Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Let's Read Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron: Welcome to Khorvaire

The first chapter of Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron was succinct enough in its explanation of what the setting is all about that a few of your players might even read it; the second chapter takes a much deeper dive into the setting's major locations, religions, magic, and planes of existence. This is probably detailed enough that only the DM will read it.

The continent of Khorvaire is the main focus in Eberron. In the past, Khorvaire was home to a single nation called Galifar, but the death of Galifar's king set his children at each other's throats in the optimistically titled Last War to see who would control the nation. But no one won the Last War, and Galifar was split into a number of smaller nations:

  • Aundair: very focused on magic, has a floating Hogwarts-like school called Arcanix.
  • Breland: home of Sharn, Khorvaire's largest city, and lots of criminal organizations.
  • Cyre: now called the Mournlands because it was destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm during the Last War; it might now inhabited by radicalized warforged.
  • Darguun: a land of goblins, refugees, and smugglers.
  • The Demon Wastes: a land of rakshasas and fiends.
  • Droaam: a nation of monsters ruled by three hags known as the Daughters of Sora Kell.
  • The Eldeen Reaches: druids, fey, shifters, farmland.
  • Karrnath: a grim nation of militarists that has fallen under the sway of a necromantic religion called the Blood of Vol.
  • The Lhazaar Principalities: pirate islands for all your Jack Sparrow needs.
  • The Mror Holds: a loose confederation of dwarf clans with a lot of gold and silver; they are threatened by mountain-dwelling orcs.
  • Q'barra: land of ancient ruins, lizardfolk, and dragonborn.
  • The Shadow Marshes: a merged culture of humans and orc druids keeping watch over horrible aberrations. 
  • The Talenta Plains: dinosaur-riding halfing barbarians, for all your Land of the Lost needs.
  • Thrane: a creepy theocracy that worships the Silver Flame.
  • Valenar: a land annexed by elven mercenaries during the Last War.
  • Zilargo: gnome inventors with a secret police force.



As you can see, there is a lot going on in Khorvaire, and that's just one of the continents in Eberron. Although having a lot of options is nice, I've always felt like Eberron gives you too much to focus on--the core themes of the first chapter feel a little diluted when the setting tries to be all things to all people. That said, each of the regions mentioned above gets a nicely laid out page of information that prioritizes the stuff you'd want to know for adventures over deep lore, so at least the format is working in the harried DM's favor.

Next up is a section on the ever-present magic of Eberron. Eberron's magic is characterized as "wide" instead of "high"; magic is everywhere, but it isn't particularly powerful. Minor wizards called magewrights keep the streets lit with light spells, but they don't pack any really impressed arcane ability. Wandslingers, used as magic-using soldiers during the Last War, know a couple cantrips and a first level spell. There's also some discussion of how magic influences fashion, entertainment, communications, transportation (lightning rail and airships, of course!), and warfare.

As is tradition, after magic is covered we get a section on the faiths found in Khorvaire, which include:

  • The Silver Flame: a religion obsessed with crusading against evil.
  • The Sovereign Host: the main religion of Khorvaire; the gods of the Sovereign Host hit most of the D&Disms and to be honest they're a little boring and difficult to remember.
  • The Dark Six: The evil gods, of course. There's six of them, you see.
  • The Blood of Vol: necromancers who want you to seize the day.
  • The Path of Light: New Age stuff.
  • The Undying Court: many of the elves of Eberron worship their undead ancestors.
  • The Cults of the Dragon Below: dragon cults tied into the Draconic Prophecy, which seems like a big deal in the setting but also feels somewhat distant from the big themes of Eberron.

Overall, the religions of Eberron are more functional than interesting to me, though they do get more intriguing at the periphery (The Undying Court, the Silver Flame) than they are at the center (the Sovereign Host, the Dark Six).

As if that wasn't enough, we also get some short descriptions of the lands beyond Khorvaire:

  • Aerenal: the ancient land of the elves, where special trees are harvested for airships, etc.
  • Argonessen: a land of the dragons and the barbarians who love them.
  • Everice and the Frostfell: for all your arctic exploration needs.
  • Sarlona: a land of weird psychics.
  • Xen'drik: jungles! ruins! giants! drow! for all your Indiana Jones needs.

And if that wasn't expansive enough, the chapter closes on some brief descriptions of the planes connected to Eberron. This chapter kept things as quick and snappy as possible, but I'm exhausted by the breadth of detail--and possibly getting flashbacks to how big the lore drop is in the 3e Eberron books. But hey, if you were worried about buying a "prototype" campaign or eventually seeing Eberron in print again, check out Mike Mearls's tweet over on the left.

Next chapter: Our party is made up of a war robot, werewolf jr., a psychic weirdo, and one of the Faceless Men from Braavos as we tackle the unique races of Eberron.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Krevborna is Electrum, On Sale, and Some Ways to Play it

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera recently hit the "Electrum Best Seller" status on DriveThruRPG, which is frankly mind-blowing. Also, it's still on sale as part of DriveThru's Christmas in July sale, but that's only going to last for a few more days so if you've been meaning to pick it up in pdf, this is the time to do it.

Also, I saw a thread where somebody was saying that Krevborna was their favorite setting book of all time and that is totally unexpected and awesome.

Nevertheless, I'd like to offer a few system suggestions for the setting so that this post isn't just a drive-by advertisement:

  • Call of Cthulhu. If the default idea of slaying monsters isn't your bag, I think Call of Cthulhu would be a good way to emphasize the investigative side of the setting. The extra rules in the Cthulhu Through the Ages book look like they'd help add equipment and skills that would be anachronistic in the game's default setting. Pdf link.
  • Monster of the Week. If you'd like to run games in Krevborna with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel or you'd like something Powered by the Apocalypse as the engine behind it, Monster of the Week looks like a pretty strong bet. Pdf link.
  • Blades in the Dark. I could see running a Blades in the Dark game set in Chancel. Replace the Doskvol factions with Krevborna's, and you're ready to scoundrel about in the shadows. Pdf link.
  • Miserable Secrets. I haven't taken a look at this game yet, but it sounds great and it's definitely pulling from the same pool of inspirations I was when I wrote Krevborna. Anybody with experience of the game should hit me up on G+ if they don't mind fielding a couple questions I have about how easy it would be to run Miserable Secrets online. Pdf link.
Note: None of the links above are "affiliate links" because not everything in the hobby needs to be monetized.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Umberwell: Dragonborn, Dwarves, Elves, Firbolg

More races that populate Umberwell:


DRAGONBORN
The dragonborn claim to be the heirs of an ancient empire in the world’s distant past, but no archaeological evidence exists to corroborate the existence of this supposed empire. The origins and history of the dragonborn remains a mystery that is debated by occultists and academics alike.

DWARVES
The industrious dwarves are most often found working as laborers in Umberwell's docks, factories, and warehouses, or competing in its licit and illicit pit-fighting arenas. Dwarves greatly value their martial prowess; their style of hand-to-hand combat is particularly brutal—it is a ceremonial martial art in which combatants wear spiked armor to make their bodies into weapons. Dwarves practice cultural rites of ritual scarification that mark important life events, successes, failures, sworn oaths, and planned vendettas.  

ELVES
Most elves in Umberwell are refugees from the long-running civil war that has torn Raben Vol Shai, their ancient homeland, apart. Elven sculpture is currently en vogue and is considered highly collectible; there is a thriving black market in Umberwell for sculptures that were “lost” during the elven diaspora. The dark elf houses of the Slumgullian Warrens have cornered the market in silk rope; they produce a brand called Whispersilk that is very popular with picaros and adventurers because of its resilience.

FIRBOLGS
Most firbolgs prefer to live in the wild places of the world, but the greenhouses and roof gardens that provide much of the city’s produce are often tended by firbolgs who have lost the habitats they defended elsewhere. The songs that the firbolg sing as they work are surprisingly complex and moving.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mama Lesedi Gheda, the Cult Leader of Cinderheim

A warlord of Cinderheim

MAMA LESEDI GHEDA
Mama Lesedi Gheda hears the voice of the encampment’s demon queen—a voice that urges her to found a religious order capable of uniting the desert under one demonic faith. Lesedi Gheda continues to follow the dictates of the demon because what has been promised has come to pass thus far—her faith gives her power, and her power causes lost souls to flock to her service.
    • Appearance. Aasimar, skin marked with bone-white sigils, massive avalanche of curly black hair.
    • Abilities. Divination, necromancy, oratory.
    • Traits. Fervent, swayed by physical beauty.
    • Ideal. Convert all of Cinderheim to her faith.
    • Bond. Gheda loves Chana, her consort and adviser. Chana is secretly a Misericorde agent sent to usurp control of Gheda’s fanatical congregation.
    • Flaw. If her powers were to falter, Gheda’s faith would be irrevocably shattered.
    • Warband. Religious maniacs and headhunter zealots.

SPECIAL FOLLOWERS
    • Headhunters. Lesedi Gheda’s most vicious troops are headhunters who take severed heads as trophies, believing that the spirits of their foes are trapped within.
    • Witches. Gheda personally trains her most devoted followers to channel demonic power. Her witches are liable to frenzied possession by the demonic spirits they consort with.
    • Army of the dead. Although she has yet had the need to do so, Lesedi Gheda is capable of raising the corpses interred in Serpent’s Hollow as an army of zombies.

YAZAAN
Yazaan is more akin to a cult’s compound than a traditional oasis encampment. The residents of Yazaan have traveled to Cinderheim to follow the spiritual teachings of the encampment’s leader, the blessed Mama Lesedi Gheda. Yazaan does very little trade with the other encampments of Cinderheim; it is secluded within the forests that grow around its springs and its people tend to be isolationist zealots.
    • Population. The vast majority of the population are human, but a smattering of serpentfolk, hawkfolk, dwarves, and ravenkin also live in Yazaan.
    • Aesthetic. Tent-buildings crafted from wooden frames and the cured hides of lizards and purple worms.
    • Supplies. Lumber. Water is drawn from cisterns throughout the encampment and used to irrigate the surrounding forest.

NOTABLE FEATURES
    • The Crown of Thorns. The encampment is enclosed by a conjured wall of impenetrable thorny vines. 
    • Bokora Grove. This grove is a sacred place where worshipers come to dance themselves into ecstatic states in honor of Yaza, the Mad Queen.
    • Serpent’s Hollow. Serpent’s Hollow is a private graveyard within the compound where Lesedi Gheda’s most loyal followers are buried.

ADVENTURES IN YAZAAN
    • Rob the grave of a wealthy person interred within Serpent’s Hollow.
    • Retrieve the skull of a beloved friend from the clutches of Gheda’s headhunters.
    • Uncover the true nature of Yaza’s plan for Lesedi Gheda.
    • Inspire the ecstatic faithful of Bokora Grove to rise up against Mama Lesedi Gheda.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Torture Garden

Octave Mirbeau's 1899 novel The Torture Garden is a notorious and extreme work of French decadence. The book pulls no punches in its discussion of political corruption, sexual deviancy, and body horror, maintaining its capacity to shock across the decades. Join Jack and Kate for a macabre journey from the cynical sewers of French politics to the blood-soaked abattoirs of the Far East.
Does using public transportation regularly lead to murderous ideation? Is our narrator the first fuckboi in literary history? Why on earth do your hosts enjoy poisonous femme fatale characters so much? All these questions and more will be answered in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at BadBooksBadPeople.com, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Let's Read Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron: What is Eberron?

Eberron is back! 

Kind of. 

As the "cover" of the pdf notes, Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron is a "campaign prototype"; the material therein is still in playtest, not yet deemed official rules content, and definitely not sanctioned for Adventurer's League play. Nevertheless, the rules in the book have been crafted largely by Keith Baker: "Bear in mind: this book presents my vision of Eberron. This is the world I run at my own table, and the way that I’ve converted its ideas to the fifth edition rules. All of the material here is presented for playtesting and to spark your imagination." Even if Wayfinder's Guide isn't the final word on Eberron in fifth edition, it's cool that they gave the setting's creator the opportunity to kick around in his own sandbox.

CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS EBERRON? First, we get a basic explanation of what Eberron is all about. I like that instead of launching into a gazetteer or geographic details, the explanation instead speaks to the setting's themes and aesthetics. Eberron is a setting where magic has taken the place of technological advancement, resulting in lightning rail trains, airships, etc. It's not steampunk per se, but the difference has always been small enough that it's doomed to be called steampunk anyway, much to Keith Baker's chagrin. 

Taken as a whole, one of the strongest elements in the setting is its pulp roots: the ideas of larger than life action and mysterious artifacts in far-flung locales just waiting to be found hits the Indiana Jones vibe pretty hard. In contrast to that, the setting also has a pronounced film noir component that makes D&D's usual "this race is evil, this race can be trusted" shtick unreliable--and therefore more fun. 


My favorite bit, and the one that often seemed to get the least attention in previous Eberron books, is that the setting's current era is an inter-war period--it feels like World War I has recently ended and the possibility of a World War II looms heavily on the horizon. Well, except the "Mourning" has always struck me as a magical-apocalyptic take on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the horrific aftermath that would entail.

Each of these setting elements gets expanded upon in its own section; the writing is fairly tight by WotC standards, and there is a good use of random tables and bullet-point lists to convey important information quickly. You might even be able to get a player to read about the setting before they sit down to play. The art seems to be mostly cribbed from prior Eberron products, but I've always liked Wayne Reynolds's style for this setting.

Generally speaking, I also like the attitude expressed in this pdf. It's noted that everything in D&D can have a place in Eberron, but also that the baseline assumption is Your Eberron May Vary--it's nice to see it explicitly called out that even though the setting has quite a bit of detail, your version of it doesn't have to cohere to the creator's vision and that personalizing the setting is encouraged.


The last bit of information in this first chapter gives a concrete example of how you might customize the setting: it deals with Eberron's place in the multiverse. Eberron had its own cosmology in its third edition incarnation; its planar schema does not match up with the standardized Great Wheel of the planes that forms the official version of how the D&D multiverse operates. This potential discrepancy is addressed by stating Eberron's planes separated from the Great Wheel cosmology by a shield that cuts them off from the rest of the multiverse. Options for breaching that shield and connecting Eberron's planes to the larger D&D multiverse are offered here, so your Eberron can be as sequestered or as connected as you want.

Next chapter: Little Red Khorvaire, baby you're much too fast.

* * *


Shameful self-promotion: My setting book, Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera, is currently on sale as part of DriveThruRPG's Christmas in July event! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Umberwell: Introduction and Overview

Umberwell is a city-state that sprawls across five islands on the Tarnished Sea, as well as a number of satellite islets, undersea adjuncts, and skyward districts elevated above the clouds. The five islands are connected by bridges running across their channels, underground tunnels that join their undercity warrens, and by the more permanent ligatures of imagined community. 

The city encompasses both the ramshackle wilderness of an unruly metropolis, the farms and forests that have been incorporated into the cityscape, and the subterranean depths of a land with an ancient heritage. The exact scale of the city is so unfathomably large that no accurate accounting of its many neighborhoods, wards, boroughs, and parishes is possible. 

Magic is commonplace in Umberwell; it is used in conjunction with artifice technology to achieve marvels such as ethergram communication, industrial factories, airships, automatons, worm trains, and mechanized replacement limbs. Although the city is the pinnacle of a fantasy world on the brink of modernity, it is also world-weary, desperate, decaying, and fraught. Umberwell is a city of tarnished splendor—it is a site of fantastique decadence where the metropolis itself has been cruelly left to corrode.

Umberwell is also a city of faith where the power of the gods is manifest. The most popular religion in the city-state is the People’s Covenant, a syncretic blend of the various deities that Umberwell’s peoples brought with them as they immigrated to the metropolis. The populace of the city is bricolage that freely mixes a myriad of races. Humans, elves, and dwarves mingle with birdfolk, goliaths, tieflings, and far stranger folk; the city is a nexus for planar travel, so demons, devils, angels, and cosmic aberrations have also been known to prowl Umberwell’s streets.

SIGHTS, SOUNDS, SMELLS
    • Cityscape. Crowded rows of buildings bisected by labyrinthine alleys, corroded splendor, rooftop terrace farms and greenhouses, looming spires and towers of metal connected by a cable cars, rivers winding across the city’s islands, slums, public gardens and forested parks, street lamps made of wrought iron and glass, vast undercity warrens constructed from scrap and salvaged materials.
    • Ornamentation. Art Nouveau design elements, faux Orientalist opulence, printed advertisements for the latest commodities, gilded trim, tall columns, rusty iron staircases, grotesques and gargoyles, Art Deco bridges.
    • Weather. Overcast and gray, pestilential fogs that obscure vision, frequent heavy rain, unbearably hot and humid in the summer, biting winds during winter.
    • Decay. Smoke-belching factories, graffiti, grime, rust, homeless citizens, rats, uneven cobblestone streets, pigeons and crows roosting on cracked ledges, stray dogs.
    • Pace. Bustling night markets selling illicit wares, travelers rushing to and fro, busy harbors, galloping carriages, airships anchoring at dockspires.
    • Sounds. The cries of street vendors, political ranters, buskers and carnival performers, broadsheet purveyors announcing the latest outrage, the thrum of machinery, the rumble of worm trains traveling beneath the streets.
    • Scent. The acrid burning of kraken blood, reeking rivers, soured beer, the tempting aroma of street foods.
    • Attire. Sheathed weapons, bowlers and top hats, leathers and stylish armor, scuffed boots, flat caps, hooded cloaks, oilskin trench coats, garish bandannas, gloves, parasols, embroidered waistcoats, kimonos, drainpipe trousers.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Current Projects: Umberwell and Cinderheim


Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera was well-received enough that I've been putting in work to get two of my other settings into publishable form. As you can see from the picture above, the inspirations going into Umberwell and Cinderheim are quite different, but to be honest it's actually been refreshing to have two separate directions to work in at the same time. Here's where I'm at in the process:


Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun
Under the demon sun lies a desert wasteland of desolate barrens where seven warlords rule seven oases of savage beauty. Amid the dunes, brutal scavengers battle for survival against desperate raiders and monsters born of demonic corruption. This is Cinderheim, a blasted hellscape of barbarism, sandstorms, and unrelenting heat. In Cinderheim, freedom beckons to those strong enough to fight for it.

If you like Dying Earth fiction (Brackett, Vance, Dark Sun), Sword and Sorcery (Berserk, Tanith Lee, Clark Ashton Smith), and Weird Westerns (Jonah Hex, Pretty Deadly, The Dark Tower) then Cinderheim might be what you're looking for.

Originally I wanted to publish Cinderheim as a saddle-stitched 'zine, but apparently that form factor isn't a possibility given the other specifications I have for it. The upside is that this means I could give myself a little more breathing room in terms of page count.


Right now, Cinderheim has been been written and edited. It still needs another copy editing pass by me and one more piece of interior art. This one could be out the door at the end of summer.

You can find additional blog posts about Cinderheim here.


Umberwell: City of Rust, Blackened Be Thy Name
Umberwell exists amid the streets, across five islands, underground, suspended above the clouds, within domes beneath the sea, and perched perilously upon towers that lord over the rust and refuse below. New ways of life germinate and flower in the corroded splendor of Umberwell. Umberwell is honeycombed with all-night cabarets and taverns. Some of the city’s delights are migratory—here today, displaced tomorrow. Umberwell is a city in a world where the cosmic forces of repression and anarchy clash eternally. Umberwell is interplanar; its reality overlaps countless other permutations. Umberwell is an impossible fever dream.

If you like fantasy cities like Ashamoil, New Crobuzon, Sigil, Sharn, and Duskwall, then Umberwell might be what you're looking for.

Umberwell is the kind of city campaign setting I'm always interested in, but rarely find: heavy on adventure possibilities, light on minute definition of the city's limits.


Umberwell is written and currently in the hands of an editor. Art for Umberwell hasn't started yet and I haven't made the indexes--which can't be made until I'm satisfied that I don't desire to add more content--so this one isn't likely to see the light of day until the fall. But it will be worth the wait, and I like taking my time.

You can find additional blog posts about Umberwell here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Umberwell: Aasimar, Birdfolk, Catfolk

The citizenry of Umberwell are a varied myriad; the ancestries discussed bellow denote only a fraction of the peoples that comprise the city-state’s populace.

AASIMAR
Aasimar are not a separate race in the usual sense; aasimar children are born seemingly at random into human families. Those who believe in the teachings of the People’s Covenant believe that aasimar are touched by the spiritual glory of the six goddesses. This reverential attitude tends to push aasimar toward haughty or imperious personality traits.

BIRDFOLK
The winged birdfolk are a rare sight in the city, but a few do rent or own “nests” atop Umberwell's highest towers and skyward spires—they prefer to live at height rather than at street-level. Birdfolk are notoriously insular and xenophobic; most birdfolk in Umberwell are exiles forbidden from returning to their homeland for crimes that seem baroque to most other races. 

CATFOLK
The feline catfolk are a scattered people who find little welcome in the world, save for a grudging acceptance in Umberwell. Even so, catfolk sometimes garner a poor reputation; some regard them as thieves, thugs, and con artists due to their dubious regard for personal property rights. However, due to their natural stealth and agility, some catfolk find employment as scouts and rangers working for the Umberwell Militia.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Hot Ghost Pirate on Ghost Pirate Action

Over the weekend I went down to Alexandria to play games as part of the D&D Weekend my friends get together for every year. This is how the game I played in went down:

Characters. Fillian Frost (human rogue), Sterling (human fighter), ZhaoWei (eladrin warlock), Gunther (gnome barbarian), Wolfric (half-elf paladin), Ivy (aasimar cleric).

Events. After attending the funeral of a character we met last time--and did not murder ourselves, we asked--we were approached by a cleric who told us about a series of villages that had been raided down the coast...apparently by a ship full of ghost pirates. Of course we agreed to investigate.

We talked to a madman that claimed to have seen red eyes during one of the attacks. We also talked to a ludicrously named gnome healer named Filistrum Wundercundoodle who had some "toe bones" from the "ghost pirates."

"Filtrum Wundercumdoodle, your shop has a wonderful aroma. Now, let's talk about bones." - Ivy Valerio

The fact that the bones had some sort of adhesive glue on them led us to believe that a Scooby Doo situation was afoot.

And then, side quests. A talking squirrel directed ZhaoWei to a woodland glade where he was told that something was messing with the weather patterns. Sterling and Gunther were given a silver axe in the cemetery by a half-orc who warned them of demonic cult activity. Ivy was invited to a late-night dinner and was asked to keep an eye out for a delayed merchant.

Encounters on the way! We found the delayed merchant, fixed his broken axle, and ate his stew. We got caught between a dire wolf and her cubs, but Gunther managed to talk her out of eating us.

We met up with a ferryman who told us that there was nothing interesting about the island village he lived in, so of course we wanted to go there. It was a suspicious shit hole. A little orphan girl asked us to take her with us when we left. A bunch of old women threatened to poison us. The guy we were hoping to get information from told us that a dracolich was responsible for the attacks, but he was clearly lying and wouldn't admit it even after we escalated from good cop/bad cop to bad cop/worse cop.

The villagers told us that no one comes back from the forest, so we explored it and found their demon cult cave, complete with sacrificial altar, evil dagger, and books that indicated that the villagers had sold their souls to Tiamat. Since the village was full of hovels, it looked like they got ripped off. On the way back we fought a demon made of sagging skin.

Back in the village, a storm had hit. We checked out the smokehouse, where dubious meat was hanging. We took refuge in the barn, where Gunther talked to the goats--who were unhelpful. Of course, a miscreant with a crowbar and his "skeleton pirate" pals showed up to fuck with us, but we killed them handily. (And probably blew too many resources doing so.) The ghost pirate was actually just a kobold in a costume.

Then, we saw the fake ghost ship...rammed by a real ghost ship. Our Scooby Doo situation had gone meta. We commandeered a boat and rowed out to the melee. Our plan was to fight the real ghost pirates first, then clear out the kobolds.  Things looked good for us at first, but then we had at least three solid turns of bad rolls on our side. Things were looking dire. Gunther was knocked out, Fillian's player fell asleep, the fake pirates' cleric leader tried to make off with our boat, all of us were low on hit points and we were out of spells. 

We retreated to the boat and let the ghost pirates take their revenge on the villagers.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Nine Hex-Marked Houses

NINE HEX-MARKED HOUSES 
Although the noble classes were relieved of the burden of political power many generations ago by a populist uprising, nine hex-marked houses of aristocratic tiefling witches and warlocks cling to feuds that stretch back through the ages; these hostilities often erupt in street violence between gangs of partisan cavaliers or duels to the death between courtiers. The magical melees between House Stockwither and House Bao are particularly brutal. The members of each house bear the black sigil of their family magically branded onto their left hands.

THE HEX-MARKED HOUSES

  • The House of Bao. The tieflings of House Bao are gifted with powers of conflagration and darkness. 
  • The House of Demian. The tieflings of House Demian are gifted with powers that bend their victims’ will. 
  • The House of Kortigo. The tieflings of House Kortigo are gifted with powers of illusion. 
  • The House of Malrouge. The tieflings of House Malrouge are gifted with powers of force and entrapment. 
  • The House of Moriah. The tieflings of House Moriah are gifted with powers of madness and disease. 
  • The House of Renash. The tieflings of House Renash are gifted with powers of stealth and deceit. 
  • The House of Stockwither. The tieflings of House Stockwither are gifted with powers of ice and frost. 
  • The House of Underhill. The tieflings of House Underhill are gifted with powers of control and manipulation. 
  • The House of Vexenvolk. The tieflings of House Vexenvolk are gifted with fiery, violent powers.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Don't Hate the Flayer, Hate the Game: The Rules


House Rules
99% of terrible house rules are born from wanting to add "realism" or "logic" to necessary abstractions.

Balance
"I didn't design this with balance in mind" is most often said by people who either don't want to do the work to make something balanced or don't have to design chops to even try.

Tweeting at Game Designers, Demanding Answers
People who tweet increasingly aggressive questions to game designers--or worse, people who demand new content or rule changes under the guise of asking a question--are actively trying to tell you that they aren't well suited to a game that is essentially based on the premise "make up fun stuff."

The Bait and Switch
If you tell people that you're going to run an "old-school 5e game" but what you really mean is that you added the advantage/disadvantage mechanic to Swords & Wizardry, it kinda feels like you couldn't get any players for the game you really want to run and maybe you should think about why that's the case.

Cheating
If you suspect that someone is cheating on their dice rolls, keep a tally of what they claim they're rolling. If the only roll they ever blow is for initiative, they're probably fudging and you can safely stop inviting them to your games.

The funny thing about cheating at D&D is that the stakes are so low. I get being attached to your character, but it's not like money is riding on how the roll goes--which makes me think that people who lie about their rolls are playing in your game for reasons unconnected from having fun with other people in a pro-social way.

I've never encountered anyone who lies about their rolls that isn't also bringing some other problems to the table.

Speaking of cheating, this Twitter post by Bluejay sums up why I never fudge rolls as a DM (unless I think I screwed up and added wrong, rolled too many dice in the heat of the moment, etc.):



Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes: Complete

Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes? Yeah, read it, talked about it. Here's an index of my read through:

The Blood War and Devils!
Demons!
Elves!
Drow and Eladrin!
Shadar-Kai and the Raven Queen!
Dwarves!
Gith!
Halflings and Gnomes!

But what about the Bestiary section? Look, it's full of monsters. It's got berbalang in it, but it doesn't have penanggalan. That's all I can tell you, really.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Necrophagous Fever

Umberwell is a city of contagion...

NECROPHAGOUS FEVER
Umberwell is plagued by outbreaks of disease; some areas of the city are perpetually quarantined. Necrophagous Fever, for example, causes an elevated temperature, rasping cough, cadaverous appearance, and skin discoloration, until the progress of the disease leads to eventual transformation into a mindless zombie that hungers to kill the living and devour their flesh. Patent medicines of varying efficacy, such as Korokov's Blood Tonic and Paolo's Venerable Elixir, are sold throughout Umberwell to treat the Fever and a multitude of other complaints. The superstitious wear scrimshaw charms in hopes of staving off infection.


RUMORS ABOUT NECROPHAGOUS FEVER
  • Necrophagous Fever originated on the wild continent of Hygaea. It was brought to Umberwell accidentally by intrepid explorers.
  • The plague is man-made; there is a government conspiracy that aims to thin the population of Umberwell's underclass through biological warfare.
  • The Fever has an unknown connection to a number of neighborhoods that have been consumed by demonic fungus.
  • Doctor Althena Roxandra, lead physician at the Aspmoore Sanitarium in Cirqus, has discovered a cure for the Fever, but is holding her serum for ransom until an exorbitant price is met.
  • The contagion is an act of sabotage perpetrated by agents of the Azrakhan Emirates to keep Umberwell from joining the War of Blue Orchids in support of Duvaria.
* * *

Shout outs to Paolo Greco of Lost Pages; Paolo's Venerable Elixir is so named in tribute.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ass Goblins of Auschwitz

Mini-Episode 11: Ass Goblins of Auschwitz
Cameron Pierce's 2009 novella Ass Goblins of Auschwitz has a stand-out title even in the outrageous world of bizarro fiction, a subgenre of fantasy that uses that uses elements of absurdism, pop-cultural references, grotesquery, and over-the-top scatological imagery--often for the purpose of surreal satire. In this month's episode, Jack and Kate crack the covers of this notorious story and see if it delivers on its promise.


Will a book with a title this wild be able to live up to the hype? Are there any artistic and literary precedents for this sort of thing, with its "toilet toad" and "shit slaughter" madness? And how do Neil Gaiman and Jerry Lewis figure into all of this? Find out the answers to all these questions and more on this month's mini episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at BadBooksBadPeople.com, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Bright Eyes and Madness




Wolves in the Throne Room - The Old Ones Are With Us †
Myrkur - Funeral †
Chelsea Wolfe - The Culling †
Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Skepsis, pt. 1 †
Oxxo Xoox - Landae †
Oathbreaker - Where I Live †
King Woman - Hem †
Corpo-Mente - Saelli †
Alcest - Je suis d'ailleurs †
Ides of Gemini - Heroine's Descent †
Ricinn - Laid in Earth †

(Probably the last of my 8tracks mixes. We had a good run.)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Deluge of Dark Sun

The Dark Sun setting was one of the great creative triumphs of the 2e AD&D era. It was the prefect marriage of content and aesthetic expression--the writers lined up the rules and made strategic interventions into what D&D could be and the artists followed through and made it come alive. Dark Sun also seems to spring eternal: it was one of the few settings to see support during the 4e era, and people have been asking for its return since 5e dropped. It has certainly been a major point of inspiration for my Cinderheim setting. Here's some Dark Sun-related stuff from the internet worth your time:


Dark Sun enthusiasts discussing the setting in what I hope will prove to be a long-running series of podcast episodes.


Jim Davis from Web DM has started a new streamed D&D campaign called Land Between Two Rives that is heavily Dark Sun influenced--a great example of taking the setting's themes in new directions. Plus, I love how oddball and different the cast of characters are from the "only Tolkien races" or "humans only" campaigns out there; this one's got a goblin cleric, a tiefling bard, a lizardfolk ranger, a bugbear druid, and a human (created by magic because humans are extinct) barbarian.


The Web DM show also did a podcast episode on the Dark Sun setting and what they love about it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Total Skull: The Happy Man, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The October Faction

Things that brought me delight in June, 2018.


Eric C Higgs, The Happy Man
Since I couldn't find the book I had intended to start, I picked a book to read at random from my pile--Eric C. Higgs's The Happy Man. I did not expect to be quite so enthralled by this stunning tale of madness. The Happy Man is either a bit prescient or makes a successful argument that things never change in America: the possible of "illegals" crossing the border hovers in the background--but of course the real danger is home-grown and deeply rooted in the culture of upwardly mobile white America. Charles Ripley seems to have grasped the American Dream by the balls: he's got a nice house, a good job, a pretty wife--but when Ruskin Marsh and his stunning wife move in next door he begins to feel like some essential piece of his happiness is missing. The novel proceeds a bit like American Psycho, with strong notes of Poe and even James Hogg lingering at the margins, but as the slimmer work The Happy Man is much more incisive. 


Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
"I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."



Steve Niles and Damien Worm, The October Faction vols. 2-4
Stories about monster hunters hunting monsters are seldom simply about monster hunters hunting monsters. Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have been a very dire proposition if it were just about slaying vampires; the show lived and breathed because it brought in all the anxieties that come with high school and young adulthood--sometimes alongside the monster stomping and sometimes metaphorically as the monster stomping. That The October Faction inhabits a similar space isn't necessarily intriguing on its own, but by choosing to focus on parenting and the evolving role of family it hits fresh territory.


Sleep, The Sciences
I finally got some time to sit down and spend some time with this one. If you've heard a Sleep album before, The Sciences won't surprise you--but Sleep really does excel at riffs the size and weight of concrete slabs. Of course, since the record was released on 4/20, you can expect that the toke-references run deep. Sleep isn't content to sing the gospel of weed, however; they weave a science fiction mythology around their consumption that hits with the force of a debut record instead of an awaited return.


The Night Walker
While the rest of the world goes apeshit for "arthouse horror" like it's an unheard of thing, I'm back on my bullshit watching the creaky b&w horror films that only William Castle could perfect. Although it's never shocking, The Night Walker has some truly uncanny moments--the marriage scene with the mannequins is going to stick with me longer than anything I saw in Hereditary.


Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristatina, InseXts, Volume 2: The Necropolis
Amidst all the Victorian body horror, the second volume of InseXts leans heavily on the theme of "Western culture has traditionally made women into the objectified subjects of art rather than allowing them to be artists themselves." Although this is a point historically demonstrable, it also felt a little too obvious--and, more importantly, like a point betrayed by InseXts own sense of eroticism and pin-up sensibilities. Up until the fourth-wall breaking end that is; okay, you got me, comic, didn't see that gimmick coming and I give you credit for it.



Honorable mentions
Anne Somerset, The Affair of the Poisons (which we did a podcast episode on)
Frank Miller, Sin City, Volume Two: A Dame to Kill For
Races of Eberron
Explorer's Guide to Eberron
The Book of Vile Darkness
The Babysitter
Adventures in Middle-earth: Mirkwood Campaign
Ocean's 8
GLOW, Season 2
Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (Demons!)

Where we've been so far: dwarveselvesdrow and eladrinshadar-kai and the Raven Queenhalflings and gnomes, giththe Blood War and devils. Where we're going: demons.

"The Abyss is a vast wound in the cosmic order, a bottomless pit teeming with creatures that exist only to rend, tear, and destroy." That's a pretty mood-setting first line, and with that we're off to the races with D&D's demons. As we saw before, devils are true to their lawful natures: they win through right of conquest and pact. On the other hand, demons are a virus. They don't take your land or our soul, they change it. They're colonial, parasitical, and contagious on a metaphysical level: "If demons dwell in a place for a significant amount of time, the area starts to warp in response tothe abyssal energy that churns within it. If a demonic infestation is left unchecked, a portal to the Abyss is the result, and more and more of the essence of the Abyss pushes its way through. In time, a plane or a world could become a colony of the Abyss, overrun with demons and devoid of all other forms of life."

(Side-note: this is exactly the direction I went with my Cinderheim setting, so it's interesting to see it spelled out as the baseline for what demons are about in an official book.)

So what does it look like when a demon starts to corrupt the land around them? "During the first stages of an abyssal incursion, the natural world recoils from the demonic presence. Plants become twisted versions of themselves. Leering faces appear in leaf patterns, vines writhe of their own accord, and trees grow foul-smelling tumors instead of leaves as their branches wither and die. Bodies of water in the area become tainted and sometimes poisonous, and the weather might feature extremes of heat, cold, wind, rain, or snow that aren't typical of the normal climate. Living things in the area flee or are killed by the demons." One thing I'm really enjoying about the section on demons: the author or authors are clearly having fun and really givin'er. Was it Robert J. Schwalb? That dude loves demon lords.

If the viral demon-process continues, eventually a demon lord enters the world. This is, unsurprisingly, a Bad Thing. The demon lord gathers the demons already present into the world, forms them into a warband, and the apocalypse is now underway.

One thing that has always bothered me a tiny bit about Warhammer's Chaos Demons is that, despite the emphasis on chaos, they fit into a remarkably orderly taxonomy. The ones with their titties out fight for Slaanesh, the ones with the sores are declared for Nurgle, etc. Of course, this is because Games Workshop leans hard on brand recognition, so over the years they've crafted their figures to function like any other toy line. Similarly, D&D's demons fit into recognizable categories, but at least Mordenkainen's Tome tries to emphasize that you should modify your demons at will: "Although sages group demons into types according to their power, the Abyss knows no such categories. Demons are spawned from the stuff of the Abyss in a near-infinite variety ofshapes and abilities. The common forms that are familiar to demonologists represent broad trends, but individual demons defy those tendencies. For instance, a vrock might crawl out of an oil slick in the Demonweb Pits with three eyes and vestigial wings. A chasme might appear on the layer of Azzagrat possessing the ability to belch forth clouds of flies."

Demon lords aren't made through orderly promotion; rather, a demon lord is just a demon who has lived long enough to become a Big Bad. Apparently demon lordship is something even mortals can aspires to; all they need to do is travel to the Abyss, get warped by its horrid energies, and then stick it out long enough to "ascend" to power. Demon lordship is for finishers. (Side note: it looks like the Abyss has infinite layers now. Didn't it used to have exactly 666?)

All right, let's talk canonical Demon Lords. Baphomet is the Demon Lord for that kind of dickbag who believes in the ubermensch--that some people are better than others and therefore get to treat "lessers" like shit. With his emphasis on hunting his foes, Baphomet is the General Zaroff of the D&D multiverse. It's crazy that Demogorgon is now most famous for being referenced in Stranger Things, right? Anyway, if Demogorgon is left the only living being in the cosmos, his two heads have to duke it out for domination. Also, Demogorgon has a symbol that can instantly seduce mortals who look at it; I keep picturing it as Prince's symbol.

Fraz-Urb'luu has the dumbest name of all the demon lords. Since his portfolio is basically "Prince of Lies," it feels like a missed opportunity that they already used a Beelzebub name with the devils. Anyway, most of Fraz-Urb'luu's followers have been duped into his service, so I assume they are like the guys on Twitter who will fight to the death over Elon Musk's honor. Graz'zt is the Sexy Demon Bad Boy. Frankly, his Evil Seducer shtick seems more like a devil thing, but a sidebar helpfully points out that Graz'zt may have been a devil originally, and his "Seasons in the Abyss" warped him into a demon--which is actually a pretty neat way of underlining just how corrupting the Abyss really is.

Because D&D has slime monsters, I guess it needs a Demon Lord of Slime. Enter Juiblex. At least Juiblex provides an explanation for where oozes come from--but that's about it for Juiblex. Orcus is by far my favorite of D&D's demon lords, mostly because he looks like he belongs on a dope metal album cover. For the record, I prefer corpulent Orcus to svelte Orcus and I won't be swayed on this issue. The multiverse is too loud for Orcus's sensibilities, and he just wants to turn the cosmos into a place inhabited by tip-toeing undead, is that so wrong?

Yeenoghu is a bit like Baphomet but with an emphasis on eating his foes instead of just hunting them down. Yeenoghu made the gnolls, of course. It's odd that D&D views fungus as chaos, instead of a fairly orderly progression of natural growth, but Zuggtmoy is here for your fungal Demon Queen needs. Horrible name, absolutely stunning art in this edition. The art possesses a kind of regalness that doesn't really come through in her description, unfortunately. Her goal is to turn the multiverse into one fungal unity--so she's like a biological version of the Borg. And that's the running theme for the demon lords and queens in D&D: each one wants to be the single, solitary being left in a world that has succumbed to their whims.