Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Why Jews Never Forget Anything

The Genizah

 It is said that among the Jews there were once wizards who, after creeping from the beds of Christians, smeared fluids vital--still fresh from these fornications and interfaith adulteries--across the graven faces of their golems while whispering words from the Zohar, thus imparting movement and intellect to these stone mockeries of the will of the Creator. Speaking as a Jew I can tell you straight up: it’s all true. (Place campaign mcguffin here) has been with the Jews since before the age of the First Temple where it was once held within the sacred Kodesh haKodashim, and the witch’s notebooks found therein illuminated to only the holiest and most learned rabbis the true nature of reality. It is now housed on the lowest and most hidden level of the library beneath the Synagogue of the Levantines (or El-Geniza) in Fustat, Egypt. Few attend this ancient library, as those who would seek the most esoteric knowledge hidden there must contend with golems left by the kabbalists and baal shem of the distant past.

On the outside, the Synagogue of the Levantines appears to be an ordinary, though very large, synagogue, beneath are seven semi-public levels of the mundane library (one for each name of god), beneath this, the secret levels 8-24 (the number of abundance) hold the genizah (it is forbidden to discard any text with the name of god written on it, so this is a disorganized record of nearly every document produced by the temple and surrounding community since its founding) and beneath are the still-more secret levels (of which the current caretakers and rabbis may not even be aware) 25-35 (the number of wisdom)  possess the sorcerous texts. It is here that the (mcguffin)—and the golems protecting it—are found. A magic-user or cleric spending at least a week in this part of the library may gain a level and more new spells may be available at the Referee’s discretion.

Baal Shem Golems 

These golems resemble the gargoyles of medieval architecture, human-sized, save that each has a Hebrew name of god engraved on its forehead. Each can use a different spell associated with that name at will. Inside each golem’s mouth is a yad (a wandlike object with a carved hand at the tip used to turn the pages of the Torah) which, when the golem is destroyed, can be used to turn the pages of the texts that teach the spell associated with the golem (though these texts may be in any of a hundred languages). Without the appropriate yad the text is unreadable. There are dozens of each golem throughout the forgotten halls of the library.

Encounters on levels 25-35, roll d100, or d10 on levels 34 and 35:

1-YHWH golem
2-El golem
3-Eloah golem
4-Elohim golem
5-Elohai golem
6-El Shaddai golem
7-Tzevaot golem
8-Roll d8 twice on this table
9 Degenerated Baal Shem
10-14 Red sunset cobra
15-19 d4 eggshell scorpions
20-21 Jackal eating dead Baal Shem
22-00 No encounter

HD 12  HP 70  Speed 120’ Armor 20 (18 vs blunt weapons, 16 vs pick-axes or similar point-force weapons) Attack +10 choke/claw d12 or by spell as 12th-level caster:

YHWH God's Eye (level 3 cleric)— Range: touch. Duration: d4 rounds+cleric level. The eye of the cleric's god falls upon the target. The target must strictly obey the tenets of the god's faith and holy teachings at all times or suffer d8+(cleric level) damage per round of disobedience. 

El  Warmask (level 3 cleric or m-u)—Caster cuts the face from a slain foe (this takes 1 round and a successful Dex check). The face then will magically adhere to the face of the caster or a target and grant them the physical (str, con, max hp and combat and damage bonuses), mental (int, magic-user spells) or spiritual (wis, cleric spells) of the dead foe for one round per level of the caster. The target or caster must have slain the foe.

Eloah Divine Lacuna (level 2 cleric)—No save. Range: Touch. A single god chosen by the caster cannot see the target. The target cannot be directly helped, harmed, or in any way affected by any cleric spells cast by a devotee of that god's faith or otherwise relying on the power of that god.  Lasts a number of days equal to the cleric’s level.

Elohim Twist of Cain (level 3 cleric)—Range: 100’. No save. Target briefly sees an apparition of every being s/he has slain. The target is stunned until s/he makes a successful save. The save is made at a minus equal to the number of digits in the total tally of the target's kills. 

Elohai Zealous Repetition (level 1 m-u)—Range: 20' On a failed will/save, the target must repeat that action every round (s/he may change targets) until s/he succeeds on a save. 

El Shaddai Obsession Curse (level 2 m-u)—Range: Touch. Failed save means the target becomes obsessed with an object of the caster’s choice. The target must do things like make a will or spell save to get away from the object and otherwise avoid acting all Gollum about it in any other circumstances. The target is at -4 in combat if not touching the object on account of being distracted unless it is actively fighting to secure the object in which case it is at +4.

Tzevaot Total Empathy (level 4 cleric)—Range: 20 feet. No save. Two targets are chosen: a "donor" and a "receiver". The receiver becomes completely aware of the donors struggles in life on the most visceral level. The receiver knows the donor's most powerful desires and fears but will not consciously act to exacerbate the donor's situation. Unless the donor creature is suicidal, the receiver cannot harm the donor in any way. The receiver may, if s/he desires, make a will/spell save to stop the feeling once every 24 hours but the knowledge gained remains.

Degenerated Baal Shem Wizard-scholars who never escaped the library, now hideous: they crawl on bellies and have legs and tails like desert lizards. They are otherwise unarmed, unarmored magic-users or clerics of level 2d6.

Red Sunset Cobra—a species of spitting cobra, likes to hide in the stacks
HD 1 HP 4 Speed 90’ Armor 14 Morale 8 Attack Bite +2 to hit d4 (can spit up to 8’) and save vs Poison each round until a save is made, taking 1hp per failed save. If any saves are failed the affected body part will swell grotesquely and the character will take 4hp every morning until it is treated.

Eggshell scorpions
HD 1 HP 3 Speed 120’ Armor 13 Morale 9 Attack +1 to hit d4 plus Save vs poison or go blind until you save.

HD 1 HP 5 Speed 120’ Armor 15 Morale 7 Attack +1 to hit d2hp.

Connections: If the locals get the feeling the party are adventurers, they’ll tell them the legend of Zirzuuza (G12). Local Jews may ask you to take letters to relatives in Prague (D3).

(This is one of 100 adventures from the upcoming module Violence In The Nympharium from Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

Monday, October 29, 2018


You know Rifts?
art by jez gordon
Originally: dope setting of post-apocalyptic intergenre chaos, incomprehensible rules. Now: same dope setting but kinda not evolved much, rules by noted sexual harasser?

So we need better rules.

This is Rifts for high-trust RPG environments like FLAILSNAILS, home games etc. Play with a GM you like.


When in doubt, resolve things as your D&D of choice.


3d6 6 times.
Assign them to stats. What stats? ANY STATS YOU WANT TO INVENT
But if you invent a stat the GM thinks is stupid then you lose the stat and the number--no replacement.

So: Strength, Psi power, Wizardry? Fine. You put a 17 in "Winning"? Meh sorry, you lost that stat.

If it turns out you need a stat for something and don't have it? You suck at that. You have a -3 modifier to it.

Instead of hit points:

Hits come off a random stat.  Two stats at zero and you're unconscious.  Three and you pick up a terrible wound.  Four zeros you're dead.

(This rule is Jeff's idea.)


You get 10 skills, they are each linked to a stat and work like that stat + your Level. Right now that's +1.

What skills? ANY SKILL YOU WANT. This is a good opportunity to world-build--if you get "Technomancy" congratulations you just put technomancy in the setting.
But, like stats, if you invent a stupid skill the GM doesn't like--in the bin. No replacement.


Items: you get 2d6 items, you must be able to carry them and find a picture of them in a Rifts book. They cannot be a unique artifact. Once rolled, you will lose d6 random ones.

No repeats.


You get d4 Special things. Mutations, innate powers, spells, claws, vehicles whatever it is that makes your kind of race/class interesting.
Again: if you invent a stupid one, the GM can veto it.


Whatever you like. If it's stupid, the GM is allowed to reskin you into a pre-existing Rifts base class (psi-stalker, cyberknight, etc) of their choosing.


Here's the first ever character for Trash Rifts, made by Jeff Gameblog:

Skizzo McGirk, drifter Stats Dumb Luck 16 Charm 13 Ingenuity 13 Deftness 13 Brute Force 11 Common Sense 9
Skills Drive Wicked Cool Land Vehicle (Deftness) Jury-Rig Stolen Equipment (Ingenuity) Punch Goon (Brute Force) Avoid Automatic Gunfire (Deftness) Lay it on Thick with the Ladies (Charm) Survive on a Scavengers Diet (Brute Force) Make Promises You Can Actually Keep (Common Sense) (I may veto this one) Recruit Banditos for Daring Raid (Charm) Turn Death into a Fighting Chance For Survival (Dumb Luck) Sneak like a Fucking Ninja (Deftness) Specials Flunked out of Skull Boy officer school but still knows a lot of their protocols and procedure Used to run a bloodmobile on the Mexican border - friendly with several draculas Never met a drug he didn’t like Parselmouth Equipment Vibro-Claws (if you think I’m going to pass on a small chance to be Megadamage Wolverine, you are crazy)

And one by Geist.

Giles De Rais MK 2
Summoner Low Cunning: 10 Willpower: 8 Social Competence: 6 Violence: 10 Self Esteem: 6 Luck: 12 Summon (Luck) Compel Obedience (Low Cunning) Barter (Social Competence) Argue (Self Esteem) Dodge (Luck) Avoid Consequences (Luck) Lie (Willpower) Smash Someone in the Teeth (Violence) Know About Demons (Low Cunning) Communicate with Ghosts (Willpower/Social Competence) Items: Summoning Gear Skull Bedecked Body Armor SMG Megadamage Samurai Sword Demon summoning tome Splurgoth Staff
Special: Immediate Comprehension of Written Word Psionic Manta Ray Mount
art by shawn cheng

And one by me:

Slith —serpent mutant Stats Agility 15 Cleverness 12 Investment in this situation 8 Reassuringness 7 Lifting thingss 7 Noticing stuff 6 Skills Clossssse combat 16 Sneaking 16 Fixing things 13 Tending woundsss 13 Hunting beastss 16 Pilot things 13 Sabotagery 13 Grappling 8 Seek Bargains 8 Scavenging 7 Equipment Pair of vibro katanas Specials Chameleon Skin Regeneration Congealing spit (medical) Grappling bite

Rift on.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

OSR Domination Progress Report

Preview Edition of Luka Rejec's Witchburner Adventure . Luka did the best One Page Dungeon and it looks to be a nice Warhammer-style adventure a little off the beaten path. Full of interesting NPCs. And....I won't give it away. But it's got a good twist.

Murder Snackers:

A new OSR D&D podcast...

Our aesthetic ideal is The Eric Andre Show plus Hard to be a God plus I Hit It With My Axe. Episodes will never have ads, will never be longer than an hour, and will always contain vulgarity, disregard for plot, and whimsical acts of pointless violence.

Vertical Slum is no joke. A weird sci-fi city in exotic detail featuring "The God Who Dreams in Pillars and Is a Boy" "The God Which Pulses Quivers And Collecs" and more. A bit like Carcosa meets Vornheim?  I'm liking it and trying to figure out how to adapt it for my game. And I dig the character sheet.

Someone's doing a solo run-thru of Maze of the Blue Medusa on YouTube--she's got some interesting solo mechanics.

In Cute Twitter News, our party's Angry Goth Rogue is also the werewolf on Curious Creations of Christine McConnell and cosplayed Domino which lead to Gail Simone having a double take:

Monday, October 22, 2018

On The Reliability of Magic

In fairy tales magic is reliable: if the leprechaun wants you to be a donkey, you're gonna be a donkey. No save.

Magic in that context is just the continuation of Nature by other means. And Nature is, if not exactly Good, then at least implacable and to be respectd.


In D&D, it's somewhat less reliable--the sufficiently tough, clever or spiritually advanced can escape it, sometimes you even have to target it and land a hit as if it were a mere superpower, like Superman's heat vision.

It's still way more reliable than combat (as "caster supremacy" conspiracy theorists are quick to point out).


In classic pulp stories and in games that try to emulate them like Dungeon Crawl Classics, magic is extremely unreliable. It is Things Best Left Untouched By Mortals. Results go all over the place, they can fizzle or backfire or result in discoveries.


As usual, the Rosetta Stone here is Tolkien vs classic pulp (Lovecraft, Lieber, Vance, etc):

Tolkien lays out a fairytalish paradigm of magic as primarily a moral force: creatures who use it are in tune with higher things. Magic does what it says on the tin because it is the tin: the way the world is supposed to be working itself out. Magic only goes wrong and becomes weird when in the hands of the unworthy (like The One Ring). (As the OSR Discord reminds me, Dr Strange, Dr Fate and The Force in Star Wars also all work on this paradigm.)

The pulp paradigm doesn't so much posit a difference in magic itself as a difference in who a protagonist of a story could be: the unworthy--for whom magic is a risky proposition--are generally the focus.

So you have Lovecraft characters trying to use forbidden lore to gain knowledge and power, Lieber has the morally somewhat Grey Mouser as a sorcerer's apprentice who can't always get a spell right, and Vance has the inimitably amoral Cugel as much abused by-, as using-, magic.

Tolkien might agree they were getting what they deserved from magic, he just might not agree they were fit subjects for a story. At least not one of his.

In that context, it's easy to see why the game with the famously unreliable magic is also the one where it says right there on the book that you're no hero.

Question: Does this mean cleric spells should be inherently more reliable than wizard ones? My instinct is yes.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

You Probably Want To Make Yourself One or Two Of These

A Digital DM Screen

Ok, so using Angus Warman's new toy, you can turn a page of your blog into a custom DM screen for any setting or module you happen to be running. I shall demonstrate. Right now I'm running Maze of the Blue Medusa, so...

In less than 5 years, if they're smart, every WOTC module will have one of these available on mobile designed specifically for that product (in Ravenloft? Here's an encounter table full of werewolves and pitchfork villagers and a treasure table with coffin nails on it). And in less than 12--if they're smarter--they'll have a simple template to build your own with graphics and little buttons with pictures of potions and crap on them. Until then: DIY.