Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Amongst the Ruins - 1d20 Instruments of Harm

Every time I come up with an idea for a blog post, the thing ends up taking a life of its own and eventually becomes something much bigger (and much less condensed) than I initially intended it to be. Sometimes a single idea sprawls a whole subset of mechanics, and sometimes a seemingly simple concept (old man with ravens) gives birth to an entire class with far too many options and movable parts. The reason for this, I believe, has a lot to do with my nearly pathological need to systematize EVERYTHING and make EVERYTHING fit neatly into a bigger system or picture.

This is not one such posts. I write this as an exercise of restraint and an attempt at minimalistic world-building. Following Michael Prescott's initiative "13 Items of Equipment", it is my intention to keep expanding the savage world of Amongst the Ruins through implication rather than mere description. In the end, it is the physicality and sensorial immediacy of the game-world that the players experience through their characters.

So, to curb my verbose enthusiasm, I'm going to impose the following rules on myself while trying to adhere to a very strict format. The rules and precepts are thus:

  • This is a post about weapons. Anything on this list must be able to cause harm, one way or another. This must be implied in the item's description even if it wasn't a weapon originally.
  • All weapons deal 1d6 damage. This is not about which objects is the most deadly. If anything, it is about the threat of pain. This means no subsystems, no fiddly bits and no sub-tables.
  • A rose is a rose. Any item on this list can do all the things it could normally do besides inflicting damage, even if not stated. Daggers are cool and all, but what about oversized stone ladles or thumb-thick knitting needles?
The structure of the entries must be clear and concise. To that end, I'm going to stick to the following:

Evocative Item Name. Brief sensorial description first and mechanical effects last.

The Evocative Item Name must be 1 to 3 words long and hint at both the descriptive and mechanical bits. EVERYTHING MUST FLOW!!!

The brief sensorial description appeals to the character's senses and anchor the item to the setting, while the mechanical effects must derive naturally from the item's description.

Finally, every single item described on this list must be obtainable in Amongst the Ruins. This means that the item exists somewhere in the world, has been created by something or someone for some purpose and can be found somewhere specific. Each description must necessarily be informed by these factors.

Without further ado, I present to you...

1d20 Instruments of Harm

Amarildo Grotto

1. Broken Sword. A broken inscription inlaid in silver runs deep along the fuller: Obedire/ +4 to Reaction rolls vs lowlifes and criminal scum. Lictors and members of La Castra will attack you on sight.
2. Spiteful Words. Full of scorn and contempt. Roll Presence to tear away at your victim's self-worth. Once you fail this roll against a creature, you can never abuse the same creature again with your words. 1 Memory slot.
3. Chipped Cleaver. A thin layer of rust has started to eat away the handspan blade. On a critical hit, chop a target's limb. On a fumble, chop one of yours.
4. Iron-Bound Tome. A rusty chain of thumb-thick links keeps the book anchored to the manacle on your wrist. The Proclamator's Oath on the shackle has almost faded away. Reach 10'.
5. Depleted Power Lance. Heavy and cumbersome, yet oddly well balanced. Its dormant inertial core  rumbles softly when swung. You have advantage on your damage rolls. Two-handed. 2 slots.
6. Serrated Dirk. Fashioned after the cruel bite of a tyrant beast, wreaks havoc to muscle and tissue. Deals 1d8 damage to unarmored targets. 
7. Inkstained Paper Knife. A span of carefully carved Koyaanis ivory depicting scenes from the Castra Vencida Accords. Needlessly sharp and elegantly fragile. Deals x3 damage on a critical strike but breaks on a fumble.
8. Reinforced Shepherd's Crook. A pole of lignum wood with a hook at one end, strengthened by duraluminum sheets to resist the pull of Asturan cattle. You can choose to trip your target instead of dealing damage with a successful Attack roll.
9. Crude Palewhip. Made with the dried proboscis of a white stalker from the frozen plains of Parma. The ice blue craze lines along the lash turn pure white when the whip is cracked. On a critical hit, disables random limb for 1 turn.
10. Decree of Annihilation. A useless blurb in untrained lips, potentially lethal when coming from a Proclamator's mouth. You have advantage on your Attack roll if your target has committed a crime sanctioned by La Castra. 1 Memory slot.
11. Mouthshutter. A fluctuasteel chain with a weight on one and a handle on the other. Trailblazers and poachers use it to seal shut maws and snouts of perilous beasts. Reach 20'. You can forego doing damage to disable a beast's maw.
12. Discarded Bone Skewer. A serrated harpoon made with the carved tooth of a sewer lamprey. A severed span of braided rope is tied to an iron ring at the base of the handle. Deals 1d8 damage to scaled opponents.
13. Beaked Fire Poker. A fancy rod of polished brass with a lump of burnt iron shaped like the skull of a buzzing bird on one end. When rolling damage, the beak gets stuck on the target on a 6. Vitality test to remove it, causes 1d6 damage.
14. Worn Iron Pan.  Has seen much travel. A thin, unwashable crust of meals past rests at the bottom, giving any food prepared with this pan an extra something. -1 Exhaustion when eating meals from this pan.
15. Brass Knitting Needles. Kept in a crimson lacquer case. The blooming rose of the Scarlet Daughters has been engraved on the top end. The case can store up to three needles. When rolling damage, the needles bend and become unusable on a 6.
16. Feathered Piolet. Made with the tibia and beak of an Asturan lithocorax. The arcing beak pierces  stone as if it was mud. +1 to climbing rolls, +1 Attack against anything softer than rock.
17. Meditation Handbell. The endlessly recursive patterns adorning the bronze waist spell the word Patientia when in perfect silence. When rolling damage, the target is struck by a sudden realization on a 6 and is stunned for 1 turn.
18. Ragged Banner. A remnant from times past before La Castra purged Gaúl of seditious families. The outline of a hanged man with three stakes to his heart refuses to fade away from worn cloth. +2 Attack when above your Threshold. Two-handed.
19. Bloodstained Brick. A splash of deep red mars the city's crest carved on a heavy chunk of white marble. When rolling damage, the brick breaks down into three smaller pieces on a 6. Reach 30'.
20. Broken Blade. The base is wrapped in filthy rags to be gripped safely. Along the flawless blade, inlaid in silver, shine the last words of an orphaned prayer: /est vivere.

Daniel Essig

Notes and Comments on Specificity

The idea for this blogpost came to me while I was writing a bow generator. After doing some research on archery, types of wood and string materials, I felt the need to find out more about the different types of arrow shafts and arrowheads and their effects on armor types and naked flesh. When I was almost done, a costly realization struck me: while I had tried to make every single movable part as setting bound as possible, I could feel that something was missing. Every part of the generator was in place and doing exactly what it was supposed to: the bow type, the stave, the string, some quirks to spice things up and even a neat exclusive mechanic... but the bows were still too shiny, too new, too... unlived. While they were mechanically interesting, they were simply that, mechanical bits to fill inventory slots.

The twenty items on this list have that thing the bows lacked. I'm talking, of course, about specificity. Most of these items have been used, worn, damaged, broken, or repaired in ways both implicit and explicit. While it is simply understood that a Longsword must have been forged by someone, a Broken Sword has a story to tell, as does a Bloodstained Brick or a Depleted Power Lance. These exist not in a vacuum like the equipment presented in, say, the 5th edition Player's Handbook, but in a very particular context and bound to the setting by their specificity and implicit history... which is exactly what my bows were lacking.

My intention is to follow this trend and see where it leads me. I would like to write a post about defensive equipment to try and understand the different threats the people from Amongst the Ruins face. Similarly, I would like to write a post about objects of care exploring the several ways in which the Ruined Folk look after themselves and others, since I feel this is a largely overlooked aspect in roleplaying game, and I would like to see more of it more often.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Amongst the Ruins - 1d8 Denizens of Dark Alleys

The city of Gaúl stands alone in the dark green, seemingly endless sprawl of the Wild. A metallic spire ravaged by time and other countless agressions rises from its very center, challenging the unparalleled height of millennia old trees thick like a titan's leg. Its broken tip plunges into the arterial canopy like a knife on skin, drawing squirts of light from the hidden sky. Far below, suffocated by circular walls of an alloy lost to time, what remains of humanity scurries around like orphaned ants in a queenless nest.

At the rugged edge of this half city, facing the cliff that marks the beginning of the Lower Wild, the Pioneer's Cradle stands. Forgotten mansions of lusterless marble house the poor and the wretched in cavernous halls plagued by the memory of luxury and solemn busts with broken noses. Those who can't afford a room in one of the decrepit palazzos join the ranks of the faceless dispossessed on the streets, where they live and fuck and kill and die, eternally unacknowledged by a city they can never leave.

It is in the labyrinthine alleys of the Cradle, where the taller buildings bend to each other and the light of day comes to die, that some of them have made their home.

1d8 Denizens of Dark Alleys

Welcome to the Cradle

1. Chrysantemum,
whose real name is Abulia and wears a crown of wilting chrysanths. Excessive make up and accommodating manners, signs of a life dedicated to the pleasure of others. Black matte smile, like a string of lusterless onyx pearls, floats on a delicate countenance pale like a waxing moon. Oddly chaste garments hint at alluring proportions. 


  • Ink, pure, unrefined, unadultered, Ink
  • An honest compliment. A poem, a song, a rhyme... (whatever you do, don't lie)
  • A gift. A wild flower, a drawing, a rare book or a curiosity from beyond the walls.
  • To teach someone a lesson. A customer left without giving proper pay, find them and collect the appropriate fee.
  • Money. Money solves everything.
  • Information. Chrysantemum knows about the street gangs and conflicts going on in the Cradle.
  • Customers' secrets. Gang leaders, high-ranking members of la Castra and even some noble scions of the hierarch families come to Chrysantemum for relief.
  • Life-changing sex. Remove all your stress and cure any mental afflictions... but be warned, nothing will ever be the same.
2. Tiziano, who used to fight in the Blood Dens and had to retire when he lost an eye against a vicious opponent. All his sponsors left him to rot when he lost his edge. He now lives in a filthy corner of the Cradle with a diminutive, bleary eyed dog whom he calls "Mr. Bones". Amiable at first, Tiziano will tell stories of glories past to those who want to listen, and might even teach you a trick or two if you show warlike inclinations. His ego is quite frail, though,  and he will brutally lash-out if he thinks he is being mocked in any way. Are you ready to have your ass handed to you?

  • Good booze. Only the good stuff, none of that shit you young ones drink nowadays (he lives surrounded by a collection of empty flasks and containers, if you can get him a bottle of Hierarch, he'll be immensely grateful).
  • A morsel. The wizened warrior is always hungry, as is diminutive Mr. Bones.
  • To tell his stories. Listen to me, I tell you! (his stories are long-winded and unexpectedly absorbing, roll 2 random encounters and choose the worst result)
  • Safe passage. Whether out of fear or respect, the Cradle's gangs tend to ignore him.
  • Some tricks: 
    1. Dirty Fighting. Improvised weapons deal 1d6 damage instead of 1d3, they still break on max. damage though.
    2. Not Today. The next time you would die, you can choose to lose a limb or an eye or something like that instead. Only works once.
    3. Search all you want. You can conceal a small weapon such as a dirk, a knife or a shank. That weapon can't be found unless you're stripped naked and your holes are searched, and even then there's a 1 in 6 chance that it won't be discovered.
    4. Like eels in a pipe. When you fight in a cramped space, such as an alley or a narrow corridor, you can move through an occupied space without causing attacks of opportunity if you spend your entire turn doing so. Also, +2 to avoid being grappled.
    5. Acquired taste. You can eat spoiled food and other stuff that most would consider degrading if not harmful. Also, +2 vs food poisoning.
    6. I was hiding! Whenever combat starts and you are not first, you can declare that you have gone into hiding. Describe this for everyone to know how much of a coward you are. At any point, you can decide to enter the scene by coming out from your hiding place screaming "I WAS HIDING!" and laughing maniacally. Your next attack has advantage and deals +1d6 damage.
  • Mr. Bones' (mostly) infallible tracking skills. If presented with an item, the miserable creature will start a painfully slow quest to find its last owner or, in case of presenting a substance, the closest, most abundant accumulation of such element within the Pioneer's Cradle. The process takes 1 watch (six hours) and a great deal of stumbling, howling at clearly empty dark corners and ball-licking on Mr. Bone's part. There is a 1-in-6 chance that you end up somewhere you shouldn't really be at all.
3. Hestia, who sits by a dwindling fire and is surrounded by cats. An amalgamation of skin folds and wrinkles wrapped in filthy rags, this old lady beckons passers by with a knobby hand and a hollow smile, inviting them to inspect the many goods she has on display. Cats of all colours and sizes wander between odd pieces  of seemingly useless junk arranged on a muddy blanket.

  • To sell her wares. While most of the stuff is as useless as it looks, there is a 1-in-20 chance that what you just bought is actually useful. Prices vary wildly from inquiry to inquiry (1d100 silver standards).
  • Food for her precious cats. One of the felines starts rubbing itself against your leg and, after sniffing the air for a few moments, returns to the decrepit woman to licks her hand insistently. Hestia then declares that they want a precise item you are carrying, which can be anything really, as long as it is remotely edible (travel rations, dried meat, a dusty tome, that potion of invulnerability you've been holding on to so dearly...).
  • Fuel for the fire, which has been dwindling this whole time but has managed to hold on somehow. Anything remotely flammable will do, but the more expensive the item is, the brighter the revivified fire will burn.
  • Oddly specific impressions about an object (the owner of this dagger loves the taste of winterberries, the maker of this boot once had a nightmare about carnivorous wereship, the writer of this song has really tiny feet, etc...)
  • The approximate location of a person or creature. Hestia will need something linked to said creature, such as a memento or a part of its body (hair or blood will do), which she will then throw into the flames. Her predictions often take the form of a riddle or an insidiously cryptic poem, but all of them invariably end in cackling laughter followed by a bout of terrible-sounding cough.
  • One of her cats. they're very good at following tracks and uncovering secrets... when they feel like it, obviously. Once per day, you can try and cajole the cat into finding out whether there's something odd about this particular room, like for example a secret door, a concealed trap, an invisible creature or an impostor posing as someone else. There is a 1-in-6 chance that this works, modified by the following:
    • +1 if you fed the cat some of your food today (it must be YOUR food, the one you are about to eat, which means that you can only get half of the benefits from this rest).
    • +1 if you petted it today (it's all fun and games until you pet it where you shouldn't, so lose 1d3 HP and gain a noticeable scratch on your arm or something)
    • +1 if you played with it today (use a small item to play fetch, or attach it to a string and secretly laugh at the stupidity of it all, whatever you do, there's a 2-in-6 chance that the item will be scratched and bitten into uselessness when the cat is done with it)
    • +1 if you have bowed down to its fancies recently (from time to time the GM can come up with some stupid shit like the cat prompting you to fall into what is clearly trap or have the cat fancy a particular shiny magical item that you must surrender... for some time at least)
    • A 6 is always a failure... or a success. Flip a coin. Cats are capricious creatures, after all.
4. Subash, whose unintelligible whispers hold twisted mysteries. Unusually tanned skin like weathered leather, scar-punished scalp, milky eyes stare at something right above your shoulder. An incessant murmur inhabits Subash's lips like a constant prayer, talking to something that might or might not be listening. From time to time, he takes his empty palm to his scalp, looking for something that is not quite there anymore. His tattered robes bear the mark of the Arcanum.

  • Logic puzzles. Mathematical problems, riddles... they focus his mind on the now, allowing for a semblance of conversation.
  • Human contact. Subash extends his arm when someone draws near, unconsciously offering his bony hand. 
  • Stories. Their narrative internal logic ease his mind (spend a watch retelling some popular fable or events of your own past, roll for encounters).
  • Paleotech intel. Present him with a paleotech artifact and his indecipherable whispers will turn into clear instructions about its use, purpose and activation methods.
  • Cryptic insight. Takes up 1 Memory. At any moment, you can declare that "It all makes sense now!" and explain how Subash's words relate to the current situation. If you do, you can ask a yes/no question about the situation that the DM must answer truthfully. Possible messages may include:
    1. The sky has been overturned. But then, it was always so.
    2. Nothing in the Universe has a name, yet nothing exists without a name.
    3. They will come, as they always do, when they're already gone.
    4. A third one is on the loose. The first and the second remain hidden in plain sight.
    5. You'll see more with your eyes closed.
    6. Never one, without the other.
  • A whispered message. You need to present an item or a body part belonging to the recipient. The message will find them no matter where they are, but they are likely to dismiss the experience as an artifact of their senses unless they know what's really going on.
5. Singh the Unseen, who stands very still and and is therefore invisible. Average height, common features, nondescript attire, Singh is a remarkably unremarkable man in all aspects but one: he claims to be the "most sneakiest" creature in all the Cradle, which he very aptly demonstrates by remarking how "you can't see me" if you so much as glance in his direction. He will only talk to you as long as you aren't looking at him directly. For the most part, he is quite a dull, boring man were it not for his unusual demands and many curious gifts.

  • Sweets. LOTS of them, processed or unrefined, natural or manufactured, they keep his metabolism active, which helps him attain his unsurpassed sneakiness (if you press him about this, he won't have the slightest clue what you're talking about).
  • Sincere praise. This can usually be accomplished by failing a stealth test in his vicinity and loudly proclaiming to no one in particular "Alas, how I wish I was like Singh the Unseen to sneak by like a shadow in the dark!" to which he will usually respond with a sneaky laughter (you must fail the test or he will see right through your deception).
  • Scents. Untainted by the reek of the Cradle, simple and pleasant, nothing too fancy, like freshly baked bread, the homely aroma of crushed kashma beans or the comforting scent of washed clothes left to dry in the sun (good luck getting any of that into the Cradle).
  • Silence. True and absolute, an extremely rare commodity in the Cradle or even Gaúl. While you remain here, you are unnoticeable and untraceable.
  • Clarity. Ruminating in Singh's presence seems to bring things into perspective. Remove 1d6 stress or gain 1 clarity (takes up 1 Memory, the next time you would fail a Presence save or something like that, you don't and the clarity vanishes).
  • The secret to true sneakiness. Singh's most precious treasure. Gain + 2 Stealth permanently. If you remain completely still in any amount of shadow, you become undetectable unless someone bumps into you by accident. Be warned, though, once Singh has imparted his secret upon you, he will never be seen again.
6. Lubina, who broods in a dark corner and curses her own luck. A spindly young woman with a long pale face, greasy blond hair hanging low. A collection of metallic utensils of dubious appearance dangling from a blood-soaked apron and the faint smell of rotten fish mark this sinister creature as one of the Fishwives. She has recently fallen out of favour with Chief Esturion and is currently devising a plan to clear her name.

  • Revenge! "That revolting creature, Panga, has been feeding the Jackals crucial information about our secret markets and has framed me for it! Bring me something I can use to regain Esturion's favor and you'll be rewarded."
  • Fresh fish. "Haven't been able to get to the Nessar's bank or sneak into the High Houses since Esturion kicked my ass out of the Fishwives. I miss the taste..."
  • Safe passage. "I'm an easy prey for the Jackals now that my sisters have turned their backs on me. Watch my back!" (Roll 1d6, if the result is less than the number of people in your group, the Jackals will leave you alone, otherwise a pack of pups will try to ambush the party. They are only after Lubina, though, so maybe the PCs might want to hear them out on their generous offer...)
  • A tool of the trade. Who knows what wonders may hang from her belt?
    1. Oversized Fish Scaler, 1d6 damage, reduces Defense (armor) by 1 on a 6, doubles as a fish scaler or an unwieldy strainer. 
    2. Absurdly Thin Stiletto, 1d6 damage, x3 critical damage,  shatters on a fumble, doubles as an unbreakable lockpick. 
    3. Blood-soaked apron, +2 Defense, smells of rotten fish, predators will avoid you, scavengers will seek you out.
    4. Brittle Clam, bleach white, paper thin, shatters into razor sharp fragments with an audible crack when walked on.
    5. Polished Luxen Scale, mirror surface, distorted reflections, shines dim milky light in the dark.
    6. Gleaming Celestial Eyes, a pair of golden eye globes wrapped in thick parchment, what one sees, the other betrays, lose luster when exposed to light (10 uses).
  • A secret word. Often nonsensical in nature and completely unrelated to anything you can think of. Utter this to a Fishwife to reroll your reaction and take the most favorable result, get a modest discount in one of their secret markets or stun one of them briefly if uttered with enough abruptness. May have other uses. Takes up 1 Memory.
  • Fish knowledge. Taxonomy, categorization, cleaning methods, ancient recipes, special properties. Anything remotely fish related you can think of, Lubina can answer.
7. Tatters, who is covered in filthy rags and crusty bandages. A penetrating chemical stench permeates this corner of the alley, emanating from Tatters' own frame concealed by loose robes. A strikingly analytical eye, clear as morning, stands curious on an indecipherable visage imprisoned by pus encrusted gauzes. Crumbling pieces of discarded parchment lay on the floor of an improvised wooden shack. A trained eye might recognize the complex formulation script employed by Distillers and Brewers around.

  • A good handshake. Ravaged by chemical burns and an incurable infection, his rubbery hands ooze a thin patina of unwelcoming bodily fluids (roll Presence to not back away in disgust). He won't be very much offended if you decline his offer, as he is very much aware of the effect he has on people and often pulls this trick for his own amusement. If you do hold his hand long enough, there's a 2-in-6 chance that anything you hold slips from your hands when you want to use it (this includes attacking).
  • To deliver a parcel. "I'd do it myself, but there's plenty of work to do, plenty! Now be a good wretch and deliver this for Tatters, yes?"
    1. The Smirnoff Sisters at the White Widow. The letter is actually a long strip of his own rags covered in obscure formulation script. It reeks of aggressive chemicals and human waste.
    2. The Fishwives. A leather bag of oddly shapes scales, each of which has a different formulation symbol engraved.
    3. Madame Aviana at The Cuco's Nest. A scented envelope containing a single page of terrible poetry in childish, oversized handwriting.
    4. Volcom at The Twin Jaws. A list of ingredients and animal body parts, as well as the precise instructions for their harvest, etched on the raw hide of slain prey.
    5. Felicia at the Emerald Emporium in the Weaver's Burg. Numbers and measurements precisely set along a human figure of rough proportions, hastily written on flimsy pattern paper.
    6. Lictor Reynald at La Castra's barracks. "Lancer encroaches Prey, your call", written on a ripped piece of smooth, official-looking paper.
  • To quench your thirst. Tatters holds a piece of weathered parchment in one hand and a ruffled quill in the other as you drink up the funny smelling mixture. Roll for side effects (last 24h):
    1. This is actually good! Gain +1d6 Max. HP.
    3. Face-blindness. Roll Presence  to recognize those around you. A failure to recognize someone might actually mean that you believe them to be someone they aren't.
    4. It... burns? Cold is hot, hot is cold.
    5. See the unseen. You can see invisible creatures and shadows reveal their contents as sunlight would. Actual light stands as darkness to you.
    6. Torch Syndrome. Your veins shine a ghostly, phosphorescent light in the dark. Critters are mesmerized by it and follow you around.
  • An unlabeled bottle. Tarnished and non-descript, contains 3 gulps of a random liquor.
  • Brewer's knowledge. Distillation processes, the contents of a given liquor, manufacturer's signature chemicals, production formulas... anything brew related, Tatters can answer.
  • Tutelage. Tatters can initiate anyone into the art of brewing (gain the Distillation skill), pass on his brewing secrets (learn a new formula) or participate in a "creative collaboration" (choose a formula you already know and discuss an appropriate alteration with the GM). Your character leaves the party for the next week (6 days) to work under Tatter's supervision. You can't benefit from rest while under his intensive training (basically skip forward 6 days or hand your character sheet to the GM and go play something else in the meantime).
8. The Matriarch. A crude mural depicting the rough semblance of an overgrown moth.  Some dark, thick substance oozes from the coarse strokes like tears of tar on a tremulous mask. A far-off lamentation hides in the quivering air (the precipitating substance can be scraped off to obtain 1d3 doses of unrefined ink). Every time you stumble upon it, the mural becomes more sophisticated and complete as the lamentations grow louder and louder. Once you get this result for the sixth time, the Matriarch reveals itself and embraces you with gossamer wings, washing away your pain and misery along with everything else (heal ALL wounds, empty ALL your Memory slots and reduce your Memory by 1 permanently). When you open your eyes again, a dead grey moth lies among the filth like a discarded afterthought. In the hollow sadness of its multifaceted eyes, the timid glow of a single black tear shines for the last time.
  • Black Tear. A drop of the purest ink. It is worth more than money can pay. If consumed raw, make a Presence test. If you pass, relive your entire life in an instant. You have control over your past decisions and can choose to have led a completely different life. No choices you make can alter the present (for example, the dead will stay dead), but you can change your Nature and Tendency if you so wish and/or swap your existing powers and abilities for others. If you fail the Presence test, you get stuck in an endless loop of mental death and rebirth, unable to care for yourself until you die of starvation with a placid smile on your lips.

Zhelong Xu

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Amongst the Ruins: Vayra Asks (10 Setting Questions)

I have yet to post a comprehensive entry about my system and setting. In the meantime, let me answer some questions.

Klaus Pillon

1) What class knows the most martial arts? Are they real martial arts like kung fu, or made up ones like krav maga?

There are no classes in Amongst the Ruins, but if you are keen on delivering devastating melee blows, you should choose Brutality as your Nature and negotiate some cool potentials to unlock with your DM. With time, you could even develop your own melee style!

2) Can I start out having already made a deal with the devil or do I have to do that in game?

There is no devil to speak of, but if you insist on surrendering your soul to a superior power, you can choose Witchcraft as your Nature or Tendency and join the campaign as a Strega. Their description reads as follows: "The soul of the world suffers beyond comprehension. Wield its pain and preach its agony." As a Strega, you are inextricably linked to the Nightmare. It will offer you power in many forms, and it will use your body and soul to invade this world, eroding your sense of self in the process. Accept its offer and the Ruin will consume you whole... eventually. In the meantime, the world is your playground.

3) Do you want me to write an 8-page backstory? Can I write an 8-page backstory, if I want to? If I write something down in it like I'm the timelost princess of the brass city and the daughter of the sun and I commanded legions in the Hell War but was betrayed by my father's vizier but I don't know that, or that I'm elf conan and cooler than everyone else, will that be true?

About the backstory: by all means, go ahead, as long as it is supervised by me. I like players that engage with the world and try to fit their characters in it. Your questions and doubts will help me further develop the intricate relationships between Gaúl and the Colonies, as well as better comprehend the dormant mysteries of the Wild. If you want to be a timelost whatever, I think we can make that work somehow, but you'll have to tone the epicness down a notch, since the tone of the game is more on the gritty, survive-at-all-costs side. You can have a blind, decrepit dog who never seems to get older as a companion, though!

4) If I eat someone's heart, will I gain their powers? What about their brain?

Many of a Ferox's powers become increasingly more powerful and versatile as you devour other creatures' hearts and flesh. Otherwise, simply treat yourself to a wondrous feast and enjoy!

5) These classes are boring, can I be one from somewhere else? What about from a different system entirely?

The six initial options (Brutality, Discretion, Erudition, Hunt, Leadership and Witchcraft) should offer plenty of room to develop (almost) any desired playstyle, so if you have a character concept in mind, I can help you find your way. If your suggestions are too tone-breaking, I'm afraid you'll have to find another game that suits your needs :(

6) If I make a sword, which one of us gets to name it?

Probably me. Or maybe you. Swords are a symbol of law and civilization. They can only be wielded by members of La Castra, and their different sizes, shapes and types determine your position within their ranks. A Lictor, for example, wields a hand-and-a-half sword, while a Carnifex carries an executioner sword and a Iudex wears a knightly sword and a war gavel. As a result, swordsmithing is highly supervised and has a ritualistic and solemn air to it. If you ever merit the bestowal of a sword, please be respectful of naming tradition (or not, break it and make history!).

7) Am I allowed to kill the other player characters? What would I have to do to be allowed to? Do I win if I kill them all? Actually, how do I win in general?

No, you are not. If you want to enact the murderous culmination of an emotional crescendo or a vaguely foretold betrayal, everyone involved must agree to it and, above all, EVERYONE involved must be at least ok with the possibility that a PC dies, including theirs. I'm all for some good and intense roleplaying, but only as long as everyone else is on board. About the winning... you win when you feel you are winning. This isn't a videogame with a definite ending, so I'd say it depends more on the short and long term goals that you set for yourself and those that are derived from the campaign itself.

8) What language stands in for 'Common'? Or what are we all talking to each other in? Like the party, mostly, but also everyone else?

I'd say Gaulish, or Urban as mostly everyone knows it. The language of the city is the most commonly known language and it is the one used in the relationships between Gaúl and the colonies. Some colonies have developed their own dialects, and some of them are so far removed that they could even be considered languages in themselves, but unless you are a scholar or a Lex, or chose Erudition as your Nature/Tendency, I don't think it's going to make much of a difference.

Some trades an occupations, however, have developed their own cants. The Inquisitorial Branch of La Castra, highly diminished after the Castra Vencida Accords, speaks the Luminous, a convoluted maze of circumlocutions in which no lies can be told and no truth remains untold (or so they claim...). The Fishwives, on the other hand, speak an utterly indecipherable mixture of fish names, price lists, water types and fish parts to convey secret messages to their members in public (it is an inside joke of theirs to simply speak gibberish to boggle down the minds of those who listen). 

9) How do I learn how to talk to rocks? No not once a day just, like, normally?

I'm afraid rocks are simply rocks in this setting, but if you are an Andanti you can learn to read, smell or hear the psychic impressions left on a rock used as a murder weapon or interrogate a rock in the middle of a clearing to see whether it knows anything about the people you are chasing. In the first case, the rock may demand more blood to answer your questions, but that is merely an echo of the murderous impetus imprinted on the stone... or is it?

If you spend enough time in the Wild or find an experienced Trailblazer willing to teach you, you may be able to learn the Verdant Tongue, which allows you to interpret the overwhelming stimuli of the forest and break it down into comprehensible bits of information. This is abstracted as a conversation, an exchange between the hunter and the Wild, but it is actually happening all in your head... or is it?

10) Which kinds of wizards get to serve kings and live in towers and shit and which ones are run out of town or stoned to death in the streets? Can I be both? At the same time?

It all depends on the when and where, really. If you have been born within a Hierarch family and your powers prove to be useful, you may be treated as a necessary evil, depending on the degree of your usefulness and the nature of your powers. Andanti tend to enjoy a higher status than the rest, as they are capable of experiencing and manipulating other people's emotions or even project their own, and as such they make excellent negotiators and lie detectors. Given their ability to shape and twist shadows and their dominion over the Veil, Umbra are highly sought after when it comes to spying and infiltration. As a result of their bestial nature and their enigmatic link with the Wild, Ferox born within the walls of Gaúl usually end up as exiles in the Roots. There are rumours, however, of communities beyond the walls led by Ferox that obey neither La Castra nor the rule of man.

Regardless of the nature of your corruption, you can always join the Trailblazers and live your life as a glorified courier running errands in the Wilds for a city that neither knows nor cares about you. Your life will be short and brutal, but at least no one will try to murder you in your sleep out of fear or ignorance when, as a Cinis, you conjure up a pillar of flame or make of the forest your offering to the Undying Fire.

Klaus Pillon

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

1d6 Encounters in Garum Firs (as imagined by Maggie Tulliver)

The resolution that gathered in her mind, after Tom and Lucy had walked away, was not so simple as that of going home. No! she would run away and go to the gypsies, and Tom would never see her anymore.

Maggie Tulliver
a sixpence
"superior" knowledge
a cape
a bonnet
a silver thimble

She was getting out of reach very fast, and she would probably soon come within sight of Dunlow common. It was not without a leaping of the heart that she caught sight of...
  1. Two shabby-looking men with flushed faces, one of them carrying a bundle on a stick.
  2. A highwayman with a pistol.
  3. A small pair of legs sticking up, feet uppermost, by the side of a hillock.
  4. A blinking dwarf in yellow with a mouth from ear to ear.
  5. Apollyon, the foul fiend from the Valley of Humiliation.
  6. The diabolical blacksmith in his leather apron grinning at her with arms akimbo.
At the next bend of the lane, Maggie actually saw the little semicircular black tent with the blue smoke rising before it, which was to be her refuge from all the blighting obloquy that had pursued her in civilised life.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Four Secrets to a Wondrous Feast - Modular Cooking Rules

"I sometimes think the most wonderful achievement of our tremendous civilization was food—its inconceivable abundance, its infinite variety, its marvellous delicacy. O my grandsons, life was life in those days, when we had such wonderful things to eat." ~
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

Travel rations are useful. They take up inventory slots, they cost resources and, more importantly, they keep the PCs from starving. 

Travel rations are necessary. In my system, PCs reduce their Exhaustion by 1d3 if they take a quick break, or 1d6 if they decide to eat a ration while resting. Regarding long rests, the PCs need to have a meal (a travel ration will do) and a good night's sleep in a safe place to completely eliminate their Exhaustion (if they don't eat dinner, they only reduce 1d6 Exhaustion ).

Travel rations are boring. They can be dull and gamey and can quickly become another checkbox to tick.

Skerples and his Monster Menu-All solve the third problem by providing some texture to the act of eating while encouraging players to experiment with anything remotely edible. If you have ever wondered what the taste of owlbear meat is or what the consequence of munching on a Beholder's eyestalk are, go check his pdf now.

Similarly, Occultesque's rules for eating good in the dungeonhood provide a solid framework that account for the healing aspects of eating. In addition, his approach encourages the players to hunt or find different kinds of unique ingredients, increasing thus the potential for meaningful gameplay and memorable experiences.

However, quite often food is only a part of the experience of eating. A pleasant location, stimulating conversation, the company of others, all these elements can enhance a good meal and turn it into a feast... or ruin it completely. Additionally, eating can be a wonderful opportunity to introduce some world-building into the sessions: where does this wine come from? Where can we find more of this spice? Who can fix our lovely tablecloth? 

For these reasons, I present to you...

Four Secrets to a Wondrous Feast

Paul Mafayon

(the following is a system with many fiddly bits, if you want a more approachable version go check the condensed rules at the end)

Preparing, cooking and eating a feast usually takes a half watch (between 2 and 3 hours). The feast must be consumed immediately, so no leftovers. In order to make a feast, you will need  food and at least one of the following elements. Each element provides its own benefits to the revelers:

1. Food
Freshly picked, from a recent hunt or very well preserved. For every unique ingredient in your feast, roll 1d6. Reduce your Exhaustion by [Highest]+[ingredients]. A feast requires 1 serving per reveler. Use your judgement, but here's a suggestions: a handful of berries-> 1 serving, a rabbit -> 2 servings, a wild boar -> 4 servings

Note: instead of HP, my system uses Exhaustion, which works more or less like inverse HP. When a PC suffers damage, they accrue Exhaustion instead. Once Exhaustion has reached a certain Threshold, they start to suffer injuries. If a PC accumulates Exhaustion equal to double their Threshold, the next hit kills them.

2. Preparation
Each method has its own advantages and quirks. Be ready to fill your backpack with pots, pans and more strange utensils.

3. Spices
Rare herbs, scented oils, powerful salts... they enhance taste and awaken the senses. Typically come in small tubes of metal (1/3 Inventory slot). Each container can store up to 3 servings.

4. Luxury
A song, a poem, a nice table cloth, a lute concert... Luxuries ease the mind and are usually expensive.

If all four elements are present, the ultimate gastronomical experience is achieved and each player can choose one of the following:

  • Reduce 1d6 Exhaustion.
  • Reduce 1 stress.
  • -1 Severity to one of your wounds.
  • Unlock the FEAST benefit of one of the Foods for the next vigil (12 hours)

Elements of a Wondrous Feast

1d6 Foods - Delicious and Nourishing

  1. Crimson Serpent Stripes. Tough and sinewy, faint sanguine taste. FEAST: You can smell blood with your tongue in a 30' radius.
  2. Salamander Tail. Rubbery grey meat with a crunchy core. Smoky flavor with an ashen aftertaste. FEAST: You can breath a smoke cloud the size of a small cottage. You can do this once.
  3. Dire Opossum Liver. Rock hard and bitter. FEAST: +4 vs poison.
  4. Twin Beasts Cerebellum. Unnervingly soft and bland, slight feeling of déjà vu. FEAST: If two or more people share this meal, they can see and hear what the others experience for the next watch. This can be quite overwhelming for the untrained mind.
  5. Tucuran Gossamer Wings. Brittle and flexible, faint pleads for mercy flood your ears as the wings melt in your mouth. FEAST: You can let out an otherworldly screech (everyone, including you, must pass a Presence test or become stunned for one round, roll for encounters). You can do this once.
  6. Wild Winterberries. Ice blue and hard, they pop in your mouth releasing a wave of cold. FEAST: Keeps you warm regardless of weather or environmental conditions.

1d6 Preparations - Tools & Utensils

  1. Pots & Pans. 3 Inventory slots, can be carried by multiple people. Your run of the mill cooking utensils, although somewhat chipped and rusty. 
  2. Cauldron. 2 Inventory slots. Heavy and solid, requires water to work. 
  3. Spit Roaster. 2 Inventory slots. Requires someone to be working the spit all the time.
  4. Iron Steam Cooker. 3 Inventory slots. Healthy food wherever you go. Reduce 1 exhaustion.
  5. Cooking Pit. A hole in the ground with some rocks lining the walls. Takes a half watch (2 to 3 hours) to build.
  6. Smoker. 4 Inventory slots. It can also be used to smoke meat and other foods to turn them to travel rations. While these don't provide the benefits of a feast, they still keep you alive and fed.

1d6 Spices - Awaken your Senses

  1. Wild Fennel Pollen. Bright yellow, anise-flavored. Enhances sight and awareness. +1 Intuition for the rest of the day. You cannot be surprised.
  2. Nightspice. Deep black seeds, tiny as a mote of dust. Taste of bitter deception and then nothing. +2 Stealth and deception rolls for the rest of the day.
  3. Crushed Boldo Leaves. Stark green, release a pale watery substance when crushed. Counts as your daily water intake.
  4. Powdered Pensive Root. Made with the indigo roots of an elusive mnemotree. Clears the mind and expands your thoughts. +1 Memory for the rest of the day.
  5. Dried Saffron Stigmata. Harmless, unmoving scarlet stalks. Taste of oxide and remorse. +1 critical chance vs vascular creatures for the rest of the day.
  6. Purple Cosmos Petals. Strangely cold and eerie, taste of sweet licorice. For the rest of the day, you can fight in the dark without penalties as long as at least one star is visible in the night sky.

1d6 Luxuries - A Memorable Experience

  1. Embroidered Tablecloth. 1 Inventory slot. Flowery motives, exquisitely woven by the Scarlet Daughters from the Weaver's Burg. Reduces 1d3 stress. When the feast is over, everyone roll Skill. On a failure, someone dropped some sauce on the tablecloth or wiped their hands with the seams. Cannot be used again until properly washed.
  2. Bottle of Frisian Blood Wine. 1 Inventory slot. Made with wild grapes from the Frisian colonies. Extremely expensive (1 solidus) due to the deadly process of harvesting the mega grapes in the untended Frisian wine yards. Blood red syrup, tastes like survival and triumph. Gain +2 Attack and 1 Inebriation Die for the rest of the day.
  3. Box of Cinerean Custard Puffs. 1 Inventory slot. Preserved in box of sturdy ashwood from the Cinder Groves. Deafeningly sweet, thick and creamy custard. Paper-thin flakes of ash from the disintegrating box crown the puffs. Tastes like honey and smoked timber. -1 stress. Pass a Vitality roll or suffer 1 Bloat (takes up 1 inventory slot, goes away at the end of the day).
  4. Lyrical Ballad. 1 Memory slot. Typically a tale of ancient hunters and their inspiring deeds, describing a fierce battle against a Dreadful Beast. The singer must roll Presence. On a success, everyone is pleased and reduces 1d3 stress. On a failure, everyone reduces 1 stress and you gain 1 stress.
  5. Book of Tales. 1 Inventory slot. The stories tend to share a common theme and their tone may range from cautionary to humorous. It typically contains 1d6+1 tales, although length may vary from author to author. Each story takes 1 watch to read (between three and six hours) and every listener reduces 1 stress. When all the tales have been read or heard, an additional effect takes place depending on the book. This can only happen once.
  6. A Beautiful Vista. A silent clearing in the forest, a mossy overhang overlooking the dense canopy, an ancient mural or tapestry, the awe-inspiring ruins of a long gone era... These require more improvisation on the part of both players and GM, but should typically involve an ability test or the use of resources to reach safely and without further complications. Reduce 1d3 stress. Each vista may have its own unique benefits.

Julien Gauthier

Feast Condensed Rules

If you can't be bothered read all of the above or your players are more action inclined, here's a more manageable version of the ruleset. A feast usually takes a half watch (between 2 and 3 hours). The feast must be consumed immediately, so no leftovers. In order to make a feast, you will need  food and at least one of the following elements. For every element you include in your feast, reap the corresponding benefits.

Freshly picked, from a recent hunt or very well preserved.  A feast requires 1 serving per reveler. Use your judgement, but here's a suggestions: a handful of berries-> 1 serving, a rabbit -> 2 servings, a wild boar -> 4 servings
Benefit: For every unique ingredient in your feast, roll 1d6. Reduce your Exhaustion by the highest result.

Be ready to fill your backpack with pots, pans and more strange utensils.
Benefit: reduce 1 Exhaustion for every unique ingredient.

Rare herbs, scented oils, powerful salts... they enhance taste and awaken the senses. Typically come in small tubes of metal (1/3 Inventory slot). Each container can store up to 3 servings.
Benefit: Advantage on your next Initiative roll.

A song, a poem, a nice table cloth, a lute concert... Luxuries ease the mind and are usually expensive. Benefit: -1d3 stress.

If all four elements are present, the ultimate gastronomical experience is achieved and each player can choose one of the following:

  • Reduce 1d6 Exhaustion.
  • Reduce 1 stress.
  • -1 Severity to one of your wounds.

Thoughts & Design Notes

As usual, this feels way too bloated and fiddly, but then again, GM and players can choose to engage with these rules in however fashion they prefer. If you like the idea of spices but you can't find a place for the other elements in your campaign, then choose or create your favorite spices and throw the rest out the window. Similarly, if you like the idea of rewarding exploration with something other than experience points or loot, you can expand on the vistas.

While at the beginning I was worried that preparing a feast would slow down the flow of the session, I now believe that to be a key part of the experience. Let the players decide who is going to start the fire, who should prepare the dishes, think about the best spices to use or whether they should try to climb that cliff to have lunch on top of that mossy outcrop. Let them pause and enjoy.

Regardless, this has been a fun and creative exercise that has motivated me to think about world-building in a more down to earth way. Until I wrote this post, the Cinder Groves were a nebulous thought in my mind and the Frisian Colonies weren't even a thing. Now they are definite places for the PC to adventure into, with their own set of troubles and tribulations and, of course, rewards. On another note, I can definitely see a lateral advancement system built around the idea of felling perilous beasts and consuming their flesh in a ritual to unlock the wondrous magics trapped within their flesh.

Anyway, thank you for reading, reveler.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

1d10 Objects of Decadence and Decay

Some productive procrastination. 

Although I wrote this list with my setting in mind, most of the items are system neutral or can be easily adapted to your own game. Presence is used to test willpower and mental strength, Vitality determines physical prowess, and Intuition measures the ability to interpret your surroundings and decipher other people's intentions. As per stress, simply have the character recover HP instead of reducing stress or suffer Wisdom/Charisma damage instead of accruing stress and that would be it.


1d10 Objects of Decadence and Decay


1. Rusty Chest Plate. A crumbling piece of lusterless metal. The crest of a Standing House made illegible by countless dents stands where the heart should be. +2 Defense, 3 Inventory slots. If you would take 6+ damage, the cuirass crumbles into pieces and the damage is negated. 

2. Battered Brass Skull. The cranial sutures have almost vanished after decades of careless exposure. A misaligned hinge reveals an opening on the scalp. The skull's eyes emit a warm, sickly light when a lit candle rests inside. The flame writhes violently before perishing when undead are nearby. 

3. Dulling Stone. Its blunt edges gleam with borrowed light. Steals the sharpness of the edges it comes into contact with, reducing their damage by 1. After stealing 10d10 points of sharpness, the stone crumbles to dust, revealing a brittle shard of impossible sharpness inside. The shard can slash through anything but crumbles after a single cut. Its wounds never heal. 

4. Bloodstained Flail. Spots of encrusted crimson crown the tips of three terrible claws. Subdued screams of ecstatic agony fill the air as the flail is brandished. Deals 1 Vitality damage and removes 1d2 Stress through self-flagellation. Every time you use it, make a Presence test. If you fail, you must pass a Presence test everyday to avoid chastising your flesh. 

5. Overly Ornate Censer. A cylinder of darkened gold bearing sensuous carvings of intricate design. It leaves a copper-green impression on the naked hand. Its intoxicatingly sweet vapors draw swirling shapes in the saturated air, stimulating conversation and dulling the senses (advantage on Presence checks, disadvantage on Intuition checks). The smoke changes color and texture according to the speaker's mood: 
  • Boredom. Lead grey, heavy threads of dense smoke hang low and sluggish. 
  • Arousal. Rose red, voluptuous wisps coil in anticipation. 
  • Duplicity. Thin white, the smoke folds unto itself in obscuring patterns. 
  • Dread. Oily black, lumps of thick smoke drip from inchoate faces. 
  • Wrath. Sanguine crimson, the fumes whirl and convulse in thunderous bouts. 
  • Complacence. Faded gold, converges in fat lumps of decaying smoke. 
6. Tarnished Ball Mask. Faded hues, cracked and worn, chipped at the edges. Each mask bears a different countenance: 
  • Grinning Man. The lecherous grin of a senile elder captured in slick white. The wearer's attacks deal an additional 1d6 damage and an additional 1d6 against unaware targets. Creatures in the Grinning Man's presence have disadvantage to their Morale rolls and rolls to resist or overcome fear (this includes allies). Whenever the wearer gets a 6 on a damage die, they begin cackling uncontrollably, forcing a Morale check on their opponents. Those who pass are overcome by a need to strike down this hideous creature and will try to do so their next turn. The wearer becomes increasingly eccentric and alienated, and can only relieve stress by killing other creatures (1 stress per creature). 
  • Stoic Lady. Unwavering features carved in glossy ebony. Reduce all damage taken by 2. The wearer gains advantage in Presence tests against mind-altering effects. The mask's hard features and inflexible demeanor is intimidating to most (-4 to reaction rolls). If anything would kill the wearer, the mask breaks in half, negating the effect and locking the wearer's features in place (-4 to reaction rolls PERMANENTLY). 
  • Fanged Child. A mischievous smile reveals pointed fangs chiseled in lacquer. Gain a 1d6 bite attack. On a 6, you can choose to tear a chunk of flesh from your victim, dealing an additional 1d6 and reducing the severity of any Vitality related injuries by the same amount. The wearer of the mask adopts a childish attitude, throwing fits and tantrums whenever plans don't go their way. When anyone stands in contradiction to the wearer, they must pass a Presence test or try to bite the offender. 
  • Wounded Stag. Thirteen points and a broken tip wind and twist in a bloody crown. Defiant gaze set in tarnished ivory. The wearer gains +2 Initiative, cannot be surprised and can retaliate with their antlers for 1d6 whenever they are hit or someone comes within melee reach (no attack roll). The wearer grows increasingly reclusive and paranoid, needing half of the usual sleep but reducing only 1d6 exhaustion and no stress through long rests. 
  • Tragic Hero. Melancholy shadows a benign look sculpted in noble fir. The wearer gains +2 Attack, gains the ability to intercept attacks directed to adjacent creatures (once per round), and their critical/fumble threshold is doubled. Additionally, the wearer develops a righteous sense of justice. For as long as they wear the mask, they must make Presence test to reject pleads for help or refrain themselves from acting when they witness an injustice. 
Once someone dons a mask they must pass a Presence test to remove it. On a failure they must wait until next dawn to try again with a penalty equal to the days they have worn the mask. Once the penalty is equal to their Presence, the mask takes over and they become an NPC. 

7. Vanishing Veil. A yellowing rag of once exquisite silk, cold to the touch. Its almost see-through quality reveals nebulous portents to those who dare look into it. When worn over one's head, the veil shows an embellished, overly idealized version of the wearer's surroundings. At any time, the wearer can choose to focus on a specific object or place to see what transpired there in times past. The longer they focus, the more the veil reveals:
  • An instant: what happened right before the wearer got into the room or acquired the object. 
  • An hour: the most relevant or emotionally impactful event since the previous dawn. A black, shapeless spot appears in your vision. Pass a Presence test or suffer 1 stress. 
  • A half watch (3 hours): as above, and a previously unknown aspect of the item or room is revealed (activation mode, secret door, etc...). The black spot coalesces into a vaguely humanoid shape as it gets closer. Suffer 1d2 stress. 
  • A watch (6 hours): as above, plus an additional aspect is revealed and the wearer bears witness to the most emotionally impactful event in the las six days. As the lanky shape looms closer; a face is revealed: it is white as the moon and its eyes are hollow as the void between the stars. Suffer 1d3 stress. Your eyes hurt and feel cold. 
  • A vigil (12 hours): as above, plus you suddenly become extremely familiar with the item or place. If it is an object, you gain the proficiency of a master (though not the knowledge). If it is a room, you could, for example, navigate it in the dark without ever bumping into anything. The face grows larger and paler. As the hollow eyes fill your vision, wisp-thin lips part in a gentle smile. Make a Presence test. On a success, tear away the veil. Thick, black oily tears impair your vision until next dawn (disadvantage on Intuition tests). On a failure, the truth is revealed to you. 
  • The Truth: as above, and YOUR CHARACTER can ask the GM anything about this object or location. The smile grows impossibly big, swallowing the world in its wake as you fall into its bottomless depths. Suffer 1d6 stress. From now on, you are permanently blind. The dark between the stars shines with the light of a million raging white suns. 
8. Featherless Fan. The faded onyx lace is frayed at the seams, where trims of aged gold gleam languidly. A handful of diminished ruffled feathers cling to the decaying lace. Hold the unfolded fan to your face (covering the mouth will suffice) to render your voice and demeanor unrecognizable. Those who interact with you will recall a mellow voice and a faint odor of withered rose petals. Every time you do this, one of the 1d6 remaining feathers falls down from the fan. 

9. Cracked Snuffbox. A tiny box of dim nacre; its complex engravings have almost faded away. A single thin craze line sullies the Standing House crest on the lid. Share a pinch of the stale snuff inside with a creature to force a new reaction roll with advantage. If the roll yields a result of less than Friendly, the creature will develop an attitude of disgust and contempt towards the character. Alternatively, you can snort some snuff to relieve stress (1d3), but its pungent, stale scent robs you of your smell for the day (food rests are half as effective). 10 uses. 

10. Faded Signet Ring. A thick, simple band of tarnished gold crowned by the worn crest of a Standing House. Aged fragments of sealing wax accumulate in the seal's folds like blood clots. When presented with the ring, the mindless denizens of the Standing House will treat the wearer and his retinue as masters, bowing down as they pass, but mostly continuing with their endless and pointless tasks. Additionally, the denizens can be given simple commands such as "go there" or "give me that", but there is a 2-in-6 chance that they will recognize you as an impostor and fly into a murderous rage. The ring may also open the path to some locations within the Standing House, but there is a 2-in-6 chance that it will crumble to gold dust every time you use it that way. It is also worth an awful lot to expert jewelers and historians.


Sunday, August 9, 2020

GLOG Class: Raven Master


So an old man has been whispering things into my ears lately and I have come to the conclusion that he wants me to turn him into a GLoG class. This is the result.

The old man in question.

Class: Raven Master
One of your human arms has been replaced by a demonic talon of mysterious origin. Ravens follow you everywhere, filling your ears with whispers of conquest and terrible secrets.

Perk: ravens and black feathered birds are attracted to you and obey your commands (they can only do bird things though, like resting on your shoulder or cawing insidiously).
Drawback: people at death's door or that have lived through a near-death experience know what you are and despise you for it. Common animals such as pets and cattle are visibly distressed around you.

How did you lose your arm?
1. In the battlefield, severed by a rival general. Although the battle was won thanks to your sacrifice, you were removed from service shortly after. Gain a worn commendation badge and a 1 silver monthly stipend.
2. In a hunting accident. The trap should’ve been disarmed, but it wasn’t. Gain a lingering grudge and a bloodstained bear trap.
3. As punishment for a crime you didn’t commit. The culprit is still out there, their arms intact. Gain a tattered robe and a blind dog.
4. A rare degenerative disease that manifests itself every third generation. Your wealth and aristocratic background paid for the best surgeon available. Gain a fancy sword cane (1d6) and a plotting relative.
5. A failed experiment. You were promptly discarded with a perfunctory apology when your body rejected the magitech augmentation. Gain a robust biology (+4 vs mutations) and disdain for doctors (+2 to hostile actions vs medicine people).
6. A successful ritual. Your arm was the sacrifice. What emerged from the blood pool slaughtered everyone except you. Gain a black robe and recurring nightmares (1 in 6 of not benefiting from rest and gaining a Secret instead).

How did you get your demonic arm?
1. An experiment. They promised to make you whole again. When you woke up, a flock of six-eyed ravens was nibbling on their mutilated corpses. Starting Gift: Ravenous Flock.
2. A gamble. A stranger in the Vice Dens was only too eager to get rid of some ancient relic. Luck was on your side that night… or was it? Starting Gift: Forge Fate.
3. A deathbed pact. A six-eyed raven visited you in a feverish dream. Whispers of conquest filled your ears as it pecked at your exposed stump. When you opened your eyes, you were whole again. Starting Gift: The Raven Dreams. 
4. An inheritance. A nondescript envelope, a last will, a key to a lost crypt. When you emerged from the dark archway, you were restored… but changed. Starting Gift: Wings of Empire.
5. A gate to the Immortal Bastion. Deep in the Halls of Death, you fought a demon and conquered it… but did you? Starting Gift: Immortal Passage.
6. A prize. You bested its previous owner and brutally claimed the arm as your own. Starting Gift: Reaper of Sorrow.

What does your demonic arm look like?
1. An oversized monstrous claw, covered in crimson, blood-soaked feathers. You have +4 Strength with your demonic arm and your claw attack deals 1d10 damage. Fine manipulation, however, is out of the question (you can clumsily open doors and climb ladders, but you can’t shoot a bow or play the harpsichord).
2. A cadaverous talon. Patches of parched skin surface in a decrepit mantle of wispy plumage. Your bony claw is weak and arthritic (1d3 damage, -4 Strength with this arm) but is anathema to life (3d6 damage vs children or targets with full HP). Your feathers ruffle when there are undead nearby.
3. An atrophied mess of a curled claw. Your attacks deal 1d6 bludgeoning damage (stun on a 6) and you can use your atrophied claw to knock down doors. Your left hand is non-functional in any other aspect.
4. A ghostly talon of scarlet brilliance. Your demonic arm exists only partially. Your arm radiates a ruby glow that illuminates as a torch and outlines invisible entities. Your attacks deal 1d6 damage (ignores Defense from armor) and can affect intangible entities such as spirits and extradimensional beings normally, but you must save to interact with the physical world with your claw.
5. Your talon looks very much like a human hand and there’s a mesmerizing purple sheen to your feathers that most creatures find fascinating. You must spend a Secret to rake a creature with your claw (1d6), but your claw attacks always deal cryptic damage. Additionally, you can charm a creature once per day by displaying your wondrous feathers (save negates). While under your influence, they will treat you like a trusted ally until the next dusk or until you or your allies harm them. This may not work with creatures you have harmed before.
6. Your claw glows with a pulsating blood-red hue and it is covered in ghostly crimson feathers. Your claw attacks deal 1d6 slashing damage and cause bleeding on a 6 (creature loses 1 HP per turn until they save). 

Victor Maury

Raven Master Templates
A. Demonic Arm, Secrets, Roll 1 Gift
B. Nevermove, Choose 1 Gift
C. Visions of Empire, Roll 1 Gift, Choose 1 Gift
D. Lingering Secrets, Choose 2 gifts

Demonic Arm
“The outcome was decided when they brought an army, and I brought a demon.”
Your left arm belonged to a demon once. You can imbue your demonic arm attacks with one of the following effects for every Secret you spend:
  • Gain +1 Attack and +1 damage and step up your damage die on your next attack.
  • Your attack deals cryptic damage (cryptic damage ignores DR and immunities, attempts to identify its wounds always yields inconclusive results).
  • You heal HP equal to the damage dealt.
Your arm is HIGHLY conspicuous and marks you as a cursed being in the eyes of most creatures, although some people may recognize it for what it is: the price of power.

“When their lives flash before their eyes so do their secrets.”
Six-eyed ravens follow you everywhere, watching your every move. When you kill a creature, you gain a Secret. You can spend Secrets to boost your demonic gifts and activate other abilities. Secrets work pretty much like Magic Dice: when you spend any amount of Secrets, you must roll that many d6 even if the gift you are powering doesn’t require a roll. Secrets are ALWAYS spent regardless of the result. If you roll any doubles, check the Terrible Insight table. You can know up to 6 Secrets at any given time.

You can force a creature within sight to stop all movement by stretching your demonic arm and curling your talons into a clutch. Target creature is rooted in place until you release your clutch, move or are otherwise disturbed (taking damage might require a Constitution test or something to keep your clutch from breaking). Huge or extraordinarily powerful creatures get a Strength check to break free from your clutch. While under your influence, you can rip a Secret from your victim, dealing 1d6 damage in the process (Wisdom negates). This breaks your clutch.

You can only do this ONCE per creature. Once they have broken free from your influence, you cannot subdue them with your clutch ever again.

Visions of Empire
“What have the ravens brought me?”
Every dawn, your ravens whisper 1d3 Secrets into your ears.

Lingering Secrets
Secrets are only spent on a result of 4, 5 or 6.

Gifts of the Raven Master 
The flock.

1. Ravenous Flock 
“After the battle, the ravens feast.” 
Your ravens can devour a human sized corpse in under a minute (bigger creatures may require more time), mutilating the body and making identification impossible. You regain HP equal to the HD of the creature devoured. Additionally, you can spend Secrets to command your flock to circle you like a black feathered storm, obscuring vision and protecting you. Attacks made through the swarm have disadvantage and anyone trying to cross the swarming flock takes 1d6 damage as the ravens lash at them with ravenous beaks and sharp talons. You can shelter [Secrets] additional creatures. The flock circles you for [Best] rounds, after which it disperses.

2. Reaper of sorrow
“Death is its own prophecy.”
You can now harvest Secrets from creatures that die in your presence, even if they weren’t slain by your hand. When a creature dies by your hand, you can ask a yes/no question about it.

3. Raven’s Foresight
“I have seen this place. A vision… a battle.”
The ravens told you of this place. You gain +[Template] to initiative. When a battle starts, you can spend a Secret to draw a map of the battlefield, marking the approximate position of every creature and up to 1d3 terrain features (a rock to use as cover, a patch of rotted wood planks, a rope hanging from the ceiling, etc…).

4. Superior Tactics
“A new vantage is all the advantage I need.”
Whenever you enjoy a favorable position against a creature in the battlefield (surprise, elevation, flanking, etc…), your attacks deal 1d6 additional damage to that creature. In addition, you can spend 1 Secret to predict a creature’s next move, which gives you advantage in all your rolls against that creature until your next turn.

5. Death’s Hand
“Try to die with dignity.”
You can release [Secrets] bolts of eldritch power from your demonic hand. Each bolt deals 1d6+1 damage to target creature (no save). You can target more than one creature with multiple bolts.

6. Fear the Raven
“Who is it we’re fighting? I only see their backs.”
You get +2 vs Fear effects. You can spend any number of Secrets to instill fear into the hearts of your enemies, forcing up [sum] HD creatures to make a Morale check or flee from you.

7. The Raven Whispers
“A voice whispers in the shadows, though few can hear it.”
You can whisper into someone’s ears as though you were standing next to them as long as they remain within sight. In addition, you can consume 1 Secret to have a raven deliver a message to anyone you have ever talked to or seen. The raven will then bring the answer to you, if there is any.

8. By my will
“The right to rule, held in my hand.”
You gain +2 to your persuasion and intimidation rolls when you interact with individuals of a lesser rank or social standing. Additionally, you can issue irresistible commands to avian creatures or individuals that share a language with you. Your command can consist of up to [Secrets] words and can affect up to [Secrets] targets (Save negates).

9. Forge Fate
“They expect me to play fairly. We aren’t even playing the same game.”
Once per day, you can reroll any of your rolls. You can spend a Secret to force a creature to reroll any of their rolls. You choose what dice to keep.

10. Wings of Empire
“The shadows of our empire are cast by a raven’s wings.”
Your shadow elongates and expands, the edges of its ravenlike wings sharpened by myriad feathers. You can choose to spread or fold your shadow wings at any time. When spread, they can reach up to [Template]*10 feet in any direction (peasants and laypeople find this terrifying). Enemies that fight under your shadow have disadvantage to their Morale rolls. You can spend Secrets to affect a creature within your shadow in the following ways:
  • Obscuring Shadows. Reduce incoming damage by [sum].
  • Whispering Doubt. Impose a [sum] penalty on a creature’s next roll.
  • Ravenous Wings. Snuff out any number of light sources within your shadow, magical or otherwise.
11. Spying Flock
“You would do well to die before my ravens find you.”
You can see and hear through your ravens and black-feathered creatures but you are defenseless while you do this. You can spend a Secret to command one of your ravens to scout an area or find a creature. You must have seen that creature at least once or feed your ravens a piece of memorabilia belonging to said creature.

12. Raven Politics
“Diplomacy is a subtle art.”
You gain +2 to your persuasion rolls when interacting with the nobility or high standing individuals. If you spend at least one minute talking to someone, you can learn one of the following for every Secret you spend: their worst fear, their greatest regret, their major vanity or their most shameful secret.

13. Six-Eyed Flock
“I will not tolerate interference.”
Your ravens remain constantly alert for unwanted intrusions. You cannot be surprised, even while asleep. Additionally, you can spend Secrets to command one of your ravens to guard a place and alert you when a specific condition is met, at which point they will start cawing madly (you hear their call, regardless of distance). The more Secrets you spend, the longer your ravens will guard the place (1 Secret -> 1 day, 2 Secrets -> 6 days, 3 secrets -> 66 days, 4 Secrets -> 666 days).

14. Helping Beak
“A one-armed man needs all the help he can get.”
You can ask one of your ravens to keep one object for you. You can store anything in this slot as long as it could be feasibly carried in a raven’s beak, such as a small dagger, a flask, a key or a ring (you essentially have an additional inventory slot for small items). This is considered a fast inventory slot. Additionally, you can ask your ravens to keep additional items for you regardless of size by spending a Secret for every one of the item’s inventory slots. You can later access these items by spending an additional Secret. Items kept by your ravens cannot be traced by magical or physical means.

15. Battlemancy
“To redraw the map, the blood of soldiers must be the ink.”
When a creature fails a save or dies, you or one of your allies can move towards an enemy. In addition, you can spend Secrets to command one of your allies to perform a basic attack with [Secrets] bonus to their Attack and damage roll against a creature of your choice.

16. Still Shadow
“Fear the power you do not see.”
You are undetectable as long as you stand completely still in any amount of shadow (you can do this for Constitution rounds, after that you must make a Con check every turn to remain still). You can take an action without giving away your position if you spend a Secret as part of that action.

17. Undying Flock
“Am I reborn? The truth is rarely so simple.”
When you take enough damage to kill you, your body collapses into a flock of 1d6+1 cawing ravens that quickly scatters away. Each raven has 1HP and can be attacked normally. The flock gathers 6 days later in the same spot around your naked, emaciated body. For every Secret you spend, choose one from the following list:
  • Add 1d6+1 additional ravens to the fleeing flock.
  • Roll a d6. If the result is less than 6, the flock reforms in that many days.
  • The flock reforms in place of your choosing that you or your ravens have previously visited.
You lose 1 Constitution permanently every time you undergo this process.

18. Immortal Passage
“I have already walked the halls of death, in the Immortal Bastion.”
You can enter the Immortal Bastion and navigate its dark halls to travel vast distances in a matter of hours. To do so you must first find a sufficiently obscured threshold, such as a closed door, a shadowy archway or a dark cave entrance, then spend any amount of Secrets to turn that threshold into a pathway to the Immortal Bastion. The number of Secrets spent determines the distance travelled: 1 Secret-> 1 day worth of overland travel, 2 Secrets-> 6 days, 3 Secrets-> 33 days, 4 Secrets-> 66 days, 5 or more-> Anywhere. At the end of the journey you emerge into the overworld through a sufficiently obscured threshold such as the ones mentioned above. Walking the halls of the Immortal Bastion entails its own risks (see Traversing the Immortal Bastion below).

19. The Raven dreams
“I often kill in my visions. When I close my eyes, do not come near.”
Once a day, you can choose to enter a meditative trance to receive visions of things to come. If you do, roll on the following table 1+[Secrets] times and pick one of the results:
1. Endless flock. A raven perched atop every branch. A raven behind every window. They are watching you. And they will keep doing so, always. Gain 1 Secret.
2. Carnage. A battle. Weapons clash, splashes of red. Whose blood is it? The GM tosses a coin in secret and records the result. Heads: your next Attack is a critical hit. Tails: your next Defense roll is a fumble.
3. Present. Serrated beaks prod deadened flesh. A curious brightness surfaces. When you open your left palm after the trance, you find 1) a polished silver coin 2) an eye made of glass (reveals spirits and invisible creatures, breaks after one use) 3) a burnished, nondescript key (it opens the next locked door you encounter), 4) a raven’s skull made of fogged glass (if you break it, a flock of ghostly ravens swarm the area, obscuring vision and cawing madly) 5) a feather made of polished onyx (a pair of decrepit raven wings form on your back when you swallow it, allowing you to cross short chasms or reach high places) 6) A handful of whispers (gain 1d3 Secrets).
4. Portent. Echoes of discarded futures roam the halls of the Immortal Bastion. They are yours, if you take them. Roll 2d20 and note the results. Until the next dawn, you can replace any d20 roll with one of your portents.
5. The Raven King’s Servants. Talons grind the floor; ancient wood supports knobby hands. On the edge of the scythe lays a question. Beneath the many folded robes, a twisted spine wonders. 1d3 corvid servants shuffle about in this empty hall. They will offer you a new gift if you give them a Secret. They will claim it back the next dusk. If you kill them, the gift is permanent.
6. Audience. An endless line of penitents coils and serpents within the halls. At the end, the Raven King awaits. You are number 333 in the queue. Every time you get this result, your position in the queue moves up by 1d6. You can feed secrets to the corvid servants that tend the line to have them sneak you up [sum] positions in the queue. When you get to the head of the queue, the Raven King will grant you an audience.

20. The Raven knows
“Prepare, and victory is inevitable.”
Learn two of the following skills: History, Tactics, Philosophy, Cartography, Heraldry, Weather Forecast. Once a day, you can ask your ravens a question related to a topic you are familiar with. There is a [template]-in-6 chance that they will whisper a truthful answer into your ear, as long as it could've been feasibly found through extensive research and thorough investigation (basically, this is like having a hotline to the nearest library). You can roll an additional d6 for every Secret you spend. If you get doubles, your question is answered regardless of the result.

Wings of Empire

Terrible Insights
Roll on this table when you get any doubles when rolling Secrets. After suffering from one of the insights, treat that result as a reroll. Once you have experienced all six terrible insights, unleash a Fate of the Raven Master and reset this table’s results.

1. Ravens without end fill your sight. They sit still, their six-eyed gaze fixed on a darkened sky. Something stirs just above ominous clouds. Blind for 1d6 rounds as the vision overwhelms your senses.
2. A thousand thousand ravens take flight. The greying earth trembles in anticipation. Silence seeps through widening cracks. Lose all your Secrets. You can’t learn new Secrets until the next dusk.
3. A slumbering sky awakes. Leaden clouds shed millennia old memories. A deafening bang. A random creature within sight (this includes you) is struck by a black lightning bolt crashing from the sky and suffers [Secrets]d6 damage. If you are the one struck, you gain Secrets equal to the damage suffered.
4. The earth shatters. Darkness pours through the cracks. A storm of black feathers. Creatures in a [Secrets]*10’ radius must save or fall prone. Vision becomes obscured by the whirling feathers for 1d6 rounds.
5. Six times six hundred and sixty-six ravens intone a furious dirge. Whispers of conquests pierce through the madness. Silence follows. Every creature within shouting distance must save or become confused for 1d6 rounds (treat enemies as allies and allies as enemies). Whenever a confused creature harms an ally, they get a new save.
6. Obsidian towers like raven claws rake the sky with spite. The Immortal Bastion towers above all... and its gates are open. The ground beneath your feet curls into ravenous talons, claiming back what is theirs. You wander the Halls of Death for 1d6 hours. When the earth spits you back, you have only a faint recollection of what you saw. Roll a new gift. The gift vanishes after 6 days.

Fates of the Raven Master
1. Your back arches forward and you grow a pair of decrepit black-feathered wings. They are too weak to allow flight, but you could, for example glide safely to the ground or cross a chasm. Whenever you use your wings, you leave behind a trail of ruffled feathers. You can hold 1 additional Secret.
2. Your transformation worsens. Your human arm turns into its demonic counterpart (roll on the How does your demonic arm look like? table). If for some reason you were missing that arm, you simply grow a new one. Roll a gift.
3. You turn into a corvid servant, forever doomed to wander the Halls of Death in the Immortal Bastion. You flee into the night as soon as you have the chance, cawing madly, thrashing your decrepit wings, never to be seen again in the surface world.

You can avoid the last fate by pleading your case in an audience with the Raven King or usurping his throne.
The Raven King

Notes on the Raven Master
This is my first attempt ever at anything GLoG. My initial intention was to create a wizard, but as usual things spiraled out of control very quickly and this came up instead. As a result, this shit is probably extremely unbalanced and its capabilities very likely lack a clear focus. Mostly every gift of the Raven Master has been inspired by a quote of the original character, which has been immensely helpful in weaving a coherent class theme. I have tried to focus on the tactician aspect of the source material while developing its scheming side through the use of ravens as exploration tools and such.

I find it very hard to make every single choice as meaningful and flavorful as possible without overloading the class’s kit. I believe it can feel too crammed and detail focused, but perhaps this is me contemplating the more than 38 unique options this class provides as a whole rather than looking at the actual experience of play. After all, the player will only have to deal with a few of these options at a time. 

In any case, I am finally done with this. The upcoming post will most likely deal with the Immortal Bastion and its denizens and how to traverse the Halls of Death. I will try not to write a fucking dissertation again, but I can’t promise anything.

Whatever your opinion, please let me know about it in the comments! Suggestions are also welcome!