Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Spider Flayers: Lilin and her spawn

Now, I had considered a succubus to tempt our hermit, but if he is an ascetic and a eunuch, how would she approach him? Perhaps she is the one sending him these visions as her temptation, and introducing rituals to bring her into this plane from the abyss. After years of rituals, she achieved her aim of permanent access to this plane, and moved on.

In the surrounding forest, she charmed a dark fey with control over the Orb Weavers. She bore him a son, and then slew him and took his means of control: a magical harp. Her twisted, half-demon son was raised by the hermits until such time as he grew in power enough to slay them all with his mother's aid. They have been luring spiders into the caves and harvesting the Orbs as the evil son grows in arcane power. Recently, he has begun raising the dead spiders as zombies, and has summoned and enslaved a minor devil as a familiar.

For visualization purposes, the art to Ava Adore popped into my head, so here it is:

Lilin: A form of succubus.

Physically beautiful if somewhat unsettling, a lilin will always try to charm a subject, or flee if her attempt fails and she feels outnumbered.

3 HD; AC 4; 1 claw 1d6+1; move 30; charm person at will (but any target only 1/day); regenerates damage not done by magical or silver weapons: if reduced to 0 hp by other means will take gaseous form for 1d4 days to heal to full hp.

Right now she has a spider charming harp. (detailed tomorrow)

Abraxarius: Her wicked spawn.
2 HD; AC 9; dagger 1d4; move 30; controls zombie spiders; casts balefire 1/day. Carries one spider orb at all times, can be thrown as missile to cast web spell.

Smoking Devilkin: his enslaved minion.

A long, horse-like face on a twisted runty body. Can move faster than it would appear, but its gait is awkward and ambling.

2 HD; AC 6; 2 claws 1d4+1; move 20; can issue forth 20' radius bouts of smoke from its mouth every 1d3 rounds, conceals him (80% miss chance in melee, can't fire ranged).

Megadungeon Concept: Beedo's 'Black City'

Beedo over at Dreams in the Lich House has a campaign in development that really grabs me, the Black City project (all posts tagged here). It is about a Megadungeon on a northern island that is only accessible for certain months of the year due to weather, so there is an 'adventuring season' of sorts. It is primarily explored by a Norse-type culture of warriors, who seek wealth, honor, and fame.

One reason that it inspires me is that it recalls a passage about Viking raiders from a supplement to a college history class I took:
The Viking raids and settlements were prompted by developments within Scandinavia itself. By the late 8th century power was becoming centralized, creating an intensely competitive society. For many, pirate raids overseas became a means to acquire wealth, a reputation and an armed following to support their ambitions at home. Others, denied the chance to rule at home, sought to conquer lands for themselves and their followers abroad. (1)
Doesn't this just sound like quintessential Old School D&D? Why is this motley band of adventurers living this life of danger? Because they aren't tradesmen, they have ambition that is stifled in the lawful homeland. If you want support to rule, you need dependable armed help, and adventuring with hirelings is how you accomplish that.

PCs need not be vagabonds, outcasts, or brigands; maybe one is the third son of a king, and has no prospects for the throne himself. If all the surrounding dukes and earls are kin, there is nowhere to conquer unless he heads out to the wilderness.

Not to mention it is steeped in Weird Fantasy, returning to the Appendix N roots of the hobby. If the Gothic Greyhawk material is any indication, it will be very cool indeed, and I'm looking forward to more of it.

(1) = John Haywood's 'Historical Atlas of the Medieval World', section 3.07.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Filling the Lair: the New Prophets

Having considered the spiders and why they are interesting, it remains to be seen just what a spider flayer is. I wanted it to be either an outsider or something fey, and looked around through monster lists but wasn't struck by anything. I considered ettercaps, one of my favorite monsters, but they don't eat spiders, they control them; they just don't fit. I'll return to this later.

Completely unrelated, I was looking up heresies and came across these guys, who had ecstatic visions. Their heresy was rooted in proclaiming prophecies which Christ did not fulfill, and thus tried to supersede Holy Scripture. They also apparently painted their skin and eyes, which others associated with harlotry. The founder was also a devotee of Cybele before conversion, whom I considered last week as a deity in game.

While researching I found a story about punk rockers joining monasteries, including this:

On another level, however, the leap from punk to monk should not be that startling. Punk rock has always been a semi-monastic movement, with its distinctive reject-the-world garb and ritualistic mortifications of the flesh. The one thing punk has always insisted upon, from the very beginning, is passion. It didn’t matter much whether it was the passionate nihilism of the Sex Pistols or the passionate idealism of the Clash as long as it was fervent and deeply felt. It’s no accident that the hard-core wing of the punk movement gave birth early on to the “straight-edge” ethos, in which followers swear to abstain from drugs, drink, and meat.

So, the cave is a retreat for a former Cleric of the Great Mother (probably a eunuch!), who has converted to Mithras, but he is disenchanted with the world and seeks a reprieve. With other hermits who hear of his visions, they live an austere lifestyle, but use self-mortification, body paints, incense, and alchemically induce ecstatic visions. The visions tell of the burning of the world at the great cleansing, and assure him that he and his followers alone will make it to heaven. The walls in the cave hold depictions of their visions.

Tomorrow, the downfall of the hermits, the Spider Flayers.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monster Monday: Orb Weavers

One of the goals I had when starting the blog was to focus less of making notebooks full of campaign notes, Top-Down cosmological systems, and developing gaming theories. I still love those things, and reading about them, but I wanted to work at making real game table ready material.

To that end, I want to stock some of the awesome maps available out there to use to fill up a sandbox region. My goal is to do one a week. These are going to be one-session sized adventures, not bigger campaign-focus sites. They are going to be site-based, but I hope to use them to give the setting a little depth.
Up first: Dyson's Lair of the Spider Flayers (link to full map). I realize that he stocked it already on his blog; this just gives you a second look at the same site.

One of the important setting elements I'm including is viz, a magical material introduced in Robert Conley's Blackmarsh, and also seen in Tim Short's Knowledge Illuminates (just passed 100 sales, and well worth it at only a dollar- I just recently picked it up and plan to write a review at some point).

Spiders will obviously be necessary for this adventure, so let's make some that are interesting.

One of the local spiders I run into when playing disc golf is an Orb Weaver,
which creates a web with a cool pattern:

Anyway, what if the viz that occurs in nature get picked up by predators and change them? These orb weavers gather the magical essence and have grown to an enormous size. The viz forms an actual orb of latent magical power.

To make them a little scarier, they look more crablike, like the one below.

Orb Weaver: AC 7; 2 HD; 1 bite, 1-8 + poison (save at +2 or immobilized in 1d4 turns); move 20, 40 in web; Morale 7; creates web as per spell 1/day.

A fully grown Orb Weaver creates a globe of magical energy, that, if harvested, can be used to cast a light spell 3/day. If thrown as a missile and destroyed they act as a web spell as if the caster level were 5.

1 in every 6 of these can also act as a crystal ball. 1 in 6 of those can also use clairaudience.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

RE: Relevance of 5E

I said I wasn't going to give this much thought or energy, but my reply to this got too long for a comment.

I guess it just feels to me that under WotC, the business model is all about selling more and more 'official' products, and ramping up the pressure to DMs to include it all for players. The same sort of products in 3E were remade in 4E: Monster Manual X, PHB X, Book of Fighter stuff, Book of Spell stuff, Dragon Book, Demon Book, etc. I don't have any faith that this product line will be different. New Forgotten Realms sourcebooks (just like 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e); new Eberron books (like the 3e, 4e); new Greyhawk books? They didn't make any for 4e, so will they produce more? Do grognards really want more? I visit Dragonsfoot fairly regularly, and the grogs that post there take the old Folio and other original Gary material as canon, and none of the 2e era stuff, so I doubt hey'll buy more. Will they bring back Dark Sun or Planescape, or any of the other old settings? Give us something fresh?

I also have little faith that they will develop any sort of innovative mechanics. If you take the most basic parts of the system from the retroclones (Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, or OSRIC), then you can embellish it with a more complex combat system, skill system, spell system, and/or domain management system to suit your tastes. What can they give us that we don't already have, or are already producing in the OSR?

The OSR is innovating with products like Vornheim for city adventures; a whole slew of Geopmorphs at Dave's Mapper from a dozen+ sources; Red Tide for sandbox building; the Mythmere's Tome of Adventure Design; Delta's Book of War for skirmish/army rules; ACKS for domain management; and Megadungeons as commercial products better than anything TSR produced in Stonehell, ASE, the Castle of the Mad Archmage (free!), the new Barrowmaze, and the upcoming Dwimmermount. There are themed rulesets like LotFP if you want to stray from 'generic D&D'. Sandboxes are coming from fanzines at lapsus calumni and Loviatar. I've got ~50 strong One Page Dungeons I can grab if things go off the map. Maps from Dyson Logos and Turgenev are abundant and archived. More good stuff than I can mention on blogs, for free.

DIY publishing is easier than ever, and the web tools we have allow our little corner of the RPG market to find each other and communicate. The ideas pass on and the next innovator will take what is strong and make it his own. The material gets stronger and stronger.

So in conclusion, we don't need more rules, and we (you out there!) are making the rest yourself.

What do we need Wizards for again?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Deities: Mithras, Cybele, Isis

I’ve been spending lots of time at the Raven’s Nest getting caught up with his blog. I’d read some of it in passing, but I wanted to go and thoroughly read over things I had only skimmed before. One of them I had missed was a discussion about gods. There is a group of gods I have considered for a while for use in a game, and I thought I’d outline them here and see if I can get any feedback.

The genesis of these deities was considering more than just monotheism or a pantheon, but something more like dualism. Reading over Roman mystery cults, I found three that interested me, and I found a certain sort of symmetry when I dug deeper.
The first is Mithras, whose worship pervaded the Roman military, and held rituals in a secret cave called a mithraeum. He represents the sun, is symbolized by the lion, and is a father figure.

The second is Cybele, called the Magna Mater or 'Great Mother', from Pergamum. She is enthroned with lions, is a mother, and represents the moon.

The third is Isis, who was co-opted from the Eqyptians. She is shown with bull’s horns, represents the sun, and is a mother.

This forms a very interesting group; each shares exactly one aspect with another, and opposes them on the other two aspects. Instead of dualism, these three can represent the opposite sides of a hexagon.

The Father aspect is representative of a centralized figure of power and rigid structure. The mithraic cult had level titles, just like classic d&d, and symbols associated with each one. I am definitely using those for structure and flavor.

The Mother aspects are not centralized, but rather have dispersed authority in various localities. They are also associated with resurrection as a major part of their mythology.
The Sun aspects have an affinity for magic, especially Wizardly magic. They each wield a staff as a symbol of power.

The Moon aspect is not heavily invested in magic, and her followers show distrust for it, associating it with Witchcraft.

The Lion aspects value valor in combat and skill at arms. Their followers gain standing through accomplishments in battle. Both of them have rituals involving the sacrifice of a bull.

The Bull aspect keeps themselves as a separate caste, and uses politics and fear of their mysticism as its main source of power.

I'll try and post something more concrete about these three later in the week.

Tuesday Treasure: Spear of Lugh

Tuesday Treasure: The Spear of Lugh

Following yesterday’s brief reflection on the Fomorians, I thought today should feature a treasure associated with them. If you saw the Sword of Light post and followed the link to the Four Jewels of the Tuatha, you would find on the list the Spear of Lugh.

Lugh was half-fomorian, being the grandson of Balar of the Baleful Eye. He was also half-Tuatha, and went to serve King Nuada in the court at Tara. He was appointed Head Ollam of Ireland, and eventually brought war to his other people, where he killed his grandfather (and put out the baleful eye with a sling stone - definitely worth a read if you've never heard of it).

His spear has many associations and titles from different texts, without much agreement, but I think we can be free to take whichever of those properties serve us best. One title I like is the Finest Yew of the Wood. It has two properties based on this: one command makes it strike unerring in combat (a poor fit for D&D, unless you are at truly epic levels of a campaign and are fighting Lugh himself); another makes it return to the owner (which is common enough in lore and in games).

Under the nickname of “slaughterer”, it is known to be a flaming spear, which is kept in a pot of water to prevent it from igniting. I really like that visual: PCs finding a spear stuck into a pot of water, taking it out only to have it ignite, figuring out how to transport it out of the dungeon or deal with it in camp.

This could be another lost treasure of the King-under-the-Hills, sought after by elves, and viewed enviously if the PCs are not allies.

Spear of Lugh:
Spear +2, flaming (constantly); returns when the command ‘Aithibar’ is spoken.