Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Oh good, we are in the Tomb of Horrors

I just realized that my character in Carter's Lands of Ara campaign is knee deep in the Tomb of Horrors right now.  I have never played or read the classic Tomb of Horrors 1e module, but I have certainly encountered plenty of references to the granddaddy of all deathtrap dungeons.  Well imagine my surprise when I finally tracked down a copy and had a strong sense of déjà vu as soon as I began to look at the map and read the key.  I recognized the long tiled hallway to an archway filled with green mist, and the giant skeletons that popped out of chests, but just to make sure I flipped a few pages... yup, there was the room with spheres on the walls and the room with the four-armed gargoyle statue with one arm broken off.

Our party has been exploring the frickin' tomb of horrors!  No wonder we have been frustrated by that dang dungeon!  We are chasing an ancient vampire, or possibly his not quite as ancient descendant vampire, and this dungeon below the sewers of Kaladar is his home.

I stopped reading the module and had only skimmed it up till that point, but somehow just knowing that we are in the Tomb of Horrors is a mild spoiler.  We had already realized that we needed to proceed with extreme caution in this place, so I don't think it will cause any difference in gameplay.  Still, the knowledge that we teleported ourselves deep into an  unknown section of the tomb of horrors and are trying to work our way back out to an area we have already explored is terrifying!  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hallucinating Jungle Dogs - Jivaro Tribe pt.2

Dogs are extremely important to the Jivaro, for aid in hunting, protecting the garden crops from rodents, and protecting the house from intruders by warning barks.  The Jivaroan term for dog, Naiwa, is the same word used for jaguar. The Jivaro received dogs as a gift from nunui (earth spirits), so they fall into the women's realm.

When a new litter of pups is born, one of the women of the house sleeps with the bitch and litter to keep the puppies from being possessed by a malevolent spirit.  The woman will breast feed the puppies along with the bitch.  When the puppies mature, they are given the most powerful hallucinogen the Jivaro know (Datura sp.) so the dogs can find a beneficial spirit in their visions to give them power and possibly even make them invulnerable to normal injury and death (although they can still be a victim of sorcery).  

If a man wants to take a dog hunting, he asks one of his wives to accompany him to handle the dog.  The woman, through her connection to nunui, is better able to control the dog and also brings good fortune to the hunt, silently singing to nunui for success in getting game.

At night the dogs are leashed to the bed in the women's side of the house and their slightest barking results in the household head seizing his weapons and preparing to defend the family.
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Jivaroan Dog/ Dog of Nunui (other statistics as normal dog)

(variable power depending on the strength of the spirit acquired during Datura hallucination)

Roll 1d6:  1-2: Weak Spirit, 3-5: Normal Spirit, 6: Powerful Spirit

Weak Spirit Dog
AC:4 (15)
Bite: 1d6+1

Normal Spirit Dog
AC:3 (16)
Bite: 1d6+2

Powerful Spirit Dog
HD: 4
AC: 2 (17)
Bite: 1d8+2
Special: Immune to non-magical weapons and normal injury

Evil Spirit Dog / Demon Dog (Iwanci Naiwa)

Occasionally, despite the best efforts of the women, a puppy is possessed by a malevolent spirit.  In this case, the dog will run away into the jungle and seek to cause harm to humans.

HD: 4
AC: 2 (17)
Bite: 1d8+2 +poison (save vs. death/ CON save DC 12 or reduced to 0 HP)
Special Abilities: immune to non-magical weapons and normal injury; invisibility (twice a day); change self (once a day - can appear as a human or jaguar, in human guise can communicate in a gruff, barking voice); move silently and pass without trace (at will)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Nunui and the Bloodsucking Manioc Garden - Jivaro Tribe pt.1

The Jivaro (headhunters of shrunken head infamy) live in the foothills of the Andes in the western Amazon.  I will come back to their head shrinking, magical soul possessing ways in a later post, but today I want to talk about their vampiric manioc gardens.

The Jivaro's land starts where the mountain waterfalls give way to tributary streams and rivers that are unnavigable because of rapids, and ends where the rivers begin to flow more slowly and can be traveled by canoe.  They live in scattered houses, each containing a polygynous nuclear family and occasionally a married daughter and step-son who have no children.  Each house is situated in the middle of a large cleared out garden, on a hillock near a stream.

The garden is the province of the women of the house; the men clear the garden by felling giant trees (which in turn take down many smaller trees as all the trees are connected through their canopies by vines) but the women weed, plant and maintain the garden.  The primary food crop is sweet manioc, grown for its large tubers.  Manioc is not only the primary food, it is also provides the exclusive drink for adults and weaned children - the Jivaro drink manioc beer in prodigious quantities (3-4 gallons a day for adult males, 1-2 gallons a day for adult females, ~ 1/2 gallon for 9-10 year old children).  The beer is typically weak, as it is usually drunk before it has fermented long enough to reach maximum alcoholic content (which takes 4-5 days).

The Jivaro also believe that the manioc plant has the innate desire and ability to suck the blood from any person touching it.  To protect themselves and their families from this ability of the manioc, the women turn to a type of earth spirit called Nunui.  Nunui appear as 3' tall, very fat women wearing black dresses.  Nunui are responsible for pushing plants up out of the ground and plant growth in general.  Nunui like to dance in clearings in the forest, and often many of them will come to dance in a newly cleared garden.  However, there is usually only one nunui associated with each garden once it has been planted.  The nunui stays underground during the day, and at night dances in turn with each manioc plant.  Nunui demand a well-weeded garden to give them the room they need to dance with the manioc.  The women also sing special songs to nunui, to give them respect and warn them when they are coming early in the morning to the garden to avoid frightening nunui away.

The female head of household will also hide three magic stones (unworked pieces of red jasper), known as the stones of nunui or the stones of manioc, in the garden - these magical stones are the babies of the nunui and ensure that the nunui will stay in the garden, the crop will remain plentiful and the women can call upon the nunui to make the manioc drink only the blood of trespassing enemies.  The woman gets the stones of nunui after a nunui reveals their location to the woman in a hallucinogen-induced vision.  Each vision only reveals the location of one such stone, which the woman must then immediately go out to find and place in the garden.

Vampiric Manioc
Anyone moving through a stand of manioc must save vs. spells each round (or make a CON save DC12 for 5th edition types) or take 1d6 damage from blood loss.  The plants are otherwise normal plants and can be easily cut down or uprooted.  Carrying a cut branch of manioc (or sticking it in one's belt) grants a +2 to this save.

Stones of Nunui/Stones of Manioc
Three pieces of magical red jasper.  Detect Magic will reveal the form of a baby inside them.  They are the babies of nunui and serve both to tie nunui to a garden and also as a conduit which allows their possessor to tap into the power of nunui to control the vampiric properties of manioc (and possibly ask other boons of nunui as well).  The women that tend the garden and the husband of the house are rendered immune to the manioc's blood drain if there are stones of nunui in the garden and the women regularly sing this magical song:

Don't suck the blood of my husband
And also don't suck the blood of my daughter.

When you want to suck blood,
Suck the blood of my enemies.

When my husband comes, 
he will look very beautiful and very clear.

But when our enemies come,
They will come very pale
And in the form of demons.

And you will know
Who will die,
Who will die.

And when they enter this garden,
They will have their blood sucked.

All, all I can call,
Even the plantain itself.

I am a woman of Nunui.

Note that children are not excluded; they are instructed not to play in the garden lest their blood be drained!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bororo - Tribe

Bororo Indians of the Amazon

I am currently reading Tristes Tropiques by Claude Levi-Strausse, coming to this book after reading his Mythologiques series, which introduced me to the Bororo.  English language Wikipedia is particularly uninformative on the Bororo, but I found some other websites and even some full text scholarly articles online that filled in some of the gaps from the Levi-Strausse reading.  I have an ongoing Google Document (shared below) that I am using as a research file, dumping links, sources and information into it as I read (I cite the source above the information gathered from that source -  some information  is paraphrased and some is direct quotation from the source material with some deletions/abridgment).  Here is the link: Bororo Research Document 

Quick RPG Takeaways:

The division of each Bororo village into 8 clans, four each in two opposing moieties (Cera and Tugare) makes for ready made inter-village tensions and adventure opportunities.  Despite a traditional hierarchy of the clans, each clan negotiates its own fortunes in each particular village and strives to gain more power in the form of access to new magic and clan roles.  I particularly like how each clan has unique/proprietary decorative ornaments and magical markings to use on weapons and as body paint.  I see each clan pattern bestowing a minor magical property onto the decorated spear, ornament or body (e.g. +1 to AC; +1 to hit and damage; double normal weapon range; +2 to STR; +2 to DEX; +1 attacks/2 rounds; cast a cantrip 3x/day; cast a 1st level spell once/day; etc.).  Bororo believe in reincarnation as part of a complicated transmigration of souls (Bororo souls also pass into animal bodies after death and before returning in reincarnation to a new human body).  Each Bororo shares the name of and is thought to be a partial reincarnation of a dead ancestor.  I think encountering "normal" animals with a Bororo transmigrating spirit could be fun (perhaps human intelligence and one or two minor magical powers for these animals), and then meeting the same spirit reborn into a young Bororo could be good fuel for gaming.

Bororo Encounters:

PCs will either encounter the Bororo out in the jungle/on the river, or at the Bororo village. The Bororo spend more than half their time on average outside of the village.  

Roll 2d6: 2-7: Encountered in Village; 8-12: Outside of Village  (Wet Season add +1 to the encounter roll during the beginning or end of the wet season, add +3 during the peak; during the peak of the wet season bororo spend most of their time on higher ground away from the village)

8-12+ Results: Outside of Village (more common in wet season)

  • 7-8: Hunting (more men)
  • 9-10: Farming/Gathering (more women and children)
  • 11: On the River (more men)
  • 12+: Walking through the forest to a faraway destination (equal sexes/ages if visiting friends/relatives, more men if raiding).  

Clans encountered outside the village = one or two of eight unique clans, each clan with its own: proprietary names; tribal roles; magical decorations/signs on weapons and utility tools; magical stories and songs; personal adornments/body paint.  

# Encountered outside the village = 2d6 (6's explode, add +1 clan per 12 encountered, e.g. three clans represented if 13-24 Bororo are encountered outside the village, 4 clans if 25-36 encountered, etc.)

Bororo Village

(The following largely after Levi-Strausse):

A typical village plan:

The village will have at least one hut representing all eight clans, and it is more common to have several huts per clan, representing sub-lineages of the clan.

# Houses per Clan (d6): 1: 1; 2-3:2, 4-5:3, 6:4

# Encountered per House: 2d6 (3d6 during village feast or clan ceremony)

Quick Village Population guide: Large: 300 Average: 150  Small: 100

The village is divided in two by an imaginary line between the Cera moiety to the north and the Tugare moiety to the south. Clan houses form a ring around the men's house in the center of the village. The central plaza is the bororo. Many important rituals are regularly performed in the bororo, especially funerary rites which can continue for months after a death.

The four Cera clans are arranged across the north end of the village circle, from east to west as follows: badegaba cobugiwu (upper chiefs); bokodori (large armadillo); ki (tapir); badegaba cebgiwu (lower chiefs).  

The four Tugare clans are arranged from west to east as follows: iwaguddu (the azure jay); arore (larva); apibore (acuri palm tree); paiwe or paiwoe (howler monkey). 

Moieties and clans are exogamous, matrilineal and matrilocal.  When a man marries he crosses the line separating the two moieties and goes to live in the hut belonging to his wife’s clan.  But in the men’s house he continues to have his place in the sector assigned to his own clan and moiety (his mother’s clan/moiety). The men’s house internal arrangements mirror the village at large - to the north the Cera men and to the south the Tugare.  

Clans are divided into subclans and lineages.  Each clan is ranked and certain positions in the village can only be held by members of particular clans (e.g. Village chiefs must belong to a clan of the Cera moiety).  Each clan has unique emblems, privileges and taboos related to the technique and style of manufactured objects, as well as proprietary ceremonies, songs, proper names and access to medicinal plants (e.g. Tobacco is associated with Bokodori clan, other aromatic plants smoked in a similar fashion include an anonacea controlled by the Paiwe clan).

Men cannot talk to women of the other moiety in public - even husband and wife would not bandy about in public, only being seen together in public when they leave the village to hunt, fish or gather together (which is seen as private).  

 Clothing/Personal Appearance:  Men are usually naked except for penis sheath, but sometimes (and always on festive occasions) wear elaborate ornaments made of fur, multicolored feathers, or bark painted with various designs.  Women wear a slip made from white bark (black when they are unwell) and a high girdle/corset, also made of bark, but dark in color.  Feminine ornaments consist mostly of cotton straps colored with red urucu, and of pendants and necklaces made from jaguar’s fangs or monkey’s teeth, worn only on feast days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Hakken Aksa-Dak

I died on Monday in my friend Carter's Labyrinth Lord campaign.  Not the usual haul-the-body-out-and-get-raised kind either.  I got the wrong end of the old school Teleport spell and materialized some undisclosed number of feet straight down into solid rock.  I have been thinking about it a little and I don't think there would be any body to speak of or recoverable remains even if an attempt was made to excavate for it.  Just little specks of blood and flesh and bone embedded in solid stone.

In many ways this was a very fitting way for Hakken Aksa-Dak (a.k.a. Dak), the Steve Buscemi of dwarves, to meet his end.  I tried to roleplay Dak's low wisdom (6) and decent intelligence by constantly coming up with risky harebrained schemes and throwing myself into any possible trap head first.

 Way back in Stonehell in our earlier adventures this resulted in Dak being blinded by poison gas from a trap.  Not deterred, I removed the container of poison gas from the trap and used it and the fact that I was already blind as a weapon.  Dak spent several sessions blind in Stonehell; when the party encountered monsters they would point me toward them and I would charge ahead, screaming bloody murder and releasing blinding gas.  It turned out to be a remarkably effective tactic.

More recently the party has been exploring a vampire's lair in the deepest dungeons underneath the free city of Kaladar.  Confronted with a glowing red magical archway, I had my dwarven compatriot Yor (Yor for a better tomorrow!) tie a rope around me and I went through.  I was expecting deadly poison gas at the minimum because I had tried this tactic in an earlier section of this lair when confronted with an archway of glowing green mist and it turned out to be a save vs. death gas (luckily I saved).  Instead what happened is all my gear right down to my beard ring of protection was sucked from my body and I had some hazy sense of a misty cavern that I was being tugged to, and then Yor pulled me back out of the archway (naked).

I did fight an encounter completely naked and wielding a borrowed hand ax that session.

Losing all my gear rankled a bit, but we could not figure out a couple puzzle rooms in the dungeon and were stuck... unless we wanted to go through that damned archway and end up naked on the other side with no gear.

Last session I had the bright idea of bringing a high enough level wizard to have the Teleport spell memorized down to the arch to send him through (naked).  The idea was he would quickly examine the area that the arch led to, trying to mark it for a future Teleport destination, then Teleport out to safety.  We persuaded/conned NPC Tim the Enchanter into this duty; he was eager to make up for the fact that his master in the wizard's council had recently been revealed by the party to be a balrog!  Poor Tim walked through the gate, ended up in a misty cavern, and was attacked by something he didn't see which drained a level before he could Teleport out!

Once back at the wizard's tower Tim and four other high level wizards scried the misty cavern with a crystal ball for an hour until they had a reasonably good lock on it to Teleport the party down there.  There was a 10% chance of a missed destination "Low" result, which basically meant instant death in this situation, and we knew that.  The "High" result wasn't as big of a risk as the misty cavern was quite large; in fact, two party members did arrive 10' in the air and dropped to the ground.  While 10% chance of unraisable death is pretty iffy odds to be putting the whole party through, for once everyone else seemed ready to join in Dak's foolish plan.

 Remarkably, three out of the eight total party members that the wizards Teleported down arrived too low and instantly died.  Dak, Arthurius (follower of Innominus the cleric), and Muckley (dwarf henchman of Dak) all met their ends in this unceremonious manner.  A vampire attacked the remaining party members and was promptly destroyed in one round by Yor (thanks to his nightly d30 roll, his girdle of giant strength and his ancient Noffellian blade Mellion).  The vampire turned out to be a lacky, not the vampire master we had been seeking.

Dak is Dead.  Long live Flipwayter, Dak's trusty follower, who shall pick up the mantle.  Hopefully the party finds the real frickin' vampire and all Dak's old gear so Flipwayter can really keep the name of Dak alive.  In particular, Dak's family heirloom refilling flask of dwarven whiskey will not go unused... as Dak would have wanted.

I am looking forward to next session, a quick turnaround (for us) as we are meeting up again next Monday.  Dak may have died, but his hairbrained scheme did get the party down to the lowest section of the dungeon which we had not been able to access before. As long as we kill the vampire, get the loot and find a way out it will not have been for vain!  If we happen to save Ara from demonic invasion (another story) in the process, so much the better.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

200 Word Sorcerer

I submitted an entry to David Schirduan's 200 Word RPG Challenge.  I already revised my submission once and David posted the revision, and since then I have revised it a couple more times - I am not going to keep resubmitting my revisions, at this point I am mostly just messing around with it because it is a fun exercise in conciseness.  What can I take out and what can I add.  Having read many of the other submissions I have no illusions about winning anything (nor are the prizes particularly exciting) but the process of writing a 200 word class/supplement was a great challenge and got my creative juices flowing. Some of the entries are pretty impressive in that they both give novel rules without reference to a common starting point like D&D (which I relied on) and also are very evocative in describing a setting or milieu.

I don't think my D&Dish sorcerer hack stands up well to some of the other entries, but I still like it. My latest edit is a .PDF with full color background image that I created of a burning hand / embers.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Temple of the Dragocroc - Isometric Graphing

All hail Dragocroc!  I hadn't been exposed to isometric graph paper until I saw some Dyson Logos posts that inspired me to check it out.  I found a website with printable isometric graph paper and printed some out.  I present the Temple of the Dragocroc in isometric pseudo-3D view. This started out as doodling without a plan, and as consequence I have gone past the edge of the graph grid in a few places.  I am going to keep working on the original drawing but I also scanned it in and messed around with it a bit in Photoshop just for kicks (Photoshopped scans at bottom of post, unaltered scan of work in progress immediately below).
Work in progress - this is what I have done with pencil, pen and marker so far (no Photoshop)

There is 10' of liquid demonblood flooding the inside of the walled structure. I hinted at the towers and walls extending down past the interior surface area to suggest that it was a liquid surface, but this will be more obvious when I finish up the outer walls and color in the surface of the blood. I am thinking of using colored pencil for the demonblood surface to get some good color swirls going on.  The blood spills out of the mouth of each of the Dragocroc statues down past the tower level immediately below them, landing on the third level up from the bottom, flowing through a channel system to waterfalls that cascade down each face of the tower.

The four Dragocrocs that make up part of the 5th tier of the temples are stone statues inlaid with jade mosaic.  The red eyes are unnaturally large glowing rubies (single rubies each ~10' long, each 1/8 of the heart of the real Dragocroc (powerful demon bound below).  If the ruby eyes are replaced in the heart of the real Dragocroc,  the demon will arise, drink its stolen blood to restore its power and utterly destroy the entire structure and surrounding countryside before embarking on a murderous rampage.) 

The only entrances to the structure are on the fourth and fifth tiers.  Archways open into the tower face on the fourth tier below each Dragocroc mouth.  Each archway leads to a staircase that ascends the inside wall of the tower, giving access to the fifth tier and the walkways on top of the Dragrocroc statues.  Open archways at the base of the tail-spire give access to an empty stone room with a sacrificial alter in the center and an engraved circular trench around its perimeter, the Blood Circle.  The blood of approximately 20 human sacrifices is required to fill the circle.  If the sacrifices are performed under the light of a full moon, the Blood Circle can be used as a powerful summoning and binding focus and a teleportation circle (giving access to the dungeon levels inside the blood-drained and bound Dragocroc demon imprisoned below).  20 ritual spellcasters are required to use the circle for summoning and binding, and 20 sacrifices is the minimum needed for this use.  Every multiple of 20 sacrifices beyond the first 20 increases the power of the circle when used for summoning and binding.  Priests of Dragocroc carry amulets which are linked to the Blood Circle.  Chaotic individuals who hold an Amulet of Dragocroc can sacrifice 1d8 HP of blood to the medallion to teleport without error (including all personal gear and up to two other individuals, unwilling individuals can save to resist) from unlimited range to the circle on the 5th tier.  There is a 1 in 6 chance every time anyone who is not a Priest of Dragocroc picks up an Amulet of Dragocroc that the amulet attacks as an 8HD monster for 1d8 damage and teleports the victim to the circle (save to resist).  

The real Dragocroc is a powerful demon, summoned and bound by a cult which stole its blood to power their magic.  Priests of Dragocroc draw their spellcasting ability from the stolen blood.  They must drink fresh Dragocroc blood once between full moons (at the full moon) or permanently lose all spellcasting ability and go insane (1 in 6 chance of also becoming a were-dragocroc, transforming into a humanoid dragocroc under the light of the full moon, filled with a burning desire to destroy the Priests of Dragocroc).  Any Priest of Dragocroc who suffers this fate will be killed on sight by the priesthood.   Only fresh blood spilling directly out of a Dragocroc statue mouth works, so every full moon every Priest of Dragocroc returns to the temple to drink from the waterfalls.  The potent demon blood provides two extra benefits to the priesthood while powering magic; all damaging spells do an extra 1d8 damage and all undead under the control of a Priest of Dragocroc have +1d8 HP, +1 to initiative and +1 to hit and damage.

Here are two stages of me messing around with this in Photoshop - I don't like the effect and will finish the piece with pen, markers and colored pencil.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Gorilla Art

I recently finished a fun piece of commissioned art, depicting an Experimental Ape from Michael Curtis' upcoming Stonehell 2.  I drew the Ogre Face Arch (the image on the Stonehell tee-shirts) and Coal the Black Bear in the original Stonehell Dungeon, and was very happy to oblige Michael with a new piece.  I never spend any time on artwork unless I have some specific project motivating me, but I always enjoy the hours spent when I do pick up pen and lay it to paper.  I ended up using kind of an unusual technique in this drawing, so I wanted to post about the process here.

I looked over the list of potential illustrations and "Albino Apes with Cybernetic Type Implants" caught my eye.  I introduced bionic chimps and orangutans into my Mutant Future campaign (War Chimps and Warangutans) and they were a big hit with my players.  I have had soft spot for great apes with cybernetic implants ever since. Once I claimed that picture as mine, Michael sent me the following details:

"Experimental apes are double-sized albino gorillas that have two additional arcanitech arms grafted to their bodies below their natural upper limbs. These magical/mechanical arms possess great strength (equal to that of an ogre). These arms also deliver a powerful electrical shock. Any target struck by either of the arcanitech limbs must make a save vs. spells or suffer an additional 1d8 points of damage. Experimental apes are conditioned to be fiercely loyal to the Plated Mage and the Mage-Engineers, and seldom flee from combat. Attempts to charm them rarely succeed and experimental apes gain a +4 bonus to all saving throws against mental domination."

This presented an interesting challenge to me, as the easiest way to depict something as albino is to show it in bright light as mostly white, but I wanted to do a more shadowy drawing since the apes would be encountered underground in a dungeon environment.  I first did a few gorilla studies to get in the mood and shake off any rust from my art muscles.

I wanted to use pen and ink but kept struggling with the fact that I really would need a nice white ink pen and dark paper to draw the image I saw in my head.  Then I hit on the idea of drawing the image with black ink on white paper and reversing it in PhotoShop.  I reversed the larger sketch I had done so far as a quick proof of concept.  Of course the image looks like a negative because the shadowing is in reverse (particularly obvious in the face), but I mostly wanted to see how the fur/hair looked and I liked the effect:

To avoid the appearance of a negative image once I reversed my final piece, I wanted to create a negative image to use as a reference point for my original drawing.  In other words, I would draw a negative image in the first place, so when it was reversed the shading would be correct but all the pen work would be white and the background would be black.  I spent some time collecting various pictures of gorillas, standing gorillas, crouching gorillas, leaping gorillas.  The whole time I was looking for a good reference picture that I could easily insert bionic arms onto, which made the choice a bit more difficult.  I finally settled on an action shot to use as a reference image for the drawing that looks like the gorilla just took a swat at something:

One slight stumbling block was that the left arm of this gorilla was cut off; I could have just winged it, but at this point I had such a large collection of gorilla images that I picked a different image of a different gorilla with its left arm out in a similar fashion and literally just Photoshopped the other gorillas arm over the arm in this picture.  Here is the 2nd gorilla image I used for its left arm:
Next I added a second set of arms by copying the first set of arms, rotating them and moving them down below the armpit.  Then I turned the image into a negative to use as a reference while drawing.  Here is the resulting negative image of a four armed gorilla:
I printed this out, and drawing directly onto the print out, I transformed the lower set of arms into robot arms and added some bionic parts to the torso.  This printout is what I used as a reference while drawing the final image:
My purpose in using a negative reference image while drawing with black ink on white paper was that I would be able to scan and create a negative image of my final drawing; this way the inked fur of the gorilla would be white instead of black.  I hoped this would create the albino effect I was looking for while still allowing me to draw a mostly shadowy, low lit image.  So in other words, I went to some great lengths because I didn't have a good white ink pen and black paper!  My plan was to only reverse the image of the ape itself and leave the robotic arms the way I drew them, since I didn't have a negative reference image for them and also because I thought it would be an easy way to make the metal arms stick out as different from the rest of the ape.  After some work on the drawing I scanned it in to reverse it and see how the process was working - I immediately realized the image I had chosen as a reference image was too shadowed to create an obviously albino ape even if the fur cross-hatching itself was white.  The shadowed areas of the ape were just too dark and made it seem like a normal ape with a bright light shining on some of its fur:

I ended up adding a lot more fur detail than was visible in the original reference image in the chest, stomach and rear leg. I went back in with a pencil in addition to the pen, to lighten up the ape in relation to the background.  Even the most shadowy areas got at least some light pencil fur added.  Several times I called it done, scanned it in and reversed it and decided I still needed to add even more pen and pencil work.  Finally, I decided I had done all I could do and was running the risk of muddying up things if I kept adding more fur.  I added some more pencil shading to the robot arms and scanned it one more time to reverse it and do some more touch up work in Photoshop.  For reference, here is the original (un-reversed) scan of the final drawing and then the reversed image at that point.  I found it very interesting how the entire time I was drawing from the negative image the head just didn't look right, but the second I reversed it, it looked awesome!  My mind had a hard time looking at the original (unreversed) drawing and processing where the eyes were I think.  I just had to trust that I was following an actual negative photo of a gorilla face and as long as I faithfully shadowed where I saw shadow everything would work out okay once I reversed the image.
Original *unreversed* Drawing (pen and pencil)
Negative of the final drawing - before separating the bionic arms out and leaving them unreversed
I carefully went in and selected just the bionic arms to put them in a separate layer of the Photoshop document and leave them un-reversed.  this also allowed me to use a Photoshop effect (Outer Glow) to make it look like the arms were glowing - I was hoping this would evoke the electric shock they could deliver.  I also fixed up the feet and left hand a bit in photoshop since I was unhappy with the way they looked when scanned in (I had made the mistake of drawing an outline around the feet in pen which ended up being a glowing white edge around the toes, and the shading I had done on the left hand I was never happy with).  Finally, I had to figure out what to do about a background.  I didn't really have the time to draw a background (my wife and I recently had our first child, and between working ~55 hours a week and spending as much time with baby Leo as I can, I really don't have any "free" time these days) so I played around with some different things in Photoshop.  I added a gradient to suggest a surface at the bottom, and played around with different ways to crop the image.  I settled on a black circle around the ape, with a slight gradient to gray toward the bottom right, and the ape itself protruding past the background in places to suggest that it was coming out of the page at the viewer.  I know this is kind of cheesy but as soon as I tried it out I really liked the effect it had in this case.  Ultimately I probably didn't save any time versus drawing in a background by hand onto the original drawing and rescanning, because to add the photoshop background I had to carefully carve the entire image out of the black background so it could be on a separate layer from the circle gradient (otherwise I couldn't add the gradient and have the ape look like it was standing on top of it).  This took quite a while as I didn't want it to be a sloppy select job.  I had to go in pixel by pixel in some cases to remove everything except the ink strokes I wanted to keep around the edges.

I have to say though that I am very pleased with the end result - and I can't wait for Stonehell 2 to come out!  Maybe some of you will get to sick one of these bad boys on your players (or meet an untimely demise at their robotic hands if you play on the other side of the DM's screen!).  Final image:
Experimental Ape - Carl Nash 2015 - Pen, Pencil & Photoshop

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Figs and Faeries

Some hastily jotted and assuredly unfinished business that has been languishing in my Google Drive, pasted here for your pleasure. I only completed the random d8 ripeness/potion charts for two species of fig trees. I did not detail any of the faerie courts which inhabit the fig trees, or their unique potions (nor a single parasitic wasp imp species for that matter). More to come?

Figs = Potion Trees

The ripe fruit has magical properties - see d8 potion tables in individual fig tree entries below.

Each fig tree also has a special syconium, a particularly large fig (~2-4'), magically protected, with a single gate that shrinks those entering it - it is a difficult challenge to force entry past the gate if the keepers are unwilling. Each syconium is a faerie kingdom of blooming fig flowers bathed in a soft golden glow that dies down to a flickering glamer at night  - the faeries dwell in the fig flowers.

Each fig tree species has a unique relationship with a type of faerie that dwells in the syconium - the faeries each have a set of unique spells that they derive from the potion fruit.

Parasitic Wasp Imps seek to take faerie syconiums as their own and have their own spells and magical abilities - great variation exists among the parasitic wasp imps. Syconiums that have been taken by these parasitic imps are quickly filled with their offspring, the magical wards of the syconium perverted to feed the growing brood.

Giant ants tend giant aphid-like bugs which secrete potions as well - ants protect their trees against any intruders deemed a threat

Giant insect ecosystems on the forest floor below depend on the fruit

Also magical birds

Fig sap hardens into a rubber, can be treated when fresh to make magical oils

Syconium Physics - objects are reduced to 1/8 their normal size and 1/4 normal weight when entering a Syconium.

Syconium Time - time passes very slowly inside the syconium compared to the outside world.  One day inside the syconium = 14 days outside.  From the faerie perspective every other fourth day they either leave the syconium to visit a neighboring kingdom or receive visitors from a neighboring faerie court that inhabits a different fig tree.  To the outside perspective these excursions or incursions are roughly 2 months apart.  When visitors come to the syconium it pollinates the tree; each tree bears a harvest about once every four months.   

Visitors, pollination and the special potion fruit - each visiting faerie court has a unique special potion associated with it. Any roll of an "8" on the d8 potion roll for a fig tree requires a second d8 roll - a second roll of "8" explodes, resulting in the unique potion of the visiting faerie court that pollinated the tree.

Banyan or Strangler Fig
Banyan or Strangler Fig - sprawls out, sends down aerial roots, covers other trees or stone structures indiscriminately with strangling roots.

Ripe Fruit:  Reddish brown skin, brown flesh - bitter - get darker and softer as ripen, 1d8 - fig properties, from unripe to ripe:
  1. Fig of Climbing
  2. Fig of Growth
  3. Fig of Plant Control
  4. Fig of Undead Control
  5. Fig of Animal Control
  6. Fig of Giant Control
  7. Fig of Human Control
  8. Fig of Dragon Control

Cluster Figs
Cluster Fig - figs grow in clusters directly from the trunk,  bark has healing properties, grind into paste in water to make healing potions - LOTS more on wikipedia, lots of cool Buddhist / Hindu traditions

Ripe Fruit: green skin, white flesh, very sweet and soft when fully ripe, firm and pleasant when younger - roll 1d8 on ripeness table:
  1. Vitality
  2. Philter of Glibness
  3. Philter of Persuasiveness
  4. Fig of Treasure Finding
  5. Fig of Giant Strength
  6. Fig of Heroism
  7. Fig of Invulnerability
  8. Fig of Super-Heroism

Friday, November 28, 2014

5e Dungeon Master's Guide and 5e mini review

I picked up my pre-ordered DM's Guide at my local game shop the day before Thanksgiving. First a mini review of 5e, then some random bullet points from the DM's Guide that stood out to me.

Color me thoroughly impressed with D&D 5e now that I have the three core rulebooks in my possession. Compressing the modifier range, AC and to hit bonus across levels almost makes it more old school than old school, but there are plenty of cool options available to appeal to new school players.  Compared straight across, 1st -3rd level 5e characters will be much more powerful than their B/X or AD&D equivalents, but that quickly evens out and probably even flips towards the older systems being more powerful at higher levels.  Consequently, converting B/X or AD&D material to 5e looks to be extremely easy.

 I still had some unanswered questions and gripes about the game after reading the PHB and MM, but the DM's Guide really took care of most of these for me.  If I had to choose my top D&D edition just based on the core rulebooks, I would have to take 5e at this point (although 1e still gets the nod for best DM's Guide even with it's Gygaxian organization).  Player options are presented without being overly complicated or resulting in too much power inflation.  Monsters strike a nice balance between simple to run and having some memorable and unique abilities (I particularly like the lair based powers of the legendary creatures). The core system is very solid, as is the treatment of the planes and the cosmology presented in general. There are an awful lot of rule variants and DM's tools provided that allow you to customize the game in many different ways.  If you don't want to play with skills, the DM's guide gives you a purely attribute based resolution system for a more old school feel. The default, relatively "heroic" (read practically superheroic) out-of-combat healing presented in the PHB is now just one of many options available to the DM.  Tools for running a Call of Cthulhu style campaign (Sanity attribute) fit in nicely with the focus on factions, organizations and secret societies.  High marks for consistently emphasizing that the game can be customized, and providing many extremely useful examples of how you can do so.

Also, laser guns, antimatter rifles and frag grenades.  Need I say more?

Of course this is not a perfect game.  I have many small quibbles. Some areas of the DM's guide seem like unpolished, hasty add-ons that could easily have taken up the same amount of space and accomplished so much more  (e.g the hodge podge of maps that is Appendix C) and almost every single random chart should have been expanded upon significantly.  Maybe I am spoiled from years of browsing the amazing (and free) online content produced by D&D players and DMs, but I expect a lot more than 10 results for a "Short-Term Madness" table (especially when two of those results are stunned and unconscious - p.259) or 9 entries on a "Lingering Injuries" table (p.272).  Rolling on a table to see what kind of injury your PC gets should be one of those awesome d100 moments where the world stops and hangs on the rolling dice, all manner of calamities looming, not "Oh I lost another (insert 'eye' or 'arm/hand' or 'foot/leg')" or "I got another scar".

The art is also all over the place between and within the core rulebooks, and ultimately that is good and bad for me because I don't trust the art direction at WotC enough to want them to go all one direction or another.  This way I at least get some stuff that I enjoy.

Physically the books themselves are relatively impressive but I have some complaints here.  My MM is the best quality with no obvious printing errors, but there are noticeable problems with my PHB and DM's Guide.  My PHB had numerous instances of smeared ink from illustrations blurring text on facing pages and in several places there is fuzzy text in side bars (which almost seems like a layout error not a printing error, it seems like digital fuzziness).  The only printing flaw I noticed in my DM's Guide was that the black ink from the illustration on page 124 bled all over the text on page 125, smearing and blurring the entire first column.  I can still read everything on that page but it is a very noticeable smear.  I like the look and feel of the books, especially their heft in my hands when holding all three together, but I do not like the red and white Dungeons & Dragons logo on the spine and front cover and the white lettering for the book name.  I'm not sure why, but I just really don't like the new red and white banner logo.  I think it is mostly the red color, and now that I am focusing on it and asking myself why I don't like it, I think the stylized tearing at the end of the banner also grates on me.

Now for some bullet points from the DM's Guide:
  • The generally flattened power curve of 5e is reflected in the bonuses for magic weapons and armor, which only range from +1 to +3 in this edition.
  • Speaking of magical items, the magical item creation rules on pages 128-29 make it impractical for PCs to make anything but a common or uncommon magical item.  It would take a single PC 200 days of working 8 hour days to create a rare magical item (+1 armor or +2 weapon are rare magical items for reference).  It takes 2000 days of working 8 hour days to create a very rare item (+2 armor or +3 weapon) and 20,000 days (54 years!) to create a legendary item (e.g. cloak of invisibility or iron flask) .  Multiple PC spellcasters can split this time up, but I don't see any party using the rules as written to craft anything but common or uncommon items.  It takes 4 days to craft a common item and 20 days to craft an uncommon item (potion of healing is common, broom of flying is uncommon - illustrating a seemingly arbitrary assignment of rarity to magical items, as the broom of flying is pretty bad ass, carrying up to 400 pounds and coming with the ability to park itself anywhere within 1 mile and then come when summoned - compare with the carpet of flying which is nearly identical in terms of flying and lifting capacity, does not have the 1 mile self park and summon ability, and is rated as very rare!).
  • Still on magical items, some of my favorite illustrations in the book are of the items but I go back and forth on their inclusion.  The item illustrations are awesome and mostly very well done. I really enjoyed seeing familiar items from my gaming past rendered in full color.  On the other hand there are a LOT of them - if the magic items were presented sans illustrations, it would have opened a lot more space for even more content. And ultimately, as cool as it is to see one artist's rendition of a Ring of Feather Falling, magical items have to be unique in appearance in game and are probably better left the province of the imagination.  I would have loved to see a lot more space allotted to random encounters and honestly if those had been lavished with illustrations instead of the magic items, they probably would have been the showstoppers for the book!

  • There are some strange/illogical decisions made on the many (otherwise helpful) charts provided as DM's tools.  For example "Improvising Damage" (p.249)suggest being struck by lightning is equivalent to falling into a fire pit (2d10 damage), while I would have guessed a lightning strike to be at least worth 5d6 if not more.   Also the "Maintenance Costs" (p.127) of an abby or keep seem extremely high (20gp/day for an Abbey and 100gp/day for a keep) considering that any money the property could earn to offset maintenance costs by charging fees, collecting tithes or donations or selling goods is supposedly taken into account on the table.  You have to spend 3000 GP a month to have a keep on top of sinking all the taxes you take in for protecting the surrounding lands back into upkeep and on top of what you save by consuming what your own fields produce?  Ouch!  
  • I like the quick resolution rules for mob/group attacks (p.250).  Large groups of low level combatants are much more of a threat to even high level PCs than they have been in any other edition with the compressed AC ranges and attack modifiers, and this is a great way to run that style of combat quickly.
  • The "Epic Boons" (p.231) are a cool variant to allow progression past level 20, for those who like a high powered end game.  E.g. "Boon of Planar Travel" allows plane shifting once a combat (once between short rests) to one specific plane (and back to the Material Plane); "Boon of the Fire Soul" grants immunity to fire and the ability to cast burning hands at will.
  • I wish Appendix C Maps had been replaced with something more closely tied in to the content generators provided for dungeons, settlements and wilderness areas.  I am probably spoiled by Dyson Logos and many more, but 6 full pages dedicated to maps could have delivered a lot more content.  Two pages each of dungeon, settlement and wilderness geomorphs comes to my mind.  
  • The "Random Settlements" generator (p.112-114) is great. The PCs are wandering up to a town that is not detailed.  Let me roll a few d20s and give you an example: Mostly wealthy townsfolk, known for its flowers, with tension between races, ruled by a religious leader. Undead are stirring in the cemetery.  A tavern named "The Mysterious Lamb" is a gathering place for a secret society.  All in all a relatively uneventful set of rolls but they would give me plenty to riff on.  A few ideas that these rolls prompted in me just now:  While the undead stirring in the cemetery is beyond hackneyed, the detail about flowers made me think of tulips, then bulbs, and I think the secret society is developing new varieties that required the bulbs to be planted in undead flesh but produce stunning flowers which are upsetting and outcompeting the established, racially divided flower growing guilds; and the undead flowers probably also have magical properties that allow the secret society to manipulate people (pollen emitted in the homes of the wealthiest and most fashionable).  
  • The chase rules (p.252-254) are simple but seem like they would work well, and I hope to see some bloggers publish expanded chase complications charts because I think they are a cool idea.
  • I really like the illustration on page 248 that shows examples of creature sizes Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge and Gargantuan:

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