Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lost City of Eridu (Early Temple Period)

Up until 50,000 years before the present day of my new world campaign, the landscape of the new world was considerably different.  A basalt ridge left behind from a volcanic eruption and lava flow in the distant past divided the drainage basin of the jungle roughly in half, and what are now the two main tributaries of the Zamonas were separate rivers, the Maita to the north and the Ilyapa to the south.  The Maita fed into an immense coastal swamp, while the Ilyapa snaked through the southern hills before going underground and flowing through a series of lava tubes to the coast.

50,000 years ago a great rock demon of tremendous power was drawn forth from under the highest volcano in the range by a powerful sorcerer.  This was in the time of heroes when many men had great powers that rivaled the gods.  Still, Asag was nearly invulnerable to magic and harbored a great hatred for it and he boiled the blood of the sorcerer with his presence, killing him instantly.  The sorcerer's name has been lost but all the cultures of the jungle basin remember when Asag came smashing through the basalt ridge almost all the way to the coast, exploding it in a shower of lava as he went.  Much of the northern swamps were covered in a lava flow and a good portion of the central jungle burned. When Asag's wrath began to cool in the surface air he returned to his kingdom under the mountain, and the Maita and Ilyapa rivers flooded the wreckage left behind and formed a new river, the Zamonas.  The entire jungle basin was now drained by this one great river.

One of the earliest city states (~30,000 YA) to arise in the region was Eridu, situated along the banks of the Zamonas where it flowed nearest the southern hills.  The patron deity of Eridu was Marduk the Sun, whose avatar had been persuaded to reside in a large gold statue and led the Eriduan people to many military victories.  The priesthood of Marduk in Eridu grew extremely wealthy and influential, and many of the religious traditions that characterize the early temple period  first arose in Eridu, including the proliferation of many specialist priest types.  Priests for the purification of the temple (masmasu), priests to appease the wrath of the gods with song and music (kalu), female singers (naru), male singers (zammeru), swordbearers (nas patri), masters of divination (baru), penitents (sa'ilu), priests for individual purification against demons and magicians (asipu) and the supervising or watchman priests (sesgallu) who served as mouthpieces of the God-statue - these and other specialized aspects of the priesthood that arose in Eridu soon spread to the other fledgling city-states and the early temple period proper (25,000-20,000 YA) starts with the adoption of the stepped-pyramid or ziggurat as home of a patron god-statue in all of the city-states of the coastal region.
Typical early temple period ziggurat: god's house in blue at the top
 holding the god statue inhabited by the patron deity's avatar  (25,000 - 20,000 YA)

The demise of Eridu came about in the middle of the early temple period, around 22,000 YA.  Eridu was left literally high and dry when the Zamonas  changed course and formed a new path to the sea hundreds of miles to the north.  Not long after, Asag was summoned to the surface world again by a powerful sorcerer who dangled himself and his arcane energy as bait in an attempt to use Asag against an amassed army.  Asag laid waste to the greater part of the jungle basin, annihilating all life in his path.  A delegation of sesgallu priests from all the affected city-states met to take action against Asag, and it was decided that Asag must be summoned and bound with divine energy to prevent him from ever raging across the jungle again (Asag's magic resistance only working against arcane magics).  The priesthood of Marduk from Eridu saw an opportunity to stay relevant and offered Marduk's assistance to bind Asag inside the metal pyramid of the sun in Eridu.  This proposal was accepted, and with the power of Marduk and his consort Sarpanitu the moon goddess, Asag was summoned and bound without loss of life.

Unfortunately for Eridu, Asag proved incredibly powerful once he had gathered himself and Marduk and Sarpanitu had to devote all their power to keeping him restrained.  Marduk's golden statue no longer strode at the head of the Eriduan army.  The name of Marduk no longer kept evil spirits and demons at bay in the night.  The people of Eridu revolted against the priesthood, accusing the sesgallu of betraying Marduk by forcing him to summon and bind Asag.  The priesthood stayed behind in the ceremonial complexes while the people of Eridu migrated to the coast.  Some people of Eridu married with the tribes of the southern jungle; men of these lines kept alive the secret cults of Eridu while women of these lines have passed on memory of Sarpanitu and still access the sacred moon grottos underneath the temple of the moon to conduct ceremonies in her honor.

The bulk of the people of Eridu made their way north along the coast toward the new mouth of the Zamonas where they had been promised land to farm near the emerging city state of Siss-Anor.  Shortly before the Zamonas changed course, the old fishing city of Anor-Anor had been sacked by foreign invaders called the Siss, led by sorcerer kings.  A new city known as Siss-Anor was built on the rocky outcropping above the ruins of the old city.  When the river changed course it flowed right up to the basalt outcropping of Siss-Anor, instantly making the city a new power in the region. When the people of Eridu neared Siss-Anor they were ambushed by a Siss army.  All the men of Eridu were killed and the women and children taken as slaves to work the fields.  Siss-Anor grew wealthy on the backs of Eriduan labor.  The women of Eridu in Siss-Anor also kept alive the knowledge of the moon cult through the ages.

After hundreds of years the priesthood eventually died out and the old city of Eridu and the sacred complex of the pyramids of the Sun and Moon were completely abandoned.  Marduk and Sarpanitu continued to bind Asag in the metal pyramid, locked in an eternal struggle.

Toward the end of the middle temple period, a sorcerer discovered that Asag was still bound under old Eridu and attempted to draw him forth.  The sorcerer was killed by cultists of Sharur, one of the old cults of Eridu still kept alive in the southern jungle, but the magic he had already set in motion made the metal temple of the sun glow so brightly it lit the night sky of the jungle like daylight.  A delegation of priests from the city states was called together and they summoned a landslide from the south hills that buried the old city and its pyramids.  All the way to the end of the late temple period (up to 10,000 YA) each city state offered a tribute of warriors and priests to guard the site against trespassers.  This tradition did not survive the upheaval that marked the beginning of the modern temple era, when the Siss gods of Siss-Anor replaced the old gods throughout the region and all the old temples were destroyed.  The cult of Sharur still persists and watches the site, and the moon cult of Sarpanitu is still active, the grottoes of the moon accessed through a larger cave network that they are connected to by a submerged passage.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Archaeology of Minoan Crete (Maps + d87 Random Runes Chart!)

The Archaeology of Minoan Crete

by Reynold Higgins

I bought this $2.25 hardcover at the St. Vincent's thrift store and this bad boy is a treasure trove.  It could be shipped to you by the wizards at Amazon for around $5.50 total.  There is a short summary of what has been learned through archaeological excavations at each site, but the floorplans and reconstruction views are the real gems.  87 characters in Linear B script are also given with their phonetic values where known, so if you have a d87 time to break it out (scroll to the bottom for the d87 random runes chart). The book also had an interesting but much too short section on the sacred caves of Crete (no maps / surveys there unfortunately).  I would just go to Wikipedia for each of the site names listed below for more up to date information than the book can provide, but it is extremely difficult to find quality high-res floorplans let alone isometric restoration views online.  Enjoy some scans!

Early Tomb (floor plan, front view, overhead side reconstruction view)

Palace at Phaestos (overhead reconstruction view)

Palace at Phaestos Floorplan

Palace at Knossos (artist's reconstruction)

Palace at Knossos Floorplan

Villa and Village at Ayia Triada

Palace at Mallia (overhead reconstruction view)

Palace at Mallia Floorplan

Palace at Zakro Floorplan

Linear B Script (d87 Random Rune Chart)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Never Split the Party

There is an old maxim in D&D: Never split the party.  You usually hear this from the player perspective, in the context of survival advice.  Just like a horror movie, as soon as you wander away from the party you are going to be the first corpse.  United we stand, divided we are strangled by measles whilst taking a shit.  Keep the magic users in the middle.  Hi diddle diddle.

Of course there is a meta game reason to not split the party as well - the game runs smoothly when all the PCs are in one location, but  as soon as they separate, the DM has to run each group through its actions separately and track time for each group.   Temporal anomalies are a very real problem that you run into when you split the party - Bill and Ted spent eight excellent hours sleeping in the inn before going to the future, but in the meantime Beavis lit Butthead's fart on fire and burned down the inn.   Usually a handwave back in time is enough to fix these sort of problems (umm, actually Bill and Ted, you guys didn't sleep through the night, you were awakened in the middle of the night to panicked commotion in the hallway and the smell of smoke, so what would you have done then?).  If all the party members are each doing their own thing, at a certain point it would make more sense to stop playing as a group and start playing a bunch of interconnected one on one campaigns.  Which actually sounds pretty cool, but it isn't really D&D as most of us understand it to be - a group experience.

I personally have no problem with splitting the party as a player or DM.  The players in my new world campaign have made a lot of the traditional problems with party splitting obsolete anyway.   All the PCs have a permanent telepathic link of unlimited range (this was created about two years real time into the campaign using the telepathic energy technology of the alien spacecraft that Tilia found on the moon) and can teleport to each other's side or back to the hovercraft as a minor action (they found a bunch of matched teleportal coins, pairs of matched gold coins that when activated open a portal between the two coins - each PC carries a coin linked to a coin carried by another PC, and each PC has a coin linked to a coin on the hovercraft, as well as coins to some other locations that the PCs have sprinkled around the campaign landscape).

While this solves many of the traditional problems of splitting the party, we have found ways to split the party into a more psychedelic fractal gamescape than I could have possibly imagined when this campaign began.   For starters, we have been exploring the idea of splitting your consciousness into multiple copies for quite some time.  I actually first introduced the concept in my (now defunct) Mutant Future game* when the PCs learned that a recurring villain, Julius Corple, had made multiple copies of his consciousness that inhabited a "space" called shadow, the "place" that energy "goes" when it flickers in and out of existence (although shadow is not a space or a place, and exists outside of time as perceived in the PCs universe, and energy particles don't so much travel through shadow as become it). Julius Corples' shadow consciousnesses could create seemingly magical effects by manipulating the way energy was structured in the Mutant Future reality, changing its form in shadow, outside of time.  I have a unified theory of magical physics that I use in all my games regardless of system, and I allow exploration into and manipulation of magical physics outside of the normal D&D structure of spells, ritual magic and powers.  My new world campaign is run using 4e rules, but of course shadow lies outside of the realm of 4e rules.

Fast forward to the present, four years into the campaign, and the last few sessions have been a "never split the party" purist's nightmare.  One of the three main PCs did not even play at all last session, even though his player was in attendance and running two NPCs!  Here is an outline of how the party was split up going into the beginning of last Tuesday's session:

Tilia A:  Underneath the ruins of lost Eridu, between the first dungeon level of the temple of the moon complex and the surface, earthswimming with Hammer back toward the sacred lake to get a badly needed full heal from the holy waters (*not* psychically connected to the party's healer Beautiful Bob, who intentionally severed the link before going to sleep) .

Tilia B: [not active this session] surfing through deep shadow, retaining sanity because she is merged with a shadow dragon, in the middle of a subjectively centuries long mindfuck of a trip through the multiverses as the shadow dragon rides potential energy connections [note - Tilia split herself in two and Tilia B has already rejoined with Tilia A in Tilia A's timeline, but Tilia B is still an active game PC that we will revisit in future sessions to explore more about the nature of deep shadow and the way that energy is connected through the multiverses]

Hammer:  Earthswimming with Tilia back toward the sacred lake to get a badly needed full heal from the holy waters (*not* psychically connected to Beautiful Bob, who intentionally severed the link before going to sleep).  Hammer is a barbarian.  He doesn't split himself up.  Can he split something else up with his axe?

Beautiful Bob A: [not active this session] Hundreds of miles away in a cave in the swamp north of Siss Anor, in the middle of the horrific nightmares that are a withdrawal symptom of the psychotropic plants he consumed to aid in a ritual several sessions earlier.  A Nur-Kubi shaman (kind of like a reptilian praying mantis anteater psychic vampire,  the first sentient race released into the world by the snake man scientists) is siphoning off and feeding on the negative energy.  Bob A intentionally severed his psychic link with Tilia, Hammer, Nur-Kubi, Zanninum, Beautiful Bob ∞ Beautiful Bob C before going to sleep, worried that the psychic energy that might be released in his nightmares could damage them (Bob A was supercharged with nightmare energy, having taken on the nightmares of the four million plus souls trapped in Mother Mind three sessions back).  The session before last we advanced Bob A through several nightmare skill challenges, representing two full REM cycles of sleep, so we began last session needing to advance Tilia A and Hammer about 3-4 hours through game time before Bob woke up from his nightmares and re-established his psychic link with Hammer and Tilia.

Nur-Kubi the Cambion/FAKE Beautiful Bob [NPC controlled by Beautiful Bob's player, no psychic link to Tilia or Hammer]  Guest bedroom in Lady Mirriam's compound, the old temple of the moon in the ruins of old Eridu.  Nur-Kubi is assuming the appearance and demeanor of Beatiful Bob per Bob's commands.  Nur-Kubi begins the session fifteen minutes in time behind Tilia A, Hammer and Zaninum.  Lady Mirriam made a show of dismissing her handmaidens to the courtyard to watch out for any soldiers still angered by the party's actions of the day before (another story) and has shown Nur-Kubi/FAKE Beautiful Bob where her bedroom was and made it known that she would like him to visit her.  Nur-Kubi is waiting a few minutes after his companions have settled into their adjoining rooms before strolling down the hallway. Nur-Kubi is behind Tilia and Hammer in time because the session before last, Tilia earthwalked through the floor of her bedroom and encountered some cultists of the Nameless One in the first dungeon level below and got in a fight.  Hammer teleported to her side and they eventually killed the three lower level weretoad cultists and their higher level vampire leader, but not before sustaining serious wounds, expending a lot of powers and advancing their timeline past Nur-Kubi's.

Zaninum the Cambion  [NPC controlled by Beautiful Bob's player , no psychic link to Tilia or Hammer]  Just been spotted by the guards stationed around Lady Mirriam's compound (the old temple of the moon), was trying to stealthily make his way toward the sacred lake for a badly needed full heal after nearly being killed by an intelligent talking mace that could transform into a winged lion that he found last time while skulking around the ruins of old Eridu.

Curious George the hovercaft [NPC intelligent magical item hovercraft created by the party in dimension X using materials from that dimension] Circling high above the jungle, keeping an eye on things.  Psychically connected to Tilia and Hammer (and usually to Beautiful Bob but not currently until Bob wakes up from his nightmares).

Beautiful Bob B [not active this session] surfing through deep shadow, retaining sanity because he is merged with a shadow dragon, in the middle of a subjectively centuries long mindfuck of a trip through the multiverses as the shadow dragon rides potential energy connections [note - Bob split himself in two and Bob B has already rejoined with Bob A in Bob A's timeline, but Bob B is still an active game PC that we will revisit in future sessions to explore more about the nature of deep shadow and the way that energy is connected through the multiverses - also Bob B is connected to Beautiful Bob  and Beautiful Bob C]

Beautiful Bob  [not active this session] Beautiful Bob split his consciousness up into a near infinite number four sessions ago in a shared dream with Maricanchi, an NPC dreamer from the future. Maricanchi will be an extraordinarily powerful dreamer and split into a near infinite number to show Bob the dreams of the past, present and future inhabitants of the campaign world simultaneously.  [note - I gave Beautiful Bob's player an at will power called The Eternal Moment which allows Beautiful Bob A to connect with the infinite dreaming consciousnesses and learn more about the dreams shown to him by Maricanchi whenever he wants during play.  The only answers that he can get are what the people in the past and future are dreaming, not necessarily the reality of what is happening in the waking world in the past or future]

Beautiful Bob C [not active this session]  In the far future of the campaign world.  One of the many Beautiful Bob ∞ dream consciousnesses has traveled inside the Dream Machine that Maricanchi and his triplet brothers are hooked up to in the future.  The Dream Machine is a complicated piece of magic future technology that is somehow using the dreams of the three triplets to alter reality.  Beautiful Bob C has managed to retain his consciousness while leaving the dream world and taking the form of a single particle of energy inside the dream machine.  Two sessions ago Beautiful Bob C managed to break free of the regular energy routing inside the machine and did not go where the machine was sending his particle, instead choosing to explore the circuitry of the machine on his own terms  [note - we will definitely come back to what Beautiful Bob C is up to inside the dream machine because the dream machine is directly connected to the mind of Manu Jablitu, the technomancer lich who the party would probably consider to be the main bad guy of the campaign at this point over the snake men]

* all three of the current players in my new world campaign were also players in my Mutant Future game.  Those two games ran concurrently for quite some time and PCs from the Mutant Future game even briefly looked through a portal into my new world campaign but did not choose to go through it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cave Maps

I usually just steal maps from other sources and repurpose them when I am doing DM prepwork.  I do enjoy drawing  my own maps but it is relatively time consuming and I honestly don't have enough time as it is to prepare for my biweekly session, and what time I do have I don't want to spend mapping.   I found some nice cave maps today on the interwebs.  One is an awesome hand drawn map of the Colossal Cave Adventure (Adventure), a text-based cave exploration game that was one of the first computer games I ever played, on a Kaypro computer no less :)  This map brought back some memories of my own attempts to map out the collosal cave.  I never did finish the adventure myself, but I used my incomplete maps when I was a teenage DM.  This is a great map for RPG purposes because it has a name for every room and often some images associated with it, so you could pretty much wing an adventure with this map.  The second map is a two part map of Mercer Caverns in California.  It shows an overhead view of the cavern and a side view, and it is a great reminder of how caverns are three dimensional spaces.

Colossal Cave Adventure Map

Mercer Caverns Map

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Exploding Daggers

Every now and then I come back to combat in D&D and want to fiddle around with it to make it more "realistic".  Of course I realize this is a ridiculous notion on the face of it, but I still like playing around with little combat tweaks.

Today I was thinking about dagger vs. longsword combat.  In traditional D&D (with variable weapon dice) this is a simple d4 vs d8 damage attack.  The fact that a sword's greater reach would make it much easier to land a hit on the dagger wielder is abstracted into the damage potential, instead of being reflected in a bonus to hit.  This has always bugged me, as has the d4 damage for a dagger in general, because it means that you cannot really kill someone with one swing of a dagger.  Maybe you could kill a wizard, or a housecat.  But not an average combatant.  

Part of me says who cares.  D&D combat is very abstract, and an attack roll does not equal a single attack, yada yada.  

And then another part of me came up with this mechanic today.  Wielding a dagger vs. an opponent with a longer weapon gives you a -1 to hit and a -2 penalty to AC.  Dagger damage is now 1d4, explodes on a 4 (reroll the die and add the damage every time a 4 is rolled).

This means that a dagger has a 25% chance of doing 1d4 +4 damage*, a 6.25% percent chance of doing 1d4 +8, a 1.5% chance of doing 1d4 +12 damage...

Looking at a longsword's damage spread of 1-8, it is obvious that 50% of the time the damage will be between 5-8 and 8 is the max.  25% of the time the dagger will do 5-8+ damage and there is theoretically no maximum limit if it kept exploding.  The sword is still definitely at an advantage, but the 6.25% chance of the dagger exploding twice is slightly more probable than a natural 20 on d20 (5% chance) so the dagger has the real potential to wreak memorable havoc.  We all know how often natural 20s roll around, and getting to roll another d4 after already having wracked up 8 damage, with a chance to explode again only 25% away... that sounds like a fun moment during combat.

I would need to playtest it a bit to see how the penalties balance out vs. the chance of extra damage, but at first bush it seems to be pretty simple to use and it scratches my "realistic combat" itch.  If you get inside the reach of someone and you have a dagger, you can brutally murder them.  The penalty to hit is smaller than the penalty to defend, which makes sense to me.  It is hard to defend against a sword swing with a dagger.  It is also hard to jump inside someone's reach and attack with a dagger but I think that is much easier than defending with a dagger vs. a sword.  Granted my experience comes with PVC tubing covered in foam, but we still managed to beat the hell out of each other.

*This is not exactly accurate - these damage examples by % would be correct if the die throw could not keep exploding past each level.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

Rory's Story Cubes and the Lost City of Akkarod

I got a fun present over the holidays, a set of Rory's Story Cubes ("Voyages" edition).

These are a set of nine regular (six-sided) dice each with a unique and evocative image on it. They are designed to be used as a storytelling game, with several variants.  I am mostly interested in using these as a game aid.  Pretty much every image would work great as D&D adventure fodder.  To give you an example, the die shown above with an octopus (Cthulhu!?!) face up has five other sides as follows:  a city with tall towers capped by minarets; a large jewel on a necklace; a crab; what looks to be a giant talking to a normal person, or perhaps a normal person talking to a miniature person; and a shield.  Another die, shown with a treasure map face up, also has a crown, a raygun, a whip, a snake, and what looks to be an explosion.

Just for fun I thought I would roll the dice and come up with a quick adventure from the results to post here - here are the results I got:

Looking at my results, I arranged them as shown above and decided the telescope was a magical item that revealed the location of the city.  Animated T-Rex skeletons guard the approach to the city.  The strange sun looking symbol I decided was the badge of office worn by the Sun Lich, the leader of the city.  He used magical potions to transform the inhabitants of the city to cannibal apes.  The sun lich is seeking a great treasure hidden below the city, an alien space ship and its high tech treasures.  Fleshing out those thoughts a bit further, we get...

The Lost City of Akkarod (story cube adventure) 

(this adventure assumes that a desert exists in the campaign world - it does not have to be close to the PCs present location)

The Telescope of Nichbod the Moon Lich:

The adventure starts with the PCs coming into possession of a collapsing brass telescope, exceedingly well made, covered with runes, with crystal lenses that glow softly at night with a green light. The telescope radiates strong magic.  If looked through during the day the telescope is completely black and reveals nothing, but at night the telescope will always allow the viewer to see a fabulous city of slender towers and golden minarets, which seems to be bathed in moonlight.  Only the city will be visible, and looking in any other direction will again result in blackness.  The city will be visible through mountain ranges or other physical obstacles, and will be visible at any distance.  The ornate runes are hard to identify but a knowledgeable sage could at least note that they appear to be a very early form of one of the desert languages.  If read through magical means, the runes identify the telescope as the creation of Nichbod the Moon Lich, the city as "Lost Akkarod" and the rest of the runes appear to be invocations of protection against Soleus the Sun Lich.  If identified, the telescope has several properties - first it will always reveal the direction to the lost city of Akkarod, second it prevents any form of magical scrying from being used against the telescope's wielder while the telescope is being looked through, and third it grants +1 to saves vs. Magic to anyone carrying it.

Desert Rumors (about the city of Akkarod or the liches Nichbod and Soleus):

Akkarod Rumors (d10, add +1 to +4 to the result if the source is knowledgeable on the subject of ancient cities)

1-2: Akkarod once was the richest city of the desert before being swallowed by the sands, and untold wealth was buried with it. (TRUE)
3-4: Akkarod is a fairy tale city supposedly inhabited by cannibal apes, used to scare children from wandering out into the desert  (TRUE)
5-6: Akkarod sank beneath the earth in a great earthquake and vanished without a trace as a punishment for the greed of its inhabitants.  (FALSE)
7-8: Akkarod is the mythical home of the fountain of youth and the Garden of Paradise - it is not of this world.  (FALSE)
9: Akkarod was consumed by a pillar of fire as punishment for withholding sacrifices to the old gods (FALSE)
10: Akkarod moves around the desert, tempting onlookers with its golden minarets, but it is a magical illusion that only lures people deeper into the desert (FALSE)
11: Akkarod was a walled city built around a famous oasis, the largest permanent water source in the deep desert. Many believe it to be a myth but it is mentioned in the old clay tablets that recorded the tributes of the first kings - it was located in the middle of a vast region of the desert with no other water sources.  Most knowledgeable sages agree that the  likely cause of the city's "disappearance" was simply that the oasis dried up.  (TRUE about the city, but FALSE about the cause of disappearance)
12:  The gardens of Akkarod are mentioned in some old ballads and epic poems, supposedly many unique magical plants grew there including the famed Moon Orchid that only bloomed under a full moon and whose fragrance was a powerful aphrodisiac.  The waters of the Akkarod Oasis cause even normal plants to take on magical properties, and the alchemists of Akkarod were known far and wide for the many potions they created with the magical water and plants.  (TRUE)
13: Akkarod was ruled by a council of liches who attained great power over the centuries, but eventually infighting amongst the liches doomed the city.  (TRUE)
14: Akkarod was ruled by a council of liches who attained great power over the centuries by controlling trade across the desert.  They demanded a fee from all caravans, and it was widely believed that they used their magical powers to bring doom upon those who attempted the dangerous desert crossing without stopping at the oasis of Akkarod.  A little known account of the great trader and explorer Sambalor details his last expedition to Akkarod - he reported that the famous gardens had been destroyed and all the workers of the city were engaged in digging a huge pit in the center of the city.  He was supposed to meet with the lich council as normal in the morning to pay his tariff before taking his wares to the market, but instead left the city hurriedly when a number of his caravan disappeared during the night, strange tracks revealing that they had been drug down into the pit by something monstrously huge.  (TRUE)

Moon Lich Nichbod rumors - only a wizard or sage specializing in arcane magic would know any of these (d4):
  1. Nichbod was one of the lich kings of Akkarod, specializing in the gentle magics of love and nature. He bore the title of Moon Lich, meaning he was the second ranking member of the lich council that ruled Akkarod. Nothing has been heard of Nichbod for centuries (TRUE)
  2. Nichbod  was a master of the undead and some believe that the rumors of huge skeletal monsters in the desert are proof that Nichbod still exists (FALSE)
  3. Nichbod was an illusionist who enjoyed luring people to their doom with illusions of great splendor (FALSE)
  4. Nichbod perished centuries ago at the hands of a rival (TRUE)
Sun Lich Soleus rumors -only a wizard or sage specializing in arcane magic would know any of these (d4):

  1. Soleus was one of the lich kings of Akkarod, specializing in necromancy and illusions (TRUE)
  2. Soleus is an aspect of the sun god (FALSE)
  3. Soleus bore the title of Sun Lich, meaning he was the leader of the council of liches.  He was the Sun Lich when the city Akkarod disappeared (TRUE)
  4. Soleus perished centuries ago at the hands of a rival (FALSE)

Approaching the City

If the telescope is used to locate the city, it indeed lies deep in an area of the desert with no water sources, sheltered within a ring of mountains. Any expedition must be properly outfitted with enough food and water to last the journey.  Desert encounters could include scorpions, giant sand spiders, caravan raiders, were-hyenas in human form pretending to be weary travelers, territorial lizard men, a brass dragon, chimera guarding a tomb, or more as needed.   A circular ring of mountains surrounds the low-lying basin where the city sits.  The mountains are not high but they are extremely steep on the descent down into the basin, and unless a roundabout route is carefully planned, several vertical cliff faces will have to be navigated.  The cliffs are riddled with caves, many of them connected into several large cave networks.  There are several passages that lead all the way to the caves under the city of Akkarod  (see The Great Pit below).  Once in the basin normal encounters become rarer and the most common encounters are either a group of cannibal apes (stats as a gorilla, a hunting party going to or coming from the mountains to bring back meat for the other apes in the city,  some of the apes wear clothing and armor and wield huge longbows that do 1d12 damage and two-handed swords that do 3d6+4, while most appear much more animalistic and attack with claw and fang) or an animated T-Rex skeleton (statted as the dinosaur, -2 HD and with the usual undead resistances and vulnerabilities - there are other kinds of animated dinosaurs as well but the T-Rex are the most commonly encountered in the basin). If tracked, both the apes and the skeletal dinosaurs appear to come from the city.

The Lost City of Akkarod

A massive ring of rubble surrounds the city, up to a hundred feet wide and nearly fifty feet tall in places.  The walled city itself is covered with a great and nearly impenetrable illusion that makes it appear as a rocky outcropping.  The illusion is so powerful that saves to disbelieve it are made at -4.  In addition, another enchantment makes it very difficult to approach the city during the day - within one mile of the city, a save vs. Magic at -4 is required every turn spent moving closer to the city, and failure results in disorientation and traveling the wrong way. Using the telescope at night to find the main gates is the easiest way to gain entrance, although there is a lot of cannibal ape activity around the rubble ring at night (see the Great Pit below).  The main gates into the city appear as shadowy caves in the rocky outcropping.

  The city is laid out in concentric circles, with the outermost and largest circle being the apartment style housing of the lower class laborers and servants, the next circle being the individual houses of artisans and skilled laborers, the next circle being the large villas of the merchants, and the innermost and smallest circle being the high towers of the nobility .  The houses and apartments of the first two circles are built wall to wall with no gaps, only pierced by the four main roads that radiate out from the center of the city to each of the cardinal directions.  Portcullis gates manned by cannibal apes block these roads at the first and second circles.   In the very center of the city (which used to be lush gardens and the famous oasis) lies a gaping and very deep pit.  The towers of the nobility are all sealed and contain many undead and rich treasures (slave quarters on the first levels of the tower, reception halls and dining halls next, then the personal apartments of the nobility above).  The rest of the houses are occupied by cannibal apes (really the polymorphed former inhabitants of the city, enslaved by Soleus, some of whom still cling to a vestige of their former humanity which most of their comrades have lost over the centuries).  The houses of the merchants contain much wealth, but the rest of the dwellings do not.

 The apes mostly sleep during the day, although there will still be some guards in the city and patrols going out into the desert.  Any prolonged combat will quickly draw the attention of more apes, and possibly other , more nefarious agents of Soleus (see the Great Pit below).  At night, the bulk of the apes descend into the pit to continue the excavations.  The apes that have lost their humanity are filled with anger at their servitude to Soleus, but they are completely incapable of resisting his commands.  The apes that still cling to humanity are capable of disobeying the spirit if not the letter of Soleus' commands; they seek the overthrow of Soleus and a return to human form, and could be allies if convinced that the party shares these aims.

The Great Pit

The upper levels of the pit have been lined with stone to prevent it from caving in, and two stone stairs spiral down the outside of the pit from the north and the south.  It is over 2000' feet deep and growing deeper - An intricate system of pulleys and buckets, powered by apes walking around a gear, hauls rubble up from the excavations.  Apes haul sledges to the ring of rubble around the city at night.  200' down, the pit is deeper than the surrounding sands and retaining walls are no longer needed to keep it from caving in.   Many tunnels extend out from the pit at different levels below this point, some leading to Soleus' lair (a series of immense caverns hewn out of the rock containing a metal clockwork construction built atop huge gears, with the rooms slowly and constantly shifting in relative position to each other as the gears rotate), some to the tombs of his undead followers (wraiths and vampires along with their ghoulish minions) and still others are natural caverns  in an area of ancient limestone that contain many dinosaur fossils (the source of the skeletons that Soleus animates as laborers and guard beasts).  Some of these caves are linked to cavern systems in the mountains but the way is long and twisting with many forks.  Trogledytes and stranger dwellers of the darkness live in the far flung cave networks.   The lowest third of the pit is chipped out of a dark blue, glassy obsidean-like rock with no passageways leading out.  The bottom of the pit is flooded with 50' of water, in which giant Anklyosaurus and Triceratops skeletons work to smash more of the glassy blue rock and extend the pit even farther down.  Drinking the water requires a save vs. Magic to avoid polymorphing permanently into a cannibal ape (Soleus corrupted and twisted the natural magic in the source of the old oasis, which is actually in the layer of limestone caverns above but trickles down to fill the bottom of the pit).  Greater ghouls armed with flamewhips oversee the apes as they haul rubble out, and one or more of the vampire lieutenants direct the skeletal dinosaurs.  The dinosaurs labor day and night but the apes only haul out the rubble at night.

The Glassy Core

Long ago... (pick one in keeping with the tone of your campaign - for me it would be A or B)...    
A:  Soleus discovered evidence of a large meteorite impact that formed the ring of mountains and the basin in which Akkarod sits.  He seeks to dig down through the fused rock covering the meteorite itself and uncover an intact alien spacecraft.  Soleus discovered some high tech artifacts that were scattered during the wreck, including a small escape pod and a trove of laser blasters that he outfits his lieutenants with.

B: Soleus discovered evidence of a large meteorite impact that formed the ring of mountains and the basin in which Akkarod sits.  He seeks to dig down through the fused rock covering the meteorite itself and uncover a demon of unthinkable power that is imprisoned in the meteorite.  The demon made mental contact with Soleus ages ago and made a bargain to grant Soleus dominion over the entire world in return for freedom. 

C:  Soleus found two artifacts from the fabled city of Karod, which was buried in a lava flow from the ring of volcanic mountains.  The artifacts are a staff and a robe of great power which elevated Soleus above the other liches, but they are linked to a crown which is still buried below and which has possessed Soleus with a maniacal drive to uncover it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Time Traveling Seed Sprouts

Back on December 29th of last year we played a session where the PCs had traveled back in time 4 million years before the current timeline to confront a time traveling sorcerer in a hummingbird mask and bright feathered cloak from creating a set of dark artifacts.  During this encounter Tilia ended up entering a shared dreamspace with the sorcerer.  The hummingbird man acted like he had already met Tilia, and when pressed shared the story of how he first met Tilia (none of which had happened as far as Tilia's player knew).  He said that he had been trapped inside a dream after eating a black lotus flower as a young man, during which time he had many visions which ultimately led him to travel to the past to create these artifacts.  During his dream vision at one point he encountered a great dream demon boar which was consuming the dreams of the people of the jungle with a greed and a hunger that could not be filled.  He was attacked by the dream demon boar, but a great white horned beast (Tilia) intruded and said many confusing things that he did not understand but which later he took to mean that he must travel back in time to make a set of artifacts that could be used to manipulate waking reality while in dreamland.  He said that Tilia had shown him one of the artifacts and told him of the others.  This was all very confusing for for Tilia's player who had no idea what I was talking about.  In the end though they wound up trusting the sorceror and allowed him to create the artifacts.

Well fast forward almost a full year of real life and Tilia finds herself back in the present timeline and in a shared dream within a massive collective consciousness known as MotherMind.  A dream demon boar has invaded the dreams of MotherMind and is causing greed and hunger where Tilia had tried to create a peaceful dream of the happy hunting grounds to calm down MotherMind.  Tilia suspects that the young man version of the hummingbird sorceror is also inside this shared dream.  At the end of last session Tilia was about to track down the young sorcerer and interrupt his encounter with the dream demon boar.  It will be up to Tilia if she wants to tell the young man to create the artifacts or not, but the present version of Tilia does possess one of the artifacts so if she doesn't I guess there will be changes to the present timeline :)

Of course, this isn't the first time the PCs have messed around with timelines.  The first was a journey back in time to prevent the birth of Slotek, the twisted son of Akili (Old Man Gootie's wife) and the great river spirit of the Zamonas River.  They did this hoping that if they prevented Old Man Gootie from corrupting Akili and creating Slotek that the great spirit of the river would instead be reborn in the form of a river dragon as the river dolphins had told them was supposed to be the natural order of things.  Of course, I used this event as a great excuse to make all kinds of crazy changes to the present timeline of the 4e game, although the players didn't find out about them for a while.  Ultimately this led to the river spirit being fractured into multiple deities each with an avatar in the river basin. 

The second time they messed around with time was a trip to the future, which is much less problematic in terms of not disrupting the present.  They traveled into the far future of the 4e world in pursuit of a time travelling vampire (emerging into an alien spacecraft on the surface of a dead world in the process of being consumed by an expanding dying sun).  After they killed the vampire and took his stuff, they became very intrigued by a magical artifact he was carrying.  Using a ritual to look into the artifact's past, they observed its creation by a strange sorcerer in a hummingbird mask and colorful feathered cape... ultimately proving to be irresistible to the party, so they time traveled to the past to begin this post :)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wood Magic (Wands and Staffs)

I have a longstanding dissatisfaction with D&D magic.  It is not that I don't like it.  I loved playing illusionists when I was a kid first starting to play D&D and in general I loved the magic that was there in D&D.  I just wanted more.

I have no problem with Vancian fire and forget magic, but I really don't want it to be the only type of magic in my games.  I have come up with some different options over the years, a trance possession cleric, the hekuras of my 4e game (at this point Tilia, one of the PCs in that game, has four different hekuras living inside of her), some point spend casting systems, herbal and mushroom magic, a recharge mechanic for spells... something I am working on now is a nature magic system based on the magical properties of wood.

A caster in this tradition could only cast a spell either by touching a living tree and casting a spell using its energy or by making a wand or staff which draws on the energy of its parent tree (the parent tree must still be alive of course!).  This system would work with the regular spell level limits, so a 3rd level caster could cast up to a 2nd level spell, but the limits on how many spells could be cast in a day would be based on the tree being drawn upon, not the caster.  Creating a staff takes enough time that it would not be done in combat, while creating a wand can take as little as 1 round (see below).  Wands only function at a very short range from the parent tree (unless linked to a staff, see below) but I hope that the ability to break a twig off a tree in one round and use it immediately as a wand will enable some cool options in combat for a caster.  I am making a random tree species chart for different environments so there will be the element of randomness - a caster could be in a combat near a tree that has magical properties useful for the encounter, and they could either touch the tree directly to invoke the magic or break a wand off on the fly and use it during the encounter.

As you can see, I am carrying my staff around :)

Tree Magic

Each tree species has different magical properties, and I will assign each spell in the game to one or more tree species according to those properties.  For instance, willow wood is associated with spells dealing with water, the element of spirit, death and rebirth, transmutations, emotions, healing, and the will.  When a tree is encountered, a roll on the tree age chart will reveal its age and the maximum spell level that could be drawn from the tree.  A rough version of the tree age chart is below.  Each tree species may have a negative modifier to apply to the tree age roll, depending on the maximum age of that species.  For example, only three of the trees occurring in eastern North America listed in this database have a maximum age of less than 100 years - those tree species would have a -4 modifier to the tree age roll to give a maximum age of 100 years.  Looking at the same database (which is very useful) there are 10 tree species with a maximum age between 100 and 200 years - those trees would receive a -2 modifier and so on.

Tree Age (d20)
Max Spell Level
Max total spell levels castable per day
1-8: Sapling (0-10 years)
9-13: Immature (11-30 years)
14-16: Mature (31-99 years)
17-18: Old (100-199 years)
19: Elder (200-499 years)
20:Ancient (500+ years old)

When physically touching a tree, a caster can cast any spell on that tree's spell list up to the max level of spell the caster can cast, as limited by the tree age as shown above.  The tree age chart shows the total spell levels that could be drawn from any particular tree per day.  To draw upon the power of a tree from a distance, a caster can make wands and staffs.  Each spell in the tree's spell list would have a [W], [S] or both to denote if that spell could be cast with a wand or staff.  Some spells might only be castable by directly touching the tree (Wish springs to mind, and it would have other requirements of course).  In general, wands are used for spells that actually emanate out from the wand, like a lightning bolt or paralyzing ray, and staffs are used to create most other magical effects.  Of course not all tree species are created alike; some will have much more extensive spell lists than others, and some might have a more extensive wand spell selection and others a more extensive staff spell selection.


Creating a staff takes takes 10 rounds minimum.  Roll 1d6 per round spent crafting the staff (max = 10 rounds +2 rounds/level);  the result equals the number of miles from the parent tree the staff can be used.  The range is also capped at the age of the tree (a staff made from a 95 year old tree could function at a max distance of 95 miles from its parent tree).  Staffs cannot be made from saplings.  If a staff is more than a mile from its parent tree, a caster must spend 1d2 hours per 24 hour period meditating on the staff to draw magical energy through it.  It is possible to use staffs from more than one tree but this requirement must be met for each staff.  Failing to meet this requirement does not destroy the staff, it simply cannot be used to cast magic until meditated upon for at least one hour again. Even if no spell levels remain to be drawn from its parent tree, a staff can be used in melee and each tree species has a unique effect that is added to the regular 1d6 damage.


Creating a wand takes 1 round minimum    Roll 1d6 per round spent crafting the wand (max=level) result x 10 = number of feet from the parent tree the wand can be used.  If a wand and staff are created from the same tree, as long as the staff is within range of the tree the wand can be used within its range of the staff as it will draw energy through the staff from its parent tree.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Near TPK in my 4e game

Last Tuesday's installment of my 4e game ended with our heroes in very perilous straits.  We ended the session with Beautiful Bob the half-gibbering mouther psychic (Ardent) and Hammer the warforged barbarian both below 0 HP and surrounded by snakemindflayers, presumably about to have their intelligences consumed.  The party's other member, Tilia the albino minotaur warden, had previously merged her body into the giant honeycomb mushroom brain that the snakemindflayers worshiped and called MotherMind.   At the end of the session Tilia had entered a lucid dreamstate to attempt some psychic healing on MotherMind.  Tilia was trying to sooth the nightmares of MotherMind and she called upon the energy of Bob and Hammer (with whom she shares a permanent telepathic link that was forged with alien energy technology some time back) to help her.  Bob and Hammer had both just dropped below 0 HP that round and lost consciousness so I gave them the option of joining Tilia in the shared dream when she called upon their energy.  They both took me up on that, so we will start next session with all three PCs in a shared dreamscape with MotherMind.

A few notes on how we got into this predicament:

*  The party allowed themselves to be led to the caverns of the snakemindflayers by a guide, knowing the entire time that the snakemindflayers wanted Tilia to merge with the MotherMind to fulfill an ancient prophecy about a white cow that featured prominently in the snakemindflayer religion.  The party had also gleaned that the snakemindflayers intended to kill the rest of the party and consume their intellects.

* The previous session, the party had initially parlayed with the first few snakemindflayers that they ran into... until suddenly jumping them and massacring them in one round.  For some reason the party decided to take a five minute rest in the same cavern that they just fought in, apparently deciding that no alarm had been raised despite knowing that the snakemindflayers and the mushroom men thralls that they had just killed had a psychic connection with MotherMind.

*  When the party's five minute rest was interrupted by a legion of approaching snakemindflayers and thralls, they decided to confront them rather than attempt to flee (although to be fair the only obvious direction to flee would have been deeper into the caverns of the snakemindflayers and toward MotherMind).

*  Faced with overwhelming numbers the party willingly marched with the snakemindflayers deep into their living mycelial city and Tilia willingly merged herself with MotherMind.  At that point the rest of the snakemindflayers politely asked Hammer and Bob to accompany them back to the ritual sacrifice chambers so they could fulfill their destiny of being consumed.  Hammer and Bob didn't want to comply.

*  The party soon learned that the metallic rods that the snakemindflayers all carried were some kind of technological laser weapon.  Hammer learned that getting shot with lots of lasers hurts.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Nur-Kubi and Zaninum the Cambions

This is a post for the benefit of my players, so they have the stats of the two cambion NPCs they now control.  I based these off the Cambion Wrathborn and Chained Cambion, but I bumped up the HP, defenses and damage expressions because my players are 23rd level at this point.  These cambion were meant to be an annoyance in combat with the PCs while their sorcerer master flew around above them and caused problems; of course when it came down to it the party thrashed the sorcerer pretty quickly while Beautiful Bob rolled a natural 30 on his once nightly roll on  the d30 in an attempt to dominate the two surviving cambions (he has an ability to attempt to permanently dominate bloodied opponents, I believe he gained this ability by consuming the soul of an inquisitor devil that he had trapped in a malevolent nut a while ago).  I usually wouldn't have let him dominate the cambions because they were sired by the sorcerer the PCs were fighting, but if you roll a natural 30 on a d30 you succeed in whatever you are trying to do.  That is why Beautiful Bob is half-gibbering mouther as well, he rolled a natural 30 in attempting to psychically befriend a gibbering mouther in his very first session and then he later combined his own form with the mouther in a dark ritual.

So anyway, Beautiful Bob now has two cambion NPCs, Nur-Kubi and Zaninum (both fathered by Mezizi Al-Bado, member of the royal sorcerer's Order of the Phoenix and secret member of the order of the Horned Skull - their mothers are two different succubus devils).

Nur-Kubi is a shifty sort who prefers to assume human guise and dislikes it when he loses control and must assume his natural, fiery winged form.  He wishes he were human. He despises devils and his half-brother Zaninum

HP: 200       Bloodied 100                          Initiative: +15   Perception: +12  Darkvision
AC:33  Fortitude:31  Reflex: 34  Will: 30
Speed: 6, Fly 8 (clumsy)
Resist 10 fire

Traits:  Burning Anger (fire): Aura 1 - while Nur-Kubi is bloodied, any enemy that ends its turn within the aura takes 10 fire damage.

Standard Actions:
Pain Blade (weapon) at will: melee 1; +30 vs. AC  4d8+16 damage and the target grants combat advantage until the end of Nur-Kubi's next turn.

Path of Pain (weapon) at-will: Nur-Kubi shifts 4 squares and uses pain blade at any point during the shift.

Fire Bolt (fire, implement) at will: Ranged 5 +28 vs Reflex 4d6+10 fire damage

Burst Skyward (fire, implement) Encounter: Requirement: Nur-Kubi must be bloodied. Close Burst 2 (enemies in burst); +30 vs Reflex 4d10+10 fire damage and Nur-Kubi flies 8 squares without provoking opportunity attacks.

Minor Actions: Wicked Guise (illusion) at will - Requirement: Nur-Kubi must not be bloodied.  Nur-Kubi can assume the appearance of a specific Medium humanoid.

Zaninum  is an angry sort, full of hatred and wrath.  He loves killing things.  He hates humans.  He thinks his half-brother Nur-Kubi is weak but envies his ability to fly.  He wraps himself in chains that he can control telekinetically.

HP: 220       Bloodied: 110                             Initiative: +15  Perception:+15   Darkvision
AC:34  Fortitude:32  Reflex:30  Will:30

Binding Chains: Aura 3  Squares within the aura are difficult terrain for enemies

Child of Chains: While immobilized or restrained, Zaninum gains +2 to attack and +2 to escape a grab or to savings throws against immobilization or restrain.

Standard Actions
Chain Lash (weapon) at-will: melee 3 +32 vs. AC  6d6+16 damage and a dazed target is immobilized (save ends)

Vile Fetters (psychic) at will: melee 5 +30 vs. will  4d6+12 psychic damage and if the target ends its next turn closer to Zaninum it is dazed (save ends)

Unfettered Scream (psychic) recharge 5,6: Close blast 3 (creatures in blast) +30 vs. Fortitude 4d6+12 Psychic Damage and the target is pushed 2 squares and dazed (save ends)

Minor Actions
Mind Shackles (psychic) Recharge when first bloodied:  Two enemies adjacent to each other in a close burst 5 are psychically shackled (save ends; each enemy makes a separate saving throw against this effect).  While psychically shackled, an enemy takes 20 psychic damage at the start and the end of its turn if it isn't adjacent to the other creature that was affected by this power.  Aftereffect: the effect persists, and the damage decreases to 10 (save ends).
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