Planescape: Imbalance in the Outlands

There is an imbalance in a village in the Outlands where the Inner Planes and the Outer Planes meet in a kind of mess, like when saltwater and fresh-water meet in a brackish swamp but instead of water it is ideas and rather than mud you get raw elements charged with ancient passions.

Roll 3d8.

Inner Planes

  1. Lightning, Air and/or Vacuum
  2. Ice
  3. Steam, Water and/or Salt
  4. Ooze
  5. Mineral, Dust and/or Earth
  6. Magma
  7. Radiance, Fire and/or Ash
  8. Smoke

Outer Planes

  1. Law
  2. Good
  3. Chaos
  4. Evil
  5. Mechanical
  6. Magical
  7. Balance, True Neutrality
  8. Alien Far Realms

Wild Card

  1. Blood War spill-over
  2. Prime Material yokel nonsense
  3. Tides of the Astral Sea
  4. Reflective Glare from the Mirror Plane
  5. Demi-Plane of Dread Creepiness
  6. Realm of Dreams
  7. Big city interference from the hub
  8. Shadow Realms Obfuscation

These are the planes where elements and philosophy crash into one another causing alien landscapes to be born. Magma growing solid might be the cooling of an ancient feud. Salt might be preserving ideas that were better abandoned and decayed.


7, 2, 4

Radiance, Fire and/or Ash, Good, Mirror Plane

In the lovely village of Iggen every fire in the town has become a portal into the mirror plane, showing people their greatest good deeds. Some folk are walking into these fire, catching aflame and also destroying that moment in the past when they did good. People’s memories are becoming infested with fiery reflections of those who offered them kindness, screaming from the fire they walked through to get there.


4, 7, 3

Ooze, Balance, Tides of the Astral Sea

Usawa is a swamp-town in the middle of nowhere, poised on the edge of the Astral Sea but without a deep enough body of water to be a port without serious arcane-industrial dredging that none are willing to do. Lately, pieces of an ancient religion dedicated to a dead True Neutral Druid-Deity have been washing ashore in a state of perfect balance. When these ancient wrought-iron tools are exposed to any act of good, evil, law or chaos they become dangerous cursed, turning their wielder into agents of an ancient hunting pack designed to keep balance in a newborn universe.


Brushed up on the planes with this wikipedia article, Plane (Dungeons & Dragons)

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All Who Fight & Pray are Monsters & Fiends

From this twitter-thread…

Those Who Fight (lords, ladies, knights, squires, kings and queens) Those Who Pray (nuns, priests, monks, cardinals and popes) are monsters, like right out of the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. Dungeons are knightly manors, churches, cathedrals, castles and even burial mounds and tombs.

Very often monsters are in the dark forest, on the edge of town, out in the mountains and other places where people pushed to the margin might go. Let’s put them on thrones, at pulpits and at the head of armies and see what happens to the usual D&D adventurers.

In this setting, the idea of a human king or queen or any humanoid is laughable. Every once in a while there is an orc, troll, ogre or hobgoblin king but that is as close as it gets.

There is no human pantheon. Maybe there was one and the monsters ate it or maybe humans have never ascended. Clerics gain powers through scrappy saints who are tapping into wells of power so that humans can have access to healing and all that stuff. For the monster pantheon, I’ll build it off of Tiamat and Bahamut with some Gruumsh.

Keep all of the dynastic, crazy shit nobles got up to in history: inbreeding, feuding, marrying for political gain. Merchants who are baseborn human trying to upjump into nobility, marrying their children into desperate monstrous families. Their coats of armies are stylized humans giving them what they want.

It recontextualizes humanoids as creatures bred for specific purposes. Suddenly, Half-Orcs and their monster blood means they are most likely to rule along with Tieflings and Dragonborn, bred to specifically serve devils and dragons.

Adventurers are villains or villeins from the old meaning of the word.

villain oed

I love flipping through monster manuals. Here’s how we make up a monstrous kingdom. Roll 6d6 or flip through a monster manual or 3 and think about who…

  • rules this duchy
  1. Manticore
  2. Ogre Magi
  3. Hydra
  4. Medusa
  5. Angel or Devil of your choice
  6. Dragon
  • wears the the crown and who rules over the dukes
  1. Tarrasque
  2. Sphinx
  3. Rakshasa
  4. Kraken
  5. Unicorn
  6. Dragon
  • enforces laws and collects taxes
  1. Troll
  2. Will’o’the’wisp
  3. Orc
  4. Treeant
  5. Satyr
  6. Dragon
  • puts down rebellions
  1. Iillithid
  2. Modron
  3. Beholder
  4. Oozes
  5. Purple Worm
  6. Dragon
  • sees over local religious services, sermons blessings and marriages
  1. Elemental
  2. Ettin
  3. Owlbear
  4. Golem
  5. Kuo-Toa
  6. Dragon
  • executes vyleyns
  1. Yuan-ti
  2. Griffon
  3. Salamander
  4. Roc
  5. Vampire
  6. Dragon

We’ll start the game at a young fort-town, a human enclave struggling to survive. Humans have no idea how to rule themselves and so have defaulted to a kind of medieval anarchist glorious mess called Thousand Councils that is a messy mix of the chaos of the elves and the rigid guilds of the dwarves. Of course there is always some asshole who wants to be king. Or maybe there is no human enclave. Let the players carve it out of the world and see what kind of world the players set up.

What about undead?

Undead are what monsters say will inevitably happen whenever humans rule over anything. They are the disease that comes from non-monsters on thrones because of their villainous, non-noble blood. Radical humans say that undead are what happens when humans are corrupted by the evil feudal system. Undead hunters say that undead are just a disease that needs to be purged and nothing more.

What about good monsters?

Good monsters are still monsters. Unicorns, angels, gold dragons might treat Those Who Toil in a kinder way but only because they think it will serve them better in the end. A Lawful Good monster’s views on humans are still condescending and ultimately selfish; they still don’t think humans can take care of themselves and don’t think they should be autonomous.

What happens when different monsters breed?

butt monster.jpg

Pick a monster that seems like it would be made by those 2 monsters breeding. Make it one of the parents with a slight change. Make up a new monster. Have fun.

Do you need more setting?

There is a dragon-empress but she is sleeping and her children are not up to the task of keeping her empire together. Until she wakes up it is monster feuding and cold war.

 

 

Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. “The doome warning all men to the Iudgemente” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1581. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/fc2a81f0-7aab-0130-9b52-58d385a7bbd0

“villain, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, oed.com/view/Entry/223…. Accessed 8 September 2018.

 

Sorcerer – Poker Demons

Sorcerers are all playing in a Texas Hold’em style poker game where all of the cards are demons. Face-cards are demons that can pass as human. Number cards are objects.

Cards in the river are out in the world fucking shit up. Sorcerers can only make Pacts with cards that have relationships to their own cards, no bindings.

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47dd-cddd-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w

Once the sorcerers are done with gathering their cards the time for summoning is over and they traditionally fight to the death. Sometimes they form a cabal and if they go too long, often another game will start somewhere.

Going to 0 Humanity means folding, losing all of one’s demons and usually everything good in one’s life – so that is what is at stake, being bet on, though it is never spoken aloud.

When it is your turn to draw a card you do a binding, done through ritualized acts of crime that make sense for the card you are attempting to summon.

Media Inspirations: True Detective Season 1, Heat, Dog Day Afternoon, Thomas Ligotti short stories, Margaret Killjoy’s Daniel Caine books (The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion and The Barrow Will Send What it May), Rounders, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Casino, Go

EDIT: Thinking more about this on the G+ post on the Sorcerer RPG community:

I want to use cards as a way to give demons color and structure and relationships with one another – a kind of family/clan/rivals thing and thinking about crime and the seediest sides of gambling as inspiration

Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Two of diamonds.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-cddd-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Champions Now: Return of Ms. Satan!

Champions Now intrigues me because we played Champions with 4th edition back in thte day. I remember the Perez cover well. Earlier edition supplements were still around but I wasn’t system savvy enough to parse through the different editions and figure out a difference.

Champions was my first hard glimmer at gaming as a skill because using that system to its fullest as a player was a skill I didn’t have. We had a few people in the group who loved to make up characters. After making a failed super-soldier from the first World War I decided that from now on I’d just describe what I wanted and have a buddy with the chargen skills do the accounting.

I was hoping to have my character idea, Ms. Satan, ready before the kickstarter ended but I’m not sure I’ll have that ready as my notes are coming together but not there yet.

Thinking just a touch meta – I picture Ms. Satan has a pulp hero whose rights were never attained by any of the big publishers. She’s an open source  super hero.

Ms. Satan was a 1950’s librarian who dabbled in the occult. Now she’s an older woman with a rageful demon inside her as she watches her colleagues go corporate. When she turns she becomes a hulking monster with a flaming skull. In my head she inhabits a place between Jessica Jones, She-Hulk (not Byrne’s 4th wall breaking era) and Ghost Rider with maybe a touch of the Demon.

Ms Satan Triangle

I’m figuring out the points for an occult library that allows her to know more about her enemies and some strength and such to smash things. I’ll post more about Ms. Satan once I have Champions accounting done.

The Wobbegong Crew: The Dunvil Rover Job

In which we meet Clave who gets out of Ironhook in time to do his first job with the crew just in time to put on Ironhook overalls on and pretend to be convicts in order to break in to a Leviathan Ship with a secret science-cult in its depths.

Dunvil Rover tweet

The Gang

Jason and Sean were back with us playing Maud and Charming, the gang’s Whisper and Cutter. Mad Jay joined us with Clave “The Wrench” Davaa, the crew’s new Leech. Clave was on the engineering team that did upkeep on the Imperial Army’s first War Hulls back in the war but was put into Ironhook after lashing out against his C.O.

The Unity War, specifically being involved in the battle at Barghast Bay is the magnetic force that brings the group together.

There was this nice player moment where Mad Jay had Clave say something cool and Jason’s Charming said, “I missed you, mate.”

It gave Clave context in the group and was a welcoming move and creative decision.

The Job with text

I was having trouble finding a grip  on the game and getting things moving and had one vague idea for a job. I spent more effort describing the folder the job’s intel was in than the job itself because let’s face it, the job was vague.

The Hive offered info on a science-cult on a Leviathan ship, the Dunvil Rover, that was their largest client in human trafficking. Nothing to steal, no one to kill, just info to do with as you will on a former client who might lash out now that their line on fresh humans is dried up.

There was a moment when I realized this might be just too damned vague and let them know that if this job wasn’t juicy enough, they could always take some turf.

Wobbegong Turf

In the end, they took the job that ended with a Leviathan ship on fire in the harbor – The Usual Suspects-style. The Heat on this job was astronomical – the worst ecological disaster in Duskwall history.

Duskwall again

An NPC named Cricket really came to life, so much so that Sean might play him for a while while Maude takes jail-time to deal with the crew’s Heat.

Kevin Weiser on Pathfinder and the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Kevin, you are GMing Pathfinder! What is your campaign’s premise? How did you begin the first game?


The main premise is “Hey, Virtual Tabletops have sure come a long way, haven’t they?”

I wanted to incorporate a virtual tabletop at the actual tabletop. My friend’s game room has a nice big table with a 80″ HDTV that fits perfect at one end. So a couple months before my turn came up to GM in our group, I fired up Roll20, the group picked a Pathfinder Adventure Path, and I set to work importing the maps, monster tokens, and art from the Skull and Shackles Adventure Path PDFs into Roll20. I wanted the visual aspect of the RPG to actually be pretty, and the battle map itself to help play: easy to measure distances, easy to move tokens around, automatically calculating lighting and fog-of-war, stuff like that. Computer-aided RPG.

So, this is my first campaign I’ve GM’d with a strong visual component. I also wanted to highlight the nitty-gritty tactics of Pathfinder, as I’m a firm believer of System Matters, and the Pathfinder system does tactics very well, go big or go home. I wanted the other players to be challenged, and to feel clever for overcoming those challenges. So far, so good!

Also, pirates. YAR! It’s been fun learning more about historical pirates, and thinking about how a high magic setting like Golarion would affect piracy. It doesn’t hurt that there are so many gorgeous works of art around the Age of Sail. So I’m really glad we decided to go with Skull and Shackles.


Skull and Shackles! Nice.

Tell me more about piracy in Golarion, please. What makes them different from Earth pirates?

Sails are much more vulnerable in Golarion. Sure on Earth we had chain shot and a good hit to the mast can really ruin the mobility of a ship, but a single fireball will evaporate the mainsail and all the rigging. A flying wizard can hit all three masts from 600 feet away, well out of the range of any cannon or ballistae, and now that ship is a sitting duck. Another big factor is attacks can come from many more directions. Mostly on Earth you just have to watch for sails on the horizon. On Golarion, there are many intelligent creatures that can swim faster than most ships, likewise flying creatures can increase the scouting range of a pirate crew by many miles. It becomes much more about not being seen at all than it is about losing any possible pursuer. It actually feels a lot closer to modern naval combat in that regard.


What is the coolest (or what are some cool) nitty-gritty tactics moments?

I’ll give two, one GM side and one Player Side.

As the GM, I had a LOT of fun when a player introduced a Aboleth in the backstory for his Hunter. GM: “A hunter, eh? What do you hunt?” Player: “I HUNT THE WHITE ABOLETH.”

This was super fun for two reasons: 1) I got to unleash a wicked pun when I changed it from White Aboleth to Wight Aboleth, oh man the look on that player’s face when he realized why that tentacle slap gave him negative levels… Priceless.

2) Aboleths try to raise slave armies through mental domination, so I got to thoroughly muck with the pre-written adventure by introducing a monster that’s running around dominating all these important NPC’s. There are limits, though. The domination lasts 16 days and works from unlimited range, but has to be renewed in person. So, how big of a network can one undead Aboleth create? Well, since they don’t tire and can swim all day and all night, the answer is “pretty big.” Watching the players discover, then dismantle this network of thralls was very rewarding. Working out the logistics of all this made my brainmeats happy.

From the Player side, a little while ago they rolled up on a fortress of Cyclopes. The Adventure Path suggests compartmentalizing the encounters, but I didn’t like that idea. If the alarm is raised, why wouldn’t everybody come? So what was supposed to be 4 or 5 encounters with Cyclopes was in fact one encounter with 16 Cyclopes, a Big Boss Cyclpse, and his 2nd in command. If the PC’s had played it straight, they would have been paste. But they were super smart about it. A combination of area denial, crowd control, and blocking line of sight with spells forced the Cyclopes into a kill zone. I did my best to play them smart, but there just wasn’t much they could do about it. It was amazing to watch the players organically develop a strategy that was absolutely devastating. System mastery at its finest!


Sweet. It was the Moby Dick of Aboleths. Love it.

I ran the Kingmaker Adventure Path a few years ago using BW and really liked it. How are you liking Skull and Shackles?
What is the AP providing?

I like Skull and Shackles quite a bit. The rags-to-riches revenge story of a group that started their pirate career drugged and press ganged then gradually rise in power and reputation to the most fearsome pirates in the sea!

A couple things I like in particular: I really enjoy how much of the adventure path is about reputation, infamy, and the political realities of piracy. Like the fact that in the beginning, other pirates are just as much of a threat as the occasional Pirate Hunter sent down from Chelliax. That is, until the PC’s have made a name for themselves. I also enjoy the political intrigue of the pirate council, and the major plot thread that involves sniffing out a traitor, with the looming threat of a massive invasion.

Another thing I’ve been enjoying is the lack of large dungeons, but instead there are many small dungeons, some just 2 or 3 rooms. They’re quick but very flavorful: a sunken temple here, a mysterious Black Tower there, and the obligatory series of clues written in poem form on a treasure map. These smaller locations are much more believable than a multi-trip large dungeon, and they cram in only the best stuff, very few filler rooms.

Also, this AP lets aquatic themed character builds really shine, and that’s rare.


Any favorite dungeons?


I really enjoyed the finale to the first module: Riptide Cove, a sea cave lair of Grindylows on Bonewrack Isle, where the PC’s have been shipwrecked. It’s a dungeon that varies widely depending on what time of day it is: during high tide it’s almost entirely underwater, but low tide most of the time it’s only ankle deep. There’s also a nice mix of encounters in there, Grindylows, a Devil Fish, and some Lacedons.

I also really enjoyed the Sahuagin Tunnels in Mancatcher Cove, completely dark and underwater, the PC’s had to play it smart to get in and out alive. That’s also where the final showdown with the Wight Aboleth was, as he’d dominated the Sahuagin and was using them to grow his nascent undersea empire.


I’m fascinated by Chelliax. They worship a devil, right?


Yes! Chelliax’s ruling family signed a multi-generational deal with the Archdevil Asmodeus, which has been re-negotiated twice since then, and so the throne now has the most metal name ever: The Thrice-Damned Throne. The overarching geopolitical situation in Skull and Shackles is that Chelliax used to have a colony down in the south called Sargava (analagus to Rio De Janeiro) which fought for and claimed independence a little while ago. The only reason Chelliax hasn’t reclaimed their colony is because those pesky Shackles Pirates cut a deal with Sargava, and pick apart any Armada that comes through. Chelliax is fed up with that, and plans to send an invasion fleet to deal with the pirates once and for all (in about 4 months game time in my campaign, we’re close enough to the end that I’ve actually set a hard date.)


Creating a good build is a big part of Pathfinder. What are your thoughts on grabbing an optimal build?


I do think optimal builds are important in Pathfinder. System mastery is one of the primary reasons to play a game of this complexity. While I definitely am not a fan of the idea of the antagonistic GM, I do feel that one of the most important aspects of Pathfinder and games like it is the feeling of being challenged and overcoming that challenge. The stakes need to be high, and the players need to be able to say “Man, we would have been so screwed if we didn’t have X” where X is a class ability or spell that the player took, or the exact right magic item they sought out and acquired.

Which is not to say sub-optimal builds don’t have a place. I just think it’s better suited for very experienced players who are deliberately handicapping themselves. “You say Bards suck? Let me see what I can do with one.” That kind of thing.


What does an aquatic character build look like?


One of the cool features of Pathfinder is over the years each class has accumulated dozens of variants called archetypes. Each one swaps out a base class ability for something else along a theme. Every class has a “aquatic” variant or two, plus spellcasters can often take specializations or patron deities that are sea-related and those convey special abilities too. So far we’ve had a Pirate Rogue, an Aquatic Druid, a Mer-folk Monk, all of which would be a poor choice almost anywhere else in Golarion, but they all got to shine here.


I was surprised at how much I enjoyed adding my own details and spin on Golarion. How are you feeling about making Golarion your own?


Oh man I love it. The wiki(s) has just the right amount of information on a region or faction to get you started but it’s all there for the taking. It took me a long time tog et over my fear of established settings and pre-written modules. But now I’m finally comfortable with the idea that these things are tools in my toolkit, not sacred texts to be followed.

In general, I the credit for overcoming that fear to discovering indie games. In fact, a lot of how much I can enjoy Pathfinder now comes from what I learned from indie games. And part of that comes from finding the Sons of Kryos all those years ago. So, thanks for that. 🙂


What advice would you give a GM trying to find their own angle/toehold on this huge world with so much published material?


For the love of God, don’t try to remember all of it or even READ all of it. Fall into wiki-holes related to whatever’s relevant for your campaign, and just dig around. Don’t be afraid to hand over lore-dumps to a player at the table who might know more than you. We’ve got a guy at my table that LOVES the Golarion Lore. He knows it way better than I do. I let him narrate when our party Bard inevitably gets an insane Knowledge (whatever) check.

Don’t forget that Pathfinder is a long-form game. There’s very little you actually need to know from session to session. Plenty of time to research related stuff as you go along.


That might be a great place to end it.

Anything else you wanted to talk about?

Just a thank you for asking me to do this, it was a lot of fun!


Thank you!

 

Watching a Demon Take Shape

When Rich said he wanted our Sorcerer game to be set in NYC I knew I wanted demons to be buildings.

One of the buildings ended up being One Vanderbilt and since the game’s first chapter ended I continue to walk by and see the building taking shape. One Vanderbilt, right next to Grand Central station, is where Rich’s character ritually murdered a rival and it is where his character was shot and left for dead. I can’t help but see this building as demonic.

IMG_20180325_214401.jpg

I like how gaming can change the way I see the world around me.