Saturday, November 22, 2014

Undead as a Playable Class - HMS APOLLYON Player's Guide

A play generated race/class for my HMS Apollyon game - the creepy mostly undead Draugr.  This class is the result of a party of adventurers undertaking a mission on behalf of a lunatic lich they met and befriended within the hull.  In exchange for wealth and magic the party smuggled a pair of the necromancer's "children" into Sterntown, allegedly for the edification and education of these undead thralls. 

The Draugr

There is no crime in Sterntown greater than the practice of Necromancy.  While murder, theft, racketeering and fraud are all conditional, depending on the victim and the perpetrator, necromancy is forbidden to all and punished harshly with mutilation, exile and death.  The reason for this draconian rule rises from the history and fears of Sterntowners, both the Upper Deck’s elite and the masses of crew struggling to survive in the ship’s rusting bowels.   The risen dead a force to be feared aboard the Apollyon: The Ash Plague and its Ghoul Kings, the spirits of Sterntown’s unquiet dead and even the revenants that rise unintelligent and obsessed from  bodies left to rot in the cursed waters within the ship’s hold.  All undead are dangerous, and over the ages they have tirelessly worn down humanity’s hold on the vessel.  The War Amidship and retreat to Sterntown is still a fresh memory, with its loss of most human industrial capacity, the decimation of the Marines and the deaths of at least 60% of the population, but it is only the most recent victory in a slow war between living and dead.

Yet necromancy has a long history amongst Sterntown’s magic practioners, and was one of the most widely practiced magical arts amongst the sorcerous class when the ship was lost, before the Passenger cabals arose blending their blood with that of strange outsider entities to assure their progenies’ magical potency.  Some echoes of these times remain and there are still necromancers hidden amongst all classes in Sterntown, as the art is both easy and seductive compared to some other forms of magic.  These renegade necromancers create servants, but are careful to hide their existence; each necromancer thinking they are clever enough to avoid detection and gain power as the madness of their craft slowly takes hold.  Likewise the Ash Plague does not rest, and amongst its Kings and Queens the more sane and crafty have raised spies, assassins and agents that can easily pass for living men and women.

These undead parodies of life, whether agents of the Ash Plague, servants of hidden magus’, or undead thralls who have slipped their bonds and outlived their masters are known as Draugr, and exist hidden amongst the population of Sterntown, concealing their nature and eking out a marginal existence.  Many of these dead find their way into Scavenging gangs, as their natural abilities make them useful for dealing with other undead and the largely unregulated world of scavenging provides a chance to avoid official scrutiny, explain their odd appearances (scavengers always end up a bit off, being exposed to the horrors of the hull), and potentially contact their handlers amongst the Ash Plague.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Carcosans and Setting Thoughts on Carcosa


Some for some reason I’ve been rolling up Carcosans lately.  Here are their character sheets:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tomb of the Rocketmen - AREA III - The Encysted Tomb

AREA III - Encysted Tomb
Tiny glimmers of bioluminescent fungus scattered about the room most is reddish, but with some purple and yellowish green.
Rot overpowered by a cloying perfume odor.
Wall Fungus is infectious and poisonous
8 Tomb behind the wall fungus may contain treasures
2 Mobile Growths and 6 Zombies guard this chamber

The ladder enclosed in the white ceremicrete tube leading from AREA IV or AREA V is divided by a small landing when it reaches this chamber, and an obvious exit hatch that is notable only for the large red star and skull stenciled onto it.  Close examination of this hatch will show small sweet smelling tendrils of slimy reddish mold creeping around its edges.

Entering from AREA II can only be accomplished by open the sealed and ‘tone locked’ hatch.  However there is
a large glowing green button next to this hatch on the AREA III side, which will open the sealed door is pressed.  The entire interior side of the hatch is covered with a thick bubbling mat of yellow and red fungal slime that, like the other fungus on the walls of this room, is highly toxic to the touch.

The chamber itself has lost all semblance of an artificial space and is completely covered in oozing red,  yellow and purple growths of spongy fungus.  Notably two huge lumps of fungus, with leg thick trailing tendrils mound up on the slick floor.  The first is near the hatch to AREA II and the second along the Northern curve of the room.  These large piles quiver occasionally and odd round orifices on them seem to open and close rhythmically.  Almost invisible beneath the pulsing layers of fungus it appears that the marble walls of the room once contained sealed niches (12 of them) widely spaced around the room.  Six of these niches appear to have been smashed open, and fragments of stained marble are scattered on the ground near them. 

The massive fungal mounds are Mobile Growths , the stellar fungus’ defensive antibodies.  Concealed in the shattered niches are also six Space Zombies all of these creatures are well concealed by blankets of fungus and mold.  If not aggressively probed via something that can damage them (an arrow or spear) they will wait to attack until there prey is well within AREA III, and then do so with a 1-4 chance of surprise.  While attacking the zombies will seek to protect the mobile growths, but the fungal horrors have little strategy beyond luring their enemies into an ambush and overwhelming them unless the colony has greater knowledge of the party’s own tactics (see detailed description in New Monsters section).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tomb of the Rocketmen - AREA 1 and AREA II

 AREA I - Primary Entrance Hatch
Soft Yellow light fills the room from a chandelier of metal orbs, but leaves the chambers recesses in deep shadow.
Faintly musty, with a hint of a sweet perfume like odor.
Chandelier Ancient metal globe chandelier, worth (300GP), will take 2D6 turns to remove safely. Weighs 200lbs and bulky.

Several feet below the murky waters of the slough a mound of earth and rust colored alien fungus almost completely covers this ancient alloy tube, set with a round set of double doors.   The doors are two feet thick, a forged of ancient alloy stronger than steel, and cannot be opened easily by force, a difficulty that is increased because they are submerged.  The doors a sealed with a mechanical lock, which though made of ancient technology and so resistant to force (requires a roll under Strength at +15) to force with tools, can be picked by a competent thief or opened by magic (Knock).
Fungal Zombies Lurk in the Darkness

Beyond the doors is a 10’ diameter alloy tube that will rotate to act as an airlock, once the outer hatch is closed, revealing a domed chamber extending Westward in the form of an oval, 60’ long and 30’ wide.  Water from the airlock will quickly drain through grates around the edges of the room’s slightly concave floor and once drained (1 turn) reentering the tube will cause it to rotate, again facing the exit hatch.  The chamber is empty, except for a few encrustations of teal and cyan fungus on the ceiling and walls.  

The walls, floor and ceiling of the domed chamber are themselves made of a smooth white glazed ceramicrete.  The only sign of decoration in the entry chamber are a set of benches molded into the longer walls and a dangling chandelier of metal globes hanging in the center.  The chandelier is heavy and worth only a few hundred GP as a curiosity if a dedicated individual spends 2D6 turns carefully pulling, prying and cutting it from the ceiling.
An archway partially overhung with the thumb thick tendrils of cyan fungus provides the only interior exit to the entry chamber and leads down a twisting and uneven 180’ stair that descends at least 40’ into the darkness.  Along the stairway, molded into the cermicrete walls are the mottos “Through Adversity to the Stars”, “From the Stars Knowledge”, and “The Conqueror Returns”.

AREA II - Chamber of Arrival
Dimly lit by the soft amber glow of the central crystal
Damp, rot and a sweet perfume odor that increases in the Western half of the room.
Teleportation Crystal Instantly transports to area IX if touched by hand.
Panels (200 x 50 GP) panels require time and luck to remove, each ways 25lbs and is bulky.
Quartz Crystal (25 GP)

The stairs from AREA I disgorge into a huge rounded vault, 80’ in diameter with a ceiling lost over 100’ above in the gloom.  Drips of rank water occasionally fall due to seepage from the slough, and light shined upward will reveal ropey, striped (yellow and brown) fungus snaking from above, though none reach more than 20’ from the floor.  The room itself has walls made of a greyish alloy, molded into bas reliefs of man’s conquest of space. Moving clockwise from the archway that leads to the long stair this sculpture show: Sputnik floating above the earth, The eagle lander, Astronauts on the moon, Scientists toiling in a laboratory, Rockets emerging from silos, Men in space suits battling four armed Tharks, Rocket ships battling above a canal covered world, Spaceman tortured on a giant wheel by bug eyed amazons,  Beasts surround a submarine in the frozen seas of Uranus, Robots marching on a crater rim fortress,  A supernova, Identical women stand in formation armed with sabers, Yuri Garagrin emerging from a sunburst and A giant rocket dreadnaught battling a swarm of saucers.  While fascinating, these panels conceal no secrets, though they can be pried from the walls with great care and considerable force, to reveal girders of black alloy beneath.  

Individual panels are worth 50 GP each to the wealthy of Denethix for decorative purposes, but while the alloy is sturdy it tenders to shatter if torqued and each panel will take 1D6+2 turns to remove, requiring a successful D20 roll under Int -2 to avoid destroying.  There a 50 panels in all, though many simply show geometric designs vaguely resembling starscapes. 

In the center of the room floats a strange crystal growth, at roughly chest height.  It is a cloudy white, but vague clouds of amber light move within the crystal’s depths.  The crystal is suspended by an amber beam of light three inches wide and cannot be knocked free by a blow doing less than 20 HP of damage (AC 2).  Nor can it be grabbed, as it is a terminal for a teleportation system, immediately whisking anyone who touches it to AREA IX.  Is somehow removed the crystal loses its magical appearance and proves to be a large lump of quartz worth 25 GP.  

A stairway with ornate alloy hand rails leads down to AREA VI. On the Eastern wall of the chamber is a hatch almost identical to the one leading to the surface.  It is sealed from this side, but will open if the same tonal key is used as in AREA I, leading to AREA III.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

HMS Apollyon Player Manual - Turning Rules


I have always thought that the ability to turn undead was one of a cleric's most powerful skills, given the number of skeletons and zombies that seem to crawl about in the average D&D game. Yet I often find players have a good deal of confusion about how turning works, especially against a mixed group of undead or large numbers of the things.  I've written up some turning rules with a long example that cover most of the oddities I tend to find in my games, and while it's nothing new or groundbreaking I believe this codification will benefit the players of clerics in my Apollyon game.


Can your Cleric Turn this - possibly
Divine Magic is different from arcane magic in that it depends on the channeling of external power and grace from powerful otherworldly entities rather than the caster’s own will and knowledge to manipulate or overturn the static nature of the universe.  Mechanically there are two systems of Clerical Magic aboard the HMS Apollyon: Monistic practices, which behave mechanically much like arcane magic, with a wide variety of spells that may be cast a limited number of times, and Ecstatic practice which provides a smaller list of spells, which do not always work and may fail catastrophically, but which may be cast almost at will.

Despite mechanical differences they employ, all divine traditions grant the power to hold at bay or even control certain varieties of unnatural entities. While both the Temple of Lyriss and the Church of the Queen are opposed to the undead, demonic, or diabolic in the case of the Temple, the Ship Spirits oppose corruption and demonic influence and the Cult of Leviathan may command the loyalty of sea creatures or drive off Devils.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Another list of HMS Apollyon Magic Items - Necromantic Boons

Horrors from the UMENTIONABLEs Collection

A lich, but not the Unmentionable
The Scavengers in the last game of HMS Apollyon broke the only real law aboard the vessel and did a big favor for the 'kindly' old lich known as "The Unmentionable".  In return Mr. Unmentionable has taken a break from his process of stitching various cadaverous limbs onto animated shark corpses to allow them to rummage through a crate of magical items and take one each as a reward.  It's likely that Unmentionable doesn't know or much care about the value of these items, he's that kind of obsessed academic, or maybe he's started to see the party as a valuable set of catspaws?

1. Meathook Flail
A length of corroded steel chain, interwoven with dried cracked sinews, the very rust of its surface marking them with jagged glyphs of power.  The 6’ long chain is both effectively unbreakable without magical aid, and topped with a ghastly array of age pocked hooks.  Beside looking intimidating this flail is a magical weapon with two necromantic powers.  First, any living creature slain by the flail will be raised as a zombie in D4 turns to wander the area it was created in and attack any but the flail’s wielder.  These (base: 2HD, ATK Bonus 0, -2 to Initiative, AC 13) creatures are beyond communication except for the occasional moan of affection for their creator or anger at anyone else.  They won’t follow commands or move from the immediate sight of their death and will decay into uselessness after several sessions of play. The flail’s more terrible power is the ability, once per session to animate into a writhing, clawing hydra of metal and rust, attacking any the wielder commands it to for 1d6 rounds.  The spirit animating the flail will require only 1 HD of damage to drive off (temporarily it can be summoned anew next session)  but is immune to normal weapons and attacks with an ATK bonus of +4 and an AC of 15.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HMS Apollyon Exploration Rules and My take on the Overloaded Encounter Die

The Overloaded Encounter Die (and several other rules below) is an idea stolen directly from Brendan at Necropraxis, and one that I first enjoyed in his “Finchbox” game – a vaguely ancient Chinese sandbox populated with Matt Finch modules.  I have since adopted the die in my own Apollyon game, and it may be the single best element of that game, because it makes exploration tense/interesting, encourages player activity and allows disorganized GMs like myself to ‘keep track’ of several variables without complex GM facing subsystems.  It may be worth noting that this idea seems to have its origins in Torchbearer, which simply puts everything on a brutally efficient timer, so that player resources rapidly diminish.  

Weights and Measures for Scavengers Aboard the HMS Apollyon

As a system or a ‘hack’ of 1970’s era D&D The HMS APOLLYON aims for relatively flat power curves (for both characters and monsters) and a focus on survival exploration and treasure hunting rather than combat and heroics.  At the same time it’s the goal of the setting to focus on atmosphere and character development through play rather than mechanics, and so I have tried to use simple abstract mechanics rather than complex simulations for as many elements as possible.  

In exploration two, perhaps counter intuitive, subsystems work to increase the tension of delving into new areas, and atmosphere and simplify record keeping for both player and GM.  The first of these is an encumbrance system that may seem strict, or possibly ridiculous at first, but has in play proven to be helpful at giving explorer’s meaningful choices about what they choose to take with them into the hull, without requiring the sort of calculations by coin weight that classic D&D encumbrance either rapidly fall to the side or turn the game into an exercise in spreadsheet use.

The Second Element is the use of an “overloaded encounter” die for random encounters, where every exploration turn (traditionally 10 minutes of character time) results in something happening.  Each pip on the traditional D6 random encounter check (rolled every turn) has a result, and while one of those results is a random encounter, the other five represent either environmental events or a depletion of party resources.  Combined with an encumbrance system that makes resource management an actual element of gameplay and makes Strength a useful statistic for all sorts of adventurers.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Everyone Hates Halflings

A Most Reviled People
A companion piece to "Demons of the North" and "Dwarves are Horrible" discussing the oddities and inhuman awfulness that I like to give to demihumans when I run Anomolous Subsurface Environment. Vanilla Halflings aren't perhaps as bad as Dwarves in thier boring almost featureless description, which universally (except for Darksun's jungle dwelling cannibals) seems a pallid and half-hearted copy of the Shire's Hobbits.  In a lot of games lately halflings seem to be the first demihuman race to get replaced - with anthropomorphic animal people usually, or with goblins - this isn't a bad thing, but it certainly shows a certain exhaustion or disdain within the tabletop hobby for halflings.  ASE keeps halflings fairly close to the vanilla D&D norm, but like dwarves and elves it adds the twist that halflings are the result of ancient goblin genetic muckery (goblins being the debased descendents of 'grey' aliens).  I expand on this idea and have recast ASE's Halflings as an oppressed but internal (they have no culture or homeland to return to) minority within Denethix.

“Are Halflings even a people?  More a plague, like poverty or the weeping cysts  - another blight of these cursed times, roiling across the land and lingering to choke the life out of anywhere it has taken root, much like the cloud so sick rock gas that used to boil from the Lanthanide Wastes” – Ray 4375 Beta, field researcher 3rd form – Temple of Science
A pair of Classic Jeff Dee Halfling
Halflings have it bad, and most, both halfling and other think they deserve it. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Set of Regional Maps

I've been taking it easy with creating game content this week, but I did draw up these maps for Sorcerer's Skull.  I don't know what his plans are for them exactly, but it was nice to draw a sea monster.

First one is hand done with minimal treatment, the one below has been messed with via some filters.

Also I'm kinda trying to figure out what the next project should be.  I've got a couple of plans, but not sure what I want to do.  First, finish Tomb of the Rocketmen, and put it out as a bare-bones PDF (it's similar in scope to Dread Machine) and then maybe put it together in with rewrites of the other ASE Denethix Marches projects (perhaps including a redone Obelisk and Red Demon).  Second, finish up another ASE adventure that I wrote 80% of and dropped - the Old Brewery as the basis of a few ASE urban adventures (Old Brewery, The Grunky Escapade and Tower Adventure I wrote up with a zombie version of He-Man's Two-Bad.  Lastly abandon these old projects and jump full bore into A big Fallen Empire project - I'll call it "The Verdant Vaults" and it's an experiment in building a dungeon that changes (specifically becomes more alive and overgrown) as the players explore it.  It starts a desolate space almost empty of encounters, but the longer it's explored the more it wakes up, and grows.  I like the idea of the project, but I'm not sure if it's viable.  Any of these three would likely end up on RPGnow - despite my dislike for charging for hobby products, I think I need a bit more exposure on these things, and that seems to be that way.  Plus I might be able to hire someone else to do art that way, and I rather hate drawing.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Pretender's Dread Machine - Adventure PDF

The Dread Machine

The project I’ve previously hinted at in finally finished.  A classic module length adventure that relates to, but is in no way a direct sequel my previously written Prison of the Hated Pretender.  Designed to be used in any fantasy setting, it is not intended to be especially strange or outside the norms for most traditional fantasy adventure games.

I’ve written the adventure  using the Labyrinth Lord system, but it should be easy enough to adapt to anything similar.