Dicember 2021 – world

Here we are, at the end of Dicember and at the end of the year, and this one time I’m going to diverge from the posts I’ve made up to this point to instead offer, if not “advice” exactly (because what works for me may not be guaranteed to work for thee), then a very brief glance at how I get grist for the worldbuilding mill.

(for all you “anti-canon” folks and similar, this applies just as much to making tables of possibilities and similar as it does to describing places and things. just saying ;p)

Because every once in a while I get asked how I make things, and — leaving aside that analyzing any of my creative impulses is a foreign country for me anyway, it would boil down to the following:

01. Read. Read a lot.

And I do mean read. Not watch Youtube videos or tv shows or Tiktoks. Put the words into your head. Go back and re-read parts. Chew on them. Mull them over. Compare them to other things you’ve read. Don’t be afraid to return to the material again and again, especially if you enjoyed it the first time.

02. I mean read non-fiction.

Stuffing more rpgs/novels/plays/manga/comicbooks/whatever into your skull shows you how other people implemented their ideas but it doesn’t give you where all that stuff came from. Read about the world; read about things that exist in the world (and beyond the world, for that matter). Which brings us to

03. Read non-fiction widely.

History textbooks are all well and good *glances at part of shelves* but you want more than that. Read anything and everything that looks interesting. Read about plants, animals (living and dead and very dead), rocks and stones; read about food — where it comes from, how its made, what’s eaten or not and why and how it got there. Bathing habits to bees, textiles to tombs, fossils to flowers, soil to space.

An illustration: the holidays are basically when my collection gets notably expanded, because I ask for books. Topics of the 2021 holidays include but are not limited to the Old Kingdom Egypt Pyramid Texts, the use of specific (author-selected) colours in art, an overview of 7000 years of worldwide jewelry, and the sociocultural and political history of the potato outside of the Americas.

The more you take in, the more you can send out.

04. Read outside your own experience.

Go beyond your own country, your own ethnicity; go beyond the modern era. The world’s a big place, it’s always been a big place. Check it out.

05. You don’t need to own it to read it.

In these benighted pandemic times, it can be tricky, it’s true. Nonetheless, a library is your best friend if you have access to one — wander the stacks, see what catches your eye. You might be surprised. Interlibrary catalogues and loans can bring sources to your fingertips that your local library doesn’t have. Many library systems are also online, now, so you can at least browse the catalogue from home (and often arrange book pickups).

If you have access to — or can have a sit-down in even if you aren’t registered (pandemic situation allowing) — a college or university library, these are also excellent sources of often very specific books. I’ve chased down my own copies of texts I used to read to death from my university library.

And that’s basically it.

Yes, yes, I haven’t said what to do with it all — that part I can’t help you with beyond “enough stuff in your head means inspiration to make your own stuff”. (I did say that analyzing any of my creative impulses is a foreign country for me.)

But seriously, this is my advice.

Reading up on all the cool stuff that has existed prompts me along. Maybe it will for you too.

Dicember 2021 – reverse

After you’ve gone and expanded your game’s toxic repertoire, what next is there to do?

Why not offer a broader palette of ways to avoid, lessen, or undo some of the various terrible things that adventurers manage to inflict on themselves and others?

In the name of balance, then (hee), here are a dozen treatments and tonics:

01. Crystal Cordial: Clears the mind of fuzziness and confusion.
02. Sunbalm: Protects against infection from undead-inflicted wounds. 4 hrs.
03. Winerose Elixir: Bolsters resistance against poisons (allows second save or equiv.)
04. Saintkiss: Maximizes next applied (or cast) healing ability. Expensive!
05. Silverfog Drops: Clears artificially-induced blindness or misdirection.
06. Heaven’s Hero Elixir: Boosts a single attribute by 1 for 1d3 hrs. Multiple doses not recommended.
07. White Wind Balm: Heals recent burn-related injury.
08. Golden Earth: Repels insects and similar small creatures. 8 hrs.
09. Rainmist Oil: Repels (most) jellies and fungi. 4 hrs.
10. Moon Tarnish: Protects against lycanthropic infection. 2 hrs.
11. Crimson Vision Elixir: Nerve tonic, allows test against paralysis.
12. Lightning Juice: Energy boost, wakes you right up; undoes sleep and sleeplike effects.

Dicember 2021 – ghost

Ghosts are fun. Whether it’s coming across a fettered and desperate — or raging — spirit, stumbling into the drama around a long-deceased soul who may not be all their stories say they are, or (this one has legs) getting sideswiped by an antagonist who found a whole new way to be a pain in our heroes’ collective arse after their presumed dispatching, ghosts are overlooked as sources of story and adventure.

And that’s without getting into the potential extra layers if your game features ancestor worship!

So, here are some possibilities for ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night …

This ghost is …

01. bound to a specific object; destroy the object and free (or destroy) the ghost
02. bound to a specific object; restore the object and free (or destroy, or empower) the ghost
03. has a driving goal: protect a specific location (will be helpful if helped)
04. has a driving goal: protect a specific individual/family (will rest if natural lifespan is finished, in the case of an individual)
05. has a driving goal: take revenge for their death/ruination/dishonouring
06. has a driving goal: take revenge for the death/ruination/dishonouring of someone else
07. is an ancestral spirit acting in answer to a descendant’s petition
08. is an ancestral spirit meddling in the affairs of the living for their own purposes
09. woken by disturbance of their grave; restoring the burial will bring them rest/placate them
10. roaming because of the lack of burial; proper rites will bring them rest/placate them
11. seeking to found a ghost/ancestor cult, and may have even killed themselves for this purpose
12. actually not dead, but is an uncontrolled emotional projection from a living being

This ghost can …

01. grant flashes of memory from the ghost’s lifetime by touch
02. inflict a thematically appropriate surge of emotion by touch
03. “ride” inside their own corpse or that of another, moving it about
04. control 4d4 small (or not so small) animals, using their senses
05. manifest in 2d4 locations simultaneously
06. “mark” a target by touch, being capable of instantly manifesting in the presence of a “mark”
07. cloak individuals in their presence from the senses and/or powers of other unliving beings
08. “ride” inside a living being undetected; can whisper to them whenever they wish, though
09. grant small wishes made to them; can hear prayers directed to them
10. draw a living spirit out of their body as a “living ghost” for sunset-sunrise
11. manifest phantasmal, plasmic objects or weaponry
12. summon tongues and balls of pale, clinging grave-flame

Dicember 2021 – toxin

I don’t like 99% of poisons, venoms and similar dosings being save or die. Never have, never will — and it’s probably been fairly obvious from my own game stuff over the years. I’ve got better (and sometimes more deviltry-creating) things to do than wipe out a character with a single roll. On top of any other reasons I could reel off, it’s boring.

I’m sure it will aggravate any OSR Purists[tm] reading this the same way I’m sure it did when I cheerfully ignored save-or-die poisons posting on my old blog back in the vicinity of 2009. Didn’t care then, dont care now. Lol.

So in that vein, here are a dozen unpleasantnesses that do a variety of weakening, complicating things. They might lead to a (near-)death, but they don’t flat-out inflict one:

01. Pea-On-The-Skin: Skin hypersensitivity; silk feels like sandpaper. Concentration is virtually impossible, as is rest. 2d12 hrs.
02. Gravetaint: Cannot heal; curative magics instead wound horribly. 4d6 hrs.
03. Founder’s Curse: Inflicts a random elemental weakness, taking double damage. 4d6 days.
04. Greylily Tincture: Lowers physical abilities by one-third. 1d6 days.
05. Martyr’s Yearning: Mortifies the flesh; all injury is increased by one-half again. 2d4 hrs.
06. Moonsnail Venom: Sluggish, delayed reactions; always responds last. 2d8 hrs.
07. Wounded Angelcap: Paralyzes a limb. 2d6 days.
08. Skyjewel Essence: Confusion and hallucinations; cannot tell friend from foe. 3d4 hrs.
09. Crimson Kiss: Thins the blood; all injuries continue to lose minimum damage each action unless immediately treated. 1d4 hrs.
10. Palelily Tincture: Sprouts scaly growths, twisting visage into a demonic one. Diplomacy fails two-thirds of the time. 1d6 days.
11. False Flight: Appears dead; spirit is turned loose as a “living ghost”. 3d4 hrs.
12. Perfection Of Marble: Slowly petrifies flesh; one physical ability lowers by one/day. 4d4 days.

Dicember 2021 – gold

They say that Sussuranukuth is prideful even of the most prideful beasts.

They say that Sussuranukuth treads so daintily that the grass does not dare to bend beneath his talons; that his wings glitter in the light like the sun itself.
They say that his breath is that of sweet myrrh and sleep-bringing fog, or else ravenous flames all the colour of the rainbow, of all the jewels known to mortals.

They say, also, that Sussuranukuth, The Gleaming Glory Scholar, will suffer no part of his treasures failing to match his own dazzling, golden hide.

What else might be found, then, amongst the coin and the ingots and the glittering sun-coloured jewels?

01. golden pomegranate, cunningly hinged to open into quarters; inside, its pips are amber nuggets strung on hair-fine gold wire
02. topaz pendant the size and shape of an acorn, mounted in a “cap” of granulated gold and suspended from a heavy gold loop
03. long-tailed blouse of byssus sea-silk, darkly golden and lighter than air
04. necklace of amber spheres interspersed with rose petals of pale gold
05. heavy gold signet ring, stirrup-shaped and engraved with the seal of the Second Queen’s Fang
06. glass amphora sealed with glittering wax, containing luxuriously luminescent celestial honey from the gardens of paradise
07. knife honed from golden coral, stained with a martyr’s blood
08. waxed-leather-wrapped brick of tissue thin sheets of pounded gold for gilding food and sweets
09. heavy ritual mantle of cloth-of-gold on tawny silk, trimmed with silken tassels
10. golden rosebud locket containing a tiny braid of honey-blonde hair
11. six waxed paper screws of golden lotus dust
12. paired delicate cups of deep yellow jade carved in the shape of peonies
13. roughly-smithed goblet of heavy, unornamented gold, battered with long and careless usage
14. golden ceremonial dagger, its grip inlaid with a scale-pattern of amber and milky-gold glass
15. slender gold circlet inset with a crescent moon of six pale citrines
16. half a dozen bottles of the finest dandelion wine
17. death mask of stiff gold sheet, depicting a sleeping face with wild hair and slightest hint of horns
18. five phials of glittering golden ink tied up with a yellow ribbon
19. heavy multi-layered robe of thick silk velvet dyed with saffron
20. pair of golden haircombs, sculpted with stars and the sun-in-glory

Dicember 2021 – boss

When an adventurous soul — or two, or eight — ready themselves to hurl headlong into a newly-found dungeon or maybe to chart unknown lands (maybe an island rose from the sea, even, or a cloud bank lowered enough to show the spires atop it), sometimes they want to hire on some extra hands before they go. Not even just to swing an extra sword, but to help with everything else that needs done on an adventure.

And then, of course, there’s the times when some hopeful helpful soul decides to offer their labours ahead of time … (now, don’t take advantage of that!)

For the times when an interesting new face is due amongst hirelings and helpers, there’s this little table.

All of these folks are, at start, Normal/0-level/however your game phrases it, and they aren’t trained for combat; with some encouragement, training, and maybe an ambush or two, though, maybe they’ll even pick up the rudiments of an adventuring lifestyle!

01. Tanare Pawsen — coil of rope, herding dog: adept at handling animals, domestic and merely tamed; claims he and they understand each other without words, and maybe they do
02. Vika Glaem — willow baskets, iron snips: seems to know every secret berry field, mushroom patch, and hidden spring within ten leagues of her hometown
03. Norwi Willoweve — pouch of flavourings, pot-in-a-poke: now here’s a rare and valued bird — they’re a virtuoso at camp cooking, making even iron rations into something actually pleasant to eat
04. Ren Dama — bark-paper scrolls, writing kit: delicate of fingers and fussy of details, recording absolutely everything with whatever means he has at hand, including attempting maps
05. Merry Duskr — hooked staff, spindle and roving: unschooled but eager to learn, and one would swear she has a sixth sense for weak structures and failing light sources
06. Bonra Curthi — shoulder yoke, leather pannier: they insist on carrying as much gear as possible, which is a lighter load for the party but perhaps just a bit of overkill — and yet, they don’t seem even winded
07. Vikren One-Eye — pouches of herbs, collection of linen squares: has a broad and prodigious knowledge of herbs, poultices and possets, and he’s happy to share them for the small comforts they are
08. Iilimani Foxfire — prayer beads, weathercloak: an acolyte at a local temple or shrine, she’s willing to vouch for any whom she works alongside and who at least listen to her words as she works
09. Acan Brighthorn — lacework iron lantern, trained corvid: actually a scion of a high family a cousin or two removed; they’re a little awkward on ‘common’ social graces at times but learning quick, and will remember those who take it all good-naturedly
10. Sefrit Duskwell — garlic drops, silvergilt pendant: can often sense the approach or presence of the unliving — or is good enough at reading signs to make it look that way — and he will not explain why that is
11. Janu Burran — pouch of whimsies, tiny whittling knife: perpetually making and then toying with little amulets, good luck charms and wardaways, hedge-lore really … but suppose she’s correct?
12. Kelvran Summer — sheaf of illuminated manuscript, hand-copied map: they fled a scholastic, monastic life and regret nothing; short on experience, long on surprisingly intriguing trivia and scraps of legendry

Dicember 2021 – arcane

Spellcasting always has a cost, right? — whether it’s “spell slots” or a risk of intangible injury or increasing fatigue or chipping off one’s soul bit by bit, there’s always something. And as long as there’s something, enterprising sorcerers (and just about anyone else tossing magic around here and there and everywhere) will look for ways around that cost.

Offering up some options for arcane catalysts is one way to do that in a game — and liven up treasure troves and/or siphon away hoarded funds in the process.

To use a catalyst, which will power a spell for you:

– the catalyst must be in-hand or at least deliberately touched by the caster
– 1d4 measures or discrete objects are required per spell (or per spell level, if desired and if the system uses spell levels or equivalent)
– if not a discrete object (a rose, a stone, etc), one measure usually roughly equals one pennyweight

Of course, there’s no doubt some special quality about these already special materials that makes a sample a suitable catalyst; there’s also no doubt that spellslingers will pay handsomely for them … or resort to more underhanded means.

Some sample catalysts:

01. phoenix egg-myrrh
02. angel’s tears
03. halo shard
04. tongue of skyflame
05. cobra-knight’s pearl
06. bloodamber
07. nugget of lunargent
08. blue rose of summer
09. alicorn sliver
10. distillate of chaos
11. voidspine
12. viridian maple key
13. nugget of solaurum
14. helljade coin
15. dragonsbreath
16. imperial bone
17. elemental carbuncle
18. sanctified skull-moss
19. draconitias stone
20. golden fleece

Dicember 2021 – tower

A terrible number of strange and lonely (or just lonely, or even just lone) towers seem to have wizards in them. If they don’t have a wizard in, they probably used to; if the tower’s a ruin, probably a wizard that ruined it.

What if you want a strange or lonely or lone tower that doesn’t have a wizard?

Got you covered —

01. The inside of the tower doesn’t have any distinct floors; it’s completely hollow, every speck of its walls and domed ceiling coated in slowly turning cobalt and gold, land maps on the walls and starcharts on the dome. No one seems to be present …
02. The tower is built over a fissure to the Scarlet Iron Hell. Its upper floors, attainable by corroded ladders, contain comfortable suites for visitors and a workroom for negotiating sentences; but the first floor is a burning blood-red inferno that matches the molten-lace maw to the hell, guarded by stern heavenly devils alert for those escaping purification.
03. The getaway refuge of a retiring faerie lord, this tower is forged from translucent, glowing ivy and clinging grapevines, faerie glass and compressed starlight. Inside, Jalailah the Twice-Moon Moth Marquis reclines on a bed of velvet fangs and is served by grey-pelted deer-goblins.
04. Shattered, tumbled, its stones scorched black from the heat of the flames that devoured its former inhabitants, the Wry-Falcon’s Keep is a hollow ruin — save for the night of a lunar eclipse, when its walls rise ruddy and ghost-like, and the echoes of heavy-treaded boots ring from its walks …
05. Alas for those searching for a great sorcerer, the tower changed hands when its builder failed in their bid to become a lich. Now the slim marble spire houses a co-operative of beekeepers; ground floor for trade and orders, middle floors for communal living, topmost floors dedicated to the homes of their giant tawny-furred bumblebee companions.
06. They say that Dancing Horse Tower — battered, moss-grown, perpetually changing hands as bandit kinds come and go — was once a motte, and that the long low hill it perches on was a bailey filled with otherworldly folks and their silver-shot village. But the bailey filled in as a barrow, and only the Tower stands proud … though Cesash the Wolf is claiming to hear a whistle from a crack in the earth outside, and …
07. Impeccable, of gleaming white marble — fitted so finely one couldn’t slip a silk thread between the stones — and prism-treated bronze, the Spire Of Wings At Rest has been a refuge and a shrine dedicated to the gentle Roui Of The Soothing Whisper. So why have there been so few pilgrims seen, and the doves are gone, and reports of colourless gargoyles circling the gleaming Spire at night grow and grow?
08. Grown from the earth itself, this nameless (it has been very important that it be nameless) tower spirals gently skyward, entwined limbs of rowan and hazel and pale ghost birch woven immutably together, walls and floor-platforms and handholds and all. The greenwychs who live within and without still offer blessings and balms in return for news and small favours done, despite encroaching villages.
09. One of the few remaining signal arrays left after the Twin Regent War, this hilltop tower is battered granite and oak reinforcement — and reinforcement is what its tired staff would appreciate for at least a little, both for maintenance of the great polished reflector that crowns their post like a metal sun and to herd away the misguided souls who think the gleaming thing somehow means a wizard lairs inside.
10. It sprang up overnight, it did; on the edge of the township, right next to the market gathering-grounds. It looks so quaint and unprepossessing, with its grey cobblestone walls and its rough wooden roof and frames; the greyhair who stepped blinking into the morning light, also unremarkable. A weaver, they said, and an accident of others’ magic. But the greyhair’s shadow speaks of strangeness, the strangeness of wings …
11. There is no tower. Or, at least, nothing that anyone has attempted so far has located a tower. But the shadow of a tower falls across the ground on sunny days, a grand fluted construction crowned with sub-towers, crenellations, and fluttering banners, and none have the answer. And now the shadow shows a door swung wide.
12. The dead are building a tower. The fleshless dead are building a tower from their own bones — three floors already, and rising, rising — and more are clattering, striding, crawling across the land to join them every night. They ignore the living. Their chattering rhythms speak of a great angel, ivory and burnished, awaiting their arrival. The tower rises.

Dicember 2021 – slow

Sometimes a spell needs cast, but the target is nowhere around. Or they moved out of range (that jerk), or they were never actually really in range to begin with (dammit) but you just know they need that cure spell/fireball/dark hex dropped on their head and they needed it yesterday.

There’s a way to get around that!

The downside is that it’s not the nice swift casting many sorcerers, wyches and swordmages are used to. Not by a long shot.

The upside is that not only can you whittle that loooong timeframe down, you can also choose to boost the spell’s power the same way — by throwing bodies and treasure at the problem. Sort of like everything else in the world, when you think about it.

The basic premise is:

– You need a catalyst to fuel such extended spellcasting.
– You need to know where your target is (scrying magic is totally allowable).
– If you don’t also know your target well, you need a physical sample or a closely-associated object to draw the connection to the target.
– Any casting will take one hour, minimum. For every 10 miles away, add another hour.
– Anyone, including the target, who can sense magical energies will notice the buildup halfway through the process — and some may have the ability to target you, back through the building spell.

However, there are mitigating circumstances to make this slightly less painful:

– For every extra caster taking part in the ritual, either the total time may be lowered by one hour, or the spell (or the test against it) can be given a one-increment boost — another effective level’s damage die, if using those, or a save against it is given a -1 penalty, for example.
– Non-casters can help, but each requires an additional catalyst and, on top of that, take 1d3 “damage” to an ability for 24 hrs.
So if you really, really badly want that long-distance spell cast — or just to seriously boost a spell result closer to home — put in the time and give it a shot.

Needed Catalyst

01. dragon’s tear
02. jadetree twig
03. lunargent ingot
04. lock of bloodlord’s hair
05. page of centuries-old manuscript
06. pair of darkwolf teeth
07. shadowmoth cocoon
08. swordsaint’s relic
09. angel’s talon
10. solaurum ingot
11. chain of blue-celestine links
12. consecrated altar-wood

Oh no, the spell was thwarted! What was the cause?

01. Nullmagic zone
02. Circle of countercasting ritualists
03. Sleeping in protective circle inscribed by tusk-wand
04. Was in a holy (or unholy) sanctuary
05. Peach-stone talisman, now charred
06. Angelic intervention
07. Diabolic intervention
08. Pact with a bloodlord
09. Transferred spell to second, willing target
10. Location and/or identity of target was not in fact accurate
11. Purified by salt and rose petals
12. Flaw in catalyst(s) used by ritual

Dicember 2021 – door

Doors in dungeons seem to exist to get kicked in, picked open, or otherwise be just the briefest of speedbumps between adventurers and wherever they want to go next.

Which is fair enough, sure; but what if the occasional doorway was just a little bit different –?

01. A typical metal-bound dungeon door, nothing unusual, but the door frame is lined with holes on its inner surface. Hmm.
02. Pale and grey-tawny, weirdly fibrous and chitinous; is it grown from fungus? Is this a living mycelial slab?
03. In the middle of a grim dim dungeon is this door. A door of delicate, jewel-coloured, lead-framed, stained glass artistry. It seems to swing freely …
04. Pinned to the door itself is a tattered, tanned hide of some once-scaled beast with TURN BACK NOW scrawled across the spotty leather in scorchmarks.
05. The heavy wooden door lies wide open; hanging in the middle of the doorway is a slowly whirling orange-violet vortex. Which tugs ever so insistently, yes it does.
06. A steel grille, like those found in actual imprisoning dungeons — except the crossbeams are tongues of flame, and the bars are twining serpents that write if you don’t look directly at them.
07. If the door is as reflective as a mirror, what does that say about the other side? What about if you hand starts to sink into the reflection if you don’t open the door fast enough?
08. Oh. Oh dear. This black-stained door is almost entirely invisible beneath a dense layer of rusted chains and corroded locks running through massive metal loops on the door itself, on the walls, one to the ceiling, one to the roof …
09. Painted in painstakingly thin and precise pinstripes: yellow, pink, leaf green, white, robin’s egg blue, raspberry, fox orange, pale violet.
10. The door, all its fittings, and even its frame are all cast from rippled glass. And there are visible, hairline cracks.
11. Two door-leaves greet you in one frame: the left painted copper and fitted with blood-stained copper, the right bleached pearly white and trimmed with unblemished steel. The handles meet in the middle, talons clasping slender fingers. Which do you reach for?
12. As soon as anyone comes within three feet, the upper half of the door swings down — hi there, welcome to Gurruk’s Sandwich Bar, whadda ya like today?