Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shared Nightmares: d10 Rumors You heard on the Playground

Shared Nightmares is a setting for Into the Odd.

1 | Kelli Dunston says that in the houses with no children, no one ever turns on the lights.

2 | Children who die in their dreams will soon show up to school with black stained fingers. The next day, their families move away.

3 | Billy Reed says he saw a feathered dragon soaring through the sky at dusk.

4 | Pet birds keep trying to escape their cages and go outside. (If left locked in, they will slam into the bars until they die.)

5 | If you wake up early enough after a shared dream, you’ll find your front steps covered in reptiles, turtles, and snakes.

6 | Clouds of black dust billow out of the Deepwell Experimental Mining Project both day and night. (Most of the mommies and daddies work there.)

7 | Jesus Jimenez says that there are a bunch of spiny alligators down in the bottoms by the river.

8 | All the plants near the old strip pits have started dying off.

9 | Amanda Blinkhorn keeps finding bloody sparrow’s wings on her walk home.

10| All the books about dinosaurs have been checked out of the library for months.

More on Into the Odd.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Shared Nightmares

I wrote this really creepy short story the other day. Writing it was a harrowing experience for reasons of which I am still not certain.

Anyway, childhood fears have been on my mind lately. This got me to thinking about roleplaying games because well, fuck, everything does. So here is a rough outline for an alternate Into the Odd setting.
This is a Blake piece I mutilated.

Shared Nightmares

Everybody plays a child.

For reasons no one understands, children in town have been occupying the same darkly surreal dreamscapes as they sleep. While sharing a nightmare, the children are in complete control of their actions and aware of how fucked up this is, they can do anything they can normally do (sometimes even functioning more powerfully than in real life), they remember everything though they will wish they didn’t, and the children sometimes bring items out of the dream worlds and into the grey light of day (these are all Arcanum).

Your STR is your age, with a minimum and maximum at 7 and 13 years old. (If you roll 16 STR, you’re 13 years old. If you roll a 3, you’re 7. Your STR is still whatever you roll.) Your starting package items are instead things a child might own. So a sword is your flimsy plastic ninja sword, a rifle is your Red Ryder BB gun, modern armor is your Boba Fett Halloween costume, etc. However, in the dreamscape the things function as they would if real. If an animal or lighter boy is called for, it’ll be a stuffed animal or an imaginary friend in the dream. Be creative here, but nothing really changes mechanically.

If a child dies in a dream, they stop talking in real life. The dead children go through their day to day routines like mindless drones. Within a week, the child and his/her whole family will move away. Adults don’t seem to notice any of this. Teachers and parents refuse to acknowledge anything is happening.

Jimmy down the street has actual, functioning Sunblessed Bands. His dad acts like they’re just another toy… when he acknowledges Jimmy at all. Jimmy and his dad used to be really close before this all started.

It rains six days a week. It has been cool outside for six months. All the children are really scared. It seems to be completely random who dreams together each night.

Some kids say that instead of dreaming they wake up still paralyzed with sleep. Sally said a whole bunch of birds were staring at her through the window.  Kenny says there are grey men that look at him when he sleeps. Jon just cries all the time. No one knows what’s happening. Dogs bark all night long, and cats won’t go outside anymore.

Six Things to Remember about the Dreamscapes

1| The dreamscapes are twisted nightmare distortions of the town.

2| The children always begin the dream next to a structure they are familiar with.

3| The structure is always larger on the inside.

4| Being outside is just as dangerous as inside.

5| The Monsters know your secrets.

6| Ghosts of those who’ve “moved away” sometimes haunt the dreamscapes.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Couple of Simple Ideas

Firstly, I've not been blogging much lately, at least not on this blog. Partly it's because I was getting a little bit burnt out, partly because I've started a daily creative writing blog, and partly because I'm working on a few small projects I'd like to sell to you. Add to that the one year old crashing around the apt. plus my day job, and the result yields fewer blog posts.

On to things you might actually give a shit about.

1 - Improvised weapons, some really, really simple rules. I usually run LotFP so tacking on complicated subsystems isn't something I want to do.

An improvised weapon (like a piece of firewood, a broom handle, a mallet, or a saw) wielded single-handedly does 1d4 damage. It also breaks on a natural 20. If it is something really fragile (like a moonshine jug), it breaks the first time you score a hit with it.

Something smallish you are using as a weapon, that wasn't meant to be a weapon (like a quill knife, a straight razor, or a wooden stake) does 1d3 damage. It also breaks on a natural 20. If it is something really fragile (like an icicle), it breaks the first time you score a hit with it.

Something largish you are using as a weapon in two hands (like a walking staff or a bar stool) that is not actually designed to kill people does 1d6 damage. If it is something really fragile (like a half full amphora), it breaks the first time you score a hit with it.

Often when an improvised weapon breaks, the resulting pieces can also be used to hurt people. d6  stool breaks to d4 stool leg breaks to d3 pointy bit of wood.

But what about a felling axe, stupid? Trees are way harder than people and axes don't break all the time.

Right you are, dick. Sturdier/heavier things like crowbars, wood axes, sledgehammers, and such, instead fly free or get jarred out of a character's hand. They really are not balanced properly for murder. This happens on both 1s and 20s and requires 2 combat rounds to retrieve. That means there's a 10% chance that you should have had a real weapon.

2 - Bucklers

This one is easy. A buckler functions exactly as does a shield but only for melee attacks.

3 - Wear and Tear

This one is a bit in the development phase but the basic idea is that each broad type of armor and weapons (and other stuff probably) has a certain number of adventures it can endure before needing to be repaired. At double the repair number most need to be replaced.

Leather Armor has a repair of 1 adventure. Just one outing to the dungeon and you're already having to stitch it back together or replace some cuir bouilli scales or whatever. After the next adventure you gotta buy some new shit.

Chainmail has a repair of 3. Going to have to replace a significant number of the rings after a few trips through the Troll Fens. Three troublesome hexes after that and you're gonna have to buy some new shit.

Shields have a repair of 1-3 depending on construction.

Platemail has a repair of 3, but importantly doesn't have to be fully replaced until 3x its repair point.

Wooden hafted weapons like polearms, most axes, and spears have a repair of 2.

Metal hafted weapons (like really fancy maces, axes, and warhammers) and well-made full tang swords/daggers/knives have a repair of 3 and don't need to be replaced until triple the repair number.

And if you spent all last session just talking to some demon, that probably doesn't count as an adventure for this purpose.

4 - Into the Odd is pretty fucking awesome. I'm really looking forward to running it soonish, and I think about game stuff with it in mind all the damn time. Really simple, straightforward rules with great atmosphere. You should check it out.

5 - I'm done now, I think.

6 - Yep. Done.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Narcosmos Monster: The Pentapods

“Space is a strange thing, no matter where ya go in the multiverse. The space above and outside most worlds is big, mostly empty, hostile to life, and full of just really weird shit. And big, by gods, most of ‘em is big. And when ya consider that there’s practically an infinity of worlds, well it makes less sense for anything to not exist. Space hamsters? Sure, I seen ‘em. Whales a’wrigglin’ through the void, well, I seen that too. Worlds made of pure fire and moons o’ frozen yella slime. Yep. Space is godsdamned weird.”

-            Braet Belquin, noted planar explorer and sometime spelljammer captain.

The Pentapods aren’t really all that strange, considering they’re from space. Their head-pods stand at about 3 feet tall, and all five of those pink rubbery tentacles can stretch out to about six feet. They move in long graceful arcs and seem to find the idea of straight lines unappealing. Pentapods communicate telepathically and appear to have some sort of innate bio-kinesis, especially with slime molds, from which all their odd technologies arise.

At the heart of every Pentapod asteroid ship is a central nervous system of bio-engineered slime molds, performing all the tasks normally accomplished via circuitry (or magic) and mechanical means. They even keep certain specialized pools which synthesize various keratin-based tools onto the ends of their tentacles.

Five pairs of eyes are evenly distributed across their cylindrical head-pods. Even without this, sneaking up on them is nearly impossible, due to the 12 yd. range of their psychic awareness/telepathy. A strange bulbous sphincter sits atop the head-pod; this is the apparatus through which they breathe and expel waste. (They sometimes do this spontaneously when startled.) The central bottom part of the creatures contain several sets of gills and a tooth lined sphincter which serves as a mouth. Pentapods usually consume simple organisms like algae and bacterial mats. They can consume other organic material, but it usually gives them gas: it’s chlorine to be more specific.

Long ago, their swampy verdant homeworld was usurped from them by a cruel race of bipedal horse-monsters. Ever since then, the Pentapods have spread across the galaxy looking for a new world to inhabit. They seem to be driven by an insatiable curiosity and a distrust of beings with bilateral symmetry.

That’s great and all, bud, but how do these things get me high?

Well that’s a bit of a sad story, but you asked.

You see by some fluke of evolution, the brain-chemicals produced by Pentapods while frightened induce ridiculous euphoria in humans. After its gruesome harvest, this golden-green liquid is drunk by users under the street-name “Happy”. It’s addictive effects last for about 1d6 hours. Here’s the kicker though, any pain felt by a Pentapod significantly reduces the effects the “Happy”. Unfortunately bipeds are very clever and many have discovered some terrifyingly consistent ways to put out a good 
product. "Happy" farms are some of the worst places in the galaxy.


1 HD
Movement 30’
AC : 12
Attacks 5 (Though only three may be used against a single target)
Damage 1d2 via constriction or by Weapon
Axe Tip – 1d8; Syringe Tip 1d2 + Poison; 
Claw Tip – 1d3; Pincher Tip – 1d3; Spear Tip 1d6 (can receive charge for double damage), Probe Tip – 1d4.
Special –
Telepathic Awareness and Communication 12 Yards. Never Surprised by a thinking being.

Has an almost innate understanding of biology, anatomy, and medical science. A Pentapod colony can cure most diseases encountered within 1d20 weeks. Previous experience prevents most colonies from offering aid or succor to bipeds.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mouth of Many Teeth

This is one of the Fetishes from my new book, Fetishistic Arcana.


First gather you together a set of dead folk's teeth, each tooth from a different mouth. Put them all firmly into an artificial jaw of the best construction you can muster; it must be closed off by a backing of sturdy, black fabric. Then sew into the fetish a tongue from a great orator.

(The better crafted the fetish is the longer it will last: Crude Construction 1d6 uses, Good Construction 3d6 Uses, Masterful Construction unlimited uses. Note that the tongue rots normally, though this will not affect the fetish. Removing the tongue before it sloughs off on its own, however, ruins the enchantment.)


When Speak with Dead is cast through this fetish, an intact mouth is not required, just some piece of the dead person or an extremely valued possession.

With each use of this fetish, there is a 2% chance that the spirit of the deceased will permanently inhabit the artificial mouth.


So that's copied straight from the book, but here's a bit more.

Why does this fetish matter?

Well, I guess you may not be using Lamentations of the Flame Princess (all of the fetishes were written with that ruleset in mind). Maybe your ruleset doesn't specifically require an intact mouth for Speak with Dead. Well finding the ancient king's favorite pinky ring is probably still easier than finding his skeleton. And when you gotta have some ancient exposition, you gotta talk to some ancient folks.

Also, that 2% chance of permanent habitation could be a big boon. In fact it could be the point of the fetish. PCs could try to raise that chance with things like summoning circles or negotiating with the deceased. In fact I'd knock that % up to 50 if they put some effort into it.

That's the whole point of Fetishistic Arcana, to get characters to do weird shit for magical reasons.

Anyhoozle, you can buy my book here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I awoke dreaming of encounter charts…

What finds you in the wilderness?

1- Nothing, a great, existential nothing - Landscapes quickly shift to empty, wide desolation. Even so, the stars are distant and dim. Sunsets happen quickly, when you are not looking. There is no breaking beauty only ugly open isolation.

2- Fear, ancestral and barely remembered – It stalks you. Staying in shadows it is always nearby. You know it is near; you smell its hateful musk wherever you turn. It knows you know. You can feel its toothsome smile on the back of your neck.

3- Beauty, a velvet-lined trap – It is perfect here. Brookes babble merrily. Birds sing a slow but cheery song. Soft powdery scents slide through the gentle breeze. The sun shines gently, a perpetual golden haze. Numbing joy fills your every fiber. The ways out are harsh, sharp, and uncomfortable: mazes of thorns that keep turning back to this blessed place. Why would you leave this flowered forest? No task has meaning here.

4- Lust, a strange visitor – Androgynous and achingly beautiful, an ethereal being beckons you from the path. The clinging perfume of honeysuckle and overripe fruit caresses your nose. Desire burns hot in your belly. Hunger flares within your chest. The being will never step towards you; this perfect creature was meant to be pursued.

5- Gluttony, a boisterous bacchanal – In the midst of the food-starved wilds, satyrs and fauns call you by name. Their voices are song, and they dance about great tables. Rough-hewn boards are loaded with piles of sausage and cheese, great jugs of sweet wine, flowing fountains of brown beer, heaps of ripe peaches, many legs of hot ham, great white loaves of buttered bread, cakes of exquisite shapes  scaled in sugared almonds, game birds baked with honey & thyme, and here and there punctuated with candied castles. The feast never ends, and it is very rude to exit before the host gives you leave.

6- Envy, glittering prizes always in another’s grasp – In this place, golden necklaces are scattered about the path, and your companions gather them with ease; all you find is painted lead. When you best shining knights and claim your winnings, their armor and swords turn to rust and dust. Your companions gloat in their new finery.

7- Greed, easy conquest and rich rewards – Here even the shepherds hold kingly jewels. The roughest smith can craft lordly arms. Jeweled dragons are kept as pets like cats. Within this bitterly cold valley, the next village always has better things: finer armor, softer beds, richer brews. And always for a shilling more than you can afford. Gold is easy to find here, but there is never quite enough of it.

8- Wrath, hellish heat and hot rage – It is far too hot here. The vistas slowly shift to reds and yellows. All beings here challenge and belittle you. A knight might ride by and call you craven; he will laugh merrily when you strike him. The very stones whisper your secret failings. Roots and shrubs mock you and titter at every failure. It is all but impossible to stop fighting until all your enemies lie bleeding before you.

9- Sloth, viscous and slow – The air is thick; it pushes back against you like water when you move. It is hard breath unless you are still. Your eyelids droop heavily. Crickets halfheartedly strike up their song. Should you sleep you might never awaken, but you will dream of lazy days and still contentment.

10- Pride, cool success awaits you – The breeze is cold but refreshing. Things come easily here. The grass sings in the wind of your greatness. Even the rudest villages know your name. They sing songs of your glory. Feasts are held in your honor. They’ll beg you not leave. Nothing comes easily in the surrounding hills.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Go Buy Deep Carbon Observatory... Go On Now... Get.

I have been searching for some time now for the perfect words to describe Patrick Stuart’s writing style, to encapsulate in brief his stunningly unique voice; in this, I have failed. However, I keep circling back to two words that I believe will suffice: poetic and ineffable.

Patrick has a way with words notable for both its brevity and hint towards expansiveness. “Kill them. Make them afraid. Explain nothing.” “The water of the river is ripe with life, over-full with predators. Pike and strange pale squid flit to and fro. Cuttlefish can barely be seen; camouflage flows across their pigmented skin like paint. ¶ Upriver, in the distance, rises a column of smoke or grey cloud. The only other signs to mark the sky are carrion birds. Columns of their moving forms make black signals in the grey air, sketching spirals over the accumulated dead.” 2 brief paragraphs, 5 sentences drown an entire valley and kill most of its occupants.

(The assonance, consonance, sibilance, and false rhymes conspire to give the paragraphs far more weight than they could hold at a glance. This prose is so full of prosody that it breaks like the damn and floods the mind with wild and sickening images.

The columns in the sky both mirror and presage the horrible column/ stalactite hanging down into the bleak, black void below.)

Less poetical things to note:

Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) is an 85 pg. adventure on A5-ish sized paper, perfect bound and soft cover. It is greyscale in its entirety. It is stunningly written by Patrick Stewart and evocatively illustrated by Scrap Princess. I was graciously awarded a copy for this review. DCO costs $10 Digital or $13.30 Dead Tree.

The adventure begins in the drowned city of Carrowmore where a series of terrible situations await the PCs. Much has been written about this introduction, and with reason. There are no good paths to choose. The best one can hope for is to save some few of these folk by intensely focusing on achievable objectives.

The manner in which this bewildering array of horribleness is presented is pure genius. That tiny bit of design alone is nearly worth the price of admission.

DCO then moves forward from the very real and very human tragedies of Carrowmore into a surreal and sodden landscape in which the barriers between water and land have been shattered. There are ruthless magical killers, giant lake fauna, ridiculous magi, floating sarcophagi, hydrological golems, corpse filled toads, and much, much more. Several sessions could be spent exploring the valley and the drained lake, depending on how goal-driven vs. curious the PCs may be.

The main show is the Observatory itself. The place feels as though it was produced through time by an esoteric and sadistic society operating under completely alien values to observe an even more alien existence below them.

In case you haven’t decided if Deep Carbon Observatory would be to your taste, here are a few more things from within this slim folio.

  • A result from an encounter chart: “A chunk of Ambergris in the hands of a corpse being attacked by a Giant Carnivorous Platypus.”
  • Slave Spells: “Reduce Scars… Ease Greif”
  • A core sample from a stratum of rock that is actually an infinite reduction of vampire bones.
  • An allusion to this.

There is much more that could be said, but I don’t want rob you of the adventure of reading or playing this thing.

About the Art:

It’s good. It’s all in Scrap Princess’s splintery style. That’s the sort of thing you love or you hate (or you feel another way about). I especially liked the By Frosens, the Neptunium Child, and the Pale Giant. Her style can be viewed here.

Also, the maps are fine, though could have been more clearly labeled considering the size they were ultimately rendered to.  I expect I’ll have no problem using the vertical map of the Observatory proper when I get a chance to run this thing. I’ve ran a few dungeons with only side view maps without any issue.

Oh I’m going to run this fucking thing. I just have to wait until my players level up some and are foolish enough to go to the Feywode. (DCO doesn’t really fit in Fantasy Colonial America, but would work just fine in fairy-land.) Judging by the stat blocks, I’d run this unchanged for parties between levels 3 and 6 depending on the cleverness of the players and the size of the group.

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth:

Patrick has described the layout of DCO as functional; I believe this is a fair assessment. The utilitarian layout suits the subject matter well enough and everything you might need at any particular moment will be within a couple of pages. Ideally you wouldn’t need to flip more than one page. We'll really you wouldn't have flip around at all in a perfect book, but meh.

The copy I got seems to have a lighter greyish cover rather than the bolder blacks I’ve seen in other copies. All the art is similarly washed-out, which is a shame because I find that Scrap’s style looks best in high contrast.  Though I must add that none of this harms the usability nor my enjoyment of DCO.

Also, I don’t like many of the names. They’re a bit all over the place: some vaguely Mesoamerican, some vaguely Dutch, some just overwrought fantasy names. Really though, the names in a module are the thing I imagine get changed more than anything else, and Patrick’s choices here will work in just as many settings as they wouldn’t.

Overall Verdict:

Go buy this fucking thing… It’s incredibly good and very, very interesting.

As soon as I run it, there will be a play report. Until then,