Friday, August 29, 2014

Ghouls (5e D&D race)

And from the seed of Mary, rotten, teeming, turgid, swollen with life, a great pregnant mystery hidden in the rock, came a new life so that we may live again.

And we proclaim that we are Her people, set apart, we keep the festivals, we punish the corrupt, we keep sacred the night, we carry Her word, our flesh a monstrance our lips trumpets.

The ghouls in our catacombs and slums are a symbol of a final hunger, a need that turns one's mouth on its own flesh. It borrows its name and its lethal ability from the Arabic,  where it is grasping.

The ghul is like a nightmare about gluttony so total it transforms the man into a hyena that hunts its own kind.

The Ghouls of Kievs are gluttons, forever hungry for power, order,  control. They form empires, they prolestyze endlessly by sword and church and culture. They are intellgient,  forming symbiotic relationships with the larva they host (their skin translucent, often luminous, cilia waving, appendages dark cyanotic shades), devouring  the unfaithful monstrously, alive, gouts of gore drenching their smart imperial uniforms, confecting and submitting to self-perpetuating machines of torture and correction, massing huge serf populations to build earth cracking mining machines and factory-cities. They retain armies of artists and craftsman as everything must be embellished, epaulets,  claws, tromplouiel, frogging, liveries, all the signs of imperial power, acknowledged by the ghoul but never appreciated, just a skin to pull over walls and clothes, to make them acceptable.
The Russian aesthetics are most likely an accident of larva finding host.

Kievs is bound to a meteor lodged in Limbo's primal soup and the meteor draws to it lost cities and in the meteor is a larva and it has made our leaders pale and cruel and beautiful.

Or else

Mag, evangelist of torment and living saint of the church of christ unburied, with her parasitic double (Gog), is Mary. Or an incarnation of the Maggot Bride. Or she made the whole thing up, but she visited Kievs before it was much of anything, and she visited the ghoulgiving larva upon them.

Or else

The larva crawled from some lab dish or some holding pen in Inner Kiev and infected the scientists and crashed Inner Kiev into Outer Kiev.

Or else

The larva are some experiment in exploration and colonization of extreme places, gone out of control.

any such suggestion is, however deeply offensive.


Ghoul life cycle goes larva > moth > ethereal cyst > astral mites > larva.

The larva attaches to the base of the skull, requires a weakened host (or one recently dead, mostly intact), is white, with scrabbling black forelegs and a long, fat body and hard tiny head. It gestates for hundreds of years, eventually blossoming into a butterfly like the moon, wet and beautiful, eating rational thought and grammar (so that words happen, but never conjugation or sentences, and scientists are uncertain if this indicates a similar loss of memory or memory - making ability or if the past is locked behind a failing, broken communication machine) and all the colors but black, which is like poison to it.
Then excretes rationality like a filthy black shell,  wraps wing over wing and buries itself in a cyst on the tissue of ethereal matter, causing ghosts paralysis, seizures, clogging the flow along the Astral plane, bulging and then hatching thousands of crawling Astral mites, plaguing the hunting hounds of elysium, keeping Odin up at night until they grow fat and long and white and then swimming back down to limbo, called by some strange magnetism back to Kievs.


The larva consumes colors and blood and other humanoid waste, like it was made for it and filters out a blood substitute, like a second heart, kidney and liver. The ghoul grows pale, then translucent, its skeleton visible beneath strangely fleshy pulsing tissue, the coursing of circulatory matter obscuring the tissue. Watching or talking with a ghoul is disorienting, like talking to three different things at once (bone structure followed by lagging tissue and fluid exchange structures while trying to pick up the common human expressions).

Damage to the human tissue,  if extreme is regrown as waving cilia. The scalp and forearms, neck and chest are sometimes gouged to produce ornamental rills. The digits and cilia, at their extremes are blue, purple, black cyanotic flesh.

Ghoul art is nearly entirely mimetic, hyper - realistic copy of life or aping of the art stolen from some other people or place (conquered or coveted).

Poetry is generally accepted as the true and most authentic expression of ghoul self/ves, the humanoid self writing mostly doggerel, the larva, in Deep Speech, writing about dreams of wings and another birth and strange shores planes away and travelling astral tides and what cerebus tastes like. Ghouls refer to themselves in the plural, or as 'ves (drop the "sel" or short for vessel) as either an adoption or royal affectation or as an honest assessment of their personhood. It's unclear how much of the larva intrudes on Ghoul thought. It appears to be inconsistent. The Ghouls talk of a walking ves and a dreaming ves, and, among conservatives of a certain streak, male and female ves.

Art is also often terrifying. The less sensible and mimetic it is, the less it can be like a metaphor or a set meaning, the more it may contaminate the sleeping ves, making it wake early in confusion and revulsion, leading to the death of half ruptured host and unripened larva. 

+2 CON
Advantage against poison, impurities of the blood, the extreme pressure of deep sea and space
Medium size
Walking speed 30 ft
Usually lawful
Speaks common and halting deep speech as the humanoid ves and the sleeping ves translate for one another
Advantage in grapples
There are two sub races

Luminary Ghouls
+1 Wis
Have access to the light cantrip, centered on their own bodies. This is a strange light and may attract predators, especially spectral or astral ones.

Paralyzing grasp, DC 5+proficiency bonus to save or else be paralyzed for d4 turns.

Of the Palm
+1 Cha
Paralyzing grasp, DC 10+proficiency bonus to save or else be paralyzed for d4 turns.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rituals (5e D&D )

A wizard did it

Concept: beyond a prescribed spell list, magic users (or anyone with the right books, ingredients and facility (likely a mix of Int, Wis and Cha, or just pure Cha)) can effect anything they want. The idea is to let the players and GM redefine the solution to an obstacle using magic, but at a steep cost and to add sub quests.

Rituals are broadly defined by effect. To cast down a foe, to find what is lost, to learn a true name, to learn a secret of an enemy.

Books and scrolls found in old and lost places may contain ritual instruction though wizards and the like may discover a ritual by spending as many days (or hours, if the effect is duplicative of a spell known and trivial to the caster) in contemplation.

Ritual foci are required for ritual's not confected by magic user contemplation, and then are still strongly desirable as they guarantee success. Foci tend to be macguffins, and confected rituals have pseudo foci kludged from pledges, the casters will and body.

There are three poles to consider.

1. Relative ease. The caster posits an outcome or desire. The GM considers the obstacles to obtaining the outcome naturally. Compare this difficulty to the magnitude of die sizes here and eyeball the die size. If mimicking an existing spell, use the spell's level to determine the size (sl6 is a d100,  a cantrip is d4, if greater than an sl6, add 55/additional spell level to the d100).

Divide the max die value by 2, rounding down.  This is the ritual's inertia (effectively, hp).

2. Similarity to spells. A caster with knowledge of spells or any spell - like ability may have advantage on all rolls. Dragonborn of a blue chroma may have advantage when calling thunder, aboleth and illithid and squids all gain advantage on ink, obscuring, psychic effects, etc.

3. Time and Power. Takes a day for its relative power (a d100 ritual takes seven days, a d4 one). To speed things up, add another half die to the inertia or another 2 pledges (reduces time by one step or d20 hours).

Resolution. Rituals are resolved narratively. Non casters can pledge blood (reduced to 1 ho for a day), treasure (1,000 gp, must be in jewel or statue or unworkable ore. All ancient or long lost. Hideous obelisk of Leng, reliance of the stars, etc. Coins stamped in infernal or lost mints also work), promises (enforcement of which the GM will extract in force at the worst/best time. Usually involves infernal or terrible agents.) Or  spell slots (all for the day) or an uncommon magic item (consumed or destroyed or exhausted, rarer items.counting as more pledges, but similarly depleted regardless if all pledges are necessary). 

The GM establishes the steps before casting, each step requires a contribution of the above and reduces the inertia by a die roll. Casters may also pledge as above. Pledges may be made in addition to the steps. At each step/pledge, roll a die and reduce the inertia by that much.

Steps may be opening portals or creating a jackdaw of rubbish and paper and bird bones or whispering into a bole in a frozen tree. There are as many steps as the GM wishes, usually as many as characters in the party less d4 (the point is to make things interesting). What constitutes a step is up to the GM, and the GM may, probably will, solicit suggestions from anyone casting or pledging.

Additional pledges can be made, and must be made if the ritual's inertia isn't overcome at the end of all the steps and after all the pledges are rolled or else the ritual fails.

Using a foci guarantees success in most cases though defeating inertia with rolls likely means you can keep the foci for reuse (like a catalyst).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Slaadland (D&D/Planescape, places more suitable for lower-levels)

each square is roughly 18 square miles

This is about the those land masses and the people living on them.

By an internal logic similar to Aristotle's striation of the sublunary sphere into concentric elemental slices, the biomes sinking around the Slaad are oriented to one another by temperature, climate and native life such that the temperate biomes often agglomerate into a band on which either side is a more tropic and more arctic band. This isn't universally true and fingers of ocean - impossibly deep cracks teeming with ocean life - span biomes and offer routes for trade, transport and communication (both via sail and submersible, especially the latter, as many share subsurface tributaries). Similarly, deserts and arctic cankers may sit in the middle of a jungle and while, over long centuries, each biome wanders along its borders and the oceans spread and swallow deserts and jungles flood or dry out, natural processes are much too slow and the inevitable inclination toward ultimate dissolution and end in the primal soup of Limbo prevents more serious transition.

Tectonic action occurs here too as the Slaad shifts or the Limbic body, both like an ocean and a plate, rubs against the Slaad's crust of biomes, but at the level of biome (one biome interposed over another in quick tectonic action - what life can survive in that new place doing so, most of it dying off, most such under-places being complexly dead in a generation or two).

More jumbled: the agglomeration of biomes can be both vertical and horizontal, meaning that there may be forests under forests (one the mirror of the other, their roots tangled or else actual layers where the roof of one is dotted with the root-tips of the other) or a forest swallowed by a swamp. The inhabitants of the Slaad's districts refer to upper- (lit by the weird light of the Slaad's mind palace) and under- (usually lightless). Oceans may fill such undertructures, but many are dry.

The gentry of the Witchocracies that populate Slaad-touched swamps talk of going to under-forest and upper-swamp, and weave into their long black hair the little bones of the birdlike and lamp-eyed goblins that roam those lightless woods. Some such places are lodged like a bezoar and have petrified, bushes like sharp grey teeth to the touch, or are otherwise well preserved, treasure troves of older technologies.

The city-states of the Slaad lands (Ariesne-Orlay, the Atlantis-Ys Protectorate, Kievs) all have on lease from Gaz'sham traitor-pirates drill-tanks, boring rigs, assaying instruments the size of a house, are seeking caches of lost technology sufficient to kill or incapacitate their Slaad or one another or rocket themselves either out Limbo or at least keep them from sinking further.

The closer a biome is to the Slaad or the Limbic body, the greater the variation, the greater the deformation due to radiation. 

Each biome pulled from the material plane tends to be in a state of natural decline even before its capture. Accordingly, any civilizations and peoples brought with their homelands are usually living in ruins, People living among technologies they no longer understand in a land that has turned against them:

"Had satellite imaging existed, those distinguishing features of civilized life - towns, roads, cultivated expanses - would have been mostly invisible to the camera eye under their canopy of primeval growth. Beneath the green scrim, millions of wolves roamed the twilit forests, packs prowled the rutted streets..." (God's Crucible pg 152-3)

What remains: roads left to the depredations of forests, roots and erosion, and the casual habitation of highwaymen and independent tollbooths, aqueducts full of stagnant life and weeds, their vast cisterns home to salinae burbling water songs in brackish or water-goblins making earth-bombs at the behest of beings vast, ancient and aqueous, factories (into which teams journey to salvage metal) in which lurk old guards in rusting armor and books of inscrutable power, museums and laboratories to be ransacked for arcanum and histories, castles being squatted in by revolutionaries or sorcerers looking for help or people to use or someone to do some nasty work, cities teeming with people from a multitude of biomes and planets, refugees from a collapsing or long lost biome.

Memories of one's home being taken by the Slaad are consonant with myths of cataclysm and apocalypse; Slaad capture mechanisms are as different as possible from the subtle engagement of Ravenloft.

Xaositect cells pamphlet civilized areas, establish dischoirs, overthrow tyrants and recruit the more democratically inclined. 

Over all this looms the Slaad, and over the Slaad, its mind palace, radiating psychic abreality and chaos and entropy, a forever mouth and gut swallowing whatever is around it, pullulating monstrosities, Slaad-intention spreading over the sky like a foul borealis moving in waves of mutation. This is a place from which the eye is averted, to which no maps lead, but to which every compass points.

Slaad mind palaces are like machines, massive circuits of chaos and maleficence, its hooks and conduits like flumes into other planes, chutes down into a gnawing and total chaos, its few pools and more still chambers huge networks like dungeons, teeming with nastiness, mutation and horror, hordes of psychic weapons and engines.

And into which come Xaositect Legions on their continent-ships, nothing offends them more than the vestigial order and civilization that clings to Slaad land masses and they often attach great weights or engines to drive these masses into the primal soup at a much accelerated pace.

Some Slaad share biomes at their extremes, most, however, do not and at the far end of any biome is what appears to be a vast sea of alien, inhospitable landmasses floating according to obscure tectonic action, swallowing and shitting out one another like amoeba, blind and idiot flagella, geometries that sicken the mind, over which or through which crawls the black ships of Gaz'sham or the cumbersome 'zerai missile boats.

Slaadland peninsula into the Limbic body

attributions: me and Avalon Hill

Thursday, August 14, 2014

In Limbo (D&D/Planescape, little bit of Spelljammer)

the funeral of angles


Limbo is the swamp of the planes. It has primal soup ("fire and earth") but it also has clusters of places in the broth:

             there is the endless valley of Fennimar, infested with hermits and where civilization is outlawed Xaositect engines hum in shaded glens, gathering, gathering

             and Shra'kt'lor, last hope of the Githezerai, seven-walled and iron gated and domed, this war-city of millions houses the mentat throne of the 'zerai god-king. Its colleges and general-governors produce military leaders of psychic and martial puissance, its forge towers weapons, siege devices, psychic armaments and world-enders. At least once a week, a Githyanki death squad attacks or a Xaositect bomb artist self realizes along the outer walls of the city

             and the Floating City is a warren of tenements and temples (all for the god-king) massed around the Mage Spike, both temple and academy of magic, a miles-long meteor of abmetal mined by the 'zerai for psychic augmentations and thaumaturgic acids from the depths of Limbo's primal soup. The tenements are a horror of thieves and desperation and the worst of human chaos and poverty of spirit, maintained by the 'zerai to train their spies and thieves and assassins and chaos evangelists, each neighborhood (a "Believing") led by a temple. There are more halflings here than humans, and their family names are stricken from the rolls of polite hobbit society. The temples provide fences, informants, food, money, bribes and take or buy all of the same. There are a number of barely-tolerated home churches of Chaos Catholics here too, nurturing pacifist crusader cells

             and the factory cathedral of the dwarves, Gaz'sham, slowly being swallowed by the primal soup, a city-planet reclaimed by the dwarves who desperately try to halt its descent and destruction. It is still belching out ships, the dirge walkers of Limbo, black metal barges like blinking boxes or cannisters, slowly plumbing the depths of Limbo's soup, or using ponderous logic machines to squeeze through planar pores

              and the breeding stone of the Slaad, a lumpen, be-cogulated and ponderously limbed nugget, the petrified, stolen fetal twin children of dead Primus

              and the pincipalities of malordering, thrones of the Slaad, their twisting hallways like the sinuses in a skull that is all sinuses, submerged in rotten soups of water and acid, the gagging fug of plant decay thick, whole biomes of temperate and tropical zones collapsing into the swampy water and then falling into Limbo, the greedy siege engines of the Slaad pulling down more and more from the material plane, organizing destruction and dismantlings. whole insect populations, mosquito men on giant stirges, have been created here and will live nowhere else and will someday be swallowed again. the Slaad sit like enormous kings over the rot of existence

             and the shaping academies of the anarchs, custodians of Limbo

             and then the limbic crust

Mind over Matter
Anyone can maintain some structure in the primal soup.

Use the higher of Intelligence or Charisma and multiple that by 10 square feet. You can maintain this much space without effort.

You can maintain 1.5 times as much with concentration.

You can maintain half as much and give it some mobility (about 20'/round).

For as many bonus points afforded by the higher of your Int or Cha, you can add architectural/sculptural details with concentration (each 10 square feet of detail costing 1 point)


Imagine a ridge long enough so that all things in the material plane could be balanced atop it ponderously. Down one side is dragged all things growing, ordered, being built or re-built, the act of building, the act of creation, down the other side, all things decaying, falling into madness, heat death, disintegration and Limbo sits at the bottom of that side, like an inevitable pole.

When a person dies they go to some hell or whatever. Their temporary meat time portioned out and expended, their meat falling to Limbo while the perpetual substance floats from the material, no longer bound by gravity or the girdle around the material plane with all its wide open pores.

When a person forgets, when ideas are discarded, art forgotten, languages and words fallen out of use, architecture and theories and books and all the rest of civilization's rubbish abandoned, it falls toward Limbo. 

Others have noticed Limbo's usefulness as a dump, the always-entropy of the place and use it as a dump - mostly for things not dangerous enough to dispose of properly, though there are a multitude of examples of people tossing into Limbo things much too dangerous to throw away and leave to time and chance.

This waste accumulates and slowly deteriorates, but is being accumulated faster than it decays.

This detritus of the limbic crust has self-organized, accreted into a system and that system retains intelligence. It knows everything within it, so it knows nearly everything that is forgotten, rarely speaks, is thoroughly insane and largely hostile, full of regret and hunger for all the good things not discarded. It sees Limbo as death, it sees anyone on its structures as a parasite, it sees itself misused by the universe and it knows its made of junk and it wants the good stuff, the stuff no one wants to throw away. 

Don't be found out.

Most of all the brain hates the Universal Encyclopedia. It sits alien and immovable like an old nail bleeding rust in the constituent stuff of the brain. It wants the nail out, but it also wants it cracked open, it wants everything added to itself and the Universal Encyclopedia sits there, mockingly. The limbic crust will promise anything if you can undo the Encyclopedia and empty its contents into the crust and it will betray you. Accordingly, there is usually at least a few demigods sitting outside/under/around the crust, pelting it with megaton radiant bombs periodically to remind it that its being watched.

If the limbic crust grows too powerful, there are a number of deities of order that will simply aim creation engines at and blast it with things until the things that constituted the crust's thoughts and ideas are pushed into limbo or overwhelmed, its consciousness effectively wiped, its thinking structures, perhaps, destroyed or disabled.

Each accreted loci or brain segment in the limbic crust is called a Funeral. Funerals are organized around a central concept. Dirges are portals, conduits or just plain roads connecting one Funeral to another. Dirge walkers crawl through Dirge space, studded with instruments or plating or weapons, hung with sacramental writ or draped in blasphemic totems.

The largest Funeral by far is the Funeral of Logos, where reason and arguments and knowledge goes to die. Its artificial valleys and hills are reams of rotting paper smeared with ink and ruined books and effaced cuneiform obelisks.

The Funeral of Angles is a tangle of geometry and metal and stone and most doors here open to Pandemonium. Most things here can be used as doors to anywhere, if you know the trick, and gravity works by perspective. Its outer limits are rimmed with buildings and ruins, slowly sinking into Limbo proper.

The Funeral of Music and Poetry is home to the College Discordant, a center of Xaositect music and philosophy, its oceans of sound waves and meter home to parasites that eat the order of sounds, who swallow phonemes and scales, who infect whole languages until no one can speak to or understand anyone else. Anyone infected speaks increasingly in gibberish, their voice increasingly modulated, like in a vocoder until it just becomes a high pitch static burn. Xaositect terror chemists weaponize these parasites.

Ravenloft sits somewhere between Limbo and the Material Plane. The Material Plane itself, like a Dali clock, tends more and more toward Limbo as time progresses. No one knows how to stop this. Chaos Theorists (and many others) suggest that the Material Plane may be just a huge, secondary limbic crust, the scab of a previous civilization. Xaositects call Ravenloft the Funeral of Comfort and the Material the Last Funeral.

attributions: Paolo Girardi, Druillet, Ravenloft, Slaad, Xoasitectcs, Shra'kt'lor, Fennimar, the Floating City, slaad, anarchs are all thinks TSR did. I just changed all of them.

Nimrod in the Universal Encyclopedia (D&D/Planescape)

An ancient dwarf whose toenails and beard have reached prodigious length, he wears purple robes of Bebelith Silk and gold torcs and his crown the metals of which have fused to his flesh after eons of slow nuclear leak, he is Nimrod.

He guards the entrance and exit to the Universal Encyclopedia.

He can remember very little and nothing about himself and spends most of his time shuffling around or sleeping in a chair. 

Nothing pleases him more than visitors.

Nothing angers him more than thieves, which, for his purposes means anyone trying to take something out of the Encyclopedia without permission.

He assumes anyone sneaking around is a thief.

His memory is held in a certain prison on the Happy Hunting Grounds.

He is, in fact, a muscle lich and is still quite muscular. His phylactery is what was once his favorite book (a book on flowers, long ruined by all the flowers and plants pressed into it). He will be overjoyed and weep if the book is given to him, but he isn't sure why. He hasn't bothered to memorize spells in ages and the spells he once memorized have been horribly jumbled such that he can neither really cast nor memorize spells (can't free up slots).

medium muscle lich, chaotic neutral
AC 14 (Natural Armor)
HP 345 (30d8+210)
Spd 30'
22(+6) 18(+4) 25(+7) 10(+0) 12(+1) 20(+5)
Skills Perception+10, Bows +8
Senses truesight 60’, pass per 20
Languages all
Res. spells effect with disadvantage
Immunities non-magical damage
Challenge CR 13 (10,000 XP)
Legendary Resistances (d4/day). After failing a Saving Throw, may succeed instead.

Multiattack. May Punch/Headbutt twice (see Legendary Action)
Punch/Headbutt. melee attack +10 to hit, reach 5’, one target hit  10 (d6+7) bludgeoning damage. Treat as magic weapon.
Legendary Action
Can take 3 Legendary actions on any turn and always uses one of the random effects during his own:

1. Move

2. Punch/Headbutt
3. Grapple anyone he thinks is stealing a book or trying to sneak away
4. Investigate/look

The following effects occur (roll d8 each turn), assume it effects everything within a 60' radius of the Tender but for the Tender, unless otherwise noted. Spell-like effects that have a save use DC of 23:

1. I Forget. Everyone, including Nimrod stop what they were doing/loses a turn and can't remember the turn. Whatever happened at that point had still happened, just no one remembers it. Any spells being cast fizzle. Nimrod forgets why he was angry and looks around at all this mess, tutting.

2. Where Are My Glasses? One target has to spend his next/current turn moving at speed away from Nimrod, looking for its glasses (he doesn't wear any and is only supernaturally-sighted, having long since lost his natural vision. This is deeply confusing for him. If you give him glasses, though, treat subsequent rolls of this as a 1 until such time as Nimrod forgets about the glasses).

3. EONS of Papercuts. Tiny wounds appear on the body causing 27 (5d10) damage, making anything you do with your body done at a disadvantage and causing and dealing another 10 (d6+7) damage.

4. Hush. No speaking or communication of any kind this turn. This nullifies 6 and 8, but only for this turn.

5. SPELLLS. Casts Power Word Stun on one target (150 hp or less targets are stunned and must make a Con Save each turn or remain stunned), Teleport one target into a room at least 120' feet away, and Magic Missile (for 29 d4+1 darts)

6. Wait, What? Casts magic mouth-type effect on all within radius, including Nimrod. Now whenever someone speaks, it sounds as if a different affected person is speaking (who is speaking for who changes each time someone stops talking/someone else starts talking). This will confuse Nimrod for a turn, after which time it no longer cares and continues being angry. Lasts until Nimrod no longer angry.

7. Hide and Seek. Casts a variant of Magic Jar such that one target's soul is dispossessed of their corporeal tether for d4 turns (after which time they can return to their body). They can "possess" another item and move it about and try to possess another sentient creature (which kicks out their soul) (all Cha saves to resist posession). 

8. Wait, WHATTTT? The associative links between intent and physical action on the one hand and speaking and narration/description on the other are crossed:

            i. if a character tries to do something, they only say what they are trying to do (this includes saying, "I am going to try and sneak past Nimrod" out loud instead of actually sneaking). this doesn't count as an action.

            ii. if a character tries to say something that they could attempt to do, they instead attempt to do that thing. If they try to say, "I think we should sneak around Nimrod next time" they instead just think about sneaking around the Tender. If they try to say, "let's not attack Nimrod any more" then they get "stuck" and can do nothing else that turn because their action-grammar is funky (they can't think-act for other people. If they had instead tried to say, "I don't attack Nimrod" then they'd be fine.). To speak x you have to say that you are trying to say x.
Nimrod lives in the only regular entrance into or out of the Universal Encyclopedia. He sleeps in long chairs or in his old chariot or on or under old wooden desks amid seemingly endless stacks of books, scrolls, papyri, skins, wax boards, slates, and every other writing surface ever used. He doesn't eat but can't remember why. Is shocked if you suggest he is a lich.

When reduced to half his health or less (the first time) Nimrod immediately stamps his feet in frustration and books and scrolls and tablets, etc fly from their cubbies and nooks and buffet the room (Nimrod is struck, but unaffected), dealing 7 (2d6) damage and knocking everyone prone (DC 23 Dex Save to avoid the knockdown).

Whenever reduced to 0 hp (but not killed because phylactery) Nimrod collapses, exhaling grandly. This breath blows like a gale and unsettles Dust of Tongues (see bottom of blog entry) in the area, filling the room with a cloud of Dust of Tongues (totally obscuring regular vision, requiring a DC 20 Wis Save or else fall victim to the Dust's deleterious effect.

attribution: Francois Fleming

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Places in Limbo: The Universal Encyclopedia (D&D/Planescape)

All things are retained in the Universal Encyclopedia. The Encyclopedia looks like a tower of arches on a spiraling, ramped pathway. It is on every plane and there are many ways in, but the primary entrance is on Limbo, in the Funeral of Logos, amid plains of failing words that burrow into the skin like rot grubs and burst novel and useless vocabularies from your corpse, whose moldy paper hills and drab watercolor trees are stalked by bands of thought thieves and of course, the Jabberwocky.

The Encyclopedia is a bit like a pin piercing the planes, and like the proverbial pin, is nearly impossible to find until you step on it. 

Inside, it's stacks and shelves and cages and cases. Marble floors, columns, walls. Water runs down (sometimes up) most walls in sheets from somewhere far above (theory: it's coming from "Dam, Broken" or maybe its "Lake" or "Ocean"). There are endless rooms and cubbies and reading nooks, stairs up and down. If there is top or bottom, it hasn't been sounded.

The use of fire and lanterns is strictly prohibited and the halls are unlit but for the holding cages, whose lights blink and fluid glows softly (treat as a candle).

There are books but also scrolls and tablets and nearly every other media on which words may be printed. Some writing has been transcribed from older texts into newer media - there are, for example, holographic lexicons of Sumerian cuneiform - and other clever or desperate or capricious lexographers have recorded languages not yet spoken in places not yet made on scrimshaws. There are animals in cages and animals roaming about and everywhere is cluttered with the trophies of Nimrod's glory days (strange animals, stuffed). Every kind of thing is there, literally (people that lived, people that will live all of them sleeping on all planes and in all ways, unable to wake or do anything while in the Encyclopedia), everything but magic.

Accordingly there aren't spell books here, because magic is selfish and secretive and not a part of anything/something else entirely. Wizards could still probably find spell books because Wizard's minds are a mess.

Everything is cataloged, but Nimrod (the guard/docent/custodian) can't remember where the catalog is (it is, of course, under "C").

The Universal Encyclopedia ("Oh, Ark of Knowledge, Oh Sum of Forms") is worshiped by academic-clerics, priest-librarians and mathologizers and idolized by knowledge pornographers. Worship grants clerics either Knowledge or Trickery Domains. 

Entries in the Universal Encyclopedia are diegetic lichs: their form may be carried out (borrowed) but their essential substance remains in the Encyclopedia. Destruction of an Entry requires destruction of the idea/substance of the Entry.

Destroying anything in the Encyclopedia removes it from all existence everywhere for all time until someone else invents it again. Destroying things like hunger and hatred and evil never do much as we just immediately re-invent them. Pacifist-terrorists, Chaos Catholics, revolutionaries, and other persons and peoples intent on reality schism still try, from time to time, and their corpses litter the hills of Limbo.

Cleaver terrorists will hire saboteurs to destroy apex predators or a single person in an attempt to destabilize ecosystems or powers.

There are, of course, a great many things in the Encyclopedia that destroy ideas/substances either purposefully or as a byproduct - fascist logic engines, parasites that devour ideas using language or other ideas or art as vectors, a machine that makes new things by crushing up old things completely and entirely. 

When attempting to carry an Entry out of the Encyclopedia, the borrower finds themselves drawn inevitably to the exit guarded by the Encyclopedia's guard: Nimrod. The exact mechanism is any mechanism that works, usually through a kind of suggestion  or mass illusion or, if those fail, the Encyclopedia just shuffles its page-floors so you wind up at Nimrod's exit.

The rule of the Encyclopedia, as is clearly stated in all languages on the walls, column, floors and molecules in the primary entrance/exit hall and, for the ease of the visitor, in all possible sizes, colors and spectrum as well as in thoughts, ideas, songs and images, require three things for the borrowing of an item:

1. a deity's permission
2. an item of equal value (meaning: you have to create a new idea or a new kind of thing of equal value [according to Nimrod] to be able to take the thing you want with you)
3. one must not acknowledge in any way the thing one is borrowing (cannot speak to, cannot look back at) while still on Limbo

(there used to be two rules but Limbo didn't like people taking potshots with just-borrowed cross-planar mortars or releasing loaned planar mites into its flesh, so it poked through truth and fact and added a third rule)

Time passes and entropy reigns and the lich fails and an Entry must be restored by its substance. Husks of Entries, empty book-forms like brittle chrysalis crunch underfoot and the leathery shed skin and rotten guts of the animals and people lay at the feet at the Entry's current incarnation.

Dust reaches the waist in places, often at least the ankle. At its deepest, the dust has formed sediment and even ossified into rocks.

These leavings, being the ruined diegesis of a pure form, are a sort of incomplete, nearly universal language, the near total expression of all forms. 

per snort, 30% chance its useful, 70% chance its obscure words or conjugations of irregular verbs or morphemes and phonemes fallen out of use or illogical combinations of idea-flesh-sound, and DC 20 Wis Save or spend an hour vomiting words from your own language (you're disadvantaged while communicating for the remainder of the session)

may be smeared onto a text to make it legible in your language (this literally changes the language and can deform the original meaning and may ruin magical texts (10% chance per level of magic as well as relative complexity). Can be used on the tongue or dropped on the eye to have the same effect as the Dust of Tongues (DC 25 Wis save required, however). Used by certain torturers, spies and demons to concoct Gabber (see below).

May be used as an ebenezer/arcane focus for casters. Can be crushed to have the same effect as the Dust of Tongues. Swallowing a fist-sized rock causes one to be proficient in any language relatively common language and have advantage when trying to read or communicate in an obscure or dead or magical one and when making any History or Arcana check. After eight hours, a massive headache (exhaustion level 1) and disadvantaged when communicating for the remainder of the session (at least).

Gabber (DC 15/20 Con Save poison)
Weak Gabber forces the user to speak without stop for d4 days. There is an attending risk of starvation and dehydration, and, as the victim cannot sleep, exhaustion is guaranteed. The victim has control over what they say, however.

Stronger, lethal Gabber makes speaking sublimates all bodily functions to speaking. Everything will try to communicate meaning, hands signing, toes pointing. Death is usually cause by asphyxiation - speaking without trying to breather, the victim gasps like a fish suffocating.

A recurve bow 5' tall, unstrung and snapped in half, requiring attunement, STR 12 to use. Any arrow shot from this bow strikes to the truth in addition to whatever other damage or effect it causes. The first blow, dispelling any one illusion (DC 30 dispel), the second any one lie (DC 25 command to not not lie) and the third any planar distortion (displacement/phasing/brings ethereal and astral beings into this plane, gives flesh to the incorporeal).

to repair:  the gut of librarian-wyrm unkilled (ancient dragon) to re-string and a set of tools from a divine bowyer and a dwarven smith to repair its delicate mechanisms and rune-filigrees. 

The Foot of Nimrod
Tarnished, now used as a bed, once a grand sky-steel chariot. Once hitched, moves at great speed for twice as long without tiring mounts, can be used to fly at the same speed (which will freak out terrestrial mounts) but is built for a being greater than you (at disadvantage until attuned and without STR 18). 

The Night Crown
An Assyrian-style crown looking like a pale gold cylindrical tower. The first crown worn by a mortal, composed of the night sky, a moon and several stars. Inherently magical, an ancient symbol of status and respect in all outer planar courts. Extremely cold. 

Gorm & Glot
There is a guard dog in the Encyclopedia (the Gorm) and a parasite eating its diegetic lichs like a bookworm (the Glot). The Gorm is never around because it's chasing the Glot. Both will try to recruit help if anyone looks able.

More on them later.

attribution: Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Speaking Common Wherever in D&D 5e

This is a short one on communicating in Common wherever. To follow: the Universal Encyclopedia.

I used to have more complex rules for this, but 5e solves this nicely.


Assume that everyone on the material plane speaks Common, a totally democratic language that's mostly just a mash of other languages in the region. I speak my language, you speak your language, we live nearby, we can make it work. Sort of like everyone making do in cultural hubs of the Roman empire, but with enough travel and trade to keep at least some sort of morphological/internal consistency in all of Common. Under fascists and in some churches, the use of Common is verboten or, at the very least, signs of a weak character.

In game terms, it's a pan-language that doesn't properly exist, a set of dialects that are really just their own languages coupled with the human drive to communicate.

It's likely that were a person to teleport from one end of a continent to another, the Common they encountered would be vastly different and require greater effort to pick up. Even as you move further and further away from home, Common becomes increasingly less coherent, eventually putting you at a disadvantage when trying to interact using your Common v someone else's Common (which can be rectified if you spend enough time on it (about a month of game time with regular interaction, half that if you're putting a bunch of time in with native speakers).

Poems and novels in Common are, by definition political and often experimental, tend to revel in action, pornography, profanity, scandal and scatalogical humor and are usually about regular people or trickster deities. The best cookbooks and the best sex manuals were all written in Common.

Famous and notoriously difficult dialects include Salt (spoken in Armada), pig latin (spoken in school yards), Cant (actually a conlang with a tiny body of real phrases - mostly variations on "where can we meet and talk like normal people?"), and Jabber (the language of math, machines and modrons, possibly the most true Common).

attribution: Iou Kuroda/Appleseed Alpha

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Salamandarin (D&D 5e species/race)

Salamandarin are one of many races made by the Slaad (specifically, these these Slaad). Like the Slaad, they are native to the boiling swampy plains of rot and entropy in Limbo.

Salamandarin look like 5' long axolotl salamanders, with stubby faces and slightly more human looking-mouths (flat teeth, lip-like structures, smaller mouths, little black tongues), caudal fin, shorter tail and external gills (which they decorate with intricate patterns wove of strands of Bebilith or Lolth silk, or, if denounced/exiled, pierce or dye). They eat decaying matter of any kind (it just needs to be soft enough to gum), but preferring thoroughly rotten grasses and fish. They may walk bipedally, but generally prefer to walk or swim with all four legs. All four feet/hands have shortened, opposable thumbs.

Most are translucent with blue-black eyes and pink external gills and fingertips (sometimes instead black). Others are deep green or black or red.

Salamandarin are organized by generation (all from the same hatching, usually in the hundreds of thousands) and congress (all the generations for a specific Slaad). They do not differentiate by gender or even age-within-generation, but by generation (which is used purely for reference/association), proximity to the Slaad (which is of much greater social import) and in/out of congress (which is of final importance). Those closest to the Slaad are, of course, highly mutated/modulate by radiation from the Slaad's thought-palace.

All internal matters are resolved by voting and while deference is paid to the more important members of the generations and their congress, all votes are equal (votes are first by generation whenever possible, then, if still necessary, by congress).

Salamandarin memory and experience is shared by any other of the same generation on the same Venus-sized planet or similarly sized place within a plane and Salamandarin personality and language is with specific reference to this shared, communal memory/experience. The translation of this memory/experience, the Salamandarin language, is called, "the Story." The fundamentals of the Story are retained from generation to generation, but each generation in a congress retains idiosyncratic and personal meanings and so each generation has varying signs, with major upheavals in a congress's culture marked by a virtual inability to understand one another much of the time when certain words and core concepts undergo a shift in meaning/signification.

Inflection is often added by filling ones mouth with water and then speaking. If water is not to hand, gestures of the forearms/legs are used.

A Folk Hero of the Salamandarin might say that they are are a hero to Zz'x and Sh'thy, but a villain to Zz'ai - its memory/experience grants it both the perspective of its allies and its opponents. 

Salamandarin art tends to be a mixture of sculpture and narrative (the story being embedded in the memory of making the sculpture, which in turn is common to all Salamandarin).

The Salamandarin are, accordingly, often fatalists about things that have already happened and rarely hold a grudge, instead celebrating the cleverness or cruelty or luck of the winner and mourning and caring for the loser.

A generation votes regularly to renounce elements of the thought/memory, at which point they are no longer within the Story and (literally) may not be spoken of and can only be vaguely conceived of or even really sensually experienced (and only vertiginously). This is usually done in the name of political and social unity. The Renunciation Ceremony is short and final.

Salamandarin whose entire existence is politically or socially dangerous are offered total self-Renunciation or they will be Denounced. In either case, total exile from the Story and all of Salamandaria, an inability to exist or express oneself in one's own tongue, a total loss of self.

are by generation, then arbitrary modifier
Zz, Sh, Xs, Thur, Ty, Ka, Zh, Shi, Shu, Sh
followed by one of
x, a, ai, thy, xhu, tsi, tu, bo, ki, kai, y, yll

Repeated names are extremely common.

Salamandarin Traits
increase intelligence by 2
reach maturity by age 5, with larval/guppy state beforehand, living sempeternally (until killed)
alignment is usually chaotic or neutral
size ranges from 4 to 5 feet, medium sized
speed on land is 30', in water, 40'
amphibious can breathe in air and in water, needs to keep skin moist to enjoy the benefits of a full rest (ie, becomes exhausted)
proficient in Int/Arcana
languages are the Sigil Dialectic of Common (and possibly Undercommon) and usually the Story
have advantage when making Int/History checks when the subject matter is strictly outer planar 
subtypes are denounced and emissary-evangelist

Denounced are excised from all Salamandarin congress and cannot speak the Story, but can vaguely understand it (it sounds like words that mean something deeply emotional but totally incomprehensible). Usually proponents of radical thought, like kindness or, "maybe these Slaad are kind of fucking terrible" or, "I'd like to get out more." They are often confused by the sight of another Salamandarin and will follow them about, trying to understand themselves.
increase wisdom by 1
proficient in Dex/Stealth
have advantage when making a Save against psionics

Emissary-evangelists come preaching the gospel of Slaad, the necessity for the end of self-governance and the superiority of the material plane. They will not (or likely cannot) acknowledge any Denounced they encounter in their travels.
increase charisma by 1
proficient in Cha/Persuasion, the use of the flail
have advantage when making a Save to discern illusions

attribution: photo of axolotl
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