched patches.

7.  An undercut, lined up to a razor's edge.

8. Totally bald.



It is assumed that cyborgs have robotic components in all of their limbs. However, some limbs are almost completely mechanical and come with special features. 

Roll d6: 1-4: One bionic arm. 5-6: Two bionic arms. 

Roll d6 for each arm: 1-3: One feature. 2-5: Two features. 6: Three features. 

Results 1-6 have functioning hands, whereas results 7-10 do not. If a bionic arm has multiple features between the two different types, assume it can switch "modes" once per round.  

1. Armor plated. +1 AC bonus.

2. Retractible forearm blade. 1d6 damage. 

3. Rocket fist. 1d6+1 damage, range 240'. Attaches to the base of the forearm with a tough cord, making it so the fist can return to the arm and be used as a grappling hook.

4. Multitool hand. Functions as thieves tools, or whatever simple tool is necessary at the moment. 

5. Electric discharge. 1d6 damage touch attack. Deals an additional 1d6 damage to targets wearing metal armor. 

6. Energy beam. Mounted on the palm or extends out of the forearm. 1d8 damage, range 300'. Can't be fired for more than three consecutive rounds or else it overheats. 

7. Melee weapon. Roll d6: 1: Pincer. 2: Buzzsaw/chainsaw. 3: Drill. 4: Jackhammer. 5: Hook. 6: Other. 1d8 damage. 

8. Gatling gun. 1d10 damage, range 1000'. Ignores 3 points of armor. Holds enough ammo to fire for 10 rounds. 

9. Energy cannon. Roll d6: 1-2: Fires a pulse that detonates in a 20' explosion on contact. 3-4: Fires a beam in a straight line. Targets can save vs. breath weapon for half damage. 5-6: Fires in a cone. Range is reduced to 500'. Targets can save vs. breath weapon for half damage. 3d8 damage, range 1000'. Recharges on a 1 on a d6, rolled at the beginning of every round. 

10. Power arm. Intimidatingly oversized appendage with a vice-like attachment in place of a hand. Strong enough to punch through walls and crush rocks into dust. Attacks from the arm deal 2d8 damage, and it can throw boulders like a giant (3d6 damage) up to 200'. If this result is rolled, the bionic arm can have no other features.


Roll d6. 1: No bionic legs. 2-3: One bionic leg. Only roll d4-1 on the table below. 4-6: Two robot legs of the same type. 

0-1. Storage compartment. Bonus inventory slot/carrying capacity/etc.  

2. Concealed blades in the toe and heel. 1d4 damage. 

3. Concealed cannon. 1d8 damage, range 120', can only hold one shot at a time. 

4. Extendo-stilts. Extend up to 20'. Can move twice as far per round when the stilts are fully extended. 

5. Spring loaded. Maximum jump distance is 30'. 

6. Super fast. Intuitive design grants double movement speed. Can sprint for triple movement speed once per round as long as no other actions are taken. 

7. Jet boosters. Provide 10 seconds of flight. Only usable once every 10 minutes. 

8. Eight mechanical spider legs. Can climb up walls and ignore difficult terrain.


Roll d6. 1: No additional features. 2-3: One additional feature. 4-5: Two additional feature. 6: Three additional features. 

Roll d6 or choose where the features are located, if not specified (or if it's not obvious): 1-2: Mounted on the shoulder. 3-4: Wielded like a gun or shield, with retractable tubes and wires that plug into the forearm. 5: Mounted on the chest. 6: Mounted somewhere else, like the back, stomach, or forehead. 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, assume that each feature can be used once, after which it must "recharge" on a 1-2 on a 1d6, rolled at the beginning of every round. Alternatively, assume each feature has 1d6 "charges" remaining when the cyborg is encountered.  

1. Flamethrower. 2d6 damage, range 60'. Targets hit by the flamethrower must spend their next round to stop, drop, and roll or else they take another 2d6 damage. 

2. Ice beam. 1d10 damage, range 120'. Targets must save vs. paralysis of be frozen in place for 1d4 rounds. 

3. Sonic cannon. Emits a sound blast concentrated in a 60' cone. Everyone in range must save vs. breath weapon or take 2d6 damage and spend a round in a daze. A successful save means the target only takes half damage and is not dazed. 

4. Rail gun. 1d20 damage, range 1,200'. The amount of energy required to fire the means that the cyborg must remain inactive for 1d4 rounds after firing. 

5. Net launcher/hardening foam. Target is immobilized until a successful save vs. paralysis is made. A saving throw can be attempted at the end of each round. Range 30'.

6. Stun gun. Target must save vs. paralysis or be paralyzed for 1d6 turns. Range 60'.

7. Magnet beam. Deals no damage. Can pick up and move metal objects the size of a car or smaller. Range 100'.

8. Additional robot appendages that protrude from the shoulder blades. Look like big excavator arms or mechanical tendrils. Grant two additional melee attacks per round, each dealing 1d8 damage. The arms can grapple one creature each. 

9. Katana. Can be used to deflect incoming projectiles—the cyborg makes an attack roll, and if it is equal to or greater than the attacker's ranged attack roll the projectile is successfully deflected. 

10. Active camouflage. Functions like invisibility for up to one turn. Deactivates once the cyborg takes damage. Can be used twice per day.

11. Self-repair. The cyborg can deploy a cloud of nanobots to repair 1d6 HP per round for 6 rounds. Can only be used once per day, afterward the cyborg's body must produce more. 

12. Force field emitter. Absorbs 5d20 hit points of damage before deactivating. Can only be activated once a day. Force fields are completely impervious to laser beams and similar energy weapons. 

13. Spy drone. Transmits what it sees to the cyborg as long as it is within 10 miles. 

14. Smoke bombs. When activated, they produce a dense curtain of smoke in a 20' sphere.

15. Escape plan. Once activated, the cyborg's still-functioning head rockets off into the sky as the body self-destructs in a big explosion (like a fireball spell). 

16. Mutator pump. A big hose hooked up to a tank of neon green goo. When sprayed on a target, they must save vs. magic device or mutate. Range 30'.

17. Fear/tear/insanity/hallucinogenic gas. Targets must save vs. magic device or suffer the effects of the gas. Sprays in a 60' cone. 

18. Mecha wings. Retractable 10' cybernetic wings that let the cyborg fly as long as there is space for them to fully expand. 

19. Grenade launcher. 3d6 damage. The launcher has a range 250', and grenades explode in a 20' sphere. 

20. Tracking sensor. Fired like a normal projectile, range 120'. Alerts the cyborg of its position, as long as they are within (roll d3) 10/100/10,000 miles of each other. 


1. Bulky, overbuilt industrial-grade machinery. Pure function over form. 

2. Smooth, fluid design. Sleek and aerodynamically optimized. 

3. Grotesque Cronenbergian biopunk. Machinery messily protrudes from flesh. 

4. Motley configuration of salvaged parts. Could be the result of long years of add-ons and replacements, or just parts strewn together from a trash heap. 

5. Inscrutably baroque mechanisms that all work in perfect harmony. Like something a clockmaker would hallucinate.

6. Weird components that emit strange lights and noises. Meant to mimic some alien physiology, close but not exactly analogous to our own.

7. Clean, bright metal parts that move with relentless efficiency. Coldly utilitarian. 

8. Esoteric apparatus arranged in according to a peculiar geometric scheme. Parts move and shift in patterns seemingly incongruous to the function of the machinery.


Though it might go without saying, these are suggestions and you are encouraged to come up with your own cyborg's temperament should the feeling move you. 

1. Flat, inexpressive, and completely detached. Only cares about accomplishing the matter at hand.

2. Mad and sadistic. Believes humans to be utterly inferior beings and takes great pleasure in making them suffer. 

3. Existentially conflicted. Doesn't know who they are or why they were created. Forever in search of answers as to the nature of their existence. 

4. Self-hating and melancholic. Considers themself to be a monstrous abomination. The hatred within themselves often manifests as hatred of the world at large, punctuated by long bouts of dramatic self-pity. 

5. Erratic and confused. Faulty coding and resurgent memories make the cyborg believe they are still tasked to carry out some nebulous original mission.

6. Ambitious and power-hungry. Always seeking new ways to improve their faculties and acquire more power.


1. The cyborg must follow the commands of anyone that speaks a special activation phrase. 

2. The cyborg's visual sensors have trouble detecting striped patterns and certain bright color combinations. 

3. The cyborg's delicate internal systems are prone to overheating. The cyborg will shut down if the cooling vents on its back are obstructed.

4. A hard-wired morality index prevents the cyborg from killing an unarmed individual. It will self-destruct if it violates this protocol.  

5. Metal poisoning is causing the cyborg's human organs to fail. The cyborg will die if it does not spend at least four hours a day in its regeneration tank. 

6. Healing spells cause the cyborg's body to reject their machine parts, causing the cyborg to lose control of its limbs. 

Many numbers were lifted from Carcosa, so thank you Geoffrey McKinney.