Tuesday, May 29, 2012

International Anklebiter Illustrator Day

Zak from Playing D&D with Porn Stars declared today to beInternational Anklebiter Illustration Day. Since I have a 6-year old gamer running around the house, I put him to work.

The first drawing I commissioned was the obligatory drawing of a displacer beast. Mathijs also drew the castle it lives in.
For the other drawing, I asked Mathijs to design a sub-level of the castle for me. The way he went about it was fun: He drew the first room, and asked me: ‘What do you do?’ When I went west, he drew the next room, and there I encountered either a monster or a statue. So I played through the entire dungeon, and he stocked it in the process. So this will be the Displacer Beast Level of Castle Verge:
The black squares are statues. At the foot of the statue in area #5 is a healing potion, in area #10 there’s a note saying ‘go to area #8’. The little sun symbols are treasure chests containing gold pieces.
In area #6 there’s a statue that is actually a troll with stony skin. There’s another troll in area #13. There are displacer beasts in areas #2, #7, #10, and the big room without a number in the south. Area #9 has a sugar monster (variant rust monster), #11 has a dust monster (another variant).

The very long corridor between areas #10 and #15 is an underground stream with a bridge and treasure in the water. My favorite feature of the dungeon is area #14, which is just the negative space between rooms with doors leading to it.

In area #5 there’s a trodon, a giant humanoid with two bellies, so it can eat two people:
Trodon (1d4): AL C, MV 90’ (30’), AC 4, HD 5+2, #AT 3 (1 bite and 2 claws, or 1 weapon), Dmg 1d8 (bite), 1d10 (claw) or by weapon, SV F5, ML 10, XP 500.

Swallow whole: On an attack roll of 19-20, the trodon swallows the target whole. There’s room for one medium-sized creature or two halflings in each of his stomachs. A swallowed creature takes 1d10 damage each round.

Precision spit: After a swallowed creature is digested (brought two 0 hp), the trodon can spit out its remains as a ranged attack (short 20’, medium to 40’, long 60’, Dmg 1d6).

After I left, Mathijs apparently continued playing with his mother, because later on I found this map. The ‘)’ symbols on the map are cupcakes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

New Monster: Blistering Beast

My brother Jorrit and I decided to start a new project together. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be creating some new monsters; I’m writing them up for old-school games (as well as drawing them), and Jorrit does Pathfinder stats. Here’s the first one.
Blistering Beast
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 7
Move: 90’ (30’)
Swimming: 90’ (30)
Attacks: 1 bite + special
Damage: 2d8
No. Appearing: 1 (1d3)
Save As: F3
Morale: 7
Treasure Type: See below
Intelligence: 2
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value: 1,250
The blistering beast, also known as the river boiler, is a magical monster most commonly found in subtropical rivers. It is about 20’ long, and has a hard, stony shell both for protection as well as camouflage.
When hunting, the beast lies in waiting just below the surface, the numerous humps on its back showing above the water. To passersby, the beast’s back looks exactly like convenient stepping stones to cross the river. When a potential meal uses it as such, the blistering beast will wait patiently until the victim reaches the middle of the river. Then it attacks.
The blistering beast can cause its Shell to become extremely hot, burning any creature touching it for 1d6 fire damage, and boiling the water within a 10’ radius. Creatures in the boiling water take 1d6 damage each round until they reach safer waters.
Blistering beasts normally don’t have treasure, but the possessions of previous victims might be found in the water.
BLISTERING BEAST              CR 7
XP 3,200
N Huge magical beast (aquatic, fire)
Init +3; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 60ft.; Perception +4
AC 20, touch 7, flat-footed 20 (+13 natural, -2 size, -1 dex)
hp 85 (9d10 + 36)
Fort  +9, Ref +4, Will +3
Immune fire
Weaknesses cold
Speed 20 ft., swim 30 ft., sprint
Melee bite +14 (4d8 + 10) plus burn, grab
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks Boil Water, Burn (2d6, DC 18), Heat
Str 24, Dex 8, Con 18, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 6
Base Atk +3; CMB +18; CMD 27
Feats Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Weapon, Run, Skill Focus (Perception, Stealth)
Skills Perception +4, Stealth +6 (+14 in water); Racial Modifiers +8 Stealth in water
SQ Water Dependency
Environment subtropical rivers
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure none
Boil Water (Ex) The blistering beast’s heat boils the water within a 10’ radius. Creatures in the boiling water take 1d6 fire damage each round until they reach safer waters.
Heat (Ex) Merely touching or being touched by a blistering beast automatically deals 2d6 fire damage.
Sprint (Ex) Once per minute a crocodile may sprint, increasing its land speed to 40 feet for 1 round.
Water Dependency (Ex) Blistering beasts can survive out of the water for 1 minute per point of Constitution. Beyond this limit, a blistering beast runs the risk of suffocation, as if it were drowning.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

5E: Killing Monsters and Taking their Stuff

I’ve seen this description of the game about a million times: D&D is about killing monsters and taking their stuff. I disagree strongly, and I think it hurts the game.
It was the slogan for the Munchkin card game, a parody of D&D. Somehow people thought it was an accurate description of Dungeons & Dragons itself, and started to use it as a slogan for D&D. I think that’s wrong: using the slogan for a parody to describe D&D turns the game into a parody of itself. That is what 4E is (except it isn’t funny).

In the TSR versions of the game, you don’t have to kill the monsters: You can try to talk to them; charm them; sneak past them; lure them into a trap; lock them in a prisoner cell; trick them into killing other monsters for you; or in some cases, play the monsters themselves. There are many different solutions to an encounter. Making a choice between these solutions or thinking up completely different ones, that’s the game.

The 5E Playtest rules at least acknowledge that players might want to take a different approach to encounters besides fighting. But why should they? The characters have too many hit points and too much free healing, so fighting still seems the safest option. Other approaches can be taken, but are often depended on the DM and success is not guaranteed. At least when you fight the monsters, you know you’re going to win.

As long as fights in the game are rigged in favor of the PCs, combat will be the default option in dealing with monsters. Combat shouldn’t be the best option; it should be one of many. By making combat just as dangerous as other options, the game will encourage players to consider other approaches to overcoming challenges. This is good for the game: the adventuring day will be longer than 15 minutes, characters will be allowed to shine at different moments, combats will be shorter and less boring, listen and spot checks will have a purpose again, and so on.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dharma, Karma, and Reincarnation

The concepts of karma and reincarnation are part of the teachings of almost all philosophies and religions on Seralin. Humanotheism, the Path of the Self and the Obedience of Law are all paths to self-improvement and Enlightenment, and many religions teach that the only true way to Enlightenment rests in the worship of its god.
Karma is a form of cause and effect between this life and the next. It proposes that good actions will cause good consequences, and bad actions will cause bad consequences. Dharma is a man’s obligation in life. It helps him to achieve good karma by fulfilling the duties to which he is bound by his station.
If he leads a good life, performing the duties his dharma dictates, he will be rewarded by a better position when he is reborn in his next life. If he leads a bad life he will be punished by being reincarnated as a beggar, slave, or maybe even as an animal.
A PC's dharma is a combination of character class and alignment. In order to follow his dharma, a character must behave according to the alignment guidelines given in the Player's Handbook. These tenets must be followed strictly, or the character will suffer a karma penalty (see below). For example, a Lawful Good character who participated in the theft of a magic sword would be violating his dharma, for he would be breaching his duty to respect the laws of the land,
Characters should follow the behavioral guidelines of his alignment strictly. In addition to alignment, each player should work with the DM to define his character’s dharmic duties, using his race, class, social status, philosophy, religion, and any other important elements in his background. Example dharmic duties are given below.
Assassins: Get the job done, no matter what. Never let emotion come in the way of an assignment.
Druids: Revere nature. Never harm plants or animals without reason.
Fighters: Always be brave. Never flee from danger while an ally fights on.
Humanotheism: Strive for perfection, both physical as mental.
Knights: As fighter. Fight with honor. Always help the weak and needy.
Mage: Pursue knowledge and pass up no chance to learn new spells or acquire magical items.
Merchants: Attempt to acquire wealth for your own benefit and for your family.
Nobles: Serve your lord. Protect your vassals.
Path of the Self: Place yourself above all others.
Priest: Devote yourself to your god and your church. Recruit followers for your faith whenever possible.
Rangers: As fighter. Revere nature. Never harm plants or animals without reason.
Thieves: Attempt to acquire wealth, either for your own benefit or to help others. Rely on stealth, trickery and cunning.
A character gains a point of karma every time he goes up in level. If his dharma and karma played a big role in the gaming session, the DM may reward another karma point to the character. If a character violates his dharma, he loses a karma point.
It is entirely possible for a character to have conflicting dharma requirements. If, for example, the dharmic duties for a character’s class go against those of his alignment, violating either still results in the loss of a karma point.
After the character dies, his player doesn’t create a new character, but rolls 2d6 on the table below to see what he comes back as.

Karma Points
Giant snail*
Ape* or Baboon*
Pig* or Porcine*
Pig* or Porcine*
Human+ or paragon*
*: Create a new character of the indicated race. Transfer the old character’s INT, WIS and CHA to the new character. All other stats are rerolled. The new character starts at level 1.
+: Transfer the old character’s INT, WIS and CHA to the new character. All other stats are rerolled. The new character starts at a level 1d4 lower than the old character.
++: Transfer all stats of the old character to the new. The new character starts at one level lower than the old character.
+++: Transfer all stats of the old character to the new. The new character starts at the same level as the old character.
Enlightenment: The character is elevated to a higher state of existence. Create a completely new character. The new character receives a +2 bonus to all saving throws.

The new character will show up after 1d6 days. The character starts with 0 karma points and has only vague recollections of his previous life.
The reincarnation spell grants a roll on the table above, but the player rolls 1d6 to determine the new character’s level, and the character starts with a number of karma points equal to his level.
Raise dead or similar spells used on the previous character’s body will raise him normally, causing the new character to die. The character is taken out of the reincarnation cycle, and will never reincarnate again, not even with the reincarnation spell. People living outside the reincarnation cycle are known as beimaan (cheaters). Beimaan are seen as unnatural creatures equal to demons. Beimaan are considered chaotic outsiders for purpose of all spells, magic items and spell-like effects, in addition to their actual alignment and race. When in conflict, the chaotic designation takes precedence.
Notes: These rules were inspired by existing rules, and were reworked and restated for use in my Weird Opera campaign. The reincarnation table was written for the world of Anderove, which has no elves, dwarves, or other common demi-humans. DM’s wanting to use these rules in their own campaign should devise their own table.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Paragon Colonies

Description: In the southwestern wilderness of the tropical peninsula lie the independent city-states known collectively as the Paragon Colonies. They were founded in a period about 1000 - 1200 years ago by colonists (some say, criminals) from Pretomournon and Woulph. Around 800 years ago, paragons claiming to be the reincarnations of the original founders started to arrive. After hypnosis and magic confirmed their claims, they quickly took control of the city’s ruling families. In less than two centuries, every one of the eight cities was under the power of paragons.
Asuras is a decadent city of hedonists. Breathing is most famous for its plantations. Its major exports are coffee and tobacco. Godsgrace was built around an ancient tower only paragons are allowed to enter.  Everlost is the shadow of a city existing in another reality. It only enters Seralin when its Emir wills it. Illuminate is ruled by the bodhisattva Julemorus, who has reached enlightenment but chose to stay on the material plane to guide his people. Refuge is a city of thieves, criminals, murderers, whores, poisoners, slavers and politicians. Southpoint is the most southern city on the continent, famous for the beautiful orchids it grows. Vulture is also known as the “city of alchemists.” It is build upon an ancient dungeon of unknown origin. It is said deep below the city there’s a time portal that transports the user to an aeon of long ago.
The peninsula jungle is hot, wet, and dangerous. Many species of spiders and snakes, all lethally poisonous, can be found in the jungle, and bigger predators like tigers, dinosaurs and manticores also dwell here. Numerous tribes, all independent with their own laws and customs, make their home in the deadly jungle. Although the jungle tribes have a reputation for hostility and violence, they are actually peaceful hunter-gatherers. Disputes between different tribes are resolved in ritual combat without bloodshed.
Ruler: Although the colonies form a very loose alliance, every city is ruled independently and has its own prince, emir, lord mayor or patriarch. The paragon families of the cities plot against one another constantly.
Population: Society in the Paragon Colonies is heavily stratified. All paragons in the cities are automatically part of the noble class. Below the nobles are citizens, those wealthy human merchants and that are allowed to own property, including slaves. Individuals belonging to the freemen class may not own property but are allowed to rent it from those who do. Inhabitants of the small villages providing food to the cities are usually freemen. On the lowest rung of society’s ladder are the slaves. More than half of each city’s population consists of slaves. Many slaves are taken in slave raids on villages of the native jungle tribes, but white slaves, pigs and Neanderthals are imported from the north.
The Paragons follow the philosophy known as The Path of the Self. It teaches individuals to strive to be better than his peers. Followers of the Path are often selfish and cruel, and only work for personal gain.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Requirements: INT 9
Ability Modifiers: DEX +1, INT +1, CON -1
Paragons are advanced humans, reincarnated closer to nirvana as a reward of following their dharma in previous lives. They are slender and graceful, and stand between 6½ and 7½ feet tall. Paragons are very diverse in appearance, much like humans, and are often very beautiful in an unearthly, unsettling way.  They typically weigh about 120 pounds and are between 5 and 5 ½ feet tall.
Paragons have infravision of 60 feet, and their unnatural hearing and keen alertness grant a +1 to all surprise checks. Their great intellect gives them access to a number of special mental abilities. Paragons can communicate telepathically at will with any intelligent being within 20’ radius, can cast ESP once a day and can cast mind blank once a week. They get a +2 saving throw bonus against charm, fear, emotion, and domination type spells and psionics.
They can speak their alignment language and common. Because of their telepathic ability, they often don’t bother to learn any other languages.
Paragons may select from all available classes, with a level limit of 10.
Paragon thieves receive the following bonuses and penalties to thief abilities:
Pick Locks
Pick Pockets
Move Silently
Hide in Shadows
Hear Noise

*Paragons receive a better dice range for hearing noises. For example, 1st level paragon thieves hear noises on a 1-3, and at 9th level it is 1-5. Hear noise may never be better than 1-5.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Nechara, Land of a Thousand Pyramids

Description:  Wedged between the Heart Sea in the north and the Unsaid Ocean in the south, the southern empire of Nechara is a tropical land of humid rainforest. The vast jungle covers most of the realm. Forest trolls, lizardmen, botanoids, and intelligent baboons make their home in the jungle, as do dinosaurs and other ancient creatures from before the time of men.
Most human settlements lie along the outer edges of the rainforest.  In the deeper parts of the forest lie the ruins of the many pyramids that give Nechara the epithet of “land of a thousand pyramids”. These huge mausoleums are the tombs of Nechara’s emperors of past dynasties. Many of the oldest of the ancient pyramids are protected by odd astronomical time locks that track the positions of far away stars. When the stars are right, the tombs will open and release whatever secrets are buried there.
Ruler: Empress Emuishéré, assisted by her two husbands: General Mdjai, commander in chief of the Necharan legions, and chief bureaucrat Khenti of the imperial bureaucracy. Although the traditional marriage between empress, general and bureaucrat is formal procedure, Emuishéré has managed to maintain romantic relationships with both her spouses.
Population: The original inhabitants of Nechara were a dark-skinned people. However, millennia of invasions, conquest, mercantile relations and migrations have mixed Necharan blood with that of many different races. Modern-day Necharans have brown skin. Hair ranges from blond to black, eyes are most often brown. Green eyes are believed to be a sign of sorcerous talent, and green-eyed children are sold as apprentice to mages at a very young age; sometimes as young as six years old.
Necharans believe in a version of humanotheism, a philosophy that states all people must strive to be the best they can be. Necharan humanotheism says humanity was created by a mother goddess, which charged her children with the quest for divinity. When humans have reached divine perfection, she will permit them into her divine realm.
Lambakota: The imperial capital has a population of about 13,000. Its ancient streets are laid out in concentric circles around the Great Pyramid. This gigantic building is said to be the oldest pyramid in the empire, and maybe even the oldest man-build structure in the world. Recent study of the astronomical lock shows the pyramid will soon open its gate.