Thursday, 18 August 2016

Plague Generator

Have been using the Last Gasp generator generator for ages, obviously, because it's invaluable. So invaluable, in fact, that I reverse engineered it a Python script that builds a javascript generator based on lists you give it, and is way easier (for a little python nerd like me) to edit and test with!

The code is over here on Pastebin, and the first thing I did with it is down below!

A Plague Of:

1 Horses Trampling Crops
2 Dogs Tainting Water
3 Rats Devouring Food
4 Bats Attacking Livestock
5 Sparrows Stealing Restful Sleep
6 Children Destroying Children
7 Tiny Green Beetles Eroding Vows
8 Tiny Green Children Poisoning Friendship
9 WormsInfecting Husbands
10 Mushrooms Bewitching Townsfolk
11 Ooze Absorbing Houses
12 Wind Carrying Off Everything

Go find Moonrats in the 3.5 Monster Manual II and reskin them harddd
(click pic 4 plague)

Monday, 15 August 2016

Lovecraft Villains

Why would anyone even bother to worship Cthulhu, though? This has never made sense to me. Isn't the whole thing that he's so utterly horrible all human minds instinctively recoil from his presence? I guess it's basically the same thing as selling your soul to the Devil and people are constantly doing that. It presents a challenge, though. A Lovecraft-type story needs a human villain for anything to actually happen, otherwise the only sensible thing for a protagonist to do is get as far away from the action as possible and stay there. So you need to find a guy that has more coherent motivations for teaming up with the literal Worst Thing then "just a fuckwit, I guess". Here are some.

1. Algernon Blackthorne, master magician. Implicit villain of that generator I made earlier. An Aleister Crowley type, leader of an occult society, pretentious and profoundly insecure. Really wants you to think that he knows a lot of ancient secrets and is constantly having interesting sex. Knows some ancient secrets and has some interesting sex, but is rapidly running out of money and unable to find a publisher for his book about how misunderstood he is. Dark moustache, eyes that could plausibly be described as "burning". Whole aesthetic almost works but not quite. Worships the Elder Gods almost solely because he wants to be perceived as the kind of person who would worship an Elder God. Would happily destroy the world for pretty much the same reason. Real name Fred Stuggs.

2. Lena Sitspur, star of the silver screen. Notorious for femme fatale roles, risque costumes and constant flouting of the Hays code. The studio has made a huge deal out of her purportedly exotic origins, spreading rumours that she's the daughter of an Arab sheik and an exiled Chinese princess. They have also spread rumours that the first set of rumours were a hoax and actually she's just a farmgirl from Des Moines. This will prove, upon further research, to also be false. Lena is surrounded at all times by a bevy of lovers, ex-lovers, suitors, sycophants, studio people, screenwriters, stuntmen, starlets, fans and mere hangers-on, all of whom are obsessed with her to a degree that is unusual even for Hollywood and will, if pushed, happily die for her. She suffers from crippling depression, having found that no amount of sex or cocaine will fill the gaping void that has haunted her soul for as long as she can remember. None of the three fetuses she has aborted have been quite human. She has recently begun to wonder what would happen if she carried a child to term.

3. Sir Thomas Dinsdale, armchair anthropologist. Has never been quite the same since his wife died. Recently returned to fieldwork after a decade spent expounding his increasingly bizarre theories to a series of perplexed undergraduates, from who he has acquired a small handful of committed followers. Currently excavating an untouched Neolithic tomb in Orkney (or anywhere else you want to set an adventure). Intends to prove that all great revolutions in history, from the agricultural to the industrial, are a result of contact with Outside Forces, and that the next step up the ladder of civilisation will allow us to conquer Death Itself and make contact with those who have been taken beyond the veil. Absent-minded and lazy, leaving most of the actual digging to his students on the basis that they're better at it than he is. Stubborn. Dangerously optimistic. Hard to legally stop, no matter how many villagers go missing.

4. Dr. Quan Haodeng, the Yellow Terror of California. A name that the press persist in applying to him, despite all his attempts to shake it off. Yes, he runs the finest opium dens in San Francisco, but if the peddling of delightful dreams is to be a crime it can only be a victimless one, and he has nothing against Westerners. Happens to be married to one, and she gets on perfectly well with the rest of his wives. Dr. Quan is beloved in the Chinese community and has several close friends in the city's government. The chief of police would love to see him brought down. The newspapers dwell with barely-concealed glee on stories of young white women brought low by Oriental decadence, very few of which are true. They are silent on the source of Quan's product, the fields of black poppies that grow, tended by blind monks, on what rumour describes as a Himalayan plateau called Long or Lung.  And only the most elite dream-connoisseurs have felt themselves transported to a spectrum of possible worlds, worlds where the Germans won the Great War or the Qing dynasty never fell. Worlds where America is ruled by a race of serpents, or the continents are deserts and the oceans stir with foul bacterial life.

Of course, these are but dreams. There can be no truth at all to the story that one of Quan's sons has brought something back.

5. Inspector Strathclyde of the Yard. Ruthlessly rational. Always gets his man, usually sees him hanged. Absolute faith in the logical purity of his convictions. Flatly refused to believe in the existence of sorcery until presented with irrefutable evidence of it, then re-evaluated his entire life appropriately. Determined that, since all available sources suggest that the world is doomed to be consumed by the Elder Gods within his lifetime, and since the only way to minimise one's suffering during this unfortunate event is to win the Elder Gods' favour through pagan ritual and sacrifice, he is necessarily compelled to join a cult. Promptly made contact with the nearest appropriate organisation and, within six months, rose to the top of it. Responsible for the disappearance of several dozen vagabonds, whose mutilation and murder he handles with cold efficiency, as well as the quashing of all investigation into same. Beginning to branch out into more esoteric crimes, such as a series of simultaneous bookshop burnings whose map locations form a seven-pointed star. Some of the police force is with him, but by no means all.

6. Mildred Strook, daredevil. Will do anything for a laugh. Flew across the Pacific in under three days, an impossible time. Won't tell anybody how she did it or what happened to her co-pilot. Wears a shark-tooth talisman around her neck and speaks, nonsensically, of taking "short-cuts". Constantly attempting to break height records, pushing her plane beyond its limits, openly fantasising about breaking free from the atmosphere and travelling the void between worlds. Her husband, who is also her publicist, is deeply worried about her. He would like some way to ground her before she hurts herself, but he can't convince her not to fly and he knows it would cripple her career. Neither of them will talk about the wind that comes howling round their windows in the night, the one that nobody but her seems to hear.

The Triplets of Leng. They come to all the other six. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes not in dreams. If you kill any of the other six, they will begin to come to you.

(You could put all these people together in Britain or California if you wanted to run some sort of Lovecraft sandbox. Algernon would fit neatly into LA. Lena could plausibly be on holiday, or have recently married an Englishman. Dinsdale could be digging in Arizona or northern Mexico. Strathclyde probably loses something if he's not British, but the San Francisco police do play a role in Quan's story. Mildred can live anywhere, she owns a plane.)

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Cult Generator

This is a Lovecraft cult generator I made in Twine. Here are my thoughts on it, and on random generation more generally.

  1. Twine is okay for doing mockups of stuff if you don't have any other skills but, at least on my computer, it begins to massively slow down once you have a whole bunch of code on a single page. Which is not a good attribute for something that you're ostensibly supposed to make games in!
  2. The part of this that generates names works super well. The part that generates adventures works pretty well but not necessarily better than the other way of generating adventures, which is to pick a location, go to Wikipedia and find some piece of local history that could concievably involve a spookens ghost. Name generators are good because names are basically randmo anywhere. Adventure generators are harder because adventures need to be governed by coherent internal logic . Like, you need to establish what the overall narrative conceit is, then use that as a framework to decide on individual story components. Generators pick from a list of individual story components and ask you to reverse-engineer a narrative conceit from them. Not every set of components works as well as every other set, so it's often not totally fluid.
  3. This took me a few days. I probably could have written a single proper story in that time. One of the big limitations on generation is that you have to come up with a hundred different good ideas instead of just one. Though this can be appealing if, like me, you're better at having ideas at fleshing them out.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Enemies in Amalgam

Take a bunch of little monsters. Put them in a pile. Add a drop or two of mercury. Squeeze. Congratulations! You just manufactured an Amalgam.

Mechanically, Amalgams are a ruling for any kind of modular enemy. Take twelve HD¼
critters and fuse them into a HD 3 creature with extra powers. Every time the big creature takes damage equal to (or greater than) half the health of a little one, said little one blows off the big critter.

Amalgam Examples

Poes - HD¼
Can phase through walls. Attack with spectral claws and cold fires. Can't amalgamate in the presence of torchlight. Killed by sunlight.
HD ≤ 1: Can only be hit by magic and magic weapons. Afraid of fire.
HD ≥ 2: Gains coldfire blast attack.
HD ≥ 4: Sheathes self in ancient silks and armour.
HD ≥ 6: Wears bronze crown. Can spew forth 3d4 little poes 1/week.

Slimes - HD½
C'mon you know this one.
HD ≤ 1: Thin enough to melt through your skin into your blood. Attracted to, and killed by, fire and salt.
HD ≥ 2: Can melt skin.
HD ≥ 3: Psuedopod attack. Can melt wood.
HD ≥ 4: Swallow attack. Can melt steel. ¼

Cronenbergs - HD1
Each has a weaponisable mutation. The horrible result of their fusion will carry all their best traits. This one has a:
  1. Heaving brainsack. Its veins throb in magnetic rhythms, grant mild telekinesis
  2. Suckered mouth tentacle. Can latch onto almost any surface. Strength check and a knife to get it off your neck
  3. Feather-tipped biowhip. Hurls sharp quills in 3d4 damage burst, each d4 to a chosen target. 
  4. Reverberation chamber. Can spend the round hooting to deal 1d6 damage to everything within 50 feet
  5. Birthing sack. Thrown a short distance it bursts to reveal another Cronenburg with only 1hp
  6. Chitin and fat crumple zones. Double health for individual Cronenburg.
  7. Fibrous asbestos mane. Resists fire, releases toxic clouds when damaged. Save vs coughing fit
  8. Abdominal maw. Womb holds surprising amount, mutates contents
  9. Antenna array. Communicates with the hindbrain using odd gesticulations
  10. External nervous system. Continuous contact will shut down muscles, bare nerve endings eventually assuming control
  11. Biolumenscent blood. Eyes glow like torches. Can flash to blind all those looking 1/day
  12. Spinal whips. Two extra spinal columns sprout from back like cobras. Each attacks independently, lashing for 1d4
  13. Impact claw. Shockwave from claw snap blows away all in front of it. Takes a turn to rearm
  14. Caustic sinuses. Exposed orifices puke sticky, rancid mucus. Burns for 1d4/round until scraped off

Friday, 29 July 2016

Insects of Hyperborea

If you go far enough north, you come to Hyperborea. This is true everywhere. Travel past the kingdom of fake Vikings and the mountains of the white elves and the ice-ridden shores of the polar seas and the place where sky and sea and land all blur into each other and all you see is white. Keep going north and you will find it.

There is life even in Hyperborea. Silent birdmasked whale hunters. Kite cities floating on katabatic winds. Empires of sapient bacteria, subglacial magma-heated saline bubbles the only universe they know. Reefs of white coral that filter food particles from the eternally howling wind. Fake Vikings who've gone a little weird. Self-perpetuating magnetic fields that want to liberate your soul from your body so it can dance with them in the aurora. Goblins. Mammoths. Mammoth seals, like elephant seals but bigger and stupider. Tusked apes. Pockets of rainforest that unfreeze for a week in the heart of summer to briefly mimic the tropics. Piranha penguins. Crimson oozes that leave their pigment in caves when it's time to hunt. Tomb vultures that eat only the flesh of dead empresses. Stunted scavenger bears. Skeleton jellies. More goblins.

There are also giant insects. Hyperborea is not subject to the same natural laws as your world and insects can be as big as they like. Here are some.
  1. Myrmeleon. The larvae dig funnel-shaped traps in the snow and lie in wait with their jaws open at the bottom. The adults are called 'lacewings' and are rarely seen. They're rumoured to grant wishes, but this is probably bullshit that someone invented as a cruel prank.
  2. Dripping mantis. Translucent chitin. Hangs in contorted postures from rocky overhangs and the eaves of houses, perfectly disguised as a cluster of icicles. On warmer days, moistens self with tear-like substance secreted from special glands to give the appearance of melting.
  3. Snow strider. Skates across plains and hummocks of metre-thick powdered snow as if it were hard earth. Carries 1d6 bubbles of liquid nitrogen affixed to the hair on its legs, to be flung at enemies.
  4. Ice lice. The size of small dogs. Mostly live on mammoths and other huge mammals. Will drain a human dry in under a minute, then crowd around the corpse trying to figure out why it doesn't have any more blood in it.
  5. Boilfly. Abdomen glows with a chemical reaction warm enough to melt snow and bright enough to act in lieu of a torch. Explodes if startled or ungently prodded, spraying sticky, boiling liquid over everything in radius of its light.
  6. Hogbody caterpillar. Giant fuzzy caterpillar lumbering its way though waist-high drifts, consuming every scrap of organic material it can get its mandibles on. Takes seven summers to accumulate enough energy for metamorphosis.
  7. Hogbody moth. Wings like sheets of ice glint and refract the summer sunlight. Fat fuzzy body. Horrible gargoyle face. Antenna that can detect the radiation of your thoughts from half a mile away. Feeds exclusively on the aurora, but wants your flesh for its babies.
  8. Avalanche beetle. Rolls compacted snow and dung up into perfectly spherical boulders, sends them tumbling down cliffs at you. Makes snowmen in its spare time. No one knows where it gets the carrots for the noses.
  9. Fisherman centipede. Scuttles along the underside of ice shelves, feeling the vibrations of footsteps through its legs. Attacks through concealed breathing holes, bursting from snow dunes in a torrent of spins and legs. Venom is a potent antifreeze and anticoagulant that confers haemophilia on victims.
  10. Plowhorn beetle. Shovels snow out of the way with a huge chitinous horn, leaving highways in its wake. Hard to domesticate, but kept track of by seasoned travellers and sometimes steered with presents of nectar.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Random Encounters of the Dzungarian Gate

Played a game of Ryuutama with Nico and Richie Cyngler. Improvised a setting based on the steppes of Central Asia using a bunch of stuff I already had in my head. The PCs are humble farmers and artisans from the Heavenly Kingdom, a quiet and pastoral realm where nothing has changed in a thousand years, who venture north and west across the Altai Mountains to the endless barbarian steppe and the mysteries that lie beyond it.

Ryuutama is mostly about travel. There's a whole system of survival and navigation rolls that takes up most of the game. I need to hack it to take more advantage of random encounters, and there's a thing where the DM is technically an omnipotent dragon that never came up, but otherwise it's pretty good. It's kind of cute and anime, which is not a thing I realised I want in my games until I had it. The PCs were trying to get from the mountain town of Alashankou in the pass known as the Dzungarian Gate to a gathering of nomads on the shores of Lake Balkash, which harbours a city of frog women in its depths. One of them had a dream that she would find her one true love somewhere to the west, another wanted to kill interesting new monsters and make the best possible hats out of them. I put together an encounter table and we spent most of the session stumbling across stuff and having to deal with it.

Here's a version of the table. This isn't exactly what I used but it's close enough.
  1. A sapient quadrupedal iceberg, relic of an ancient glacier, ambling across the plains.
  2. A wind wizard in a sail-propelled cart, gathering the feathers of exotic birds.
  3. A herd of sheep-sized, frill-necked dinosaurs grazing by a river.
  4. Nomads hunting a golden-antlered hind to make a headdress for their shaman.
  5. A woman in tortoiseshell armour who wants to trick you into a griffin-guarded cave.
  6. An egg with legs, arms and a moustache that runs faster than you and steals stuff.
  7. A tree whose leaves make whistles that conjure storms.
  8. The wedding of a frog woman to a rusalka, interrupted by a former lover.
  9. Nomads escorting the portable tomb of their khan, whose body must never rest.
  10. The north wind, BURAN, in the form of a shaggy old man with snakes for legs.
I thought the wedding would be cute but it turned out horrifying. I blamed it on cursed fermented mare's milk from a carnivorous horse. That should probably be on the table.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Pole of the Pole

This is a short story I wrote.

It's called The Pole of the Pole. It's about six thousand words long. The idea is to deliver a meaty chunk of setting in a narrative format instead of the normal encyclopedic blog-entry format we usually write our settings in.

I feel like it worked pretty well. It's inspired by a period of history that I almost never see represented in anything. I don't want to tell you too much about it because I want to see how clear a picture you get of the setting from the story alone, but there is some art here so you have something to visualise in your head box.

Anyway that's enough talking. Go and read it.