Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Venom and Coil

"Venom and Coil," written by Robin Laws and illustrated by David McClellan
"Venom and Coil" is an article in Dragon #305 that adds additional depth to the yuan-ti, D&D's evil snake people. Although it is perhaps unintentional, the article gets philosophical about human nature. You see, the yuan-ti strive against each other for pride of place in their hierarchical society. This isn't noteworthy in itself, but it takes on new meaning when you realize that the murderous impulse for dominance is far more common among the yuan-ti who are more human than snake. The purebloods, who appear mostly human, are the yuan-ti most likely to kill one another as they fight their way to the top of the heap. In a sense, this is a bit of worldbuilding that is saying To be human is to be violently competitive.

(The only thing I don't like about this philosophical tangent is that it falls under a heading that reads "Hissy Fits.")

The yuan-ti commit evil deeds in hopes that their vile actions will awaken Merrshaulk, their slumbering Snake God. However, only gratuitous evil acts committed in Merrshaulk's name count toward rousing the god from his sleep; if the yuan-ti receive a tangible benefit from an act of destruction, it doesn't count. Merrshaulk seems to be the god of pointless dickish behavior, but it does give the DM a license to put any old dumb plot in the hands of the yuan-ti: their end goal doesn't have to make sense or have a graspable motive, they're just doing whatever awful thing they're up to in hopes of getting their deadbeat dad to notice them.

Check out this dope Serpentor hat tho.
As you might imagine, yuan-ti are hatched from eggs. Yuan-ti priests are allowed to eat unfertilized eggs, but it is taboo for other yuan-ti to eat them. Yuan-ti are also eugenicists: their priests control the egg fertilization process, matching "male and female with careful calculation" to breed ubersneks. They also practice selective breeding to keep the correct caste ratios in place. Yuan-ti society is predictably patriarchal; only male yuan-ti get to serve as priests and other important positions. The article tries to make the claim that female yuan-ti are respected too, but falls back on the trope "the girl ones are really good at scheming!" to get there, which isn't very convincing.

As is the case with most evil races in D&D, the yuan-ti practice slavery. But if you thought we were going to get out of this article without some Fu Manchu-style orientalism, think again. The yuan-ti keep their slaves docile and pliable by getting them addicted to "white resin" (read: opium). The take-away from the article is that the yuan-ti are a combination of Howardian snake cultists, "racial scientists," internet shitlords, and the inscrutable yellow peril.

After reading the article, I took a look at the yuan-ti chapter in Volo's Guide to Monsters to see where 5e deviates from the older take on the yuan-ti. There's no mention of white resin in Volo's, but the taboo against cannibalism is also gone. The eastern Asian influence has been largely replaced with a broad Inca/Aztec vibe, which is an interesting continent shift but not necessarily an improvement.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Hunter of Abominations and the Viscount

Two NPCs in Cinderheim

Jada Pahl is a catfolk hunter who often roams the demonically warped wastes looking for abominations to slay. The rumor that she was a tsarevna of her people in a now-fallen kingdom follows at her heels wherever she goes. She exults in the hunt.

  • Occupation. Ranger.
  • Appearance. Catfolk, black fur, green eyes, graceful build, predatory smile.
  • Abilities. Tracking, survival, beast slaying.
  • Traits. Sharp-tongued, takes trophies from her kills.
  • Ideal. Hunt the strange monsters of Cinderheim.
  • Bond. Other catfolk find her naturally regal.
  • Flaw. Shows little regard for the feelings of others.

The Viscount, so called because of his gallant manners and eloquence of speech, is a dark elf gunslinger with a fearsome reputation. The tall tales told of his prowess with a pistol are a mixed blessing—many give him a wide berth, but others are drawn to test their skill against his at high noon under the demon sun of Cinderheim.
  • Occupation. Gunslinger and gambler.
  • Appearance. Dark elf, slim, wears his long white hair in a ponytail, affects a wide-brimmed hat and red-tinted spectacles that protect his eyes from the sun’s glare.
  • Abilities. Marksmanship, gambling, intimidation.
  • Traits. Remorseless, poetic and philosophical.
  • Ideal. Die with a gun in his hand.
  • Bond. Affords everyone respect.
  • Flaw. Addicted to strong drink.

If you like the content above consider checking out The Liberation of Wormwood, a supplement for generating characters facing the invasion of their hometown by a usurping force, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Feast Your Eyes

Art I've been inspired by lately:

Bernard Zuber 

 James Tissot

 Travis Truant

 TB Choi

Dave Rapoza 

Dolores Previtali 

Erhard Amadeus Dier 

Sangsoo Jeong

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The New Progress

The members of the New Progress believe that Umberwell’s future is dependent on artificer magic—the fusion of mechanical technology and arcane spellcraft; they feel that the admixture of invention and magical artifice will propel unheralded innovations. The New Progress is a joint venture between the most speculative inventors from Umberwell’s scientific community and wizards seeking new applications for the ancient traditions of magic. The New Progress takes a dim view of the workers who construct the city’s technological wonders; they believe that the city will not truly prosper until it is ruled by an arcane technocracy.

The future lies at the crossroads between magic and machine.

  • Arcane magic is a natural phenomenon that should be studied scientifically.
  • Daring innovators are the great forces of history.
  • Those born without genius are nothing more than useful hands.
  • Accelerate the march of progress at any cost.
  • Lay the groundwork for a technocracy in Umberwell.

  • Eliminate a druidic preacher who advocates returning to primitivism.
  • Summon an extraplanar being to be dissected and studied to further important research.
  • Retrieve an artificer device that has fallen into the hands of the Children of the Ashen Sun.

If you like the content above (or any of the content here), consider checking out Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name, system agnostic New Weird city setting, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Betrayal of Targos Draghul

Premise: The characters were members of the Swords of Avernus, a mercenary company plying their bloody trade in the borderlands. The Swords of Avernus was destroyed when the band's commander, Targos Draghul, betrayed his brothers and sisters in arms by leading them into an ambush. 

Only four members of the Swords survived the onslaught: Anya, a clockwork assassin built in the guise of a young girl; Aries, a devilish paladin pledged to an oath of conquest; Brigid, a barbaric human storm-priestess from the hoary northlands; Vargen, a monstrous ranger accompanied by Olaf, his wolf companion.

The game began with the party tracking Targos Draghul across the borderlands of Urazya. They knew that Draghul was not traveling alone. As they followed Draghul's trail, the adventurers spied a way station watchtower at dusk. Curiously, the tower's beacon was not lit even though night was approaching. The party argued about whether it was worthwhile to search the tower or not, but ultimately curiosity won out.

The tower eerily silent, but showed signs of enduring an assault: the door had been broken and hastily repaired, some of the furniture inside had been smashed during what appeared to be a pitched battle, and there were blood stains on the floor throughout the structure. However, there were no corpses to be found. While exploring the tower, the party was set upon by a group of degenerate humans and slavering ghouls who were hiding in the upper floor. The battle was brief, their enemies were slain, but the adventurers received dire enough wounds that they decided to rest for the night inside the relative safety of the tower before picking up on Draghul's trail.

Examining the corpses of their foes yielded an important revelation: although they didn't recognize the degenerate humans, the ghouls were all wearing the uniforms of members of the Swords of Avernus. In fact, Vargin recognized one of the ghouls--he had fought side by side with the woman in a past battle fought by the Swords.

In the morning light, the party could see a walled village in the distance. As they rediscovered Draghul's tracks, it was confirmed that the village would be their next destination. Perhaps the villagers would be able to help them find their traitorous former commander.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Fellowship, Love Ties, and Blood Feuds

Art by Giorgio Baroni
These variant rules for awarding and using inspiration can be implemented to further the bloody drama of The Liberation of Wormwood. When these rules are adopted, inspiration can be granted and used in the following ways:

When a player character protects another player character or a friendly nonplayer character from harm, their player can declare that they have a bond of fellowship with that character. When a player character has a bond of fellowship, they can invoke that amity to gain inspiration when they act to defend the character they are bonded to or when they act to further that character’s interests. Inspiration can be invoked by calling on a bond of fellowship once per session.

A player can declare that their character is in love with another player character or a nonplayer character. If the attachment is between two player characters, it is a good idea to discuss this at the table to make sure everyone is comfortable with it. Keep in mind that this love is not necessarily reciprocated. When a player character has a love tie, they can invoke that intimacy to gain inspiration when they place their trust in the person they love or sacrifice themselves for the loved one’s benefit. Inspiration can be invoked by calling on a love tie once per session.

When a player character is harmed by a nonplayer character, their player can declare that they have a blood feud against that character. When a player character has a blood feud, they can invoke that vendetta to gain inspiration when they act to injure the object of their hate or to frustrate their goals. Inspiration can be invoked by calling on a blood feud once per session.

If you like the content above consider checking out The Liberation of Wormwood, a supplement for generating characters facing the invasion of their hometown by a usurping force, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.