Saturday, 11 May 2019

Dwarven Strata, Carbuncle and Neuroliths

Dwarves have always seemed a bit boring to me. I’ve never really ‘got’ them in the way that Tolkien or D&D seem to present.

In my mind all dwarves are druids, but druids of stone not wood and nature. Possibly dryads even, connected wholly to this element that they live in and work in endlessly with little regard to all else above.

Anyway, i’d like to reclassify dwarves as the different strata of rock they live in. This is their climate, both geographically and socially. It affects them in ways that being born in Equatorially or in the Arctic Circle would have on us and in the same ways being raised in a rural or urban setting would. We’re more alike than we are different but the differences are notable and interesting.

Some are of the bedrock, others of the surface, none are evil but all are different. The water, the stone, the soil, the trash, these all make them different.

Dwarves feel holistically connected to the strata they’re raised in. And are vitally happy within it. A dwarf would happily sleep upside, resting on their head, in their own strata, they could caress the rocks there night and day and get seldom bored. Digging too deep or too surface-bound and a dwarf is likely to get homesick, to feel uneasy and anxious. They start to feel a psychological sunburn the longer they’re exposed to those alien rocks. Given the passage of enough time the effects will be permanent, driving the Drawf insane.

Legends say the Duergar are the way they are due to Mind Flayer meddling. The truth is the rocks did it to them. They dug to deep through fear of the Mind Flayers chasing them. Deeper and deeper they went as their mind warped and disfigured, so far from their own strata.

A great Dwarven monk once posited to me that this was due to their neuroliths being so out of alignment with those rocks surrounding them. What is a neurolith you ask? I asked the same thing. Some creatures eat small stones to help them digest, these are called gastroliths. As it turns out, dwarves eat rocks so voraciously that they are part of the gestating process. The most diminutive foetus of a dwarf forms around minerals in the Dwarven womb. This becomes the neurolith. All dwarves have one, a rock in the brain. Some hungry Xorn will rip open a dwarf’s skull just to eat their neurolith. A rare delicacy.

Followers of Linthor, the Great Stone, will cut out the neurolith of their loved ones on their death bed and add it to a communal soul stone and make rites and offerings to their collective memory there. A breakaway faction of Linthor followers prefer more insular private shrines of where only one neurolith is kept and other douse it with water for luck and guidance before a particularly dangerous dig.

Dwarves are often able to accurately guess the neurolith of another strata when they come across one another. Dirt Brain and Cobble Mind and others in a similar vein are common insults.

The Carbuncle is a mysterious creature to surface-folk. They may be seen only once in a generation. A blind bird-mammal hybrid. Like a turkey crossed with a cat. Some humans have wasted their whole lifetimes hunting for Carbuncles. The most obvious feature of a Carbuncle is the stone lodged within their skull. I’ve commonly heard in the pubs that line the edges of town, men boasting to have seen Carbuncles dart across their fields or scamper down holes like giant moles. The biggest lie of the boast is often that the stone lodged in their skull is something wildly precious, a giant ruby or sapphire, even a block of gold. The truth of the matter is that Carbuncles are the failed experiments of the Dwarven mages of the Order of Black Naxor. And the stone lodged in their skulls are merely neuroliths. The mages had tried to create their own life forms, reanimating the soul of the deceased dwarf by fusing its neuroliths with the bones of moles and the deep cave birds.

Some dwarves are nomadic, whilst others create great subterranean kingdoms but an almost universal trait of Dwarven-kind is a reverie for the earth. They see themselves as custodians of the rocks. They live to tirelessly dig. Robot as you might know has Slavic roots with the meaning do-er. Dwarf has Dwarven roots with the meaning digger. A dwarf will deep of digging and think of digging throughout the day, while digging, while eating, while fucking. A moment won’t go by without thoughts of digging crossing their mind. Something that riles up a dwarf more than anything else is the idea that some other species is digging in their rocks and that they’re doing it wrong.

Dwarves have exterminated whole civilizations of Drow and other subterranean races for digging incorrectly. This crime is often as simple as digging at all whilst not being a dwarf. I’ve seen surface dwarves watch as a group of friends dig a few stones from the ground to use as building materials or to skip along the street, only for those people to mysteriously disappear days later. Don’t mess around with digging if there’s a Dwarf around.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

1D10 Things that find their way into your home

It was my intention to try and write a post each week to keep on top of my thoughts. It turns out my last post was over a month ago though and all I have is reams of notes instead. Pah. So here's some small/strange creature ideas I've been working on.

1. Gloopglopps
They slide on the ground like liquid. The leave no trail. They’re like a stain that moves. They eat the dust that falls onto surfaces, they make the air feel dry. They hide under surfaces as you approach, beneath beds and wardrobes, thin as paper. The house you live in will feel sterile and static. As they grow more ravenous they move their way up from dust to eating small crumbs and mould. They may even eat the lint from your pockets and if very precocious, the fluff from your bellybutton and the wax from your ears. Everything in your abode will feel preternaturally clean. This might seem like a good thing at first but the weight of your existence will feel lighter, like all your efforts are less effectual, like you have no bearing on the world around you, you leave nothing to this world, not even skin and toenails, not even bogies and hair strands, how could you possibly consider leaving something greater like a piece of art or a well recited song? Day by day your existential crisis will grow and the world will feel like something distant and alien that belongs to everyone but you. Suicide is the most common cause of death for those living with a Gloopglopp and most never know it was the source of their anxiety.

2. Belly Gnomes
A species of extremely diminutive gnome. Often between the size of a finger and a penny. Tom Thumb may have been related to a Belly Gnome. They mine food from your organs and they're very patient about it. Belly Gnomes will sneak into your room at night and watch you sleep. Sometimes you can see them scurrying behind books or behind nooks in the moonlight trying not to be caught. They take very few risks and will watch a target for weeks before doing anything. One night you might wake up in a coughing fit, rush to the bathroom and shove your head under the tap, finding it terribly hard to breath. That's a sign a Slab Gnome has slid himself down your gullet and into your stomach. Depending on the lubrication used you might be left with a lingering taste of butter or oil in your mouth. They revel in the acidic warmth of the gastro system like a human enjoys a hot bath. While inside they'll eat anything and everything that passes. This causes them to balloon massively in size while the human target withers away, growing thin. According to dubious back-street surgeons there are apparently there are certain poisons that will kill the Belly Gnome, trapping it dead inside of you which they'll cut out for a fine price.

3. Pipe Pips
Tubular creatures that slide around inside of pipes. You might be lucky enough to glimpse one while cleaning the hair or carrot bits from your sink. They move through the sewer systems to get into houses. All Pips work for a mother Pip and will take any food they can find and drag it back into the sewers to her. Food can be anything from leftover meals to nuts and bolts and even the family pet. If you ever return home to see your dog lodged halfway down your kitchen sink, now you know the reason.

4. Coal Conks
Mimic monsters that pretend to be coal so that they’re added to fires. The fire gives them energy which they feed off. Mostly harmless, they enjoy eating the warmth from the air. You might only notice them if you have a fire going but the room never gets any warmer. In winter while the snow is piling up at the windows of your shack, a Coal Conk infestation can be especially cruel.

5. Gloomspiders
Not actually spiders. Not necessarily gloomy.
They are the results of lonely thoughts of shed hair.
Humans shed hair wherever they go. Like skin and saliva. We produce these things endlessly and never give a single thought to where they go.
The hair blows in the gutter. It gets mottled in slime and shit in the streets.
It becomes tangled and wrapped up in itself like fairy lights before winter.
The most remarkable thing about it though is its predisposition to loneliness.
Once it is lonely it gains sentience. Sentient hair are Gloomspiders. Sometimes it considers to itself if it needn’t be sentient first to be lonely.
That’s just one of those mysteries of life. Gloomspiders often ponder this much like humans ponder what the purpose of everything is.
Gloomspiders are loneliness made living.
They want so desperately not to be lonely that they’ll scurry into your home at night and crawl down into your throat to be with you.
It may not have even been your hair but you’ll choke to death all the same.

6. Moon Mites
Moon Mites are mites like any other. Almost microscopic, on the tip of your finger they’d look like spider droppings or an ink blot.
But they don’t live on the tips of fingers. They live in the air, carried by currents.
Sometimes if you look up at the full moon at night you might see a trail of hundreds of billions of them passing over the lunar radiance. Most people disregard it as clouds. It isn’t.
You could go your whole life and never see a Moon Mite but one day there could be a storm, a shift of air fronts, pressure changes or the swing of seasons and suddenly they’d be everywhere.
They descend on towns, not through a will of their own, not through malice but due to atmospheric currents.
You might be sleeping one night with the window open, the curtain fluttering in the breeze and slowly, one-by-one the floor of your room might begin to fill with them. An endless tide of Moon Mites filling up every inch of space.
Before morning you and your loved ones with have suffocated under the weight of them, not noticing the minute and incremental increase of pressure until suddenly your lungs don’t have the strength to inhale.
And then, with another change of winds they all blow away again, swept by the currents high into the air.
Whole towns have been decimated by scourges of Moon Mites. Ghost towns where no sign remains of what killed the inhabitants.

7. Turntiles
Children used to sing a nursery rhyme about Turntiles, turnstiles and bear bile but it was considering too uncouth and an end was put to it.
Now they’ve mostly been forgotten about.
Turntiles are orphaned Mimics. Babies who have had their parents slain before they were taught the true ways of being a Mimic.
When a Mimic gives birth it is, like the births of most species, an horrendous affair full of slathering and globular liquids that wizards still haven’t agreed names for. A Mimic may produce a litter of many hundreds.
The Mimic’s offspring will fall to the ground it stands upon and instantly mimic it. Sometimes this is stone, other times wood and sometimes tiles.
Now, this might be the very moment a beastly warrior bursts down the door slaying the Mimic-mother dead on the spot before looting the room and fucking off.
This leaves the Mimic babies as orphans, cast upon a frightening world. And what will those frightened babies do? They will stay rightly still, looking just like natural tile work. These are Turntiles.
But within them hatred and fear and revenge will grow until they, in their litter of hundreds will sneak from the dungeon and into nearby towns.
People walk upon them everyday not knowing they’re there beneath their feet, the natural cobbles of their town an inch higher than usual, a detail no one notices.
The Turntiles will sneak into houses pretending to be patios and floorboards and glazed kitchen tiles.
One day they’ll crawl over the walls and onto the ceiling and wait for you to be washing the dishes or slicing bread or some other mundane task before falling and cracking open your skull.

8. Pauses
When a cat dies it does not die. No cat dies. That’s just the way of cats.
Bastet, the real one, not the sham Egyptian one, once made a deal with Death to ensure that a cat would never die. But Death is not fair, Death is a being made of monkey paws. A deal with Death will never be as you expect it.
So what happens to the cats? They become stuck in limbo. Part of them moves on to an afterlife, all but their paws. Their paws are stuck in our world. Little ghost paws.
The paws like to pitter patter around at night of tin roofs. And sometimes they’ll sneak into your home. You might even see them. Soft little paws and nothing attached to them, just wispy anti-space.
When they’re not being observed they’ll lift up socks and other soft things and carry them off.

9. Hygana
A shadow like any other but standing upright and at your door, or your window, or in your closet. It comes to you, like a bad salesman lurking just out of sight. Obvious but not. It heals you. In its presence you feel well again. But only if you pretend to not see it. It doesn't like to be seen. If it realizes you’ve seen it, it’ll vomit up all your illnesses into a noxious cloud infecting everyone around. It may have sucked up cancers of thirty kinds, pnumonia, tetanus and rabies and syphillis and in a single moment you’ll have all of them.

10. Abacus44s
The strangest creature on this list. It is the living idea of a building in the future. It floats through space trying to find where it belongs, like a jigsaw piece that fits no where. It is sentient, enough to know it is lost but not enough to do much about it. Like an interdimensional jellyfish it just bumps its way through spacetime trying to find a home. People say that when the time comes it’ll slot into existence and no one will realize isn’t wasn’t always there. Sometimes though it'll appear, suddenly anywhere, perhaps floating in the sky or half lodged inside of your own house, suffocating anyone caught within its instantly formed walls. It might linger there a only for a moment or maybe for several years before deciding the time or the space isn't right and drifting off again. It phases in and out of reality like morning fog and just as quietly.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Marketplace Campaign

Me and Peku made a map last week set in a European style city marketplace (see maps link on the righthand column). I figured it'd be fun to write up some quest/plot ideas and related rumours for anyone who wants some ideas running a campaign in a similar setting.

The file below is A4 sized and thus printable if it's of use to you. Use/distribute freely.

There may be more in future. Let me know what you think. Perhaps a guard schedule or a Things In The Market roll table could be added. We'll see.

Levelless Mutations

For our campaign setting Insidious Echoes we're tinkering with a system that would be without levels and XP. Or at least that would be a variation on play (from whichever system you usually partake).

This would revolve around a system of mutations in various forms. You wouldn't choose the mutation you want, it would be inflicted upon you. But you would have the possibility to get it removed. The mutations would be semi-permanent, sitting somewhere between permanent levels (like in DnD/Pathfinder) and temporary equipment-as-level type systems. This would allow players to switch up gameplay style through having mutations cured/removed but not so easily swapped out as simply changing weapons and armour.


What Forms of Mutations are There? We see mutations generally as affectors giving your player ability score advantages/disadvantages and also physical changes, for example extra limbs or scales. These could come from bacterial or viral infections, fungal spores, parasites, radiation, technological augmentation and nanobot infestations.

Where Do Mutations Come From? We're splitting up mutations between different biomes/dungeons/towns as well as mutations inflicted by certain monsters. Monsters may carry diseases with them infecting players on touch or when swallowed/sprayed with blood. Similarly, certain foods, water or merely spores in the air will mutate players when they are susceptible, for example due to wounds or illness.

Benefits/Drawbacks. This is really just personal preference but I've never really enjoyed straight up buffs or handicaps in games. I like my items (especially magical ones) to be like monkey paws. There benefits should come with strings attached. Some mutations will differ from this but in general they'll be a balance of benefits/drawbacks, that way it'll test players and force them to change up their playstyle in reaction to new mutations instead of merely organizing them into keep and discard piles next time they find medicine or a surgeon. Which brings us to...

How Are Mutations Removed? Mutations will be removable by certain surgeons, witchdoctors, clerics, pharmacists and other dubious jungle-dwelling inhabitants with spare scalpels. Some mutations are surface deep, extra hair and skin or growths, others affect the deep organs. These come at a much greater risk when being removed. The correct tools, salves and ointments would help offset this danger. Each type of mutation (e.g. fungal, viral, parasite) would be removed differently/at different cost.

What Do Mutations Cost? Other than obvious drawbacks like ability score or encumberment loses, multiple mutations would come with nutrition costs, forcing your player to eat more often to stay alive. This'll make those deep dungeon dives even more difficult and rations more important.

This guy has several.
10 Examples:

Sun Blight. Waxy welts appear across your face, neck and back. You no longer burn in the harsh sun but you're more likely to bleed out when struck.

Nail Skin. For 1d6 days you're stuck in agony as nail-like extrusions grow from the skin around your shoulders, knees and wrists (like they do from the ends of your fingers) but overlapping as if into plate armour. For 1d6 days you're more likely to fumble when attacking, running or jumping. After that you now have a higher natural armour score around your shoulders. knees and wrists.

Sac Pox. When submerged in water, small sacks lining your skin inflate causing you to float. You now can float with ease on water but cannot dive.

Wood Eye. Your eyes harden and your sclera changes from milky white to a dark brown. You can no longer look left or right but your vision is much greater than before. (+ to Wis/Perception)

Gorgonbane. Your palms are as cool as anyone else's but stone melts under your touch. Wood, paper, glass, no other material is affected. Just stone.

Desertscalp. You awake hairless atop your head, but your body hair begins to grow prolifically and in places it never did before.

Tremour. Muscle growth is as if on steroids. Your legs bulk out in days and your ability to run is greatly increased. But you shake uncontrollably. Accuracy with a ranged weapon is almost impossible.

Curlfinger. Unless constantly worked at your fingers begin to seize-up into a tight fist. If you grip anything for longer than 2d20 minutes your cannot release it again.

Krykkit. Whenever motionless your create a chirping noise.

Bouldershoulder. The muscles in your shoulder grow an extra 3d100 cm in diameter (+ Str). Your swing may be faster and harder now but you struggle to wear any non-custom made armour and have difficulty sleeping at night.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Where Insidious Echoes Is

Sometime during mid-2018 me and my partner Peku began working on an RPG we called Insidious Echoes.

The plot revolved around a planet used as a research and science colony that one day was inexplicably cut off from the rest of humanity and it’s former space network. The sudden cessation of supplies wiped out most of the scientist-colonists. Electricity ceased to function and with it most of the security keeping the hostile and virulent planet out of the compounds. It also severed connections between the different compounds and outpost labs, each one now an island in the dark of a dangerous planet.

As years pass the idea of rescue or help or information of any kind is slowly abandoned. Rations run low, most machines are inoperable due to neglect, rust, dust and pathological spores. It’s your job to survive, any way you can.

As the months went on we started getting worn down not only world building but also coming up with an equally thematic RPG system to explore that world with. We wanted to mix a randomized point-crawl with tile based combat, heavy on strategy, light on the narrative side. We hoped to keep the adventure interesting through random events and a novel leveling system revolving around mutations. But in truth it was a lot to balance and we didn’t really know what we were doing. We came up with complex card systems to fuel that system instead of focusing on what made the world unique and fun and working around that. We ended up with a premise that was too vast for us to complete.

But now I've discovered the OSR and the idea of standalone systemless campaign settings, I’m beginning to look at it system agnostically. Laying out the biomes, the creatures, the flora, the events that’d occur with each. The dangers and feel of the world, what to expect and plan for, but not rewriting a combat system or leveling curve or anything like that.

Hot Springs Island is a huge inspiration for sure.

I plan to post some writing and roll table excerpts soon. For now though I've attached some lorum ipsum-addled page designs i’m playing with in PS as well as the first cover design idea. Trying to capture that moody feeling of verdancy and the unknowable.


Friday, 15 March 2019

Journey through the OSR

As this is my first blog entry, I should probably introduce myself. I am Cze Lee. Here are some of my social media accounts, you may know me from one of them, I mainly post illustrations and maps:

I’m a concept artist, an illustrator and a map maker (and maybe a writer).

For the longest time I’ve enjoyed world building. In fact, other than video games it’s probably be the only consistent hobby I’ve maintained since childhood. But i never really knew what to do with the worlds I crafted. I always wanted those worlds to come alive in some way, to be interacted with by others, but never really knew the medium or platform.

To cut a long story short, one that dabbles between writing, illustrating and coding, I have recently found out about the OSR. And DIY DnD. And other various, similarly related niches under different names. And it’s something i’ve been looking for, without knowing it, for years.

I discovered the idea of the OSR through Arnold K. of Goblin Punch. Looking up what the acronym meant led me down a Googlehole of several fantastic blogs including:

and way more.

This has definitely been an adventure of opening 10 tabs for each one I close for about a month now and I’m sure i’m only just scratching the surface.

I’ve always wanted to make RPGs (see my work on the Insidious Echoes project) but system design and balance was never the focus for me. Creating interesting, living, breathing worlds, that was what hooked me. Diverse and idiosyncratic niches that I couldn’t find elsewhere, that was what I wanted to offer.

And for me, that’s what the OSR seems to be all about, small indie modules of microverses and pocket dimensions, plug in races and miniature one-shot campaign settings. With the levels of character, panache and weird that you’d never find in big published titles.

And as great as all that’s been, I can’t help but feel like I’m discovering the tail end of something great. The OSR seems like it reached a zenith built around a G+ group that’s now disbanding along with the platform itself, at around the same time that a key member of the movement has been ostracized. It’s not my place to comment on that but the OSR Kingdom definitely appears encircled by dark clouds. Some blog posts (like this one) seem positive though and I’ve seen almost one new hi-quality release per week since discovering the OSR. Hydra Press, UVG, Gauntlet, RPG Zines, lots of cool releases being pumped out.

A post by Questing Beast (see here) on the return to the blog realm made me think it was my time to join in. It seems time to brush off all my ideas and order them in such a way that they can be shared and discussed. The rest of this blog will be about that journey, sharing my thoughts, plots, campaigns and settings.

For anyone else new to the OSR, this updated news post by Dreams of Mythic Fantasy is a good place to keep updated on new stuff coming out. And basically mining your way through any of the blogs above and the blogs they link to and so on will inevitably lead you to some gold.