Wednesday, 9 August 2017


The first thing you see as you approach the shores of Hyperborea, the lost continent to the north of everywhere, is a dim red beacon guttering in the polar night. The flame atop the Ivory Tower - scrimshawed, soot-blackened, home to the Illuminators and the tallest building in the whaleport of Kesselhaven - never goes out. As your ship threads its way between jagged shoals and treacherous chunks of sea-ice, striving to reach safe harbour, you see smaller fires blazing in crevices of barren rock. Brass kettles, spitting and hissing. Men in leather aprons, streaked with grime and blood. Whales. By the hundreds. In varieties you've never heard of. All, expect for a few unlucky ones, dead. Long knives flaying the blubber from their corpses, carving it into strips and flinging it into the overflowing kettles. Sea wolves and piranha penguins lacerating the bloody shallows, snatching gobbets of whaleflesh and the limbs of men who stray too far from the firelight. Officers screaming, praying, cracking whips. Birds wheeling in their thousands.

The nights are long in Hyperborea and there is always a need for more heat. Whales are more plentiful than trees, more common than coal. The work of the oilmen never stops.

(Here is the rest of this post. It's in a Google doc because it was too long to put anywhere else. I am thinking of writing a setting guide to Hyperborea, the lost continent to the north of everywhere.)

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Yoon-Suin Demon Generator

click me for a world of oriental mystery

Played Yoon-Suin last weekend. Writing material for the next session, whenever that will be. Came up with this demon generator for you to also use. They're designed as quest hooks - either your players will want to summon them and earn their vile gifts, or someone else is already doing that and your players have to bind and dispel them.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Shore

The coast of the Southern Salt is an intertidal zone that stretches well beyond the sight of any eyeglass. The tides beat a slow, unsteady rhythm and the locals keep pace. The local measure of time, the fiveyear, follows the water - it hasn't been anything close to five years in living memory. Somewhere in the endless expanse of littoral variety is the Captured Sea and its resident islands but for the most part it's fishing villages, houseboats, seaweed farms, snail ranches and merfolk warrens.

The below table isn't going to cover your whole adventure, but should be useful for generating a stretch of tidepools in a pinch. I'm thinking most groups of people you meet can just be from Skerples' neat camp follower table, reskinned a little for the setting. Oh, and remember to roll a d20 to figure out how many inches deep the water mostly is right now!

Terrain Creatures Features People Threats
1 Round black stone, slick with algae Toadfish and salamanders Unfathomably deep pool. Suspiciously brackish Floating house. Family of fishers, tiny dogs. Huge lucky fish under floorboards Hermit crab. Cart-sized. Known for eating hermits
2 Jagged rows of orange rock Gulls and clams Massive ball of driftwood washed down from mangrove forests. Rustles Clade of nomads on stilts, picking at debris with hooks and spears. Odd philosophy Storm petrel. 20' wingspan. Lands like a thunderbolt
3 Thick layer broken, razorsharp shells Snails and octopi Dead animal, bloated and swarming with scavengers Gang of smugglers in cramped boat, happy to trade for smallest valuables you have Field of giant salt squirts. They begin erupting when you reach the centre*
4 Sucking mud, clumps of rotten seaweed Crabs and platypi Abandoned rowing boat. No oars, half full of rum, smashed chest in bottom Snail gaucho, performing one of the slow hobbies of the snail people. Hundreds of whittled idols for sale, keen to buy anything smokeable Bask of false gharials, ever smiling with those idiot mouths
5 Brittle, bleached coral  Silver fish and plankton clouds Ineffectual attempt at tower. Long ago abandoned. Tallest thing for miles around Salt witch on unidentifiable riding beast, pretending to not be a witch for comedic effect Sentient algae. Exposed to a cut it will do its sad best to communicate via hallucinations, prophetic visions
6 Water slick quicksand, reflecting the sky Silverfish and anenomes Raised peat mound, standing out like a sore thumb. How has nobody nicked this yet? Merfolk studiously pretending to be a "NORMAL HUMAN PERSON". Thinks there's nothing at all funny about this Riddle fish. Squat, ugly, not near as well camouflaged as it thinks. Laughs, spitting poison, when you can't solve its riddles
*Remember that falling over on rocks or coral is likely to cut your shit up and maybe crack your skull unless you're wearing armour. If you're wearing armour, falling over in mud could see you drown before your slip-sliding companions can get to you. In sand it's just a fun and light-hearted time!

And of course you need a bunch of magic junk washed up on the interminable shores.
  1. Spiral shell. Tip it and a pinch of sand pours from the mouth. Spin it around and other pinch falls. Spin faster and the sand begins to flow out in a stream. Held to the ear, one can hear the ocean, and the sound of someone very far away shouting into a near identical shell.
  2. Palm-sized, translucent jelly, washed up after a savage storm. If the skin breaks it bursts into a wave. Good throwing technique allows for increased control over the resulting wash of water.
  3. Knot of driftwood, snapped from a long-sunken ship. Molded by currents in the glacial rise to the surface, it now resembles a leering beast of the deeps. If returned to salt water, even just a bucketful, the wood will contort itself into a living, hateful creature and attack all in sight. Whittled into a religious symbol it will instead ward against the undead, evil, bad luck.
  4. Bubbling fulgurite, emerging from the sand just before a storm strikes. If exposed to a cloudy sky it will call down a bolt of lightning and explode violently. The stone will absorb magic moving above it. Larger specimens soak more power before shattering.
  5. Coral grown into jagged folds. When the right seam is found, and the coral twisted just so, the wielder is folded up into the piece. Fresh specimens may contain lairs of eels, labs of merfolk witches, troves of forbidden treasure. Some corals twist deeper and deeper, seeming without end.
  6. Forked mangrove root. Held by the forks it points to fresh water. Held by the shaft it points to dry land. Planted forks-down in a dish of salt water it grows a serviceable quarterstaff in about 40 minutes.
  7. Head-sized salt crystal, looks very nearly like it has a face. Touch the 'mouth' to anything and it will attempt to suck the water out of it. Wood can be rendered dry and brittle, flesh exsanguinated, pools of water greedily devoured. Also makes the air quite dry, if you don't cover it up.
  8. Cuboid lump of pumice. Clutched in the fist it lightens the holder. Gravity is about 1/6th as effective on them and anything they hold. If something would float in water, it floats now. Swimming through air is hard, but achievable with a pair of wings.
  9. Hard red jelly. Ingested, it causes the blood to thicken and grants immunity to bludgeoning, falling. A little more eaten and the limbs swell, crimson and heavy as cudgels. A little more seizes up the body and mires the heart. Repeat users are sluggish and mildly addicted.
  10. Sea's tooth. A fist-sized rock that, nestled into mud or sand, functions as if it were the tip of a boulder ten thousand times as large. There's an exceptionally sturdy iron ring embedded in it, for convenience.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Misremembered Men

In The Destruction of the Philosophers Al-Ghazali teaches us that all things in the material universe exist only as information in the mind of God, much as all things in a video game exist only as information in the mind of a computer. He was not quite right. In fact all things exist only as information in the mind of Yaldabaoth, the corrupt and rebellious entity who created the material universe against the express will of the Ineffable Monad, who wished to remain forever in eternal contemplative unbeing. Yaldabaoth does his best to keep track of everything, but his brain is slowly rotting with age and he was never a particularly diligent student of philosophy in the first place. Sometimes he forgets things, and those things simply blink out of existence. Other times he gets the details wrong. In the book of his memory all things are written in the divine language Enochian, and even a single misremembered letter can have dramatic consequences.

These are the Misremembered Men, the Flawkind or Glitchenkin. They were not always like this. Some have memories of their former lives. They have the stats of a normal human, but they
  1. Have one random stat set to 99.
  2. Have one random skill set to 999.
  3. Have no HP variable and therefore cannot be killed. Blood and viscera gush from their wounds but they take no actual damage.
  4. Do not register as a valid target for an attack roll. You can't attack them, though you can still damage them in other ways.
  5. Can glide through solid objects, ragdolling frantically and spraying polygons everywhere. Will grab you and pull you into the negative space under the floor.
  6. Can swim through air as if it were water and walk through water as if it were air. 
  7. Can, whenever you leave a room they're in, spawn a duplicate of themselves in the next room you enter.
  8. Can interact with anything they can see as if it were in melee range.
  9. Are slowly growing larger at all times. Reset to default size whenever they roll a 1.
  10. Are ten times as fast when walking backwards.
  11. Are invisible so long as their hit points are an odd number.
  12. Turn anyone they deal combat damage to into a level 5 elven wizard named Risparillion.
and they
  1. Have no inventory and therefore cannot hold, wear or possess objects.
  2. Have a memory that resets every time you initiate conversation with it.
  3. Can't turn left.
  4. Can't go through doors.
  5. Can't make sound, directly or indirectly.
  6. Can only speak in mangled, distorted word fragments and write in broken spidery symbols that crawl across the page.
  7. Are completely passive - can't instigate action, though they can respond to stuff done to them.
  8. Are constantly, rapidly aging. When they turn 100 they roll over into a baby again.
  9. Will instantly teleport back to a particular spot if they move more than a hundred feet from it.
  10. Freeze up whenever they roll a 1 and can't do anything until they are manually returned to where they were at the beginning of the day.
  11. Looks like a mundane object - broom, dog, teakettle, etc. Still can do anything a human can do.
  12. Looks like whoever's standing closest to them. But all glitched out, obviously.
Some Misremembered Men just want to lead normal lives. Others take revenge on a world that hates and fears them, or act out of motivations comprehensible only to themselves. The Syntagmatic Order wants to find Yaldabaoth, said to lurk shamefully in a cave beneath the world, and force him to remember than again. They do other chivalric stuff as well, and are often found waiting by bridges to challenge those who cross. Their horses are nervous.

Misremembered Men grant corrupted XP. If you level up in a session where you kill one, you get a corrupted level. This probably needs to handled on a case-by-case basis, but you could get bonuses to the wrong stats or spells from the wrong class. They also sometimes drop treasure.
  1. Perfectly neutral and generic object. Has no properties. Valuable as a curiosity to a certain type of collector.
  2. Fishing rod with the data of a broadsword. Can be used to do anything a broadsword can do. Cannot be used to fish with.
  3. Boots that let you walk through the air, but only along a flat plane located at exactly sea level.
  4. Infected coin. Lettering distorted, face of monarch warped. Slowly dissolves into pixelated rainbow dust, but not before it's infected 2d6 other coins in the inventory of whoever's holding it.
  5. Displaced horse. The rider sits in the air ten feet behind it.
  6. Bow with infinite range. Arrow gets bigger the longer it travels. Can be used to destroy the sun. Don't do that though.
  7. Spellbook full of corrupted spells. If you memorise them they can't be cast but also can't be forgotten, and just sit in your head taking up spell slots forever.
  8. Sword of plus. Not plus anything, just plus.
  9. Rations that make you feel full but don't provide nutrition.
  10. Cuirass that takes up a head slot instead of a torso slot. Wear it as a hat along with a normal cuirass.
  11. Whistle that, when blown inside a room, makes all the doors in that room lead to the Minus World. The Minus World is constructed out of bits and pieces of all the other settings in your campaign, copied and pasted in incoherent order. It is said Sophia, Yaldabaoth's mother, dwells therein, imprisoned by order of the Ineffable Monad in the sinful universe she helped her son to create.
  12. A fuzzy mass of pixels. If ingested, causes one random item in your inventory to duplicate itself 99 times. Stolen from here.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Metal Dragons

Inspired by a Scrap Princess G+ post about how forgettable the metallic dragons are. There's now one dragon for each of the alchemical metals, with a personality based on the associated planet.

Suryamandra, the Golden Wyrm. Rightful empress of all creation. Threw the gods off their sacred mountain at the world's hub, moved in to their eternal city. Paladins of the outcast gods try to fight her and always fail. Breath is all-consuming sunlight that liberates noble souls from their corrupt fleshly bodies and leaves behind only smoking skeletons. Souls then bound to serve her for eternity. Heart is the philosopher's stone. Will know if even a single coin from her immense treasury is stolen and will dispatch a battalion of heroic ghosts to track down and slay whoever's wound up holding it. Shopkeepers in vicinity of sacred mountain all know about this and will not accept payment in gold under any circumstances.

Chandraluna, the Dragon Argent. Comes down on nights when the moon is full to play tricks on lone travellers who won't be believed. Can shapeshift into a hot person, command night creatures, induce petty misfortunes, turn straight roads into winding ones and winding roads into labyrinths. Breath is luminous mist that takes the shape of your nightmares and attacks you. Lives in a moon castle full of secret passages, doors to nowhere, libraries of lies and whimsical items taken from children's dreams. Any madman who enters the castle becomes sane, but only so long as they stay there. They also live forever. Advised by beautiful trauma victims and exiled monarchs from long-forgotten kingdoms. Deliberately drives people mad so they have to stay with her and be her friend.

Vormangala, the Iron Serpent. Flightless. Lives in a tunneled-through magnetic monolith in the heart of a barren red desert. The monolith's black sides are encrusted with weapons and the corpses of soldiers who couldn't get out of their armour in time. Breathes a torrent of red rust that corrodes all metal instantly and infects you with the desire to beat each other to death with your bare hands. Has the same effect on anything he touches, but slower. Jealously hoards enough enchanted blades to equip a small army. Loves chess but plays far too aggressively. Has a long-distance game with a prominent general who's secretly analysing every move for clues to his psychology and weaknesses.

Aphrasukra, the Wyrm Verdigris. Breathes a cloud of colourful spores that makes you fall in love with all living things, including the dragon. Lives in an enchanted rainforest full of tropical birds, carnivorous plants, butterflies, tigers and blissed-out romance cultists who live off fruit and the intoxicating nectar of the flowers. Attracts poets and painters, who scrape the verdigris off her flanks and use it as a pigment. Rewards her favourites by eating them. The rainforest is hostile to anyone who comes with less than pure intent and a haven for people fleeing arranged marriages. More than one kingdom has been cast into brutal war when a peace treaty and diplomatic betrothal was scuppered by a runaway husband.

Jovanguru, the Dragon Pewter. Conspiracy theorist. Covets Suryamandra's power and is obsessed with unveiling the secret systems by which the gold dragon controls everything that happens in the world. Sly, duplicitous and paranoid. Likes to think he's outwitted you. Sees everything not in her direct sphere of influence as a threat that must be controlled. Has made a fortune on the stock market through various proxies and invests it all in plots against those who would destroy him, including the other dragons, gods, kings, merchant houses and ordinary people who just happened to move in a suspicious way. Breathes lightning and lives in a thunderhead. Sees everything that's visible under the sky. His enemies wear wide-brimmed hats.

Kronoshanti, the Leaden Wyrm. Sleeps among the columns of a ruined city, dreaming of the day when it was whole. By crawling into the dragon's ear you can become a character in its dream, someone who lived in the city back when it was inhabited and prosperous. The temples of the dream-city hold priceless knowledge, including the recipe for liquid fire and a map to lost Hyperborea. If you stay in the dream too long, however, the memories of your dream-life will overwhelm you and cause you to forget the waking world. The dragon inhabits its own dream as a small black dog somewhere in the city's slums. Killing it will throw you out of the dream and wake her up, although maybe only briefly. Breathes a tide of darkness which inflicts rapid aging and melancholy. Armoured everywhere except for her belly, which she sleeps on. Heavy as fuck.

Hermastunga, the Dragon Mercury. Lives in a glass bottle-palace under the sea. Aggressively cheerful and hyperactive. Can change size and does so constantly. Wants to collect all the knowledge in the world. Memory like a goldfish. Has developed an ingenious new way of storing information in liquid form but can't remember how to read it. Kidnaps people and makes them tell her everything they know from the beginning as fast as possible. Then forgets that she's done it and makes them do it again. Then gets frustrated and eats them. Served by amnesiac djinn who will lose count of how many wishes they've granted you and forget what the wish is before they make it come true. Breathes poisonous fumes that cause itching, tremors, paralysis, hair loss, irritability, light sensitivity and the feeling of bugs crawling under the skin.

Lesser dragons include antimony, arsenic, bismuth, borax, magnesium, phosphorus, platinum, potassium, sulphur and zinc. Aeneolus, the Dragon Bronze, is Aphrasukra's daughter with Jovanguru. Orichalcos, the Dragon Brass, is her son with the wyvern zinc. They hate each other.

Monday, 15 May 2017


Arnold asked me for classes to go with the hexcrawl I wrote. I came up with seven that I think more or less cover the scope of what I'm trying to do in SUBLIGHT. Some of these are more based around skill and some are more based around social position, although really I think the two things are kind of inseparable.

ALIENIST. Like a psychiatrist but for AIs. Since AI is embedded in everything this is a little like being a hacker and a little like communing with the spirit world. Hacking is always hard to make interesting in games, so I want to replace pretty much all of it with social challenges, such that getting through the locked door is less about making a roll or solving some kind of logic puzzle and more about negotiating with the bored computer that runs everything in the complex. I also want to establish that AIs are deeply weird, in some ways like people with mental illnesses and in some ways like faeries or demons than need to be carefully bargained with. Alienists know all the tricks about how to do that, with the consequence that they tend to be pretty weird themselves.

SCAVENGER. Understands how machines work. Can take them apart and use them to build other ones. This might cover anything from a safecracker to a long-haul trucker to an industrial saboteur who specialises in precision explosives. I want each of these classes to have some kind of implicit goal, and the scavenger's, presumably, is to find interesting new bits of tech to add to their big rig or robot buddy or favourite gun or suit of power armour or whatever. Can't work with AI the way an alienist can, and might have an unfortunate tendency to see even a sapient robot as useful bundle of parts.

ENFORCER. Resolves situations through the intelligent deployment of violence. Skilled in both detective work and gunplay, and knows when to stand their ground and when to walk away. The class most likely to get into a Mexican standoff. An enforcer could be a sheriff, a standover man, a bodyguard or a bounty hunter, or anyone else whose job involves shooting at people until they do what you want. Sam Spade is one, as is Raylan Givens, and to be honest the protagonist of pretty much every movie.

APOSTLE. The representative of some religion, whose job is to provide spiritual and material comfort to those in need. Derives much of their power and authority from their social status - has useful contacts among the faithful and can, in emergencies, rally the flock to their cause. I imagine this as being a kind of jack-of-all-trades class, with maybe even the ability to borrow another class' skills - so a Jain monk might be an expert vet, a Buddhist would know kung fu, a worshipper of Tiamat the Mother Machine might have some skill at preaching to AI.

SAWBONES. Not necessarily the mad scientist class. Cuts up people and animals, then puts them back together, hopefully better than before. Synthesises their own customised medicines and drugs, as well as viruses and genetically-altered strains of bacteria. The guy to go to if you want a new set of fingerprints, a robot eye hooked up to your optic nerve, a pill that will make you immune to pain, an untraceable poison, a tailored plague that makes your enemies schizophrenic, a fun night on the town, a tooth pulled or somebody tortured to death.

PIONEER. Lives off the land. Understands animal behavior and ecosystem management. Knows how much nitrogen is in the soil and how to fight a bear. All habitable environments in space are artificial, from the smallest orbital oxygen bubble to the vast terraformed hinterlands of Mars, and having somebody around who knows how to maintain the delicate cycle of nutrients which sustains all organic life can mean the difference between life and death, unless of course you are a robot and don't give a shit. The pioneer could be a gaucho, a mountain man, a fur trapper, an isolated farmer or anyone else who's uncomfortable in cities and maybe has an animal companion.

EXECUTIVE. Has the greatest power of all - money. Unlike all these other plebs, the executive is a ranking member of some corporation, government, wealthy family or other high-status and well-funded organisation. They have way better starting equipment than anyone else, and the social connections to do stuff like get out of jail or be invited to the party, but these things have to cover for a lack of actual physical skills and the hassle of having a boss who can tell you to do stuff. Kind of the opposite of the pioneer, in that they're useful in urban environments and bad in the wilderness.