Monday, July 22, 2019

The Knights of Ruin

THE KNIGHTS OF RUIN
The Knights of Ruin are an outlawed cult dedicated to Vokara. The Knights of Ruin revere Vokara in her aspect of the Lady of Undeath, and the majority of the sect is comprised of undead creatures, such as vampires, ghouls, and liches. The mortal members of the cult aspire to undeath. The Knights see the People’s Covenant as guilty of obfuscating two holy truths: life is a curse to be transcended and the eternal existence granted by undeath is a sacred reprieve from mortal frailty. The Knights view the mortal world as an abject failure—they wish to enact a powerful necromantic rite that will turn the world into a blighted paradise for the unliving.


Motto
Long live the dead flesh.


Beliefs
  • Undeath is a sanctified state of being.
  • Mortals are nothing more than prey and beasts of burden.
  • Undeath is the only sure route to immortality.
Goals
  • Complete the horrid ritual that will usher in the Abdead Ascendancy.
  • Commit murder as a sacramental offering to Vokara.


Quests
  • Recover a unique artifact capable of the mass production of animate skeletons.
  • Free a Knight imprisoned in Bleakbone Gaol.
  • Assist a vampire hunted by fanatical slayers of the undead.


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. It's also currently on sale!



Friday, July 19, 2019

Christmas in July Sale

All of the pdfs published by Dolorous Exhumation Press are currently on sale as part of DriveThruRPG's Christmas in July Sale!

The Liberation of Wormwood is on sale for $4.49. The Liberation of Wormwood is a kit for creating a campaign in which the characters attempt to overthrow a usurper who has taken control of their hometown.

Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name is on sale for $7.49. Umberwell is a weird fantasy city setting inspired by the works of China Mieville and Dishonored.

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is on sale for $7.49. Krevborna is a Gothic setting inspired by Bloodbourne and Eastern European folklore.

Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun is on sale for $4.49. Cinderheim is an apocalyptic setting inspired by sword & sorcery and Weird West fiction.

Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom is on sale for $1.49. Hexmoon Sabbath presents three witches ready to invade the setting of your choice.

There's never been a better time to complete your collection of Dolorous Exhumation Press's offerings!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Best of 2019 (So Far)

Jack and Kate look at what they've been reading and watching so far in 2019 and make some recommendations in the world of books and beyond. The rules of engagement are simple: the hosts each choose one movie, album, TV show, book and "wild card" from any category that was the best experience of its kind encountered during the first half of 2019.
Follow your hosts as they talk about gritty frontier justice, bloodthirsty demons, various forms of heavy music from across the globe, and the joys of powder-coating among many, many more topics.
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 ourAbout Page.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Two Flavors of Monk

I recently re-watched Enter the Dragon. No surprise, it's still fantastic. But, as I was watching the Bolo fight sequences I was again struck by how poorly the 5e D&D monk models the brawn-based style of martial arts. You can do a monk who uses strength to punch suckers out in the rules as written, but unfortunately that puts you in the unfortunate position of relying on three attributes (Str, Dex, Wis) instead of just two (Dex, Wis).

Here's a house rules that fixes that: At character creation, a player can choose to use Strength for any monk class features that reference Dexterity. 

What does this look like in practice? Let's take a look at a couple features rewritten with the house rule above taken into account:

UNARMORED DEFENSE
Beginning at 1st level, while you are wearing no armor and not wielding a shield, your AC equals 10 + your Strength modifier + your Wisdom modifier.

DEFLECT MISSILES
Starting at 3rd level, you can use your reaction to deflect or catch the missile when you are hit by a ranged weapon attack. When you do so, the damage you take from the attack is reduced by 1d10 + your Strength modifier + your monk level.

Sorted!

* * *


It seems clear that the Way of Four Elements monk is meant to provide an Avatar-esque character option. Unfortunately, it's in the running for worst-designed subclass in the Player's Handbook and is sure to disappoint anyone hoping to play Korra or Aang.

The problems with the subclass are many: if you compare the spells it gives you access to, they cost too much ki to use and you get too few of them. Compare what this subclass offers in comparison to the Way of Shadows subclass and the problem is obvious. Also, the features it gives you are poorly scheduled in terms of level and they're often going to be way less useful than the monk's core features.

It's tempting to adjust the subclass by giving more access to the elemental abilities, repricing the ki cost for using them, and maybe make the attack options usable with bonus actions, but...that sounds like a lot more work than it's worth.

Instead, if what you're after is a monk that has elemental blasts, just use the Way of the Radiant Soul subclass and swap out the damage types of its features for elemental damage types. (Bludgeoning for earth, water, and air, cold if you want to, fire for...fire, etc.) Hell, you could let the player choose per attack and it still wouldn't be unbalanced.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Tenoch the Devourer


TENOCH THE DEVOURER
The people of Zulot regard Tenoch as something more than just their leader; to them, he is a destructive force of nature. His ravenous hunger is legendary—Tenoch the Devourer has been known to publicly feast upon the bodies of his foes. Whether or not his enemies are dead when he sets his mandibles upon them makes little difference to Tenoch.
  • Appearance. Mantisfolk, dark green exoskeleton, four arms ending in clawed pincers, fearsome mandibles.
  • Abilities. Blade-wielding dervish, inspires loyalty through fear.
  • Traits. Predatory, unable to feel remorse.
  • Ideal. Consume every living creature within Cinderheim.
  • Bond. Tenoch believes that he has been chosen by Zulor to grow stronger by consuming life.
  • Flaw. Nothing ever sates Tenoch’s hunger, and this causes him to be in a state of perpetual pain.
  • Warband. Mantisfolk warriors led by elite janissaries, bolstered by enslaved warriors.


SPECIAL FOLLOWERS
  • Janissaries. Tenoch’s janissaries are fanatical mantisfolk warriors who adorn themselves with the bones of the vanquished.
  • The Ebony Procession. The Ebony Procession are twelve towering golems crafted from black basalt.
  • Trade emissaries. The traders sent from Zulot are notoriously sly and underhanded, and it is widely suspected that they act as spies seeking weaknesses to be exploited within the other encampments.
ZULOT
Zulot is the most bellicose of the encampments, and the most reliant on raiding and pillaging to sustain itself. The warbands of Zulot take more than just mundane foodstuffs and material goods—they are notorious for enslaving their victims as thrall soldiers, grub farm laborers, or as potential meals for Tenoch.
  • Population. Half of the population are mantisfolk; the other half of the population are spiderfolk, scorpionfolk, and slaves of other races.
  • Aesthetic. Buildings like large termite mounds made of bones, mantisfolk saliva, and desert grit.
  • Supplies. Edible grubs, cotton, linen, silk. Water is drawn from deep wells at the center of the encampment.
NOTABLE FEATURES
  • Grub farms. Water from Zulot’s wells maintains soil-beds where beetle grubs, one of the primary foodstuffs eaten by the residents of the encampment, are nurtured.
  • The Boulevard of the Broken. This street in Zulot is lined with wooden stakes upon which the half-eaten bodies of those who have displeased Tenoch the Devourer are displayed as a warning against dissent.
  • The House of the Maw. The House of the Maw is a temple dedicated to Zulor, the Red Hunger. The vengeful visit the Maw to be blessed with the skill to hunt their foes to the ends of the earth.


ADVENTURES IN ZULOT
  • Steal enough grubs from the grub farms to feed a starving village at the outskirts of Tenoch’s territory.
  • Free an important slave before Tenoch eats them.
  • Disenchant the Ebony Procession before it can be used in an act of war.
  • Defile the House of the Maw to break the janissaries’ morale.


If you like the content above (or any of the content here), consider checking out Cinderhein: The Land Under the Demon Sun, a system agnostic apocalyptic fantasy setting, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Where They Sleep

Sometimes the really memorable moments in a game aren't the triumphant combats or the tense final death save. Sometimes they're the quiet moments. 

This is something I think about a lot: a while back, in a game in which we were playing a gang of criminals turned neighborhood protectors, the DM asked us to be prepared to talk about where our characters slept. When they weren't being adventurers and running a shady business, what did their lives look like?

I found myself taking a lot of notes on what the other players brought to the table. I already knew their characters from weeks of play, but it was amazing to get a glimpse into who they were when they weren't risking life and limb in pursuit of gold and power.

The characters: 

Bronte
Goliath eldritch knight fighter
Bronte occupies the top floor of a ramshackle tower that has been built out of the remnants of a crashed airship. His bedroom has been pieced together from the ship's cockpit. His rooms in the tower are absolutely crammed full of junk and scavenged debris. Scrolls and books about magic litter the floor. He also has the bad habit of leaving half-eaten containers of take-away food strewn throughout his flat. Bronte smokes innumerable cigarettes on his balcony while he watches the to-and-fro of the city's residents.

Hayseed
Human circle of dreams druid
Hayseed is an unkempt country bumpkin who seems ill-adjusted to life in the big city. Hayseed has a shaggy beard, dirty threadbare clothes, and a smell that one would associate with a countryside barn. Hayseed rents a small house nestled among the gigantic trees of Kenweth Park. Inside, Hayseed's house is immaculate and the many potted flowers he keeps lend the place a highly perfumed and fresh scent. He has a piece of furniture that looks like a library card catalog, but inside it has neatly organized packets of seeds.


Kallisto
Half-elf college of whispers bard/hexblade warlock
Kallisto has carved out a bedroom in the basement in the basement of the gang's munitions factory. No one knows about this room; it's tucked away in storage space where no one ever goes. Although Kallisto takes pains to present herself as a well-dressed, stylish business woman, her room is extremely spartan. She owns very little in the way of personal effects, save for one solograph print of her with her bother, an anarchist who is currently on the run from the vengeful forces of the law.

Gumdrop
Gnome chaos sorcerer
Gumdrop maintains an apartment above a candy store. The street is quiet and the families who live on it are solidly middle class. She never keeps food in her apartment, preferring to eat at the noodle stand down the street. Her apartment is absolutely filled with plush animals. Anyone who comes into her living space is likely to be terrified by the quality of plush animals lurking throughout the apartment--it isn't cute, it's vaguely but intensely off-putting.


Wax
Changeling assassin rogue/battlemaster fighter
The party knows Wax as a stone-cold, hardened killer; due to assuming and discarding identities continually as a changeling, he has little sense of self--no inner core. The other characters in the party are honestly a little afraid of him. What they don't know is that he has a secret life of warm, prosaic attachment. Wax rents a room in a working-class family's home. When he returns to his quarters, he assumes the likeness and persona of an utterly plain factory worker. When at home, he partakes of his landlords' family life--he takes his meals with them, sharing in their joys and sorrows. These moments are the only time when he actually enjoys life.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Berserk's Tendrils of Influence

I've currently read all the volumes of Kentaro Miura's Berserk manga that have officially been translated into English. Aside from the story and art, the series comes with a built-in mini-game: spot the influences. Berserk draws heavily on established visual vocabulary in its character designs:

Mad Max and Guts

The Phantom of the Paradise and Femto

Berserk has also inspired a lot of other media, particularly the games created by FromSoftware:

 Berserk's Mark of Sacrifice and Bloodborne's Hunter rune

 Berserk's corpse-wheel monsters and Dark Souls' corpse-wheel monsters

Berserk's horse demon and Bloodborne's Ludwig the Accursed

Berserk's religious nut armed with a wagon wheel weapon and Bloodborne's Logarius wheel (Logarius is, predictably, a religious nut)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Defense of Lanchester

Previous session: The Betrayal of Taltos Draghul

The party: 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 mutant ranger accompanied by Olaf, his wolf companion.

After spending the night within the safety of a watch tower, the remaining members of the Swords of Avernus marched to the walled village they had spotted in the distance. They arrived in Lanchester by mid-afternoon. They were surprised when the guards posted at the village's gate did not question them too closely before lifting the portcullis; the guards merely wanted to know if the party considered themselves Hunters and advised them to see the village elder as soon as possible.(1)

The party met with Silas, an aged engineer sent to administer the village at the behest of Capital. When questioned about Taltos Draghul, he admitted that the traitorous captain of the Swords had passed through after buying supplies. He also said that Draghul rode with several other cloaked figures who did not seem to need to eat, drink, or sleep through the night. Draghul's party had left several wagons outside the village gates; Silas did not know what the wagons contained, but the party surmised that they might be carrying the corpses of soldiers from the Swords of Avernus who fell in the ambush that devastated their ranks.

Silas had heard of the Swords of Avernus and was astonished that the four adventurers before him were the last of its number. Aries had a different view, stating "There are many more soldiers of the Swords of Avernus out there, even if they do not yet know it. When we find them, they will feel the call to glory and they will join us. Our ranks will swell once more. Our blades are chipped, but they remain unbroken." 

Conceding the point, Silas also explained that the village had troubles of its own: it had suffered raids from a pack of wolf-riding mutants who were stealing food and abducting villagers. A warning from the raiders had been thrown over the village's wall in the form of the decapitated head of one of the abducted villagers; a hastily scrawled note had been stuffed in the mouth. The note said that the raiders would be returning in two days and that if the village's remaining wealth was not handed over without resistance, a massacre would ensue. He pleaded with the members of the Swords of Avernus for aid against this threat.

Silas's pleas for assistance caused discord within the party; Anya and Vargen wanted to continue their pursuit of Taltos Draghul while his trail was still fresh, while Aries and Brigid couldn't abide leaving the villagers to be preyed upon.(2) Ultimately, it was decided that the Swords would stay and fight.

The time remaining before the raiders' return was spent organizing the townsfolk into a makeshift militia and building siege fortifications--a specialty of the Swords of Avernus, who had endured and laid many a siege in their careers as mercenaries. As night fell, the sounds of baying wolves could be heard in the distance--the raiders had arrived to collect their tribute.

The raiders discovered that the village was ready for them. Arrows rained down from the village's walls, but the mutants used flaming arrows of their own to set the walls on fire--adding fire-fighting to the list of tasks necessary for the village's defense. The gate was breached and the mutants rode in on their massive wolfen steads. They met stiff, unexpected resistance in the form of the Swords. The Swords and their militia held them at bay, then began the slow process of pushing the invaders back. The gates were resealed, trapping the majority of the raiders inside the village walls, where they were slaughtered without mercy. There was wolf vs. wolf action, care of Olaf.

In the light of the dawn, it was clear that the threat the raiders posed had been decisively dealt with. The Swords found their cohort had grown; a young man named Pedro Montague had heard Aries's rousing speech to Silas and found that joining the fray in defense of the village moved something inside him--he pledged his life to the Swords of Avernus and rode with them as they left the village of Lanchester, still in pursuit of vengeance against Taltos Draghul. (3)

* * *

(1) From the forthcoming Urazya 'zine: "Hunters are valorous—or reckless—adventurers who earn their livings by killing creatures of darkness and collecting the bounties placed on the heads of dangerous outlaws." 
(2) Aries and Brigid had very different motives for wanting to stay and fight the raiders. Brigid was moved by compassion because the village of her youth had been destroyed by mutant raiders in similar circumstances. Aries, on the other hand, doesn't like to avoid a battle that can bring glory and conquest--tenets he is sword to uphold as a diabolic paladin.
(3) Pedro is getting statted-up as a "sidekick" character as per the rules in the D&D Essentials box.

Monday, July 1, 2019

High-Rise, A Hawk in the Woods, Hellsing, Veleno, God's War, Come Holy Death

Things that brought me delight in June, 2019:

High-Rise
For reasons I do not yet grasp, J. G. Ballard has had much better luck than most authors when it comes to getting his work adapted into interesting movies that don't send you screaming back to the source material. The visual aesthetic of High-Rise captures the dual libidinal thrust of the untouchable nature of the commodity-driven Man of Modernity and his inevitable re-acquaintance with the Savage Child when modernity fails to deliver. 


Carrie Laben, A Hawk in the Woods
Tremendous debut novel. It's a modern take on Lovecraftiana but has more heart--and far more interest in modernity--than Ol' Lantern Jaw could ever have mustered. No love of gabled roofs here, but rather we get a cogent look at familial ties, social media as magical glamour, the weight of personal history, and facing the unavoidable. The structure see-saws back and forth between the past and present day and is uncommonly satisfying; the past frame catches up with the current story to perfectly underline the ways in which the past is always at our heels, ready to overtake us if we aren't wary of it. Also, this is probably the most accurate depiction of Western New York I've encountered in a long time.


Kohta Hirano, Hellsing 1-10
I watched an anime adaptation of Hellsing back in grad school, but I hadn't attempted the manga until now. There is a much heavier emphasis on all the old ideological frameworks clashing against each other than I was expecting: Protestants vs. Catholics acerbating the medieval tensions, Nazis popping up yet again (and man does the "Nazis secretly maneuvered themselves into positions of power" thing take on a new context now), Islamic extremism, something-something generational conflicts, etc.


Fleshgod Apocalypse, Veleno, Agony, Labyrinth, King
Although their first album mostly used classical orchestration as interludes between death metal bangers, Fleshgod Apocalypse quickly learned that their path was to integrate the orchestration as an indelible part of their sound. Few death metal bands eschew brutality for grandeur, but Fleshgod Apocalypse make it work. Veleno continues a string of great albums that pairs a playfully vulgar take on classical instrumentation with tight riffs and blast beats. I was enjoying Veleno so much I also delved into past glories like Agony, Labyrinth, and King.


Kameron Hurley, God's War
God's War has a really interesting sci-fi/fantasy set-up: an Islamic-influenced planet where the various nations make war against each other with magical bug-tech and specially trained women act as head-taking bounty hunters and assassins. I liked that Nyx, the main character, is both a bad-ass and someone who fucks up an extraordinary number of times. Will definitely read the rest of the series.


Profundum, Come, Holy Death
Wave after wave of neo-classical doom and black metal washes over you as you listen to Come, Holy Death. (Emphasis on the neo-classical part; it's the dominant texture of this project despite it being self-described as Emperor-worship, so don't expect much in the way of riffs.) The production is pretty murky, which may be intentional to create that "old-school kvlt" atmosphere, but I have to wonder if a little clarity (and additional care mixing the vocals) wouldn't have been the the album's overall benefit. (Bandcamp link)


Trevor Morris, Castlevania
The soundtrack to Netflix's Castlevania cartoon has made for excellent "wake up and start writing" music in the mornings.


Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yoshitaka Amano,
Vampire Hunter D: Demon Deathchase
This is the volume that the Bloodlust anime is based on, except there's a big difference in tone (the light novel has a running thread of perverse, incestuous abuse that is absent from the anime) and a very different ending (Carmilla doesn't factor into this at all). The Demon Deathchase drinking game: take a shot every time D is described as sailing through the air "like a mystic bird." Best line of dialog: "Well spank my ass!" Weirdest "D is so hot moment": "He's so dreamy I wish he would just...kill me! Hnnnnn." The dhampir who can drink the sap of trees and the oil of automatons to gain power over them was pretty neat.


Nathan Ballingrud, North American Lake Monsters
Although the supernatural elements of the stories in this collection are finely wrought, Ballingrud really excels when he's probing the aftermath of a supernatural encounter. And that probing inevitably ends up unearthing some uncomfortable facet of masculinity that looms large in the darkness. This one gets my highest recommendation.


Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yohitaka Amano, 
Vampire Hunter D: Tale of the Dead Town
Vampire Hunter D is hired to investigate a mysterious vampire attack aboard a floating town, but the real take away is that D so hott that: a) he makes a teenage girl forget that her parents were just eviscerated by dragons in front of her b) he causes a guy to say "Just thinking about that mug of yours gives me a powerful urge to jerk off, you know" (direct quote) and c) he even fucks up machines, "In the shadow of the building some fifteen feet away there suddenly stood a figure in black so beautiful and tragic it numbed even the electronic brain of this machine" (another direct quote).


Chaos Moon, Eschaton Memoire
Anguished and esoteric atmospheric black metal. (Bandcamp link)


Covenant, In Times Before the Light
Not the terrible industrial remix they put out after their change in musical direct, I'm talking about the original symphonic black metal record here. One of the first black metal records I had and it's still great.


Covenant, Nexus Polaris
Nexus Polaris still possesses many of the black metal trappings the band evidenced on In Times Before the Light, but the production became much clearer, they added more prominent keyboards and the choral vocals of Sarah Jezebel Deva, and they started looking toward the stars (their destination). I can get scared off by radical departures, but I love this record.


Witchery, Restless & Dead, Dead, Hot, and Ready, Witchburner, Symphony for the Devil, Don't Fear the Reaper
Blackened thrash metal; Restless & Dead and Dead, Hot, and Ready, their first two albums, are essential. Symphony for the Devil and Don't Fear the Reaper are generally thought to be inferior departures, but I still think they offer solid thrash. Turns out that even "bad" Witchery is still pretty tasty.


Castlevania FunkoPops
I appreciate that everyone tried to protect my wallet by not telling me about the Castlevania FunkoPops, but some dooms cannot be avoided.


Agalloch, The Serpent & the Sphere
There are many black metal bands that add folk music to their sound; Agalloch re-crafts black metal into a folk tradition. (Bandcamp link)


Tenebrous Kate, Liches
None of you fools bought these before her shop shut down and now they're MINE all MINE.


Witch Ritual, Death:Beyond
Thick slabs of doom. Instrumentally, nothing here will surprise you (and I think the production is just a touch muddy in places) but the real selling point at the exceptionally strong vocals provided by frontwoman Lacri. (Bandcamp link)


Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yoshitaki Amano,
Vampire Hunter D: The Stuff of Dreams
So far, this was the best of the Vampire Hunter D light novels. It works some interesting dream-within-a-dream territory and ponders the pull that home always exerts. Still, it's a Vampire Hunter D book so take a drink every time his coat is described as being like a pair of black wings. Also, D fights some vicious giant chickens, no lie.


Manly Wade Wellman, The Solar Invasion
Sci-fi in the classic pulp vein. Curt Newton, aka Captain Future, and his pals (which include an android master of disguise, his mentor who is a brain in a box, a big clanking robot, and his hot space-cop girlfriend) face off against Ul Quorn, the Magician of Mars!


Acquisitions Incorporated
It's a common complaint that modern D&D doesn't stray much beyond the "D&D Fantasy" genre, but I'm not sure I buy that. Acquisitions Incorporated is a supplement that turns D&D into a dark satire of the corporate world and that feels pretty unusual to me. A few minor criticisms: this has more under-used white space than most WotC books and every copy I've seen has had some damp-wrinkled pages--did this get a water treatment intended for Saltmarsh?


Through the Breach
With 3e Malifaux on the horizon, I went down a rabbit hole of all the Through the Breach stuff I've got. The Penny Dreadful modules, in particular, are ripe for cannibalizing for adventure ideas no matter what system you go with.


Vampire Counts, 5th edition
If I see a Vampire Counts codex for cheap that I don't already have, I usually get it for the art alone.


Philip Reeve, Predator's Gold
You can really see the influence of Dickens on Philip Reeve in Predator's Gold. What's the chances that a character named Nimrod Beauregard Pennyroyal turns out to be a puffed-up, malacious idiot? Pretty good chance.


Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Mateus Santolouco,
American Vampire, Volume Two
Strange births. I continue to appreciate how American Vampire uses the vampire as a metaphor for the misdeeds of capitalism--particularly the rabid American version. In the second volume we get a look at the genesis of Sin City and a look back at the legacy of bootlegging--with a bloody twist to each, of course.


Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yoshitaki Amano,
Vampire Hunter D: Pilgrimage of the Sacred and the Profane
D escorts a strange group through a sentient desert--sort of like the Vampire Hunter D take on Two Mules for Sister Sara maybe. An elderly woman calls D a "stud," D fights a shark (yes, in the desert), and we get to see what a bard looks like in this world.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

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
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
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.