Sunday, October 3, 2021

Amongst The Ruins - 1d20 Objects of Care

This is the second installment in a series of posts in which I try to evoke the setting of Amongst the Ruins through implication rather than mere exposition. Last time, I explored the concept of harm by providing a list of potentially harmful items rooted into the material specifics of Gaúl in an attempt to bring the setting a little bit closer to life. At the end of the post, I wondered about the ways people in Amongst the Ruins care for each other and entertained the possibility of writing a blog post about just that.

This is the result.

For some reason, this list has been much harder to write than the previous one. While the concept of harm seems to be pretty self-explanatory, the notion of care feels much more tenuous and subjective, as the ways we care for ourselves and others are much more varied and context dependent, so much so, that some of the items on this list might look out of place or at least puzzling. For this reason, I have established the following rules to guide the writing process:
  • This is NOT a post about weapons. Every item on this list makes or has made someone's life easier in non-violent ways somewhere in Gaúl and the Annexed Territories. Even if this fact is not immediately apparent to the reader, these items are used or have been used to take care of others.
  • Mens sana... Mechanically speaking, most of these objects either reduce stress or help the body heal. If your system doesn't use stress, simply have your characters heal 1d6 HP for every 1 stress reduced. The same applies to severity and injuries.
  • Caring is HARD (and so is writing). Expect to find some relatively accessible subsystems in some of the descriptions. Similarly, some of the descriptions are longer than the last time. This is the minimum amount of writing required to make items both flavourful and mechanically distinct (I promise).

 And now, the curtain rises...

1d20 Objects of Care

1. Flask of Yesterwater. Completely odourless and tasteless. 1 gulp: empty 1 Memory slot of your choice. 2 gulps: empty a random Memory slot. 3 gulps: empty 1d6 Memory slots randomly, pass a Presence test or lose 1 Memory slot permanently. 3 gulps.
2. Asturan Wool Blanket. Soft like a puff of feathers, warm like your childhood's crib. Keeps you warm in any situation. Sleeping in this blanket for at least 1 watch grants +1 Threshold for the rest of the day.
3. Saltstone. A fist-sized, rough edged chunk of essential minerals harvested from an acrodonta's gizzard. If boiled for at least 1/2 watch, the resulting soup can be drunk to obtain basic nourishment for the day. 20 uses1/2 slot.
4. Pot of Treacle. Thick and sirupy, overpowering sweet taste. Taken by the spoonful. -1 stress, half benefit from food during rests and feasts. One pot contains 10 spoonfuls.
5. Ictian Infusion. Water turned black by pulverised solifuge carapace. Clears the mind and reveals deception. -1d2 stress, lies spoken in your presence look like a cloud of black flies leaving the liar's mouth.  3-in-6 chance that you see your dreams for what they truly are. Don't benefit from rest that night.
6. Box of Besutu Cigars. Strong scent, tastes of toasted coffee -1 stress, thick black smoke, pass Vitality or start coughing like an old man (suffer 1d3 damage). One box contains 6 cigars.
7. Pergamum Essence Flacon. Looks like liquid gold, leaves a glittering impression on the skin. Grants an aura of ethereal magnetism (+4 Reaction Rolls with humans). You can test Presence to issue commands as long as they are phrased as suggestions. Lasts for 1/2 watch or until you fail a Presence test.
8. Nighmilk Drops. Extracted from the lilium noctis in the Lunar Fields of Ictia. Turn your eyes milk-white. You see creatures as shimmering outlines of silverine light as long as darkness is not total. Upon sudden light, pass a Vitality test or be stunned for 1 round. Lasts for 1/2 watch.
9. Silverine Mirror. A rough shard of argentum wrapped in silk. Used by Ictian maze-runners to find their way in the Labyrinthine Grounds. It only reflects the moon. If exposed to direct sunlight, it melts away in a blinding flash of silver light.
10. Ballad of Amorus & Castella. Recounts the downfall of Iudex Amorus and the rise of his beloved, Serf Castella, who would eventually rise in arms and lead a revolution in a fabled distant colony. Sung as both a cautionary tale and an inspirational folk song. The singer tests Presence and the audience tests Knowledge. One succeeds: -2 stress. Both succeed: -2 stress, +4 vs charm for 1 watch. Takes 1 hour to sing fully. 1 Memory.
11. Death Pins. Hard and pliant, harvested from immature mesechin hoglets. Stabbing yourself with one of these makes you overconfident and reckless (+1 vs Fear, +1 damage dealt, +1 damage taken per pin). Removing a pin causes 1 damage.
12. Hunters & Preys.  An intuition driven board game popular among Trailblazers. It can be played with a board or few lines on the dirt and pebbles of varying sizes. Both players roll Intuition. Winner: -1d2 stress. Loser: +1 stress. Crushing Victory (Nat. 1): -2 stress and advantage to your Intuition tests for 1 watch. Astounding Defeat (Nat. 20): +2 stress. Draw: -1 stress to both players.
13. Bottle of Hagslime. Sticky and slimy. +4 vs grapples, can fit through a whole as small as your head. 3-in-6 chance of dropping an object when trying to use it. Dries and falls off after 1/2 watch. 3 uses.
14. Joy Peepers. A pair of crystallized chamaeran eyes, said to fend off bad dreams and evil spirits. Gives off a dim, hollow light. Sleeping under their gaze grants a dreamless sleep.
15. Pungent Pouch. A small sackcloth bag filled with egresian dried petals and crushed halys husks. If put under someone's nose, wakes them up immediately. Allows a Presence test to break free from stuns or charms.
16. Soothing Words. Full of warmth and comfort. Test Presence to care for someone you esteem. On a success, -1 stress to both of you. On a failure, -1 stress to them. Alternatively, you can try to pacify someone in an agitated state of mind, granting them a Presence test to clear their mind. You can only soothe a given creature once a day. 1 Memory.
17. Witch Spit. Earthen sludge, smells of rotting vegetation. Cool to the touch. If applied to a burn within the hour it was caused, reduces its Severity by 1. Comes in clay bottles. 3 uses.
18. Faulty Music Box. Scratched and worn. The etching of a faded rose languishes on the top. When wound, the box plays a melancholic tune for 1d6 minutes, invoking memories of better times (-1 stress) or unspeakable longing (+1 stress, test Presence or start crying).
19. Voidfold. Its like staring at absolute darkness. Inquisitors in training wear them to hone their senses and signify the neutral devotion to their cause. If worn for at least 1 watch, reduce the Severity of any sight related injuries by 1. 1/3 slot.
20. Koyaanis Comb. Made with solidified metamorphic ossein extracted from the Argosian caverns of Koyaanis. Elegant, floral carvings adorn the piece. With a twist of the handle, the comb morphs into various other grooming utensils. -1 stress and +1 Presence in civilized environments if you groom yourself for at least 1 hour.

Ke Liu


The more I write about this stuff, the more apparent it is to me that the key to immersion is located in the relationship between the PCs and the physical world. In my previous post, I commented on the link between specificity and historicity, implying that there is a strong connection between setting-bound equipment and the capacity to bring worlds to life. While there is a lot to be said about representation and flavour, I do believe that, in the end, most relationships are mediated, at least partially, through a material medium. Whether it be a mother wrapping a slice of smoked porkin meat for her child, the duchess spraying some pergamum on her forehead right before tonight's reception or a nervous bachelor combing his hair for the umpteenth time with a Koyaanis comb before his date with Melantha, the Scarlet Daughter, this or that object is always present. Having the players find, or even better, stumble upon these items is, in my opinion, the best way to evoke a living, dynamic world. Legendary items are cool and all, but there is only so much worldbuilding one can do through them. The ordinary and the mundane, the commonplace, they paint the picture of the here and now. Turning all of this into an adventure worth pursuing is another matter completely.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Have Bow, Will Shoot - Bow Generator & Archery Mechanics

 This is a bow:

I should've become an artist, I know.

This is, more or less, how a bow works: first you knock an arrow, then you pull the string, potential energy is stored in the limbs as they flex. Then, you release the arrow and all this energy is transferred to it, which then leaves the bow propelled by this same energy, hopefully hitting your target at the end of its journey.

This is a bow in your typical table top game:

        Bow, 1d6 damage, ranged attack.

And this is how a bow works in your typical table top game: roll Attack, if you succeed, roll damage.

Nothing too exciting, eh?

Observing the only archer in the party, I noticed that most of her choices boiled down to "Shall I shoot now or shall I shoot later?" While she is smart enough to use terrain and positioning to her advantage, I still feel that, when it comes to attacking, there aren't many interesting options available to her, or to any other player that wants to pick up a bow.

For this reason, I present to you...

Bow Generator

How to use it?
First choose a Bow Type. The generator proper has three categories. These are Bow Stave, String and Bow Quirk. Simply roll 2d10 and 1d6 and check the results below.

New Mechanic: Overdraw
    A player can choose to bring their character's bow to the limit by drawing the string way beyond the anchor point. This gives them access to the bow's especial abilities while putting the its integrity at risk. When a player Overdraws, he or she must roll on the Aftermath table to see whether the bow can resist the stress. 
Overdrawing causes Stacking, which represents the increasing stress the bow is subjected too. The higher the Stacking, the more dire the Aftermath. Reducing Stacking is simple: unstring your bow and let it rest. For every watch, reduce stacking by 1d3. If you let your bow rest for an entire day, reduce all your Stacking to 0.
Anna Lakisova

Short Bow, 1d6 dmg
1 Slot
60’ range (can’t call shots beyond that range)

Longbow, 1d10
2 Slots
100’ range (can’t call shots beyond that range)
Takes 1 Action to knock an arrow.
Disadvantage in enclosed spaces.


Each stave has its own properties. A player can choose to Overdraw his or her bow to activate the bow's especial ability. If they do, check the Overdraw Aftermath table below.
  1. Taxus.  Pale, tenuous grain. The exceptional flexibility of Taxus wood makes it an excellent choice to shoot over vast distances. Overdraw: you can make a shot up to twice the bow’s range without penalties. If you are aiming at a target within the bow’s normal range, you have advantage on your attack roll.
  2. Carya. Dark brown with darker grain. Particularly hard and shock resistant. Ignore any Crack results when rolling for overdraw effects. Overdraw: the strength of this bow provides some extra penetrative power. +2 Attack, +2 damage.
  3. Quercus Obscura. Dull grey, scattered white grain. Absorbs light and dampens sound.  Shots made with this bow are extremely hard to pinpoint. +1 Stealth. Overdraw: +1d6 damage to unaware targets.
  4. Lignum. Earthen brown, thumb-thick ebony grain. Incredibly hard and dense, and equally heavy. Step up the damage die by one. Takes up 1 additional inventory slot. Overdraw: the penetrative power of lignum bows is almost unparalleled. Pierces the first target hit. Roll damage with advantage. It requires a monstrous effort to pull the string beyond the anchor point. Suffer 1d6 damage.
  5. Black Locust. Ghostly white, translucent foggy grain. Also called funereal wood, it makes an ominous sound reminiscent of a deadly acridia swarm when struck.   Overdraw: the bow lets out a horrifying shriek, forcing a Morale test on the creatures that can hear it. If the arrow hits a creature, the test is made at a disadvantage, as they are gripped by the certainty of their own mortality. Particularly powerful creatures may not be affected.
  6. Laburnum. Deep amber, elegantly textured grain. Also known as the tree of life. Laburnum shafts keep sweating sap long after they are removed from the tree. Once a day, you can collect a dose of this sap to be prepared immediately. If boiled or otherwise treated, this dose can be used to counteract or slow down many poisons or heal 1d6 HP. If collected raw, it will cause one of the symptoms described below if somehow ingested. Overdraw: the limbs of the bow bend and stretch, forcing some of the sap out through the raise, which the arrow picks up as it is shot. A creature stuck with one of these arrows suffers one of the following at random:
    1. Drowsiness. Pass a Vitality test or fall asleep. Particularly large creatures might not be affected.
    2. Retching. Pass a Vitality test or spend the next turn vomiting.
    3. Convulsions. Disadvantage on next action.
    4. Mild Hallucinations. Pass a Knowledge test or spend the next turn thrashing at something that may or may not be there.
    5. Confusion. Pass a Presence test or madly attack the closest ally.
    6. Deep Slumber. Pass a Vitality test or fall into a coma for 1d3 days. On a failure, fall asleep as in Drowsiness.
  7. Cinderwood. Ashen grey, cinder flakes falling. Completely impervious to fire, leaves an impression of white ashes and pale soot on the naked hand. Warm to the touch. Overdraw: the shock shakes the bow to its core, liberating a 10’ radius cloud of dense, pallid ash centered on your location and awaking the bows burning core for a brief moment. The first arrow you shoot next turn is set ablaze as it grazes the raiser, dealing +1d6 fire damage.
  8. Petralemn. Stone grey, angular grain. Hard as stone, flexible like a bending branch, Petralemn staves generate an incredible amount of raw force. +1d6 damage but arrows are always destroyed after the impact. Overdraw: wreaks havoc on buildings and structures, tearing down anything softer than the hardest wood and badly damaging anything but the hardest metal. Creatures hit must pass a Vitality or be knocked prone and stunned for 1d6 rounds (save each round to recover). On a success, they are simply knocked prone. Exceptionally big creatures may not be affected.
  9. Purpleheart. Violet iridescence, sinuous, tantalizing grain. Harvested from a Janusian tree in the Labyrinthine grounds. Smooth and subservient, its enigmatic grain pattern shifts in mysterious ways, never repeating the same shape twice. Overdraw: the pattern locks in place and brightens with iridescent light as you shift from perception, becoming completely undetectable for 1 round or until you interact with the environment in any major way (pulling a lever, shooting an arrow, shoving someone into a pit of acid…).
  10. Mnemosina. Dormant blue, drowsy pulsating grain. Pliant like a homeward thought, precise like a penetrating obsession. +1 Attack to targets you have already struck. A bow made of mnemosina can be stored in your Memory. You can take 1 action to evoke the bow. It was always in your hand. Overdraw: recall an arrow previously shot with this bow. The arrow flies back to its original position following a straight trajectory and reconstructing itself as it flies, nocking itself on arrival as if it had never been fired. Creatures in its path must roll Skill or suffer normal arrow damage. If the arrow is currently stuck on a target, it simply rips itself free and the target suffers normal arrow damage, no save.


  1. Wirestalk. Strong and flexible, feels like polished metal. Made with the stems of iron grass, this string can resist tremendous amounts of force and tension. Can be used as a short rope or a garrote.
  2. Tusan Silk. Shiny and delicate, swallows sound. Completely silent shots, impossible to pinpoint. You can use your Stealth to make Attack rolls as long as your target is unaware of you. If you get any Snap results when rolling for Overdraw, the string unspuns itself noiselessly.
  3. Pale Cord. Perfect white, cold to the touch. Made with the proboscis of a white stalker from the frozen wastes of Parma. Uncannily flexible, it can be used in both short and longbows. The string seems to come alive in freezing environments, shaking ever so slightly when the bow is aimed at hot-blooded creatures.
  4. Fluctuasteel. Light and thin, nearly unbreakable. When rolling for Overdraw, ignore any Snap!!! results.
  5. Crimson Stigma. Dense and sinewy, trembles in anticipation when prey draws near. Hundreds of crimson stigmata harvested from the Blood Saffron fields braided together into a tough, flexible string. Vibrates slightly when vascular prey draws near (cannot be surprised). If the string is soaked in  fresh blood, any arrows shot with it for the next vigil deal +2 damage vs vascular creatures.
  6. Remembrane. Oddly foamy and accommodating. Used by archers and poachers around for target practice. Whenever you shoot your bow, if you haven't moved since the last time you shot, gain +1 Attack.
  7. Shrieker. Crude and sturdy, complains loudly when pulled. Made with a bunch of desiccated snapvines, the string lets out a mind-wrecking cry when broken. Every creature within shouting distance must pass a Presence test or be stunned for 1d3 rounds (they can test Presence every turn to break free from the effect). Deaf creatures are unaffected.
  8. Glowyarn. Smooth and comforting. Illuminates like a torch for 1 round when plucked or pulled. On a critical hit, a burst of sickly light erupts from the string. Creatures within a 100' radius must pass a Vitality test or be blinded for 1d6 rounds (hey can test Vitality every turn to break free from the effect). Blind creatures are unaffected. On a critical failure, the string loses its properties.
  9. Kinetic Twine. Always trembling, ever so slightly. Every time you score a critical hit, the string stores 1 Kinetic Energy (KE). You can transfer 1KE  to the bow to empower your shots (+1 Attack OR +1 damage). You can expend multiple KE per shot. When you roll a fumble, roll Overdraw. When you roll Overdraw, add your KE to the roll.
  10. Sinostring. Thin and bright, like starlight reflected on a tranquil pond. Made with the luminous threads from a Clade Venatus’ antlers. Extremely rare and delicate. +1 critical range. Special: name a target you can see at the moment of firing. The arrow strikes the target regardless of distance, passing through any obstacles as if they weren’t there. The string fades into nothingness afterwards.


  1. Takedown. The bow can be disassembled into its constituent parts (limbs and raise) to fill up less space. ½ Inventory Slots.
  2. Bare. This bow has no markings or sights to help you aim. When shooting with this bow, use your Intuition instead of your Skill.
  3. Recurve. The limbs of this bow bend away from the archer, imprinting additional speed on the arrow. +30 range, +1 damage.
  4. Double-bow. This curious design allows you to take advantage of your strength to make more powerful shots. When shooting with this bow, use your Vitality instead of your Skill. Critical hits deal +1 damage die.
  5. Composite. The body of this bow is made of several materials. Roll twice for bow stave. This bow has the properties of one bow and the overdraw ability of the other.
  6. Reinforced. This bow has been cable-backed with a segment of wirestalk to disperse accumulated tension. When you roll Overdraw, roll twice and keep the lowest result.

Overdraw Aftermath

Roll 1d6+Stacking. Then, +1 Stacking.
  1. The bow creaks and complains, otherwise no effect.
  2. Wasted. The arrow you just shot is irrecoverable (it shattered, it flew out of reach, etc…).
  3. Snap! The bow becomes unstrung.
  4. Hand Shock. Disadvantage on rolls involving your hands until end of next turn.
  5. Snap!! The bow becomes unstrung, loudly and violently. Suffer 1d3 damage.
  6. Crack. One of the limbs suffers a crack. Shoot with disadvantage until you can repair it. If you get this result again before you fix the bow, it suffers Limb Failure.
  7. Snap!!! The string breaks, lashing out at your face and hands. Suffer 1d6 damage.
  8. Limb Failure. One of the limbs is completely broken. It can still be repaired.
  9. Total Limb Failure. BOTH limbs are broken. They can still be repaired.
  10. Shattered. The bow is destroyed in a shower of splinters. Suffer 2d6 damage.

1d10 Equipment
No new mechanic is worth its salt without a list of juicy new equipment to support it.
  1. Quiver. Mark one of your Inventory Slots with a Q. This slot can now hold up to twice as many arrows of a given type (20 heavy arrows or 40 light arrows). Arrows stored in this slot are considered fast inventory.
  2. Leather Pouch. Mark one of your Inventory slots with a P. This slot is now considered fast inventory.
  3. Hand-Guard. ½ Inventory slots. Worn on the shooting hand, protects the wearer from Hand-Shock.
  4. Arm-Guard. 1 slot. +1 Defense. Made of leather and embellished with other fabrics such as velvet or suede. Protects the wearer’s arm from string lashes. When rolling Overdraw, ignore the damage suffered from Snap!! and Snap!!!
  5. Chest-Guard. 1 slot. +1 Defense. Typically made of leather, protects the chest. Some of them come with an integrated pauldron to offer some additional protection. Sigils and crests are often engraved on the front as a sign of distinction. When rolling Overdraw, ignore the damage suffered from Shattered!.
  6. Bow Stringer. 1/3 slots. A strip of leather with a small pocket on one end and a saddle on the other. Reduces the time to string a bow from 1 round to 1 action.
  7. Tin of Coating Grease. 1 slot (3 uses). Protects the bow from environmental effects such as humidity or water.
  8. Canister of Mending Sap. 1 slot (3 uses). Amber-like, gooey and sticky. Repairs scratches, blemishes and Cracks.
  9. Hunting Knife. 1 slot. 1d6 damage. Used for finishing off prey, skinning and trophy taking. It can also come in handy in close quarters.
  10. Sharpness. A mixture of laburnum sap and rare herbs. Mossy green. Hunters apply it on their lower eyelids to enhance their sight and pick up minute details of their environment. For the next watch, you can make called shots with a normal attack roll and you get +2 Initiative. If Sharpness is used more than once within the same day, it causes eyeburn.
    • Eyeburn: your optic nerves become hyperexcited, making up stimuli and light artifacts that may or may not be there. -4 Intuition, if exposed to a flash of sudden light, roll Presence or become stunned for 1 round. These effects are suppressed while under the influence of sharpness. Eyeburn goes away after not using sharpness for an entire day.

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