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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Return To Moria: Some Maps

These are two quick maps I pulled together for my Moria campaign using Open Office Draw to lay them out. Note to my players: Don't be peeking!

They show the main upper halls, the lower deeps, the two gates into the Mines, a number of upper and lower natural cavern complexes, and Durin's Tower, with a few miscellaneous markers up too.

The first one is a top-down view of the main areas of Moria.

The second is a side view showing relative elevations.

Of course there's no real scale here, other than a rough 40 miles between the gates.

Friday, October 30, 2009


The cloak is fashioned from thousands of earthworms, sewn into a calf-length cloak. The worms are preserved by the enchantment, forming a squishy, sticky garment of pinkish-brown flesh. A rough collar of wriggling worms circles the wearer's neck and magically fastens the garment, once the proper command phrases are know. The garment radiates Superb alteration and Good protection magic. A Great test of divination magic will reveal its enchantments.
  • Wormskin provides Good protection against physical damage, its resilient skin simply absorbing the force of the attack.
  • Wormskin's wearer gains Great protection against any grappling or grabbing attacks, which simply slide off the slippery, wriggling surface of the cloak.
  • Wormskin's wearer is vulnerable to fire or heat-based attacks, suffering an additional rank of damage.
  • Burrow - The cloak envelopes the wearer completely then, in the form of gigantic worm, burrows into any soil or earth. It digs to a a depth of ten feet, then becomes inactive. While in the burrow the wearer is completely hidden from sight, the only hint of their presence is a small hole on the surface. The cloak shields the wearer from magical detection, appearing as nothing more than a natural creature hidden beneath the earth. Burrow can be invoked twice a day, and lasts four hours per invocation. The wearer can end the effect at any time.
  • Wormform - Twice per day the wearer can assume the form of a giant worm, allowing them to slither and squeeze through narrow crevices and cracks or dig through soil or earth at the rate of 30 feet per round. This effect lasts up to six rounds.
Yeah, it's pouring down rain here, and my driveway was covered with earthworms when I went out to get the paper. Eww, worms on bare feet!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Crooked Hand

This magical relic appears to be a mummified human hand mounted on a short mahogany rod. The hand itself is dessicated and leathery, the fingers and joints twisted and gnarled as if stricken with some bone-distorting disease. Its nails are long corkscrews of blackened keratin, tough and sharp. A fine tracery of silver wire winds up and down the wooden rod and binds the hand to it. If examined for magical properties Crooked Hand radiates Great alteration magic. A Great test of divination magic will reveal its powers each activated with a command word. Each power can be used three times per day and lasts ten rounds. The target must be within 60 feet of the wielder and a clear line of sight must also exist. The target may resist the effects with a Great test of willpower.
  • Crooked eye - The target's vision is warped and distorted causing distant objects to loom up suddenly, while nearby objects vanish in the distance. Any task requiring sight suffers a three rank penalty for the duration.
  • Crooked touch - Sensation is twisted and distorted, soft becomes razor sharp, hard surfaces feel like liquid, and silk becomes sandpaper. The victim will drop anything held and become completely distracted by their attempts to remove anything touching their skin. Ignoring the effects inflicts an Average psychosomatic wound upon the victim each round the effect is ignored.
  • Crooked foot - The victim loses all sense of balance and direction, perceiving the world as a spinning kaleidoscope of color and motion. Any attempt to walk will send them reeling into the nearest person or solid object. Repeated attempts to walk or run have a Fair chance of causing Average damage to the victim or whomever they run into each round.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Return To Moria: The Sandbox

A while back I posted the pitch I made to my gaming group. The response from my players was overwhelmingly positive, so the game is afoot. Since mega-dungeons and sandbox play are recurring threads in the blog-sphere and that's the direction I'm taking with this game I thought I'd throw down some information about how I'm preparing for this game.

Since the game is set in Tolkien's Middle-earth, my first step was to find some inspirational resources. A quick web search turned up two sites that look useful, The Encyclopedia of Arda and The Thain's Book. I also spent the weekend watching the The Lord of the Rings.

My next step was to define the potential roles for player characters. Tolkien's world provides many options for races and backgrounds, but doesn't really fit the classic old-school class model very well, but I've already decided to play fast and loose with the setting, so coming up with a collection of races and classes wasn't all that hard.

My initial pitch sketched out the very basic outlines of the sandbox, so my next step was to firm up the area of play. I had visualized Hollin, the player's base of operations, as a gold rush town, populated by those drawn by the potential wealth of Moria. With that in mind I laid out a list of businesses:
  • Durin's Rest - A slightly better quality inn and tavern
  • Farin's Provisions - General supplies and provisions
  • Gamling's Mounts - A stable
  • Garden of the Valar - Shrines to the various Valar
  • Mithril's End - A smithy
  • Moria Tours - Guided tours of Moria
  • Sheriff's Office - The local law enforcement
  • The Common - The open central square of the village, generally a muddy morass
  • The Dancing Dwarf - A tavern, brothel, casino and inn, all rolled into one
  • The Market - A bazaar held outside the palisade three days a week
If you're a Tolkien fan you can probably see the first big divergence from canon, shrines to the Valar. Since we'll be using some variant of D&D, clerics and magic-users are pretty much assumed. Clerics draw their power from the Valar, while magic-users study the remnants of magical lore left by the Maiar.

The next step was to lay out an overview of Moria. Moria is a huge place, something like 40 miles east to west, so a broad strokes layout is going to be very helpful in planning who or what lives where. Clearly laying out 40 miles of dungeons a grid at a time is the work of a lifetime, so I needed a framework to hang the important bits on. I did a little digging into the history of the Dwarves and discovered the number seven has some significance to them (seven Dwarf clans, seven rings of power), so I decided to play up that theme. Moria, I decided, was made up of seven Great Upper Halls, cut into the slopes of Silvertine. Twenty-one Great Deeps (seven times seven [edit: clearly my math is flawed]) were cut beneath the mountain's roots and housed the mines, armories, and workshops of Moria. I also picked out some of the major features of Moria mentioned by Tolkien, Durin's Tower, the Endless Stair, Dimrill Gate, the Bridge at Khazad-dum, and added them to the list. I then did a very rough layout of these levels on paper.

So far so good, but all those levels are carved by Dwarves. I wanted a little more variety, so I defined a few different areas as well:
  • The Upper Caves - natural caverns that honeycomb the slopes of Silvertine.
  • The Lower Caves - lightless caverns deep beneath the Dwarven diggings inhabited by creatures even Gandalf didn't understand.
  • The Black Reaches - Caverns tainted by the foul presence of the Balrog.
Now I have a variety of level types and potential sources for occupants for the Mines. I've discovered an obstacle though. Moria as described by Tolkien only has two entrances, Dimrill Gate to the east and Hollin Gate to the west. Unfortunately Tolkien did a good job of destroying both these entrances. The watcher in the water blocked Hollin Gate and the Bridge of Khazad-dum was broken when Gandalf confronted the Balrog. Hmmm, time for some improvisation. I concluded men and Dwarves had reopened the Hollin Gate (in fact a group of men has set up a toll at the newly opened gate to capitalize on the adventurers venturing into the depths). I also added the Seven Watches, towers built on the slopes of Silvertine by the Dwarves, and Balrog's End, a great chasm smashed into the depths when the Balrog was finally destroyed by Gandalf. I also have some speculative notes about Upper Caves that lead to the surface, but nothing concrete yet.

At this point I have a pretty good idea of how things are laid out in and around Moria:
  • I have thumbnail descriptions of the important businesses and points of interest in Hollin
  • I've written a line or two about most of the named NPCs in Hollin.
  • I have the general layout of Moria in place, and have solved the "how to get in" problem.
  • I've also accumulated some rough notes about who or what might be found in Moria.

My next steps are going to be focused on the occupants and features of Moria proper, but that's fodder for the next article.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Flesh Carver

Flesh Carver is a wicked-looking dagger with a short, curved blade chipped from gleaming obsidian. The hilt of the weapon is wrapped in the smooth, almost slick hide of some unknown beast, and a heavy chunk of roughly shaped and polished hematite is fastened to the pommel with gold wire. The dagger has a forward-curving guard of gilded iron. The blade is protected by a heavy scabbard of matching metal set with three rough hematite stones.

If examined for magical properties, Flesh Carver radiates Superb alteration and evocation magic. A Great test of divination magic will reveal the item's enchantment.

Flesh Carver is at best an Average combat weapon, its short blade curiously off balance when wielded in battle. Its true purpose has little to do with combat. Flesh Carver allows the wielder to invoke a Word Curse, a potent malediction that affects the wielder's chosen victims. To invoke a Word Curse with Flesh Carver the wielder must carve the victim's name and the desired Curse into their own flesh. The Curse must be a single word that reflects the effect desired. The base potency of the Curse determined by the wound inflicted during the carving, at least a Fair wound is required to activate the power of the weapon's enchantment.  Each Word Curse must be carved by the wielder's own hand upon their own flesh, and Curses cannot overlap or obscure previous carvings. Each Word Curse consumes at least a six inch by six inch square of skin.

Wounds inflicted by Flesh Carver can only be healed by the passage of time, and they always leave permanent scars reflecting the names of past victims and the curses inflicted upon them. A Word Curse can be removed at the source with dispelling magic at least two ranks greater in potency than the original Word Curse. Removal in this fashion inflicts a wound on the wielder equal to the  dispelling magic required.

Curses are permanent so long as the flesh they mark is alive. Any attempt to dispel a Word Curse from a victim suffers a three rank penalty, and even if successful will only offer temporary relief. A Great test of divination magic will reveal the source of the malediction.

The exact nature and effects of the curses inflicted by Flesh Carver should be determined by the game master. As a guideline:
  • Fair - Occasional frequency with minor effect.
  • Good - Weekly occurrence with noticeable effect.
  • Great - Daily occurrence with debilitating effect.
  • Superb - Frequent occurrence with debilitating effect.
  • Epic - Continuous with debilitating effect.
  • Legendary - Continuous with crippling effect.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ocarina of the Transmuter

This ceramic instrument is about ten inches long, shaped like a slightly curved yam. It's smooth, polished surface is glazed in delicate shades of green, yellow and red in an abstract pattern. It is pierced by eight finger holes arranged in two groups of four, and, of course, a mouthpiece. The Ocarina radiates Great alteration magic, and a Superb test of divination magic will reveal its basic powers, but actual use and practice is required to master the device.

The Ocarina can be used to alter the nature of a specific group of objects or creatures within hearing distance. The exact target of the alteration is determined by the the skill of the musician playing the instrument. The two chambers within the instrument allow playing a pair of notes, one controlling the target of the alteration, the other controlling the alteration itself. The basic target notes are Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, and Supernatural. The basic alteration notes are Size, Motion, Shape and Energy.

Basic success with the Ocarina is a Fair test of musical ability, which allows the musician to play a simple target plus alteration tone. This level of mastery causes the alteration to affect an entire class of targets within hearing range. For example Animal plus Size might cause all mundane living creatures within range to double in size. Each note can be tuned to a specific subset of the main effect, allowing finer control. Each refinement increases the basic difficulty of using the Ocarina by one rank. Multiple target and alteration notes can be combined to achieve even greater control. For example targeting a group of undead might require both the Animal and Supernatural notes be played. Each additional note required increases the difficulty one rank.

The effects achieved by the Ocarina affect anything within audible range of the player, even if the target has no sense of hearing. The difficulty of any resistance test is equal to the difficulty of the note being played. The effects of the Ocarina persist so long as the musician plays, and for 1d4 rounds after they stop.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A New Gaming Group?

With the recent upheavals in the RPG Bloggers network, Berin Kinsman has taken the bull by the horns and announced the creation of a new social network site focused on roleplaying game content creators.  Here's the announcement he put out via the RPG Bloggers mailing list. Worth a look if you're involved in the RPG content community:

*Welcome to RolePlayMedia.net RolePlayMedia.net*

One thing I keep hearing bloggers, podcasters, and other roleplaying content creators say is that they enjoy the sense of community they've found working and exchanging ideas with other content creators. To that end, I've created a social network for roleplaying media providers and their audiences. It doues matter if you create content for roleplaying games or about them. It doesn't matter if you're a fan, a professional, or somewhere in between. Bloggers, podcasters, vidcasters, writers, artists and, really, everyone else are welcome.

There are blogs, forums, and groups, ways to stream your audio or video, and so much more. It's highly customizable to your needs, a great place to interact with other content providers, a place to plug your stuff, plan crossover events, discover new blogs, podcasts, and creative people. And it's free. Always free. No dues, no membership fees.

*Join RolePlayMedia.net RolePlayMedia.net*

I've gone ahead and joined this new network, because A) it's another place to talk and read about gaming, B) I'm interested in social networks and how they work, and C) it's another channel to find out more about the gaming community (whatever that is).

If you're a reader here, please drop in and say hello or hit me with a friend invite if you're joining up.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Return to Moria: Player Races

A couple days ago I posted up the pitch I offered my regular gaming group for one of our mega-weekend gaming sessions. It met with much enthusiasm, so it looks like we'll be playing Return to Moria soon. Time to start planning! Here's the race and class combinations we're probably going to be using. I wanted to give things a Tolkienesque feel without deviating too far from old school D&D.

Races / Classes

Potential class and race combinations listed below. These are tentative at this point. Maximum levels possible for each race/class combination are listed in parenthesis where appropriate.

Iron Hills Dwarf

Representatives of the Iron Hill Dwarfs. Dain's kinsmen are fascinated with Moria and expeditions from the Iron Hills are quite common. Unfortunately, like Balin's original foray, they have ended in failure.
  • Classes: Cleric (8), Fighter (9)
  • Multi-class: Cleric/Fighter
  • Bonuses: Dwarf racial bonuses, Lore of the Dwarfs

Western Dwarf

Often scorned by their more noble cousins, the Western Dwarfs represent the scattered clans inhabiting hills and valleys west of the Misty Mountains. They are a less reputable class of Dwarf, though they are just as greedy as their distinguished cousins.
  • Classes: Fighter (9), Thief (8)
  • Multi-class: Fighter/Thief
  • Bonuses: Dwarf racial bonuses, +5% Hide in Shadows, Move Silently

Elf of Mirkwood

Elves rarely have anything to do with the works of Dwarfs and Men, but King Thranduil has a streak of avarice larger than most of his kind, so he encourages the boldest among his folk to join the exploration of Moria.
  • Classes: Druid (7), Fighter (7)
  • Multi-class: N/A
  • Bonuses: Elf racial bonuses, speak with animals 1/day

Elf of Lothlorien

Since the fall of Sauron, most of the inhabitants of Lothlorien sailed into the West. Those that remain are seemingly lost in a world that has left them behind, lost in a dream of past glories. Some of these Elves still seek to oppose the darkness left by Sauron's fall, and some of the Elves in Hollin fall into this group.
  • Classes: Fighter (7), Magic User (11), Ranger (7)
  • Multi-class: Fighter/Magic User
  • Bonuses: Elf racial bonuses, detect evil 1/day

Half-Elven of Rivendell

Though their leader Elrond has departed Middle-Earth, many of his kindred, loyal to Arwen and the new king in Gondor, remained behind. The adventuresome among their ranks are sometimes found in Hollin, seeking their fortunes and pursuing the hated Orcs that dwell beneath the Misty Mountains.
  • Classes: Druid (7), Fighter (7), Magic User (11), Ranger (7)
  • Multi-class: Druid/Ranger, Fighter/Magic User
  • Bonuses: Half-elf racial bonuses, Lore of the Elves

Man of Gondor

The power of Gondor is on the rise, but not all are content with the peace. The bold, the discontent, the greedy, and the adventurous souls of Gondor are drawn to Moria, seeking glory, riches and power.
  • Classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic User, Paladin, Ranger
  • Multi-class: N/A
  • Bonuses: Family Heirloom, Lore of Men

Man of Rohan

The fury of the Rohirrim, guided and channeled by Lord Eomer, still burns. The Riders of Rohan pursue the foul remnants of Sauron's army wherever it hides. Though unused to the deeps of Moria, the Rohirrim have come to see pursuit of their hated enemies in the depths as a test of manhood.
  • Classes: Cleric, Fighter, Ranger
  • Multi-class:N/A
  • Bonuses: Mount, Free weapon proficiency

Man of the North

The Men of the North receive undue scorn from the noble Men of Gondor. They are the Northmen and Dunlendings. Lesser men, perhaps, than the noble line of Gondor, but Men with the same desires as their betters, wealth, power and fame.
  • Classes: Fighter, Magic User, Thief
  • Multi-class: N/A
  • Bonuses: 2d6x10 extra gold, A map


Rare is the Shireling that makes the journey to Hollin, but other Hobbits of less renowned communities do show up from time to time. Like all Hobbits, they place comfort and food first, but some desire something more.
  • Classes: Fighter (6), Thief
  • Multi-class: Fighter/Thief
  • Bonuses: Hobbit racial bonuses, 8 weeks rations

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mind Shatterer

Mind Shatterer is a three foot long rod of polished bone, carved with intricate sigils and runes of magical power. Each inscribed symbol is stained a different shade of red, orange or green, creating a garish mosaic. The head of the rod is pierced with several thin strips of bone, and from each hangs a thin strip of rubbery leather which ends in a tiny, curiously misshapen, humanoid skull. The butt end of the rod is finished with a corroded and stained cap of bronze.

Examining Mind Shatterer for magical properties will reveal Epic charm and alteration magic at work. A Superb test of divination magic will fully reveal the device's powers.

Mind Shatterer allows its wielder to inflict debilitating afflictions upon their foes. Using this power requires two full rounds of concentration and the speaking of a command phrase. Each affliction has a range of 100 feet and affects all living creatures within a 15 foot radius (friend or foe). Each has a duration of six rounds. This power can be invoked at will (but see below for potential side effects). The effects of any affliction can be resisted with a Superb test of will. The following afflictions can be invoked:
  • Horror - Anyone within the area of effect is struck with a overwhelming sense of dread and terror. They will drop any held item and flee in a straight line away from the nearest living creature.
  • Suffering - Victims of this affliction are wracked with shooting pains and muscle spasms that make normal actions extremely difficult. All movement rates are halved, and any skill or action check suffers a Great penalty when carried out.
  • Vulnerability - Victims of this affliction are cursed with an inability to avoid physical attack. They will step in the path of a sword blow, lower their shield so arrows have a clear path of flight, or drop their guard to allow their foe a clear shot. Any physical attacks carried out against a target with this affliction always does maximum possible damage.
Mind Shatterer can be used as often as desired, but each invocation has a chance of inflicting a side effect upon the wielder (roll percentile dice):
  • 01-85 No side effect.
  • 86-90 Mind Shatterer inflicts an Average wound on the wielder due to blood drain.
  • 91-95 Wielder collapses, bleeding from the ears. Fair damage and unconscious for 2d4 rounds.
  • 96-99 Wielder collapses, bleeding from the ears. Good damage, unconscious for 2d6 rounds, and drained one rank of vitality for one day.
  • 100+ Wielder collapses, bleeding from the ears. Great damage, unconscious for 2d8 rounds, and drained three ranks of vitality for one day.
Each roll of 1-85 applies a cumulative +5 to subsequent usage rolls, until a negative result is rolled.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Return to Moria: The Pitch

This is the pitch I sent out to my group of regulars for our next mega-weekend game. Let's see who's foolish enough to sign up...

Return to Moria

Sauron is dead. Aragorn is king. Gandalf and his pals have sailed away. Ten years have passed since the One Ring was destroyed. The world has become a brighter place and the time of Men is at hand. Time for the valiant fighters, professional treasure seekers, greedy dwarfs and haughty elves to come forth.

Sauron's dark armies were scattered when the Ring was destroyed, but they didn't vanish. Instead they returned to the dark places beneath Middle Earth. Now, like a siren's song, the hidden wealth of Moria calls to the adventurous, the brave, the greedy and the foolhardy.

What it is:

Return to Moria will be an old school dungeon romp loosely (*very* loosely) based on Middle Earth. No complicated back story or deep preparation required (10' poles and torches suggested). I haven't made a final determination as to rules, but some potential candidates are:

  • 1st edition AD&D - classic standby
  • Swords & Wizardry - free retro-clone of original white box D&D
  • Labyrinth Lord - free retro-clone of original basic/expert D&D

Going back to basics for ease of character creation and less setup time. Also Dwarfs and Elves as classes! S&W and LL will be completely familiar to any D&D player.

Rough notes:

  • Everyone starts with 3 characters (1 2nd, 2 1st). There will be blood. Expect deaths.
  • Old school XP (kills and gold) with accelerated advancement.
  • Dungeon delving with the usual assortment of monsters, traps and tricks.
  • Did I mention the death part?

Characters will be based in the small town of Hollin that's sprung up west of the Misty Mountains in Eregion. There will be a tavern, a smithy, a general store, and a temple. There might be thieves and wealthy patrons funding expeditions into Moria too.

The mountains are dangerous, with various nasty creatures opening new entrances to / from Moria and waylaying travelers and explorers.

Your job: Get rich. Survive.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The Mageworm is a magical pest, of extra-planar origins. When they show up in the material world they appear to be two-inch long, dark green caterpillar-like worms, with thousands of fibrous yellow legs. They have metallic silver eyes, stubby silver antenna and six pairs of pincer-like jaws on their head.

Mageworms feed on magical energies and are drawn from their own plane of existence by concentrated collections of these energies. They are a bane to magical storehouses and archives, consuming the energies contained within magical constructs, writings or items with a ferocious hunger.

Mageworms can be kept at bay with fairly simple protective spells (a Fair test of protection magic), and many magical libraries have wards inscribed on their shelves and walls to accomplish this.

The creatures do have one interesting characteristic. For a short time after they consume a particular object or enchantment it's magic is imprinted upon their body. If a Mageworm is slain in this state its body can be used to create a magical potion that may impart the magical property upon anyone that imbibes it.

Creating a potion is a Superb test of alchemy. In addition to the remains of a Mageworm the process requires a Great quality alchemist's laboratory and the dust of a Great quality gemstone appropriate to the magic being captured. Once the potion is created check the following table to determine the result of the alchemical process:
  1. Creates a 1-4 dose potion that imbues the drinker with the magical property consumed by the Mageworm for 4-24 rounds.
  2. Creates a 1-4 dose potion that allows the drinker to project the imbued magic at will for 2-8 rounds.
  3. Creates a single dose potion that permanently alters the drinker, imbuing them with the magical property forever.
  4. Backlash! This 1-4 dose potion inflicts the opposite magical effect upon the drinker. It has a duration of 2-8 rounds.
Other than their appetites, Mageworms are harmless creatures. If disturbed or threatened they will return to their extra-dimensional plane of existence within 1-4 rounds. They can be captured or contained within special enclosures that have been enchanted with Fair protection magic.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shade Flock

They lurk beneath overgrown trees and within derelict buildings where shadows gather, their black forms creating a deeper shadow within the shade. The Shade Flock is a manifestation of the plane of shadow, taking the form of black, vaguely bird-like creatures that perch and lurk within the shade. They are most often found near desolate places, abandoned structures, uninhabited woods, or dark ravines. Normally they are harmless, albeit creepy, manifestations, but through certain summoning and binding rituals they can be turned to a darker purpose.

Researching the rituals involved in summoning and controlling a Shade Flock is a Great test of ritual magic, requiring access to an appropriate library or tome. The actual ritual is not particularly complex (Good difficultly). Once completed the ritualist can command the Shade Flock for one week, at which time the Flock returns to its plane of origin.

Shade Flocks can be used as both spies and thieves. The ritual required to summon the Flock also binds it to the ritualist, allowing them to see what the Flock sees.

The Shade Flock has the following characteristics:
  • Each Flock consists of a dozen individual creatures, which work as a sort of collective entity. Each individual must remain within 100 yards of the main flock.
  • The Flock must remain in shadow or darkened areas. Any creature exposed to direct sunlight for a full round is driven back to its plane of origin.
  • The Flock can fly at Good speed (subject to available darkness), and has Good vision and tracking ability. They can track the psychic energies of a target chosen by their summoner, tracking them with unerring accuracy.
  • The Flock has Great stealth capability, being nearly invisible in their native shadows.
  • Each member of the Shade Flock has Fair toughness and if forced to fight can peck or claw with Average ability. They have Great resistance to mundane weapons.
  • Flock members can carry small items, and have Good thieving ability. Once an item is in possession of the Flock, it can be teleported between Flock members at will, once per round.
The Flock's typical tactic is to shadow their target until darkness provides an opportunity to capture whatever they have been tasked with stealing. Once the item is in their possession they will scatter and use their teleportation ability to keep their treasure away from any pursuit. Shade Flocks will actively avoid conflict, preferring to fall back and regroup if facing serious opposition.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Oooh Spooky!

Halloween is almost upon us, which means:
  1. People are buying lots of candy.
  2. People are thinking about horror-themed games.
Since I can't do much about the first (other than recommend Milky Way bars, one of my personal favorites), I thought I'd do something about the second. Here's a culling of past articles and ideas that might be useful for a horror themed game.

  • Curses are a good place to start. My personal favorites are the Crawler's Curse  and the Curse of Crows. Two troublesome maledictions with a horrific theme.
  • Taking a psychological approach, the Demon Vial offers a different view on horror, where the possessor must face an assault delivered through dreams and visions.
  • The Demon Spawner  provides a potent foe with a horrific nature.
  • Have a horrible foe lined up and need some props for them? Consider arming them with the Demon Bone Flail or setting them up with the Circlet of Mental Mastery, two magic items with a dark tone suitable for horror.
  • Need to make your zombies and ghouls more potent? Consider infecting them with a nice disease or giving them a poisonous touch. My personal favorites from these categories are right here.
  • Need a cast? Consider adapting the Jungle Ghoul, Door Haunts, Revenant Spiders, or Mind Eaters to your campaign.
  • Finally this adventure arc isn't necessarily straight up horror, but there are certainly horrific elements to the story, particularly the Horrid Minions that appear in the adventure.
So there you have it, a dozen or more ideas for your horror-themed game. Go forth and terrify!

(and don't forget the Milky Ways)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Ogre Gang

This band of four ogres has been preying on travelers along a dilapidated road that passes through a stretch of wild land between two neighboring kingdoms. Unlike most ogres, this gang robs then leaves their victims alive instead of serving them up as the evening meal. The ogre's area of operation consists of hilly woodlands dotted with rock outcroppings and stream-cut ravines. The muddy dirt road winds through fifteen miles of this rough terrain, offering many locations to stage an ambush.

The Ogres

Merch - The leader of the gang, Merch is far too clever to be a normal ogre; in fact he is anything but normal. Merch was once human, the apprentice to a powerful magician. His master polymorphed him into an ogre for some minor infraction, but in the process Merch lost his memories of being human (he wears a fine silver amulet as his sole link to his past). He realizes he is not a normal ogre and uses his superior intellect to hide this fact from Grotch and Dorg, cultivating Bregosh's friendship as a shield against the pair.

Merch has the Good strength and toughness of a typical ogre, but only Mediocre combat skills. He has Good intellect, and a Fair grasp of some minor illusion and alteration magic. If forced to fight he wields a massive quarterstaff, though he prefers to use his magic abilities to avoid combat.

Bregosh - A towering, fearsome ogre, Bregosh would be a real terror if he had more than a child's mind. A serious head wound (which left a rather hideous scar) left Bregosh as something of a simpleton, a fact that Merch has taken great advantage of. Bregosh has an affinity for small animals and Merch caters to this by insuring there is always a little grain available so he can feed his 'pets'. He also views Merch as a friend and will protect him if he is threatened.

Bregosh is a brute of an ogre with Great strength and toughness and Good combat skills. His Poor intellect makes him a tool for Merch. In combat Bregosh wields a oak cudgel wrapped with iron bands and studded with bent and rusty spikes.

Grotch and Dorg - A pair of brothers cut from the same pattern, these two ogres are very typical of the breed, dull, strong and hungry. They provide the surly muscle for the gang, their baser tendencies held in check (barely) by Merch's wily scheming and the Bregosh's superior muscle.

Grotch and Dorg are typical ogres, with Good combat skills, strength and toughness, but Mediocre intellects. They're good in a fight, but not much use otherwise. The brothers use a matched pair of Great quality heavy axes in combat (see below).

The Operation

The gang's usual method of operation is to fell a tree across the road, then rob anyone that comes along, taking valuables, food and drink, along with the occasional horse or mule. Bregosh and Merch are usually stationed near the deadfall, while Grotch and Dorg block any escape once the trap is sprung. Merch will do the talking, while the others guard against treachery. They will defend themselves if necessary, but even Grotch and Dorg's dim brains have realized that stealing is less risky than killing.

If forced to fight the ogres, particularly Grotch and Dorg, will do so. If sorely pressed, Merch will order the retreat, making use of an obscuring illusion to cover their retreat. His favorite tricks include an illusion of additional ogres appearing from nearby cover, a wall of fog, and an alteration spell that obscures and alters the caster's trail, leading any pursuit astray.

The ogres have several crude camp sites scattered along the road. Each features a crude lean-to, a fire pit, and perhaps a small cache of foodstuffs secured beneath some heavy stones. They have a more permanent base in a small cluster of caves in the hills. Grotch and Dorg share a cave while Bregosh and Merch have dens of their own. Each ogre has their own cache of valuables and food. A fourth cave serves as a sort of common hall, with a communal cache of food and a big fire pit.


  • Merch wears a Good quality silver amulet, inscribed with his former master's personal seal. He also carries a pouch with an Average quantity of silver and gold coin.
  • Bregosh carries a pouch of 'pretties', random stones and pebbles that have he's picked up in his travels. He's added a few pieces  of jewelry to his collection, including a Good quality ruby ring and a Great quality sapphire pendant that bears a minor enchantment.
  • Grotch and Dorg are more mercenary, each carries a pouch with a Fair quantity of silver and gold coin.The axes they wield are Great quality weapons (with a little cleaning and sharpening at least), serving as two-handed weapons for human-sized creatures.
  • Each of the ogres has a Good stash of minor trinkets and valuable goods (silverware, pewter, silks, etc.) stashed in their respective caves. Merch's stash is hidden by a minor illusion.


  • Merch's former master is trying to find his former apprentice to reverse his condition. The party is tasked with finding the ogre and returning him alive to his master's care.
  • A rival of Merch's former master wants to recover the seal Merch wears and use it in a complex fraud scheme. The rival will pay well for item, no questions asked.
  • One of the two towns flanking the ogre's area of operations, wants them gone, they interfere with trade and are a hazard to the local populace. The other town wants them to stay, viewing them as a buffer against potential aggression from their neighbor. In fact the local lord has been paying off Merch and his crew to insure the road remains hazardous.
  • The axes used by Grotch and Dorg were actually made by a famous Dwarf craftsman at the behest of a local noble, a gift for the twin sons of his ruling lord. He wants them back!
  • The ogres have stolen the McGuffin and stashed it back at their caves. The party must find and recover it. Simply killing the ogres is not an option as the McGuffin's location dies with them.
  • Grotch and Dorg are scheming against Merch. They've secretly hired kobold assassins to take down their leader, leaving them in charge. The kobold gang has been spotted in the area and the party is tasked with getting rid of them.
  • Merch has begun to recall his past and is trying to find out more about it. He and Bregosh head into human lands to try and uncover his past.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sea Star

These large creatures inhabit calm bays and gulfs in tropical waters, their bulbous bodies floating just beneath the surface, supported by air-filled bladders. Each Sea Star has five long, flat, sucker-covered arms that spread across the water's surface, giving the creature its name. They can move, albeit slowly, using several rows of slim fins that line their bodies.

Sea Stars are predatory and have tiny clusters of eyes scattered along the length of each arm, both top and bottom. When prey comes within reach they attack with their grasping limbs, which they use to envelop and smother prey. Once slain victims are dragged to the central mouth where they are slowly digested. Any inedible bits, including bones and metal, are regurgitated and allowed to fall into the depths.

Sea Stars have the following characteristics:
  • Good toughness - The creature's large bodies are covered with a tough leathery hide.
  • Fair Hide - The Sea Star's natural bluish coloration and habit of floating just beneath the water's surface makes them difficult to spot.
  • Good tentacle attack doing Fair damage. Any successful attack means the creature has been entangled by a tentacle and will take Fair damage each round unless it breaks free (Great test of strength). Each round entangled allows an additional tentacle to increase the damage done and difficulty of breaking free by one rank.
  • Acidic spit - Once every four hours a Sea Star can regurgitate its stomach contents up to 30 feet in self-defense, covering a 10 radius area with Good strength acid.
  • Sink - If seriously damaged, a Sea Star will collapse itself into a shrunken ball, wrap its tentacles around its body, and sink into the depths, dropping 30 feet per round.
Sea Stars have an arm-span of 30 feet. They are often found in vast shoals drifting in still waters. Groups of the creatures have been known to camouflage themselves with seaweed and floating debris to hide their presence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lamp of Piercing Vision

This large lantern is made from polished brass and silver. The light source is contained within a vertical metal tube within a tube, with a bulbous lens of milky glass protruding from one side like a blind eye. The inner tube can be rotated with a thumb-wheel, exposing one of four internal lenses. The base of the lamp consists of an intricate clockwork mechanism which is wound with a silver key. This mechanism powers the lamp's light source, requiring three rounds of winding to power the lamp for one hour. If examined for magical properties the lamp radiates Great alteration and divination magic.

The lamp gives forth a powerful beam of light in a 20 foot wide by 60 foot long cone. This light is equivalent to a brightly lit room, and, depending on which lens is selected, has the following additional effects:
  • Yellow - this lens cuts through illusions and phantasms, revealing them for what they are.
  • Pale blue - this lens cuts through fog, rain, smoke or other mundane obstacles to vision.
  • Orange - this lens works as a sort of x-ray vision, revealing spaces beyond walls, doors or other barriers. It penetrates up to two feet of stone or wood, or six inches of metal.
  • Deep purple - this lens reveals extra-planar or phase-shifted objects within its area of effect.
Note that only one lens can be active at a time, and switching lenses requires a full round.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Drone Swarm

The first hint of Drone Swarm's presence is a faint, directionless susurrus, a drone if you will. As it increases in volume, lethargy creeps into body and mind, growing as the faint noise becomes louder. By the time the Drone Swarm is in sight, it is a struggle to keep awake as the buzzing roar wraps you in a cocoon of lethargic slumber.

Drone Swarm is a mobile colony of insects that roams vast distances in search of food and breeding grounds. The individual members of the swarm resemble over-sized mosquitoes or crane flies, with a swarm consisting of thousands of such creatures. Drone Swarms form in late summer or early autumn, when cooler weather and increased rainfall cause the aquatic larvae to molt and become full-fledged adults.

Drone Swarms are blood suckers, feeding on any warm-blooded creature they encounter. They emit a sonorous drone that has a soporific effect on any creature that hears it. Once creatures are subdued the Swarm can feed freely. Victims are generally unharmed by the feeding process (being the equivalent of a hundred or so mosquito bites), but the sleep effect lasts for an hour or more, leaving them vulnerable to other dangers. Certain species of predators, particularly reptiles, are drawn to the sound of Drone Swarms, and feed on creatures left sleeping in their wake.

Drone Swarms only last a few days, long enough to feed and breed. The creatures lay their eggs on leaves and branches overhanging water, then scatter and die. Drone Swarms have the following characteristics:
  • Drone - The noise of the swarm has a Fair chance of causing sleep in any creature that hears it. Most reptiles and amphibians are immune to this effect.
  • Poor toughness - Any area effect attack will easily destroy a Drone Swarm. Mundane attacks generally disperse the Swarm for a few minutes but do no real harm.
  • Average flight - Swarms can fly, but strong winds or heavy precipitation will disperse them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Obelisk of Undeath

The Obelisk is a five foot tall block of dull silvery stone incised with necromantic runes squatting upon a pedestal of darker stone shot through with veins of reddish crystal. The entire construct easily weighs several thousand pounds. A palpable aura of dark magic hangs in the air around the Obelisk, even a Fair test of divination magic will reveal an evil aura and Legendary necromancy at work.

The Obelisk was created as the (mostly) failed attempt by a necromancer to achieve immortality. It is a potent nexus of necromantic power, capable of granting eternal life. Unfortunately there are consequences. The Obelisk is a self-aware artifact, driven by the trapped soul of its creator, intent on maintaining its own existence and power base. It operates as a sort of negative energy battery, accumulating necromantic energies from the dying and using them to raise Undead Guardians (see below) to serve it. It has the following characteristics:
  • The Obelisk has a base area of influence 50 feet in radius. 
  • The Obelisk is invulnerable to physical damage.
  • Any sentient creature that dies within the Obelisk's area of influence charges the Obelisk with 1d4 units of necromantic energy (possibly more if the dying creature is very powerful).
  • Provided it has energy available, the Obelisk will discharge one unit of energy to achieve one of the following effects (roll percentiles):
Raise an Undead Guardian. If no remains are available, treat this as a roll of 51.
Enhance an Undead Guardian. If no Undead Guardian is available, treat this as a roll of 100.
Send forth an Undead Guardian. If no Undead Guardian is available, treat this as a roll of 100.
Increase the radius of its area of influence by ten feet.

Destroying the Obelisk is at least Legendary test of dispel magic. As a unique artifact, its method of destruction should be singular as well.

Undead Guardians

Undead Guardians are created from the remains of the living that have died within the Obelisk's area of influence. They serve both as protectors, defending the Obelisk from anyone that might attempt to destroy it, and slaves, obtaining living sacrifices to feed the artifact's never-ending hunger.
Undead Guardians are much like zombies or skeletons in appearance, depending on the age of the remains used to raise them. They have the following initial characteristics:
  • Average toughness.
  • Average attack(s) with natural weaponry.
  • Mediocre movement speed.
  • Average physical drain by touch, reducing physical strength / endurance by one rank if successful. Drained vitality is recovered at the rate of one rank per hour.
Undead Guardians that are enhanced gain the following advantages (roll 1d12):
  1. Increased toughness.
  2. Resistance to one type of elemental damage.
  3. Resistance to physical damage.
  4. Improved physical attack or damage.
  5. Improved movement speed.
  6. Regeneration of physical damage.
  7. Improved physical drain.
  8. Fear aura 10 foot radius.
  9. Vampiric healing via physical attack three times / day.
  10. Paralyzing gaze three times / day.
  11. Become non-corporeal for 2d4 rounds.
  12. Summon / raise 1d4 undead skeletons or zombies 1 / day.
Each enhancement adds a new ability (base rank Average), increases the potency of a current ability by one rank, or increases the availability / duration of a current ability by 50%. Undead Guardians must stay within the Obelisk's area of influence unless they are sent forth by the Obelisk, which allows them to travel up to 10 times as far from the artifact.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jungle Ghouls and Ghoul Worms

These hideous creatures are found only in tropical environments, where they are commonly associated with primitive ritual necromancy and cannibalism. Jungle Ghouls appear as emaciated creatures, their curiously striated, bluish-gray skin covered with thick deposits of keratin and tiny sores that ooze a gooey black ichor. A foul stench reminiscent of burning sulfur and rotting flesh surrounds the creatures.

Despite the association, Jungle Ghouls are neither undead nor magical. The creatures are created by a parasitic Ghoul Worm with a life cycle that includes gestation and growth within a living host. The Ghoul Worm's sticky eggs are picked up from dead hosts, either by victims attacked by the creatures, or by scavengers feeding on the remains, particularly flies. These eggs eventually dry and fall free. Those that end up on food or in water are eventually consumed by host creatures, any large warm-blooded creature will do, whose body heat activates the hatching cycle. Once they hatch the Ghoul Worms burrow out of the digestive tract and infect the central nervous system, wreaking havoc upon the mind and body of the host.

Creatures afflicted with Ghoul Worms fall under their influence within a week of infection. During the initial week the Ghoul Worms can be removed via a Good test of healing or curing magic. Symptoms during this time include severe fever and chills and a bluish tinge to the skin. After the Worms have established control the victim becomes a Jungle Ghoul, taking on the characteristic appearance and stench as the victim's mind is destroyed by the infestation.

Jungle Ghouls wander at random, though they are drawn to noise. When they encounter living warm-blooded creatures, they attack with whatever natural weaponry they have available. In the case of humanoid Ghouls, this includes clawing with nails and biting. Victims of Ghoul attacks have a Good chance of being infected with eggs. Jungle Ghouls are attracted to each other by scent, and often move in vast packs, leaving a trail of terror and death in their wake.

Jungle Ghouls have the following characteristics:
  • Good toughness and Fair attack skill with natural weaponry. The creatures feel no pain and attack with a mindless ferocity. Ghoul Worms stimulate natural keratin growth, turning weak nails and claws into effective weapons.
  • Fair tracking. Jungle Ghouls will relentlessly follow any noise to its source. There are some indications that Ghoul Worms increase the sharpness of the infected creature's senses.
  • Sickening stench. Anyone within ten feet of a Jungle Ghoul has a Good chance of being afflicted by the reek, reduced to gagging and vomiting for 1-4 rounds.
  • Slain by healing. Ghoul Worms can be slain with a Great application of curing magic. Cured Jungle Ghouls are left as mindless husks, incapable of thought or action.
  • Infection. Anyone wounded by a Jungle Ghoul has a Good chance of being infected with eggs.
Assuming they are not slain, Jungle Ghouls survive two to four weeks. After this period the Ghoul Worms die off, leaving an egg laden corpse behind.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cooking for the crowd

If you cook for your gaming group, here's a quick and easy recipe I picked up from my sister. It goes really well with my own chili.

Corn Pudding

1 15 oz. can of whole kernel corn, drained
1 15 oz. can of creamed corn
1 6 1/2 oz. package of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
8 oz. sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine all ingredients in a lightly greased 2 1/2 quart casserole.
Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour until firm and golden brown.

Tasty and dead easy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Shadow Wood

The Shadow Wood is a perverse and twisted manifestation of nature magic, a dark and terrible force given purpose and a sort of crude sentience by attacks against the natural world.

From the outside the Shadow Wood appears to be nothing more than a three or four mile wide patch of woods, perhaps a bit denser and more overgrown than most. Appearances are deceiving however, as those that enter the Shadow Wood quickly discover. Under the sky-obscuring leaves and branches of the Wood shadows gather, obscuring the faint, directionless paths that wind through its depths. Vines, undergrowth and limbs shift and rustle with hidden life, the close and heavy air seems to muffle sound and light, and briars and thorns catch and drag at gear and garb.

The Shadow Wood has the following characteristics:
  • Movement - The Shadow Wood can move up to ten miles per day through wilderness areas, half that through developed lands.
  • Disorientation - Those within the Shadow Wood face a Superb penalty to any tracking, observation, spotting or direction sense tests. Those that fail a test will believe they have succeeded.
  • Distortion - Divination magic suffers a Great penalty when used within the Shadow Wood, and if it fails, gives false results to the caster.
  • Obscuring - Vision is reduced to 25 yards or less by shadows, underbrush, and leaves. At night this is reduced to five yards or less.
  • Fading - Blazes, markers or flags left to mark a trail or route vanish within a few minutes.
  • Fireproof - The trees and underbrush within the Shadow Wood is fire resistant, applying a Good penalty to any attempt to burn it. Any burning material placed on the ground will sink beneath the earth and be extinguished within five rounds.
  • Ire of the Wood - Anyone entering the Wood with hostile intent, or attempting to cut down any plant within its bounds will suffer the Ire of the Wood. Shadows will reduce vision to a few feet, strange creaking, whispering, grinding noises will fill the air, and a silent, directionless wind will set branches in motion. Anyone within the Wood while the Ire is active will suffer a Mediocre physical attack from thrashing branches and brambles. Each creature has a Fair chance of becoming separated from their companions during the Ire. The Ire of the Wood lasts so long as anyone attacks the Wood, plus 2-8 rounds thereafter.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Door Haunts

Sarah's father came running into her bedroom "What is it honey?"
"There's a monster in my closet!"

This common childhood refrain is almost true, but the monsters aren't in the closet, they come through the doorways.

Door Haunts are extra-planar creatures inhabiting a dark and twisted realm of five-sided triangles, looming shadows and square lines that parallels the material world. They are drawn to the psychic energies generated by fear and loneliness, which pass from the mundane world to their own twisted dimension through extra-planar cracks that appear whenever a door is left ajar in the dark.

Usually Door Haunts are limited to passively feeding on whatever energies leak through, but certain combinations of angles and shadows allow them to manifest in the material world. They appear as twisting shadows that move from doorway, to corner, to crevice, all dark angles and glittering reflection. Destroying their physical manifestation is as simple as exposing them to bright light, but in the dark they are terrible foes.

Door Haunts have the following characteristics while manifested:
  • Extra-planar. Door Haunts are immune to all forms of physical or magical attack, though they can be repelled or sent back to their original plane via an appropriate use of Great extra-planar magic. Exposure to bright light (a good lantern for example), will instantly destroy their mundane manifestation. Their mundane manifestation has no physical component, it is a construct of pure angle and shadow.
  • Angle Walk - While manifested, Door Haunts can move instantly between any non-right angle edges within line of sight.
  • Psychic Feeding - Door Haunts feed on the psychic energies created by fear and loneliness. A Haunt that feeds for ten rounds can open a Planar Rift.
  • Planar Rift - A well fed Haunt can open a rift to their home dimension, transporting themselves and up to two human-sized creatures through.
The dimension of the Door Haunts is a timeless plane of shadow and twisted geometries. Those taken are trapped within constructs of Tesseract and Möbius. Anyone foolish enough to brave this alternate realm must discover a means of opening an extra-planar doorway, construct a weapon of light and angle that will be effective against the creatures of that bizarre plane, then locate those taken and free them from their geometric prison.

"There's no such thing as monsters."  

Those words haunted Sarah's father for the rest of his life. They were the last words he ever spoke to his daughter before she vanished without a trace.