Thursday, October 15, 2020

Patrick Stuart, Maze First Draft, and the Tale of Helboria

Fans of Maze of the Blue Medusa will probably remember Lady Crucem Capelli, who appears just after you enter the painting:


You might also remember the way that the Maze was written was:

1-I drew the whole Maze

2-Patrick wrote what he thought was in the rooms

3-I edited it and let him rewrite things that we agreed needed to be fixed

4-I wrote new stuff after that to make it all work

5-People on the internet arbitrarily decided whatever they didn't like was written by whoever they didn't like because they are dangerously insane

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Patrick's first take on this blue devil-girl was a kind of millennial Elvira:

HELBORIA SNAKESKIN


In the centre of an expansive, yet tatty boudoir, a goth fetish goddess reclines on a black leather couch. As you enter she looks up in surprise, quickly stuffs the crackling packet of a crunchy snack between the sofa cushions and stands up. Chews. Makes the ‘hold on’ sign. Chews more. Swallows, then spread her arms and says 


“Welcome…. Stran-gers…. To the haaallls of the Medoooossaa”


5’9 with wicked ramshorns and little batwings which she will point out to you as being “fucking cool, right?” Helboria has remembered her makeup but forgotten (or not bothered to) brush her hair. The nails on each hand are painted in random individual colours. Nails on the left hand are cracked from casual biting. The straps on her left shoe are undone, leading you to think she is about to become dangerously unbalanced and fall, this never happens. Her PVC fetish dress has forgotten crumbs in the folds. There is a dot of lipstick on one of her upper front teeth. Her breath smells slightly, but not unpleasantly, of cheese and onion. She must be a Succubus as nothing human could stand in those heels. (On examining feet will save to avoid contracting mild shoe fetish)


As a Succubus Helborias job is essentially to be evil. As she is kind of a lazy, flakey slacker, this makes her quite likeable. She will make some attempt to seduce the PC’s, this involves her raising one eyebrow, nudging them and making arch comments. She acts like a cross between a comedy transvestite and a carnival barker. In event that any PC falls for her charms “We’ll have to do it here though, there’s no bathroom, you ok with that?”. The leather couch has numerous packets hidden in it and crackles when in use.


She casts spells by pointing her hands at the target, wiggling her fingers and going “KAZAM!”


Helboria has forgotten exactly why she was placed here. “Maybe to stop people getting in? Or out? Or to make sure people do go in? Or get something? Or not get it?” She has only the vaguest notion of what is inside “like an evil old woman or something? A crone? Oh yeah a Medusa obviously so probably that then” and will alternately threaten/promise things that adventurers would fear/desire. “There’s shit worth money in there. If you see anything important totally grab it dude.”


If Helboria is consistently reminded of the likelihood that she is meant to be guarding the place she may try to fight the PC’s. She is easily charmed, her standards are low.


If asked about the woman in the first room she may say “oh yeah, you defeated the evil Ashen Chan.. oh shit you let her go? That’s pretty wild man, how are you getting out?”



So I wrote:

"Oh Helboria. I follow her on Twitter. And that's the problem.
I feel all NPCs have a kind of entropy of self-awareness and dream-breaking-- they all tend toward Helborism at the table whether or not they are meant to (as monsters tend toward deadness and puzzles tend toward solvedness).

So the trick is to write the NPCs as po-faced as possible so that they slide into a pleasant groove somewhere in the middle negotiated by the GM. That is: the party is funny, the game's job is to be more serious than them.

Also, tactically, if you look at succubus powers (which tend toward deception and quick assassination) she's kind of a tactical waste, as written here, especially if she's not terribly persistent.

"HOWEVER: she's interesting on the page, in details. I think there's probably a sly happy medium."

So then we got the classic LCC:



LADY CRUCEM CAPILLI


In the centre of an empty room, latticed with shadow, stands a woman. Her skin glows midnight blue under the bars of shade. She walks deliberately back and forth, weaving through the threads of silhouette. Pauses, looks down at her feet, arms crossed across her chest.


“It would be a shame” she mutters to herself “to burn it all, with nothing left behind”.


Lady Capilli is a Deep Dragon in human form. She has accepted a request from hell. Her mission; to rescue a Daemon from inside a box.  Psathyrella’s father. (See Prince Sheklesh, upper right). 

She is also a highly refined aesthete and connoisseur with a taste for strangeness and original beauty.  She regards the maze, its contents and the relationships inside it as a kind of work of art. 


Her work will be destructive. She wants to put it off. To save whatever fragments she can. Invading the maze would mean destroying it. But… If she could find someone small, and insignificant, to wander round, collecting things and bringing them to her..


Lady Capelli’s first offer will be to buy from you, anything you bring back from the maze. She stores her purchases in a portable hole. She pays well in gems and gold. After the first transaction, roll 2d4 on the below table.


(I think I also nixed the portable hole? Standard D&D item and solves too many fun problems in a dull way.)


No doubt Something Awful /tg is scrambling to form a contrarian Free Helboria fanclub as we speak and all the members will go on to be very good at making games and not ever be taken to court for being idiots.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Editing Patrick Stuart

I was the editor on Veins of the Earth. Here are a few excerpts from the first round of edits, from like 2014 or whatever.

Patrick's text is in italics.

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 PHANTOM HAND OF GARGAS


"...Hit Dice 5, 23hp, in situ…"

I think you want "immobile" there or something, not "in situ"


"…a chance to fight and die for all mankind. (Save vs Spells)."

Or what?


"…A cloud of algal backs…"

What's an algal back?


"…If Gargas takes you inside the rock…"

Is this the result of a successful grapple? Grapple--now you're in the rock?


Zax Two Cents

I think the visions meaning nothing is kinda cheap, given how much cryptic stuff that does mean something (maybe? kinda?) is down here in the Veins. It punishes thinking about the clues--which is kinda mean.


Also

Insta death maybe=500xp? Come on.



PSYCHOMYCOSIS MEGASPORES


Zax Two Cents

Ok, so the spore child translations are unreliable. This is only dangerous if people think the translations ARE reliable. But why would they? It's a translation by a creepy dead husk hosting a bulbous parasitic freak. Can you give some examples of how this would actually affect something.


RADIOLARIAN

These two sentences seem to conflict:

"Radiolaria will adapt to any blow, spell or tactic, no matter what it is, the moment after it is used"

"The radiolarian gets a save against each kind of attack after the first example. This save starts at 11 on a d20 ad gets one better each time the attack is used, down to a minimum of 2."

A save of 11 isn't THAT good, nor is 8 or 9 or 10. If this is what you mean by "adapt" a party could use the same tactic 4 or 5 times in a row, beat the thing, and never notice it was getting better at resisting.

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CULTURE NAMES

These names are cool but (unlike the monster names) seem doomed to be forgotten or mispronounced or not pronounced at the table due to their length, exoticism and unclear plurals (if this were a novel, the reader would get used to it, but at the tabletop, only the GM has read the book so ends up going "the Janin oerden…it's like a genie" and the players go "Ok, so the genie…"). Here are some optional alternates if you're not attached. Maybe you are attached, in which case disregard:

Drow= Ælf-Adal

Adriælf --from the latin adria meaning dark, Oscælf, Adrælf, Dælf, Drælf, Drælven

Dao= Janin Eorðen

Janeen, Janoerden, Erdgen, Eoridjinn, Eorðjen

Duergar=Duerg-Deop

Deepgar, Untergar, the original norse is 'Dvargir', Subgnomen

Svirfneblin=Gnomi-Genomos

Gignome, Blaugir, Gignomen, Nonmen, Gnonnmen

Also, a short physical description is in order for interested parties who don't know (for instance) what a "dao" or ""duergar" is to begin with.  You can't assume total Monster Manuall 2 fluency. Or we need pictures in this section.

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PERHAPS INCONSEQUENTIAL NOTE

Reading linearly here, in order, page by page, here at "Death Hope Mural" is where I first thought "Oh it would be fun to run the veins, I should do it soon"--and I HATE. HATE. HATE caves. Shapeless, organic, rounded hippy things devoid of rigor or civlization.

Here is why I think I finally thought that:

There is a simple vision at the core of the Veins: actual spelunking as mysterious and exciting.

And there is a simple tool of expressing that vision at the core of the author: Writing compelling prose descriptions.

These cave descriptions are the first time in the text that vision and that tool have both been simply apparent, alone. Up til now its been monsters, details and mechanics. Finally we have The Caves and Why You Like Caves. I think finding a way to get this (or prose like it) closer to the front is a good idea. 
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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Doing Random Encounters the Hard Way

So, if you're like me, you're sick of rolling random wilderness encounters in a sandbox campaign and then it just says like "57-Ghost" or "34-Venomous snake" and then I'm like "Fuck who wrote this table?" and then having to be like "Oh right, I did".

So I wrote a whooooooole big table of wilderness encounters with

100 Civilian encounters, like:
90 Halfling(s) moving to a new home in The Halfling City, or one of the Pudding Coasts (d4).
91 Halfling(s) moving to a new home in elven, human, or dwarven lands (d4).
92 Halfling(s) on so many drugs just vibing.

100 Dubious travelers, like:
265-266 Lone wererat disguised as (roll on Civilian table), it will be moving in the same direction as the party and share the journey with them, waiting for an ideal time to call in d4 compatriots, steal something valuable, cut their throats, and sneak off.
267 Wererats in their half-rat form (d6+1), chewing on dead horses just off the road.
268 Tracks enlarge and change from rat to human, leading to a wererat den beneath a bridge or in a ruin (2d6 wererats).

100 Military encounters, like:
309 Gnoll hunting party—clan out looking for big game or fast-moving enemies. 3d6+2 gnolls all mounted on giant boars, gnoll chief hunter, also mounted, with vulture or eagle.
310 Gnoll hunting party taking prey—as Hunting Party above. Taking: 1-7 Herd of deer, 8-11 sheep and goats, 12-17 wild horses, 18-19 giant monster, 20 unicorn.

100 Goblin encounters, like:

521 Goblins smacking farm animals (d6).
522 Goblin scouts “surveying” (pointing to random landscape features, holding a telescope) (d6).
523 Goblins carrying off a random hogtied NPC (roll d100 on Civilians table) (d6).
524 Goblins teasing local children (d6).

Plus bandits and weird wildlife and more...

600-699 LOCATION ENCOUNTERS

600 A colossal hollow statue of Vorn, now in pieces, houses three ogres who live in its upturned head.

601-608 Ghosts etc.

601 (Night) Inexplicable corpses, a few hundred feet from the road, the work of a banshee haunting a lonely moor—the ghost of a woman murdered by the local lord. Bringing the lord to justice sets her to rest. (Day) Just the corpses.

602 (Night) Inexplicable corpses, drowned in a shallow swamp, the work of a banshee—the ghost of a woman drowned by the local lord. Bringing the lord to justice sets her to rest. (Day) Just the corpses, visible from a bridge over the swamp water.

603 (Night) Inexplicable corpses, drowned in an old well near the road, the work of a banshee haunting a well—the ghost of a woman drowned by the local lord. Bringing the lord to justice sets her to rest. (Day) Just the corpses in the well.

604 (Night) Inexplicable corpses, dead in a ruin the road to which the party may be drawn by horrible weather, the work of a banshee haunting the ruin—the ghost of a woman drowned by the local lord. Bringing the lord to justice sets her to rest. (Day) Just the corpses in the ruin.

605 Massive extending graveyard, site of a first-war battle between goblins and elves. Possessing ghosts will attempt to take control of party and force them to kill each other.

606 Plague pit marked by crude stone grave markers. (Night only) Danse macabre skeletons will play their song and try to get the party to kill themselves.

607 Lonely farm, dilapidated and abandoned, a haunted scarecrow stands in the field. Only holy water or magic will exorcise it.

608 An ill hound is visible on the ridge. If it is not slain (by holy water or exorcism magic) before your next encounter you’ll be at disadvantage the whole time.

609-613 Fen lake with occasional tall grass, 2-4’ deep, d6 cannibal mermaids leap out and try to eat party.

614-618 River that has to be forded (broken bridge) to head this way, 3-5’ deep, d6 cannibal mermaids leap out and try to eat party.

619-621 Road heads straight through a ruin, the caryatid columns are oddly intact. They come to life as stone golems and attempt to kill anyone within 10’ of the ruin.

622-623 Ruin in the center of a shallow lake, the caryatid columns are oddly intact. They come to life as stone golems and attempt to kill anyone within 10’ of the ruin.

624 Two-headed troll lives under a double bridge, second head is a wizard.

A long-disused well contains...625 ...a vicious wellwyrd.
626 ...three aggressive pit grubs. 627 ...a grabbing troll.

628 ...a spiralling thornchild.
629 ...a nymph whose song inspires victims to drown themselves.

An abandoned tower...
630-631 ...turns out to be a tower golem.
632-633 ...is home to five ogres.
634 ...is home to a troll that throws boulders at anyone passing.

A ruined church is home to...

635-636 ...a gruesome hag who’s flooded it with unholy water.
637-638 ...a creeping needleman.
639-640 ...a troll amid bodies hanging from the rafters.
641-642 ...a hungry hallow treant whose branches fill the corridors.
643-645 ...a befouled pool of unholy water that has congealed into a wellwyrd.

A swamp contains...

646 ...two-headed troll in a swamp, its second head is a witch that makes the swamp-water pull like a Web spell.
647-648 ...a island of twisted trees that is actually the moss-covered back of a fen giant.
649-651 ...a crooked algae-covered hovel surrounded by malformed cranes, home to a green hag.
652-654 ...a needleman who stalks through water, stabbing prey with his long legs.
655-656 ...a rotting fortress that is actually a tower golem.
657-660 ...a copse of d6 twisted hallow treants.
661-664 ...a patch of glittering water that signals a wellwyrd.

A rotting castle contains...
665-666 ...ogres and the bodies of hogs they’ve stolen.
667-668 ...a muck-filled moat, home to a 3d4 pit grubs.

669-670 ...one tower that is actually a tower golem.
671 ...a troll and the virgins it kidnapped.
673-674 ...a moat overgrown with trees, one of which is a hallow

treant.

A crumbling graveyard...
675 ...contains a black reflecting pool, in which dwells a black-eyed

death nymph.
676-677 ...a gazebo where a grave-robbing two headed troll dwells,

looking for a second head.
678-679 ...where a massive hollow treant has fed for ages on the

blood of the unjustly slain.
680-681 ...a hag constructing “husbands” out of dead body parts.

A narrow bridge...
682-685 ...under which dwells a troll who demands you answer three

riddles or be eaten.
686-687 ...is the only way over a broad river for miles, and a Hallow T
reant has completely grown through it.

A waterfall...
688-689 ...behind which sleeps a massive giant.
690-691 ...conceals a cave where a jealous nymph has enslaved a 
mighty sorcerer.

A hollow tree contains a valuable treasure but is home to...

692 ...d6 pit grubs.
693 ...a greedy forest nymph.

694-695 Hungry ogres (d4) live under an aqueduct.

An island in the center of a lake...

696 ...An island in the center of a lake contains undead fish —d4-2 will swarm around any boat per round its on the water.
697 ...contains an island where a giant lives.
698 ...contains d8 needlemen who step through the shallow lake, spearing fish on their legs.
699 ...contains cannibal mermaids—d4-2 will swarm around any boat per round its on the water.

And if you're like "Oh what's a cannibal mermaid though?" so I also did a bestiary. It's still growing but it has all the monsters from these tables in them.

And I also wrote a bounty-hunting adventure to go with them, with a spooky swamp and a vampire. 

It's called Meat On The Table -- Cube World 26.



Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Barony That Has The Temple that Has The Room That Has The Toad Demons

 New stuff. Check the Store.

The Barony That Has The Temple that Has The Room That Has The Toad Demons

Bad monsters are in a room. It’s a pretty good room, as fantasy adventure module rooms go, and presents some interesting problems.

The room’s in a Toad Temple, which has some cultists--before they get to the room with the monsters, your players may have to fight them, too, or maybe just sneak past. If I knew already, your game would be pretty boring.

Around the temple is the idyllic and rambling rural Broceliandaise barony of Gruyère de Comté whose distinctive features include:

-The lovely convent of Tittivila (or Tittivila, or Tittivilla) a goddess of all flesh to whom misspellings are sacred and one of the top two most popular deities in Broceliande. Although most of the nuns are just 0-levels who pray and read books on how to breed weird livestock all day, if you’re running a campaign in Broceliande, genuine fighting clerics of Tittivila will be pretty thick on the ground, so I’ve given some information about them, including a random table at the back.

-The alchemists of Gruyère de Comté, who are some of the few folks from whom your lazy Skyrim-addict player’s PC can just “buy potions” in Broceliande.

-The Festival of Japes, a happy festival, for those who seek amusement or exotic cuisine

-Skopje, a village with a delightful secret

-and a bunch of chaos-worshipping creatures bent on destroying everything in the first three bullet points

So that’s probably enough to be going on with.

5$ / 7$ on OnlyFans


Also out:

The Halfling City

Cube World #24

It's got a syrup cyclops and gnolls and a d100 random halfling patron assignment generator and yeah a lot it's 10$ / 12$ if you use OnlyFans



Friday, September 18, 2020

Wonderful News!

Life can be weird for Demon City contributors, but The New Yorker has reported that Vanessa Veselka has The 2020 National Book Awards Longlist for Fiction for her new book The Great Offshore Grounds.

Vanessa wrote about just a few of the weird corners of the real world she knows about for Demon City, including The Flower Sellers and the Industrial Core in the Sketches section.

Here's the bit she wrote about the FBI for us, all laid out, click to enlarge it:

FBI Files by Vanessa Veselka


Field Offices and Files

 

The FBI has field offices in many towns where someone can walk in and ask to speak directly to an agent and make a complaint. All agents of a certain rank are required to do one desk shift a month. It’s about as loved a shift as KP duty in the armed forces. Even though all reports are recorded, the agent at the desk has full power to decide if you’re basically a “5150” (slang for ‘crazy enough to commit’ that comes from a California code) and note that on your report.


Who has records of unsolved murders?


In the public imagination, there is a great and perfect database tracking all unsolved murders with DNA matches, MOs, and the signatures of killers. There is not.


The part of the FBI that deals with serial murders is Kidnapping and Missing Persons. Traditionally the department is also grouped with Bank Robbery, perhaps because of the potential for hostages and repeat behavior. The problem is that when a missing person report is filed in one state, while a photo may be circulated, details are often not. Moreover, most reports are teenage girls who ran away so unless the girl comes from a family with money, access to news media, lawyers or social power, little attention is paid. This means if someone is killed in one state, and the body dumped in another, it’s unlikely to appear on anyone’s radar if the family doesn’t have connections or the story doesn’t attract media.  


 ViCAP


The national homicide database (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program or ViCAP) is supposed to close this gap, but the database has always been a bit of a sham. Initially, the FBI asked local and state agencies to enter thirty years of unsolved homicide data. But entering the data is non-compulsory and the initiative came without extra funding for the hours needed or staff. As a result, many agencies never added their unsolved cases. There are other reasons data might not be entered.


1)    Detectives have to triage their cases and might be overwhelmed with current murders. They might want to see the data entered but can’t waste time on history right now.


2)    There are also turf wars between agencies. Local agencies might not want to share with state agencies and neither might want to deal with the FBI. They might fear that if their data goes in the FBI might get the criminal first and credit for the collar, which might affect promotion and career advancement opportunities.


3)    In urban centers, data might not get entered for political reasons. Police chiefs often don’t like the number of unsolved homicides a department may have made public.


4)    In rural areas or government-phobic backwaters, data might not get entered because of a general mistrust in any federal program.  As a result, the database has major holes, often in the places where most crime occurs. For many years the Texas numbers, for instance, did not include the Houston (as well as 28 other counties).


 The national DNA database, whose DNA gets entered and how, is also highly political.



In general…


City Police have jurisdiction over cities. Mayors usually appoint police commissioners so they are prone to behind-closed-door local politics (unions, special interests, favors etc).


Sheriffs have jurisdiction over and highway and rest areas. Sheriffs are often elected so prone to external political optics.


FBI has jurisdiction over everyone. Everyone hates the FBI.


Records


Most states have an established time limit for keeping files. Once that time passes, a file that wasn’t linked to a homicide can be destroyed. The problem is that many files remain in missing person limbo because the body was never linked. Theoretically these records are digitized and stored in some way but many never made it out of paper form. Between 5-7 years most records that don't result in connection are at risk of being destroyed. 



In other news, a new Cube World is out--that's #23--and LotFP default-setting adventure called Screaming Lake 

It's 10$ and has evil priests and living sound. Enjoy.
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Friday, August 28, 2020

Inside-Outside Dungeon

 You can get killed outside or inside...











29 pages plus. 15 bucks. Lots of art. Now available in The Store.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Right To Suck

So here's a thing a game designer said. It's a simple line of reasoning so I'll just quote it:




The first obvious conclusion here is that if this incredibly elementary idea wasn't even brought up, these game design circles this designer hung out in weren't exactly great or productive places to hang out and someone smarter should've been around.

But more importantly it's mind-blowing that "Do it if you can do it well" is presented as a conclusion to a train of thought rather than an easy second step. Because, of course, whether you did it well is subjective.

It's subjective not just in the sense of one snarky english major will argue that, say, Blood In The Chocolate is an effective satire of the perversity and brutality of colonialism and another snarky English major will argue it isn't and it just feels racist, (and the same dynamic is true for sex in Hot Guys Making Out, or Bliss Stage, or fascism in Warhammer 40k, or any other difficult issue in any other game) it is also subjective in a second and more important way:

Two actual people actually picking up the actual book or playing the actual game and dealing with actual (let's assume) totally valid trauma can have two different actual responses to the edgy art based on their lived experience. For one it may be therapeutic and for another it may be retraumatizing.

So:

1. How the fuck does any adult end up with a platitude like "Just do it well"? How is that remotely acceptable as the cutting edge of thinking on whether you get to morally condemn a fellow human being for their art or not? 

2. And, subjectivity aside, how does anyone learn to "do it well" without doing it poorly a few times first?

Put your answers in the comments.

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