Monday, December 30, 2019

House Talionis

House Talionis

  • House Talionis is an ancient and prosperous family of dragonborn who reside in Saltmire.
  • In the distant past, the dragonborn of House Talionis were created by a vampire Noble named Vlakos Terez. Count Terez performed alchemical experiments upon dragon eggs to create an army of powerful dragonborn warriors who would dutifully defend his territory and make war against the forces of his foes among the Nobility.
  • When Lord Terez disappeared, the dragonborn fighters continued to protect the people who inhabited Terez’s domain. Over time, they evolved from a warrior caste into a respected family of local aristocracy fulfilling a feudal purpose.
  • Elements of House Talionis’s original purpose remains; the family has grown wealthy over the generations from providing a trained military force and constabulary to Saltmire. House Talionis has become synonymous with law and order in the town.
  • House Talionis makes generous donations to the Church of Aeonian Requiem. They cultivate a reputation for piety, though adherence to the Broken God’s tenets varies greatly between members of the house. Some are zealots, others merely pay lip service.
  • Although the Angelfish Combine trains and employs its own guards, they bolster their forces stationed at the docks with soldiers from House Talionis.
  • House Talionis is engaged in a feud with House Tanaka, the other great aristocratic family in Saltmire. Although the exact cause of the feud is lost to time, most members of House Talionis believe that their family’s honor was loudly and publicly impugned by a knavish bravo of House Tanaka.

* * *

House Talionis is one of the "powder keg" factions in Saltmire, as detailed here.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Darkest Dungeon Comics

Darkest Dungeon has all these great one-page comics, one for each of its character classes:

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Richard Sala Christmas

Not in the Christmas spirit? Maybe these will help.

Art by Richard Sala

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Losing My Religion (Skill Check)

art by Woong Seok Kim
One area of consternation I've seen in a few places on the internet is the fact that a wizard will likely have a better chance at succeeding at an Intelligence (Religion) skill check in 5e D&D than a cleric will. To some, Religion is the key skill that encapsulates a cleric's area of expertise. (Indeed, some even argue that clerics should get the Expertise feature for the Religion skill!) It does not make sense to them that the occult-minded wizard would have more knowledge of religion than a member of the priestly class.

I disagree with that position, but I also have some easy solutions.

I disagree that this is an issue because I think many people haven't really thought much about what the Religion skill represents in D&D. Religion is not about knowledge of the particularities of a single, specific faith; rather, it represents knowledge of all religions, their lore, and their histories: "Your Intelligence (Religion) check measures your ability to recall lore about deities, rites and prayers, religious hierarchies, holy symbols, and the practices of secret cults."

A priest should know most everything (save for some hidden or especially deep-cut lore) about their own religion. But I'm not convinced that a priest often knows much about other people's religions. They're specialists in their own faith, but likely unconcerned or unread in the faiths of others. Ask the average Catholic priest how much they know about Shintoism and see where it gets you.

On the other hand, wizards are usually scholars who read widely and deeply. I would expect a wizard who is proficient in the Religion skill to be more like a scholar of world religions: knowledgeable about religion as a comparative area of study, even if they have specific niche interests within the field. Ask a professor of world religions about Judaism, and no matter what tradition they were raised in they will likely know something of value.

Of course, if you don't agree with what I have written above, there are some simple workarounds to get you where you want to go without necessarily adding Expertise to the cleric:

  • Don't have clerics roll Religion checks on matters of their own faith. They shouldn't need to if they're recalling common knowledge because this is the world they live in.
  • Use the optional rule that lets you mix and match ability scores to skills. Tired of those high Intelligence wizards having better chances of succeeding at Religion checks? Let clerics use their Wisdom scores instead. It's there, waiting for you, in the rules. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Hellmech: Mecha Rules for 5e D&D

This is a first-draft attempt at using the rules for infernal war machines in Descent Into Avernus to make a mechsuit for use in a 5e D&D Dirge of Urazya game:

Large mech (500 lb.)

Creature Capacity 1 Medium creature
Armor Class 22 (19 while motionless)
Hit Points 60 (damage threshold 10, mishap threshold 20)
Speed 60 ft.

STR 20 (+5) DEX 16 (+3) CON 16 (+3) INT 0 WIS 0 CHA 0

Damage Immunities fire, poison, psychic
Condition Immunities blinded, charmed, deafened, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, stunned, unconscious 

Mech. The creature piloting a mech benefits from having full cover.

Magic Weapons. The Hellmech’s weapon attacks are magical.

Jump. If the Hellmech moves at least 30 feet in a straight line, it can clear a distance of up to 30 feet when jumping over a chasm, ravine, or other gap. Each foot it clears on the jump costs a foot of movement.

Go! Drive and steer the Hellmech up to its full speed and take the Helm bonus actions.

Bolter Cannon. The Hellmech may move up to 30 ft and make one ranged attack. Ammunition: 50 bolter shells. Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 240 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d10 + 3) piercing damage.

Bolter Barrage. The Hellmech makes a ranged Bolter Rifle attack against any number of creatures within 10 feet of a point you can see within the weapon's range. It must have ammunition for each target, as normal, and you make a separate attack roll for each target.

Drill Fist. The Hellmech may move up to 30 ft and make one melee attack. Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (2d10 + 5) piercing damage.

Drilling Flurry. The Hellmech makes two Iron Drill attacks.

Juke. If the Hellmech is able to move, the driver can use its reaction to grant the Hellmech advantage on a Dexterity saving throw.

* * *

I had to kludge the "Action Stations" rules a bit because a mech suit only really has one "action station" and it should be able to move and attack in the same round. So I built limited amounts of movement into some of the attacks.

I think you could swap the weapons I added above for any of the optional ones in Descent into Avernus. Flame throwers and such seem like easy adaptations. I stole the bolter barrage ability from a hunter ranger feature.

I think the rules could to extrapolated on to make even bigger mechs if needed. There's a gargantuan infernal war machine I would use as a basis for a really big mech.

Also note that by default the skill of the person using the weapons on an infernal war machine doesn't matter. The weapons have their own ability score mods and proficiency bonus, so piloting one of these is like stepping into a second character in a way.

By default, infernal war machines run on "soul coins." In Urazya, I think I'd make that a liquid fuel...but it would be interesting to keep the idea that it is created with souls. That sounds like the kind of technology that artificer vampires would come up with. Drink their blood as food, use their souls as fuel...use every part of the animal, so to speak.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Feast Your Eyes

The occasional image-dump of inspirational art

 Becky Munich

 Dino Buzzati

 Kekai Kotaki

 Michael Hussar

 Neal Adams

 Reza Sedhi

Virgil Finlay

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Momentous Events Inspiration

These variant rules for awarding and using inspiration in 5e D&D can be implemented to establish a deeper connection between character development and the events that unfold as you play. When these rules are adopted, inspiration can be granted and used in the following ways:

  • Make room on your character sheet to record events that happen to your character as you play them.
  • After each session of play, you may record a noteworthy event that occurred during that session for your character. Try to write that event as a single descriptive line. (See below for examples.)
  • An event can be invoked to grant your character inspiration if you can relate how that past experience is helping them in the current situation.
  • A character can only have five events from past sessions recorded on their character sheet at a time.
  • After accumulating five events, you can choose to replace one with a new event your character has just experienced after a session concludes—you get to decide which events are shaping your character’s personality, outlook, or growing infamy.
  • The Game Master may wish to set a limit on the number of events a character can invoke per game session.

  • Fought against overwhelming odds in a desperate melee.
  • Convinced the invaders not to execute an ally.
  • Nearly died from a poisoned arrow.
  • Impressed a great warlord with my balalaika playing.
  • Contracted the plague but survived.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Saltmire, My Current Powder Keg

In this post I outlined the "Dune method" of creating a socio-political powder keg as your campaign setting. I posited that a powder keg following this model has five things: two noble houses at war with each other, a religion using spirituality to gain political power, a tribal military force, a powerful military force acting on behalf of a distant ruler, and a mercantile force that uses economic leverage to pursue political ends.

Here's how I've implemented that schema in an area of Urazya called Saltmire:

Two Noble Houses at War

House Talionis. An aristocratic family of dragonborn who were originally created as the soldiery of a vampiric Noble, they now maintain Saltmire's military and constabulary.

House Tanaka. An aristocratic human family of dragonmarked humans who operate both widespread criminal organizations and the charitable institutions that provide them with legitimate cover.

A Religion that Masks its Political Power

The Church of Aeonian Requiem. Detailed here, but I am leaving what the Church wants open just to see where that goes over the course of a campaign or two.

The Tribal Force

The 13 Tempests. A tribe of shifters inhabiting the dense forests to the south and west of Saltmire. They are the heirs to ancient magic that allows them to master the power of the primal storms of creation. Their exact numbers are unknown.

A Powerful Military Belonging to a Distant Ruler

Lady Rei. Lady Rei is a vampire Noble who inhabits a castle to the north of Saltmire. She has yet to show an interest in the town, but her presence is a grim reminder that a powerful threat lurks nearby. She is served by a veritable army of trolls and oni.

A Mercantile Force

The Angelfish Combine. A consortium of guilds and merchants who control Saltmire's docks, banks, and trade. They hope to extend their economic control into political control. They would love to see both House Talionis and House Tanaka made irrelevant.

* * *

The Web

House Talionis and House Tanaka feud with each other both covertly through political intrigue and explicitly through street violence the erupts between their partisans and cavaliers.

House Talionis and the Angelfish Combine have an economic relationship (Angelfish hires soldiers from Talionis to protect the docks) but Angelfish doesn't want to have to rely on outside aid.

House Tanaka and the Angelfish Combine have an antagonistic relationship. Angelfish knows that Tanaka is involved in smuggling and other crime, which is cutting into their business interests.

House Talionis makes a show of giving money to and endorsing the values of the Church of Aeonian Requiem, but it is unclear who is using who in that relationship.

House Tanaka has sent envoys to Lady Rei, and they have begun a secret dialog. Tanaka is not above inviting Lady Rei to annex Saltmire as long as they are given a role in governing it on her behalf (as well as a promise of House Talionis's destruction).

Everyone underestimates the 13 Tempests, particularly how many of them there are, and what they would be able to accomplish if sufficiently organized behind a charismatic leader.

* * *

The Dirge of Urazya 'zine is available here.

Friday, December 6, 2019

One Man Black Metal

A documentary series on one-man black metal acts by Noisey.

Black Metal's Unexplored Fringes: One Man Metal, part 1

In the Darkest Shadows of Black Metal: One Man Metal, part 2

Everybody Dies Alone: One Man Metal, part 3

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Five-Headed Empress

The Five-Headed Empress
A warlock patron for Dirge of Urazya.

  • The Five-Headed Empress is an artificial being created as a biological weapon of war by a powerful member of the vampiric Nobility. 
  • The strange essences that went into her creation include chroma-draconic gene sequences, diabolic ichors, and human DNA.
  • Due to the transmutation magic involved in her “birth,” the Five-Headed Empress is a natural shapeshifter. She usually assumes either the form of a five-headed dragon or a dark-tressed, cruelly beautiful woman.
  • The Five-Headed Empress exulted in her role as a weapon of mass destruction; wielding elemental wrath in the name of her master and the infamy she earned on battlefields brought her the utmost pleasure.
  • After the Noble she served was killed during the Global War, she was judged to be too volatile and unpredictable to be tamed by another vampire lord; she was imprisoned in a netherworld and kept bound by advanced abjurations.
  • Over eons spent locked away in her metaplanar prison, the Five-Headed Empress’s power steadily grew until she found herself able to make contact with mortals on the Material Plane and impart a portion of her power to warlocks willing to enter into a pact with her.
  • Unlike many patrons, the Five-Headed Empress does not encourage her warlocks to act with subtly and subterfuge on her behalf; instead, she exhorts her warlocks to exercise the power she gives them in brazen ways. 
  • She wishes for her warlocks to revel in their reputations and in engendering fear of her return; she instructs them to pursue fame, notoriety, and influence so they might serve as glorious and inexorable exemplars of her worldly power. 
  • As such, she prefers her warlocks to assume positions of social prominence, prestige, and renown; they are glorious weapons in her name. 
  • The Five-Headed Empress’s hope is that one of her warlock will rise high enough in position and arcane power to find the secret of releasing her from bondage. She would dearly love to slip back into the world, where she will again indulge in a wanton and grandiose reign of terror.
* * *

This is my riff on Tiamat for Dirge of Urazya, obviously.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Satanic Temple, Witch Board Museum, Count Orlok, Lighthouse, Parasite

Things that brought me delight in November, 2019:

Satanic Temple
Is it weird that the works hanging in the art collection and books in the library of the Satanic Temple reminded me so much of the collections of any number of my friends? Admittedly, none of them have a giant Baphomet statue. At least not yet.

Salem Witch Board Museum
It was actually thrilling to see that many different mystifying oracles all in one place.

Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery
I may have gotten a little too excited by the inclusion of Barbara Steele from Black Sunday.

The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is a very different movie from The Witch; feels more like a David Lynch film, or a very black comedy, in places.

I went into this one knowing absolutely nothing about it; the tonal shift is devastating and worth going in blind for.

November's Doom, Nephilim Grove
November's Doom has a long legacy yet to be fully recognized. Nephilim Grove's death-doom mixes anger with sorrow and adds slight progressive touches to round out the sound.

Malifaux 3e: Bayou, Outcasts, Resurrectionists, Ten Thunders
I got the rest of the faction books. Now, if only I could get my hands on a print copy of the core book.

Volur, Breaker of Rings/Amber Asylum, Blood Witch
I'm not usually a fan of split albums; I often feel like I got suckered into them because I like one band's output and the other ends up getting skipped. Not so with this album; Volur's abbreviated doom saga works well with Amber Asylum's folksy neoclassical chamber music.

Boris and Sunn O))), Altar
Gloomy experimental doom.

Celine Loup, The Man Who Came Down the Attic Stairs
Past-partum depression, an eerie house, a child that won't stop screaming, and a husband who seems to be a different man after an ill-fated trip to the attic. It's a bit "Yellow Wallpaper" and a bit Shirley Jackson.

I recently bought a bunch of Spelljammer print on demand stuff from DriveThru. I didn't get into the setting when it was coming out, but it's definitely holding my interest. Like anything else, I probably wouldn't use it as published, but there's a lot of weird stuff worth transforming for my own purposes in this line.

Into the Badlands, Season 3
Into the Badlands was a better show than it really had any right to be. Although it sometimes suffered from clunky dialog, iffy acting, the need to push sudden plot developments, the worldbuilding was really interesting, the fights scenes were well choreographed, and the cinematography was often surprisingly lush. Glad to see that it came to a satisfying conclusion. (Although, that coda!!!)

Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve
I was unfamiliar with this Gothic comic "for girls" that ran in the late 70s, but thankfully there are a few collections out now that reprint some of its stories. "Moonchild" is a pretty straight Carrie rip, though "The Four Faces of Eve" goes much farther out on a limb. The line art enthralls me; all the pathos captured in those facial expressions!

Eberron: Rising from the Last War
I've already gotten a tremendous amount of use out of this book. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday, Black Metal, a Black Sun O'er a Dead World

The following Dolorous Exhumation Press titles are on sale for Black Friday through Cyber Monday:

Dirge of Urazya - $4 $2.68

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera - $10 $6.70

Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom - $3 $2.01

Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name$10 $6.70

Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun - $7 $4.69

This is a great time to pick them up if you haven't already, I don't remember a DriveThru sale cutting more off the top than this. If you buy my products I promise to blow the money on blasphemous black metal, grimoires, and vet bills.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Raiders of Gor

John Norman's long-running Gor series has a reputation that precedes it. Set on a brutal counter-Earth where beautiful women long to be enslaved by the strong men who maintain nature's moral balance, it would seem that the books have all the trappings of spicy, guilty pleasure reading. Jack and Kate dive into the sixth title, Raiders of Gor, alleged to be the last "good" entry in the thirty-five book series. Listen along as your hosts encounter sexual slavery, drunk crying, and enough tedious agricultural detail to break a lesser reader.
Why have critics neglected to acknowledge Norman's high-minded philosophical influences? Can civic pride transform a hive of scum and villainy into a city of heroes? Where do Home Stones come from? How is series protagonist Tarl Cabot a lot like a startup founder? All these questions and many more will be answered in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Death to the Tyranny of Bonus Actions

Bonus actions in 5e? Not a fan. 

Mike Mearls now sees them as "fairly hacky," and I agree. But since removing them entirely won't happen until a new edition, how do we live with them in the meantime?

This is my most radical house rule for 5e D&D:

Bonus Actions
You can take more than one bonus action on your turn, but those bonus actions cannot be granted by the same feature, trait, feat, or spell, and they do not allow you to “stack” the same effect. 

Examples of What This House Rules DOESN'T Let You Do:

  • You cannot use more than one of the bonus actions listed under the Monk’s Ki ability on your turn because they are all granted by the same class feature. You can't use Flurry of Blows, Step of the Wind, and Patient Defense all on one turn, even if you're willing to spend the ki points, because they all come from the same source: the Ki feature of the monk class.
  • If multiple features grant you additional attacks as a bonus action, you may only only use one of them on your turn. So, if you are a monk you could use a bonus action to make an attack using two-weapon fighting or use a bonus action to make a martial arts attack, but you can't do both because that would be stacking the same effect: using a bonus action to get more attacks.
  • You cannot cast unlimited bonus action spells. Those stack the same effect (casting a spell) and the rules about how many spells you can cast per turn aren't circumvented by this house rule anyway.
Examples of What This House Rule DOES Let You Do:
  • If you are a barbarian who wields two hand axes, you can use a bonus action to enter a rage and still use a bonus action on that turn to make an attack with your off-hand axe. 
  • If you are a Monster Slay ranger who wields two shortswords, you can use a bonus action to cast hunter's mark on a foe, use a bonus action to designate that foe as your Slayer's Prey, and use a bonus action to attack them with the shortsword in your off-hand.
  • If you are a rogue, you can use a bonus action to use Cunning Action and attack with a weapon in your off-hand.
  • If you are a monk, you can make an attack with your Martial Arts feature and spend a ki point to use Step of the Wind, granting your foes disadvantage on their attacks that target you.
  • If you are a fighter who uses two-weapon fighting, you could make an off-hand attack on your normal turn and your extra turn if you use your Action Surge feature.

As you can see from the examples above, this house rule benefits characters who wield two weapons because it actually lets them use the style of fighting they have invested in, instead of making that choice feel like a mistake. Now using two weapons is a flavorful choice in-line with other options rather than a penalty because the bonus actions it requires are no longer competing against your other features that use your bonus action. 

It is also beneficial to rangers especially because it corrects a continual mistake I see on the D&D team's end in making everything a ranger might want to do dependent on bonus actions, such as their iconic fighting style, the hunter's mark spell, several subclass's 3rd level features, etc. (I regard that as, frankly, terrible design work. If a ranger's features are meant to be used, it's ridiculous that a Monster Slayer ranger can't get their whole routine in action until the third round of combat, particularly since combat tends to end in three or four rounds. Oh, and that's only if they don't need to use a bonus action to move hunter's mark or Slayer's Prey to another target. Good luck with that.)

This rule also gives a slight benefit to the monk that feels right to me. With only d8 hit dice, a lack of defensive boosts to AC, and the assumption that your role is as a melee combat, the ability to get all of your attacks in and still spend a ki point for extra help not getting hit feels very much like the sort of thing a monk should be able to do.

I've been playing with this one for a while now; as far as I can see it breaks nothing in my game. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Faithless

art by Paolo Giandoso
The Faithless
  • The Faithless is a lifelike statue of a woman carved from salt that is kept hidden away within the ruins of an amphitheater in a stretch of wasteland south of Saltmire.
  • A gospel within the Book of Thorns states that the Faithless was once a live, flesh and blood woman who turned to salt for losing faith in the Broken God. The deity, angered at her disbelief, changed her into a monument meant to serve as a dire warning to his followers and as a demonstration of his divine might.
  • Legends say that the Faithless still lives and that her consciousness has been trapped in the form of an unmoving a salt-hewn statue for countless generations.
  • Some believe that if an innocent were to kiss the Faithless upon her mouth, she would be returned to mortal life and the affectionate visitor would take her place as a statue made of salt.
  • A lone hermit lives in a hovel near the amphitheater; he is the last of a long line of religious sages who has been entrusted with the duty of chasing off anyone who might free the Faithless from her saline imprisonment.
  • An apocryphal gospel not included in the Church of Aeonian Requiem’s Book of Thorns claims that if the Faithless is ever released from her curse, she will become the leader of a heretical cult that will cause the Church’s apocalyptic downfall.
More on the Church of Aeonian Requiem here.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tarot Inspiration for 5e D&D

Tarot Inspiration 
As one commentator noted in a reply to this post about using playing cards as an inspiration mechanic, this would also work with more image-based cards. Here's how I would do it with a deck of tarot cards.

The system below gives a mechanical incentive for players to roleplay scenes that reveal more about their characters:

During a period of downtime, a player may nominate themselves to roleplay a tale-telling scene.

That player draws a single card from a standard tarot deck. The card drawn determines the content of the tale, as per the tables below.

The player will then tell a story based on that theme in the voice of their character to the other characters present. The story should reveal something about the character’s backstory or give the other players a greater sense of that character’s past.

After a player completes a tale-telling scene, their character gains inspiration.


  • A player draws the Six of Wands and tells a tale about their character running into their estranged father in a busy market.
  • A player draws the Hanged Man and tells a tale of how their character was forced to surrender to the opposing side when they were employed as a mercenary soldier.
  • A player draws the Star and tells a tale about the example set by their character’s mentor—whose sacrifice for a great cause gave them hope for the future.
  • A player draws the Two of Pentacles and tells a tale about how their character learned to adapt to a life of poverty on the streets after their noble family’s downfall.
  • A player draws the Ace of Pentacles and tells the tale of why they gave up being a baker to pursue a life of reckless adventure as a picaro.

Major Arcana
The Fool. Innocence
Justice. Truth
The Magician. Power
The Hanged Man. Surrender
The High Priestess. Intuition
Death. Endings
The Empress. Abundance
Temperance. Balance
The Emperor. Authority
The Devil. Addiction
The Heirophant. Spirituality
The Tower. Upheaval
The Lovers. Harmony
The Star. Hope
The Chariot. Determination
The Moon. Fear
Strength. Courage
The Sun. Success
The Hermit. Introspection
Judgment. Rebirth
Wheel of Fortune. Luck
The World. Travel

Minor Arcana

New career
New ideas
Financial loss
Hard work