Thursday, December 6, 2018

Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom

Hexmoon Sabbath is a supplement I've been working on in tribute to a few people who have been nothing but generous to me over the years. It details three witches--they call themselves Hexbrides--and a brief campaign set up that gives an outline of how to use them in a campaign arc. In Powered by the Apocalypse games, this is what they might call a "front." They can probably be plugged into any setting, but I'm also including notes on how to use them with Umberwell, Cinderheim, and Krevborna

This supplement will be available as a pdf on DriveThru for something like $2, but when should I drop it? Save it for my birthday in late December? Hit people with it while they're hung over on January 1st? Bears thinking on. Let me know down below if you have a preference.

Anyway, here's the supplement's introduction:

No one really knows from whence the three sisters who call themselves the Hexbrides came. Their arrival was unheralded; no calamity shook the firmament as they entered the world, raised their clawed towers from the ashes of the dead, and let twisted forests grow to seclude their new domains. The three Hexbrides took root like an infection; when their foul presences were detected, it was already too late—the spiritual disease they embody had spread unchecked. What little is known about the Hexbrides must be discovered through obscure means:
    • The Hexbrides were once mortal sisters. To prolong their lives, the Hexbrides undertook an unholy rite that bound each of them to a demon lord and transformed them into undead creatures.
    • They are not truly immortal; each requires a specific kind of blood to sustain her prolonged existence.
    • Each sister is cloaked in a powerful illusion that grants her a beautiful form. If the veil of glamour is pierced, their corruption and rot is revealed.
    • The Hexbrides don corpsepaint—grim black and white makeup that evokes a sinister aesthetic—to harness malign energies that protect them from harm.
    • The Hexbrides attract depraved mortal cultists who serve them as a faithful coven. Each sister’s witchcult entices a specific kind of spiritually wounded acolyte.
    • Each sister possesses her own clawed tower—a magically created spire-fortress culminating in a peak that resembles a bestial hand extending vicious talons. 
    • A malignant forest of dark woods grows around each Hexbride’s tower. These forests are dangerous; any journey through them is a perilous undertaking.
    • All three Hexbrides are armed with fell weapons granted to them by their demonic patrons.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Players seems to love spears, but D&D has never really given spears much love. 

In 5e, the spear is a simple weapon. (Literally.) There's not much to recommend it over martial weapons if you have access to them.

This is a problem we can fix for the spear-lovers out there by creating a spear for all seasons, like so:

Name Cost Damage Weight Properties
Battlespear (1) 10 gp 1d8 piercing 3 lb. Versatile (1d10)
Greatspear (2) 30 gp 1d12 piercing 6 lb. Heavy, two-handed
Longspear (3) 20 gp 1d10 piercing 6 lb. Heavy, reach, two-handed
Quickspear (4) 25 gp. 1d8 piercing 3 lb. Finesse

What I've done here should be obvious: I've really just re-skinned existing weapons from the game as spears:

(1) - It's a longsword.
(2) - It's a greataxe. Could also be a 2d6 damage weapon, as per the greatsword. Whatever you like.
(3) - It's a glaive. Actually, it's already in the game as a pike but people get scared off by pikes when they have a spear fetish. Don't ask me why. But hey, maybe renaming it a "longspear" will convince your DM to let you use it with the Polearm Master feat. I'd allow it.
(4) - It's a rapier. Now your swashbuckling rogue can be that spear guy from Game of Thrones who got his face crushed.

This is a method that can get you where you want to go. And nothing will be broken because you're already using the tried-and-tested stats for weapons that already exist in the game. No need to add new properties, complex rule kludges, etc. 

Need a bunch of Castlevania-style chain whips? Change the damage type to bludgeoning. 

Think the idea of dual wielding two rapiers is goofy? (It is.) Write down "Parrying blade (rapier)" on your sheet and use the stats for the rapier anyway.

Want a bludgeon with the finesse and/or light properties so you can play a thuggish rogue who sneak attacks with a blackjack? Shouldn't be hard to figure out, amigo.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Willing Vassals, Skyclad Cathedral, Shrine of Calamity


It’s the not the swiftness of time passing in Umberwell that hangs you up by your feet, letting the blood rush dizzily to your head. Time grins as it goes; it is so eager to part with you, and you can’t help but read that eagerness as unthinking malice—a joke told at your expense, in the end.                                                    

– Marjin Plaaz, priest of Vokara

Part 1 is here, notes on the People's Covenant are here, and descriptions of the gods are here.

The Ashram of Willing Vassalage
The adherents of the Ashram of Willing Vassalage are a forever-dwindling sect of Ravsana’s worshipers who offer up their prayers in the form of crippling addiction. They view being bound to vice—whether chemical, sexual, or behavioral—as a sacred covenant that evidences the depth of their willingness to sacrifice for their creed. To be an addict is to lay one’s free will upon the altar; what offering could be sweeter to Ravsana than that particular property of the soul which separates them from the lower creatures of the world? Common theories of salvation are lies, they surmise, and spiritual ascent is only possible from the bottom of a deep well of addiction from which escape appears impossible. Such are the dictates of a devotion that requires abjection to open the door to enlightenment.

The Holy Skyclad Cathedral
To the worshipers at the Skyclad Cathedral, the six goddesses represent the sacred principle of openness. As such, they attempt to evidence receptiveness and veracity in every aspect of their lives. Only those willing to divest themselves of every stitch of clothing are allowed within the Holy Skyclad Cathedral. This sect are nudists because they believe that clothing obscures the truth of their physicality; they are truth-tellers who view deceit as anathema and exuberant souls who refuse to control their emotions—they express every feeling they experience with an unrestrained frankness that is truly frightening to behold.

The Shrine of Calamity
Those who gather at the Shrine of Calamity come to worship Vokara and Komoa only after they have suffered great personal tragedy. Having what they love torn from them has sent them spiraling into alignment with Vokara’s embodiment of hateful degradation and Komoa’s violent streak. They do not embrace the goddesses because they adore the forces of destruction they represent; rather, they entreat Vokara and Komoa, and make sacrificial offerings unto them, because they pray that those who have brought them ruination will suffer an equal or greater plunge into the abyss of bleak hopelessness. 

* * *

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, December 3, 2018

Total Skull: Multiple Warheads, Slayer, Lydia Deetz, Dark Buddha Rising

Things that brought me delight in November, 2018:

Brandon Graham, The Complete Multiple Warheads
Organ-smuggler Sexica and her werewolf-dicked boyfriend Nikoli head out on a road trip after their apartment is destroyed. Meanwhile, a blue-haired bounty hunter plies their trade. Admittedly less about the story than it is the wonderfully frantic art, the characters' perambulations are the occasion to explore a very strange but engrossing world.

Slayer, Show No Mercy, Divine Intervention, and Repentless
Moving from early works to more contemporary albums gives the contours of a movement from wild records that still manage to sound unhinged to a settling into solid craftsmanship.

Lydia Deetz Funko Pop!
So much for not hoarding these.

Dark Buddha Rising, Inversum
Hypnotic, psychedelic doom. Many bands in this style aspire to sound like the backdrop of cult worship, but Dark Buddha Rising gets that atmosphere effortlessly. (Bandcamp link.)

Joyce Carol Oates, The Man Without a Shadow
What I found interesting was the tension between a man who is effaced every day because of his amnesia and Margot's intentional acts of effacement to succeed as a woman in the sciences. Being a woman demands a kind of cultural and personal amnesia. Her transgressions are the crude impersonation of the power important men get to wield without repercussion.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Wasteland
It was about time that Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats hit us with a dystopian sci-fi concept album. There's something dank in the water supply.

Kentaro Miura, Berserk vol. 20, 21, and 22
Things get nihilistic and irreligious at the climax of an important story arc. I wonder if, as in the careers of many initially satanic black metal bands, things will now inevitably take a turn toward triumphal viking metal.

Heilung, Lifa and Ofnir
Theatrical Norse folk that aims to re-imagine the drama of the ancient Nothern Europeans of the Iron Age. Ritualistic, mystical, but also grounded in the bloody conflict and resolution of the sagas. (Bandcamp link.)

Frank Miller, Sin City vol. 7: Hell and Back
Fans often cite a dip in quality at the back end of Sin City but, although I get what they're saying, I don't think the drop off is actually that steep. Hell and Back, for example, just does what Sin City always does--maybe with a little less character development, but I don't think character development was ever the point.

Witchcraft, discography
November seems like the right month to revisit the Witchcraft catalog--both the month and the band make you wish for a roaring fire in an ancestral lodge, mulled wine, and weird mental wanderings. The newest of their albums is unexpectedly heavy.

Brian K. Vaugn and Fiona Staples, Saga vol. 9
Every volume is a unique punch to the gut.

Evoken, Hypnagogia
A doom album musing on the malevolence of the Great War and using the trope of a demonically poisonous book? Was this album conceived just for me? (Bandcamp link.)

Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Tony Akins, Owen Gieni,
Manifest Destiny volume 6: Fortis & Invisibilia
It blows my mind that some fans of this comic haven't enjoyed the last few collections of Manifest Destiny. This arc--in which the characters are weathering the winter in a fort instead of pushing onward on their expedition--solves the "monster of the week" problem the series was developing. Let's just hope those detractors never encounter The Terror or The Thing.

Chthonic, Battlefields of Asura
Soaring and truly epic metal from a band that has transcended its black metal origins to become something irreproducible.

Dana Glover, Judith
May I never tire of beautiful women bearing severed heads. You can get one here.

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, 
Monstress Volume Three: Haven
Monstress has come to read like a delicately inlaid box full of horrors, but I'm a little unsure whether hope lies at the bottom. Might be terrors all the way down--honestly can't wait to find out.

There's nothing fancy about Overlord, but the purity of a movie that says "I am the Wolfenstein-esque action horror romp you didn't know you needed as a palate cleanser" is to be appreciated.

Rammstein, discography
It's been a stressful couple of months, so I've regressed to the music of my angrier youth--but now I have fostered a greater appreciation for Rammstein's tongue-in-cheek moments, of which there are many.

Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin
I'm not sure there is a novel that even comes close to the mixture of shabby decadence and melancholic hints of the horrors to come.

Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, Harrow Country vol. 7 and vol. 8
I put off reading the final two volumes of Harrow County mostly because I just didn't want it to end. If you ever yearned for a version of Sandman that was inspired by Gothic Americana and didn't do that story-about-stories thing, you need to catch up on this comic.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Witcher Documentary

The Witcher games are pretty cool, somewhat despite the triteness of the main character, but did you know there is an in-depth documentary about them?

Check out this multi-part series from Noclip that goes in-depth with The Witcher games and the team that made them:

The Story of CD Projekt

Remembering The Witcher 1 & 2

Designing the World of The Witcher 3

Designing the Quests of Wild Hunt

Translating & Adapting the Witcher

Devil's in the Deails

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A City of Cults and Nexus

Despite its vast feeling of decaying permanence, there are those who wish to extinguish the lights of Umberwell. The Children of the Ashen Sun are a sect of druids who believe that they must usher in the end of days to restart the natural cycle of death and rebirth. The Children of the Ashen Sun cult is led by an air jinnasi named Melora Rime; Rime was formerly a prisoner in a far-off land, and the cruelty she experienced has shaped her dim view of the immoral decadence of civilization.

The six known copies of the Codex Malefica are sentient grimoires possessing unfathomable aims and goals. Servants of the books sometimes hire picaros to further the tomes’ inscrutable agendas; they pay for any services rendered with desirable secrets or particular lore about the Abyssal Disunion and its demonic masters. The six Codices sometimes work at cross-purposes; although the books were penned by the same hand, each has its own desires and schemes.

There are magical regions scattered throughout Umberwell called interplanar zones—areas of planar breach where the veil between the planes is thin and allows creatures to enter or leave the Material Plane. Umberwell is known to overlap with the Alchemical Plane of Salt, the Dreaming Forest, the Emotional Plane of Sorrow, the Ethersea, the Astral Expanse, the Abyssal Disunion and the Bureaucracy of Hell. At the heart of every interplanar zone is a hungry cipheric hole—a black void of negation that has desires and must be fed if one wishes to slip through the portals and conduits that connect the planes. Each cipheric hole requires a unique kind of satiation before it will open a doorway between planes; one cipheric hole might favor a specific lullaby, while another might crave a rare item or a treasured memory.

Behind the petty squabbles and bloody warfare that occurs between criminal gangs, political parties, aristocratic families, and religious orders are two overarching planar factions: the Machete and the Machine. Agents of the Machete are chaotic; they value liberty above all else and are willing to pay the price of violence and anarchy to protect it. The forces of the Machine are lawful; they foster security and stability at the cost of oppression and obedience. When the battle between law and chaos threatens the balance in Umberwell, the Damozels—pure forces of neutrality sometimes referred to as the Rust Maidens—intervene to protect the city. The Damozels appear in a number of feminine guises; they wield the ultimate power of banishment and are capable of bringing the most powerful creatures to heel within the boundaries of the city—which leads many to believe that they are inextricably linked to the spirit of the metropolis.

I saw one of the city’s Damozels once. Most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and the most frightening.                             
– Karsk Vendemen, watchman in the Caul ward

* * *

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

5e Errata and Two-Weapon Fighting

Hey, look, new errata is out for all three core 5e D&D books!

Aside from some minor--but needed--tweaks to the beastmaster ranger (1), the errata looks like piddly stuff and clarifications so don't go in expecting to be blown away by some bold new design choices.

When it comes to errata and redesigns, I think everyone has their particular hobby horses. Personally, I would have made a few more daring changes (2), but I understand why they want to avoid turning the errata documents in a 5.5 version of the game.

Even so, I know what my big change would have been: two-weapon fighting. Here's what it would look like in my errata:

* * *

Two-Weapon Fighting
When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can can make one additional attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the additional attack, unless that modifier is negative.

If either weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon, instead of making a melee attack with it.

* * *

What's changed? Attacking with your other hand no longer costs a bonus action; instead, if you meet the requirements, that additional attack is folded into the Attack action itself.

Why make this change? The two classes designed and themed around two-weapon fighting, the ranger and the rogue, are actively disincentived from using two weapons because of the action economy. Rangers and rogues have too many things competing for their one bonus action per turn. In the best case scenario that would lead to interesting choices for the player to make, but in practice it feels like two-weapon fighting and the classes who need bonus actions to do their thing were designed by separate people on the 5e team.

Does it break anything? I started accidentally using the above revision of the two-weapon fighting rules when I simply forgot that the additional attack needs a bonus action, and so far nothing's felt noticeably broken. Maybe it's a little more powerful in the early levels because it gives you an extra (though less damaging) attack before 5th level, but it seems ok. 

Here's what I've noted:

  • Two-weapon fighters get another attack if they use Action Surge, but it's still not in danger of overtaking two-handed weapons as the optimal choice for damage in the long run (3).
  • Crit-fishing champion fighters and barbarians benefit just a tiny bit from the change. That;s okay with me.
  • Rogues and rangers feel like they get to use the abilities that define their classes.
* * *

(1) - None of this will "fix" the ranger for people who don't like the class's design, of course. To be honest, the worst part about the ranger is that it has a deadly boring 1st level. Who thought it would be a good idea to front-load the class with two "ribbon" abilities?

(2) - Design changes I would make, that just so happen to look exactly like my house rules:

  • I would also have added more spells to the sorcerer's column of "spells known." 
  • The PHB ranger archetypes could use some additional spells known, much like the archetypes published later have. 
  • I'd also have initiative rolls use either Dexterity or Intelligence.
(3) - At 1st level, I estimate that the difference in damage between a fighter with the great weapon style and the two-weapon fighting style to be about two points--hardly game-breaking--and once 5th level extra attacks come into play, things move toward great weapon fighting gaining an almost three-point lead. Again, hardly game-breaking.