Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thanks to Maxine Hong Kingston

New painting, new monster, with Demon City stats...


A choking ghost coalesces around the dead soul of a victim whose belly has been sliced open. They kill by strangling victims with their spectral entrails.

Choking ghosts can include: ghosts that kill each member of the conspiracy to murder them, ghosts who kill obstetricians who are negligent when performing caesarian sections, ghosts that haunt the lonely places where they died and disguise strangled trespassers as suicides by hanging.

There are righteously angry choking ghosts that can be satisfied by taking their vengeance for them or by bringing their enemies to justice, but there are wicked ones who cannot. Choking ghosts cannot be exorcised by ritual.
I'm doing some how-to-videos of these Demon City pantings right
now over at my Instagram: zak_smith_aka_zak_sabbath if you

Typical Choking Ghost

Calm: 0
Agility: 4
Toughness: 6
Perception: 6
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 2

Calm Check: 8
Cards: Justice (11), Hanged Man (12), Judgement (20)

Special Abilities:

Ectoplasmic Form: Choking ghosts can touch their victims but neither their victims nor most physical forces can touch them-they cannot move through walls and floors, however. They can be touched by blood from the bellies of their victims and by anything coated in it.

Intestine Strangulation: By throwing its guts over the victims head the ghost simultaneously grapples the target and inflicts Standard Damage. A victim that does not escape automatically takes damage again each round.

Manifestation: The choking ghost appears wherever its next victim is at 2am, usually appearing behind the victim or behind a door. After manifesting, it must move normally and will disappear before sunrise.


A white or bone-colored cat can keep a choking ghost at bay.

They can be touched (and harmed) by anything covered in blood from the bellies of their victims.
Help out with Demon City here

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Whoa Yeah Game Art

Been workin' on some RPG art...

This is for the MYSTERY PROJECT but for MYSTERY REASONS it might also be
in Demon City too

All this black & white stuff is for Frostbitten and Mutilated, aka "Amazons of the Metal North"
aka " Black Metal Amazons of the Devoured Land"

And these are some layout tests for Demon City...

Help out on the Demon City patreon here

Friday, January 12, 2018

Contessa Event Submission for GenCon is Open

Contessa, if you don't know, is an excellent organization dedicated to spreading diversity in tabletop RPGs.

For a while they've been running a "con-within-a-con" at GenCon.

Their event submission for GenCon 2018 is now open.

Monday, January 8, 2018

How To End A Campaign

So we're playing Rogue Trader...

The first session the Seneschal (played by Dorea) decides the best solution is to assassinate someone inconvenient on a star base--I missed that session. The star base goes into lockdown to prevent the assassins from escaping.

Second session is all about getting off the star base, which we do by showing one of the Imperial higher-ups how spiffy our ancient ship is (40k imagines very Deep Time with its vessels in a future devoid of any progress outside space marine helmet design. Also the ship has a crew the size of the population of West Virginia), with its many hunting trophies (turns out he's a hunter), we go "Say...we could take you on safari, Admiral...?"

"I say! (monocle monocle) Capital notion! I haven't been out hunting in aaaaages!"

Upside: the admiral helps us, bureaucratically speaking, to get off the base.

Downside: the captain decides he's cramping our style.

"Admiral, we've come upon a junglous deathworld! Would you like to go hunting with us?" The captain wants the Admiral to quietly die down there, most of the crew doesn't like the idea of anything called a deathworld. I haven't gotten to play much so I'm pretty excited to go to a deathworld. I vote deathworld, we end up on the deathworld.

We go to the deathworld long story short it is well-named. We lose our captain, near tpk but at least get rid of the Admiral.

After a few more adventures we looks like, on our massive ship with a crew in the 5 figures, we have a genestealer cult on board.

Obviously and unbeknownst to us we'd picked up the genestealers on the deathworld and they'd been growing geometrically ever since.

After some more tests and shenanigans we discover the infection is massive.

The guy playing the captain goes "Hey, can we switch to playing Deathwing for a few sessions, and play space marines who are on the ship to kill the genestealers?"

The GM is cool with this.

We make space marines. The seneschal player and I both make jump-pack equipped close-combat marines with chainswords. As soon as she wakes up in the game she's like "Genestealers? I got Hatred: Genestealers, let's pilot the ship into the sun!"

My character prevails on hers to maybe play the game instead, we're Space Marines, assets to the Empire, we need not throw our lives away when we can wipe out the enemy and live to kill in the Emperor's name again.

So we spend a session bug-hunting cultists and accidentally trashing parts of the ship.

Then, long story, the hater stumbles on a chamber honest-to-god filled with horde levels of genestealers right next to the engine-coolant tanks. This is, for those familiar, a 60-point horde.

The rest of us marines are 2 rounds behind her finding this place.

We arrive to find her having already chainsworded open a massive tank, freezing genestealers everywhere in a fountain of coolant spraying all over her armor with no regard for life or limb and halfway through ripping open the second tank.

Frozen and shattering the genestealers die prettily. After a round of rolling very well we manage to cut the 60 point horde down to a 3-point horde.

Next round--she jump packs straight toward the next coolant tank.

"There's only 3 left, Dorea! Can I stop her??"

"Roll initiative"

She rolls 8, I roll 7. Oh wait, I get a +1 to initative bc the system is too complicated long story I roll 8.

Simultaneous actions--she's jump-packing toward the final coolant tank, I'm jump-packing toward her in mid-air, trying to deflect her flight path so she lands in the middle of the horde and does not end up ripping open the last coolant tank.

I roll my roll-low d100s. 06. 4 successes.

She gets 5 successes, parries me, plows into the coolant tank, chainteeth whirring. My marine goes streaking backwards into the horde, kicking the air.

"Ok (GM giggling frantically) roll d100, Dorea"


"Please Please Please Please use a fate point? Please!"

She uses her last fate point. Re-roll. "97"

Worst category critical hit, warp opens, entire ship explodes, thousands dead, crew dead, genestealers dead, Deathwatch game over, Rogue Trader game over.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fa-ther: What. Am. I???

art by me. click to enlarge

These creatures are unique results of technological innovation and are never fully understood, even by their creators. Though many appear human, they may be partially or wholly constructed of mechanical, biomimetic, cloned or artificially reanimated components. They encompass androids, cyborgs, vat-grown-creatures, frankenstein-like blasphemies and constructs from other worlds.

Design Notes: 

First, decide who created the artificial lifeform and why. Unlike alien lifeforms and many other monsters, these creatures were usually created for a reason. Offering the party avenues for discovering, exploring or exploiting that reason is often the most interesting way to address artificial life-forms if you’re looking to use them as more than just a one-off villain. The creature’s abilities will likely be built around that reason, the creature’s creators will be obsessed with that reason, the creature itself may even wonder about that reason. The adventure featuring an artificial lifeform is often about how society uses people (or animals) to accomplish that purpose in real life—for war, for money, for sex, for biomedical experiments—or, if the motive is simply to create life, about the grave responsibility inherent in bringing life into the world—the creature desires things, but has it been given the means to acquire them or has it been born a broken thing from the start?

If the reasons it’s alive aren’t horrible yet, move on to what it eats.

Another pre-eminent theme in any story involving artificials is a sort of bipolar effect—they are better then human in so many ways….and worse in so many others. As horror villains the easiest way to exploit this is to begin by unsettlingly demonstrate the many ways they’re superior, and then hint at the ways they are inferior, so players can discover them and bring the creature down. As PCs, the most effective way to use this is to simply bring it up a lot “As soon as she takes off her sunglasses, the clerk keeps darting looks over at Cathy’s eyes—they don’t catch the light the way he expects. You can tell he’s a little put off.”

Calm: 0-9
Agility: 0-6
Toughness: 0-6
Perception: 0-7
Appeal: 0-5
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 0-9

Calm Check: 6 (when it becomes clear they’re artificial)
Cards: The Wheel of Fortune (10), Possibly also The Hermit (9), The Lovers (6), Page of Swords (10), Page of Cups (10)

Possible Special Abilities:

Inorganic digestive/respiratory system: Constructs without ordinary lungs, stomachs or other organs will not breathe and will be immune to poison and other ordinary toxins.

Recall and Calculation: Undamaged constructs with cybernetic brains will retain the kinds of information that can be easily preserved in digital format and will be able to perform calculations like a computer.

Mutilated Life: The severed extremities of many forms of artificial life can continue to attack even when separated from the main body. These parts have -1 Agility and -3 Toughness. To keep life interesting, the Host should interpret any attack that could have reasonably severed a limb as having severed a limb until the combat gets too confusing to keep track of.

Other abilities: Artificial Lifeforms can have a variety of other abilities as the Host sees fit. For example, electronic terrors might have an ability like the Frenzied Process spel, biological mutants might be able to Warp Flesh or cause Mutation with a touch (see Supernatural Abilities section later in the library for these).

Possible Weaknesses:

Interpretive Disfunction: If the construct has an artificial mind its Knowledge score will reflect a high degree of recall and calculating ability, but many constructs lack the basic social experience to understand what pieces of observed information mean. They might, for example, not understand the difference between a child dragging a child-shaped doll behind it along the ground and a parent dragging a child along the ground. This is often what makes the creature a horror rather than just an interesting anomaly.

Power source: Artificial beings may not necessarily eat or breathe but they do need to run on something—electricity, photovoltaic cells, chemosynthesis, photosynthesis, nutrient slurry, etc. The power source may be external, internal or (as in the case of rechargeable batteries) both.

Short-circuit: Electronic artificials will generally be built water-tight but will take standard damage each round that liquid reaches their internal systems.

Processing damage: Any time an artificial with an electronic brain goes into negative health, they must make a Calm check vs the Intensity to avoid also losing a point of Calm. “Mental” disorders picked up by these artificials will be strange and repetitive.

Player Character Artificial Life

Problem-type player characters may elect to start the game as an experimental construct. In this case they may elect to trade any number of points of Appeal (they are often socially awkward or physically distorted, though PC artificials will appear basically human at the start) for any number of points to spend on Agility, Toughness or Perception up to the maximums above.

In addition, Artificial PCs conversant in the skills that created them (whether these are biochemical, mechanical, etc) may attempt to improve themselves during Downtime. To do so, the character cannot throw for a Downtime activity. Note many Downtime tables won’t work for certain kinds of artificials anyway.

To improve Agility, Toughness, Perception or Appeal, roll a d100 on the following table. A PC artificial can gain abilities up to the maximums above this way.

1-Disaster! Something disturbing has occurred. Lose 1 point in the characteristic you were attempting to improve and a point of Calm permanently. (Minimum 0.)

2-69 No results yet—try again later.

70-93 You realize this isn’t going to work early on in your modifications, choose an ordinary Downtime activity you can perform and roll there instead.

94-95 You can’t leave this half-done but you’re missing something important—lose one point of Cash and gain one point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve. If your Cash is already zero you can’t make this modification until you get more Cash and are at -1 to the stat you were attempting to improve. If you do get more Cash the improvement is automatic at the next Downtime.

96-98 Gain a point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve and make a Cash check vs a 4 or else lose a point of Cash. If your Cash is already zero and you lose Cash you can’t make this modification until you get more Cash, but if you do, it’s automatic at the next Downtime.

99-00 Gain a point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve.
Help get Demon City out here

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

This Fucking Town

I live in downtown Los Angeles and this is all true.

Downtown LA is literal Raymond Chandler territory. A sign over a urinal near here says "Charles Bukowski pissed here". Mickey Cohen, too. Blade Runner is supposed to be set in downtown LA.

A place of desperate souls, inches from Skid Row. On weekends the sidewalks are a 4d maze of taco trucks and people trying to get into nightclubs. Hipster clothing stores arrive and die like mice in the cages at the CDC. Grown men commute on skateboards past fashion models heading up to the big agencies on 5th street. Sirens constantly. The easiest way to avoid getting stared at by security is to get them to stare at the guy with the MS13 face tattoo instead.

Last week I headed to the bar for a stiff drink.

"Say are you Zak Sabbath?" said the barman. A porn fan, I figured. I allowed that I was and began arranging the paragraphs in the How do you get in to porn? speech in my head. "I love I Hit It With My Axe!" he said.

"Oh yeah?" I asked "Are you rolling?"

"Yeah, 5e!" he said "I just got a group together!"

That's not so weird. It takes all kinds.

Then last night I'm in a whole other bar down here.

This bar is one of the oldest in the city, but also a Pokemon gym. The kid behind the bar is the champion, he takes out customers left and right--they have no idea it's their bartender kicking their asses.

"How's your game going?" he says. He's talking about Demon City. I show him some of the art on my phone.

"What's that?" says the other bartender.

"He's making a game! Like a tabletop game!"

This was not the conversation I had intended to have with my bartenders.

"Oh yeah?" says the second bartender "Me and my dad are working on an RPG! A kinda Bronze Age thing!"

He tells me about the dice mechanics. I tell him I got the idea for my game working on the new edition of Vampire, he tells me he was really into Werewolf.

At this point the stripper I'm waiting for comes in.

"Good luck with your game, dude!" says the bartender as she rolls up. Very loud.

"Oh your working on a game?" she says, "I have a friend who's trying to get me to play....Pathfinder?--is it good?"

Jesus, I think, can't a man have a drink in this town without having to talk about goddamn Dungeons & Dragons?

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year New Gigacrawler

Longtime readers and clever postscavenging souls will remember Gigacrawler--the claustrophobic multigenre sci-fi dungeoncrawl based on an idea by me with crowdsourced content from the entire internet.

Well, happy to say, James Teleleli has picked it up and got running with it and is doing new and interesting stuff. His work has always been extremely creative with a nice literary bent. Check out what he's been up to...