Monday, June 29, 2015

Actual Play: Daughters of the Eel (part 1)

After their rescue from the horrible lighthouse of Doctor Reichmann by a somewhat less-than-above-board crew of sailors, Kahl and Herman found themselves at the town of Blighter's Manse. Blighter's Manse, a port town known for being a haven for maritime criminals, provides ample opportunities to make quick coin for two stranded adventurers. Following the word on the street, the two sought a little temporary employment with Gentleman Jim, a tavern owner with his hand in the local midnight economy.

The Rended Ewe, Gentleman Jim's establishment, turned out to be a rough waterfront tavern. The pair were ushered upstairs to Jim's office where they found a lanky, nervous man attempting to wear his mismatched clothes in what passes for style in a pirate-infested town. It seems they had come to Jim at just the right moment; he was in need of a couple discreet souls to row out to one of the prison hulks anchored offshore and retrieve an item that had been stashed among the convicts--a place no one would think to look for an object of value (1). Besides, Gentleman Jim explained, it is customary for ne'er-do-wells new to Blighter's Manse to run an errand for the established brokers just to show that they're mindful of how things are run in the town.

The item in question was a leather case that holds multicolored glass lenses (2). They were given a letter of mark to explain the situation to the prison hulk's warden. Should be an easy job: go out to the prison hulk, meet with the prison's warden, get the lenses, row back, put the lenses into Jim's hand. Twenty-five pieces of gold now, twenty-five more upon their return. An easy night's work, eh?

Jim arranged a boat for them, which was to be rowed by a man named Petrus. Petrus was an old dog of the sea--scrawny and on his last legs, but born to the oars. He said little as he rowed the duo out to the prison hulk, and seemed to ignore Kahl's proselytizing and religious hectoring. The few words Petrus had to trade were about Vanessa, a powerful woman who called the shots on behalf of Blighter's Manse's burgomaster. They were warned that she is not someone you want to cross.

As they approached the ship they saw that in a former life it has been a third-rate ship of some naval force, but was currently in a state of ill repair. Each of the ship's three masts had been sawed off, rendering it unseaworthy. Furthermore, each of the gun ports were empty of cannon; the shutter of each port had been replaced with stout iron bars--presumably to keep the prisoners within. The name in faded paint upon the prow read "The Harrow" (3).

Petrus tied the rowboat to the weighted rope ladder slung over the side of the ship's main deck and vowed to remain below while Herman and Kahl went to retrieve the object of their errand. Once aboard the ship, they headed aft, climbing the stairs to the sterncastle deck where they discovered a room that had formerly been the navigation room. Now empty of sextons and charts--with only a few torn and useless maps remaining on the table--the room seemed to be a dead end and the ship was beginning to appear to be not as inhabited as perhaps it should be.

As they left the navigation room in search of the warden and the mysterious lenses, they caught sight of movement across the room's windows--bone-white limbs, scurrying across the ship's hull.

Kahl and Herman weren't alone on the ship after all.



Friday, June 26, 2015

All Weal Little Woe (VII. The Art of Ignacio Fernandez Rios)

All of Ignacio Fernandez Rios's art is interesting, but I want to focus on this particular set of images I discovered while working on Wunderspire.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Monsters of Arksylvania: Black Shuck

Black Shuck is a demonic hound that roams the coastline and countryside of Arksylvania. Though Black Shuck is a danger to all who fall into his path, he has an especial taste for the flesh of clerical men and women; Black Shuck has been known to burst the door of a church or monastery to devour all the pious souls within.

Stat suggestions: Hell Hound is the obvious choice, but for a higher-level Black Shuck the Nalfeshnee (demon) appeals to me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Campaign Rules for Arksylvania and Wunderspire

How do you shape the "feel" of a campaign without radically changing the mechanics of a game system? I reckon it is best done through a mixture of flavor-reskinning, add-on/drop-out rules modules of the sort that 5th edition D&D has, and the sort of permissions you give players about what kind of characters they can play.

I want to give Arksylvania and Wunderspire different feels in play, but I don't want to use different systems right now, so 5e it is. Below are the kind of additions and reskinnings that I want to use to make them seem like different play experiences. I'm curious to see how it will work out: 

Campaign Rules for Arksylvania and Wunderspire

  • All of the races in the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are fair game for Arksylvania and Wunderspire.
  • The variant human race in the PHB is also available should you prefer it.
  • All of the races in the Unearthed Arcana articles and Elemental Evil Player's Companion are available, particularly in Wunderspire as it is a city of many diverse peoples.
  • If your race has less than +3 total ability score modifiers, add another point to one of the ability scores you get a bonus to.
  • For Arksylvania, substitute any of the following for whatever PHB languages you would normally have: Old Ellem, Palavari, Szavokian, Taz, Vallach, Verbis Diablo.
  • In addition to the classes in the PHB, also available are the variants from the various Unearthed Arcana articles.
Ability Scores
  • You can use random roll, allocate 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 as you see fit, or use the variant “point buy” method to generate your character's ability scores.
  • Arksylvania features pistols and muskets.
  • Wunderspire features revolvers, hunting rifles, and shotguns.
  • All classes are proficient with firearms. (This one is subject to change, I think, but I haven't worked it out yet.)

  • Feats are available in both campaigns.
  • Since both Arksylvania and Wunderspire are settings that feature firearms, the following feats are also available:
Thanks to extensive practice with firearms, you gain the following benefits:
• You ignore the loading and reloading qualities of firearms with which you are proficient.
• Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
• When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded pistol you are holding.

Once per turn when you roll damage for a ranged weapon attack, you can reroll the weapon’s damage dice and use either total.

Arksylvania-Specific Rules
  • We'll be using the fear, horror, and madness rules from the DMG.

Wunderspire-Specific Rules
  • We'll be using the Hero Points rules from the DMG: a character starts with 5 hero point at 1st level. When you gain a level, you gain a new total equal to 5 + half the character's level. Hero points can be spent to add a d6 to an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, or to turn failure on a death saving throw into a success.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wunderspire: The Underclass, Other Lands, Complete PDF

Wunderspire is a City of Underclass Dissatisfaction
  • “Lady” Magwitch recruits adventurers into her service to further some obscure vendetta against the Compeyson, a swindler of note.
  • A disease called “the clicks,” which causes strange metallic growths to sprout from the afflicted's skin and a loss of emotional capability, is a hazard of life for those who work in Wunderspire's factories.
  • Malishnikov agitators have infiltrated the ranks of working-class trade unions to advocate for revolution.
  • Use of “blue orchid,” a hallucinogenic opiate made from the dehydrated venom of the great eastern scorpion, is endemic in the downtrodden underclass; frequent abuse of the drug leads to incurable, violent madness.

Other Lands

Numerous city-states, island nations, and artificial islands dot the Boundless Sea; these are some of the most important of those lands:

  • To the east are the Floating Cities of Kai-Fong. Ruled by the androgynous Lunar Empress, the Floating Cities are havens for skywaymen air-pirates and are the hub of the blue orchid trade.
  • To the north is the Malishnikov Union, a supposed “worker's paradise” that is in practice an oppressive realm of collectivized islands governed by the military dictatorship of Annalise Zharoff. The Malishnikov Union is closely allied with the krieg-bears of Bjornistad.
  • To the far northwest is Bjornistad, the frigid kingdom of Heinrich II, the Jarl of the krieg-bears.
  • To the northeast is Cinderheim, the imperialistic and militarized nation of the elves. These elves have abandoned their stewardship of the natural world in favor of crafting mech armor for their colonial endeavors. They are ruled by a masked, and supposedly immortal, Erlking.
  • To the south is Citadel, a fortress-like city-state of religious zealots. Every aspect of life in Citadel is oriented toward serving the Last God, the monotheistic deity who dominates the hearts and minds of the Citadel's populace.
  • To the southwest is the island city-state of Azrakhan. An unknown calamity has transformed the populace into a mindless horde of ravening cannibals. The scientists and mages of Wunderspire have erected an electro-spiritual barrier that keeps its blighted residents trapped inside. Despite the obvious dangers, explorers sometimes enter the accursed city-state to seek its forgotten treasures.
  • To the southeast are a series of largely unexplored jungle islands.
  • To the west is the Wild Frontier, a series of islands rich in precious ore. These islands are currently being colonized by Wunderspire, Malishnikov, Citadel, Cinderheim, and the Floating Cities.
Complete PDF of the Wunderspire setting is available for free here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wunderspire: Heights, Multitudes, Gods, Intrigue

Wunderspire is a City of Heights and Depths
  • Wunderspire has a massive vertical reach; the Crowning Tier of the city sits above the clouds and is home to the wealthy and aristocratic elite.
  • Wunderspire also extends deep into the bowels of the earth; the people of the Slumgullian Warrens toil deep underground at furnace, forge, and fungus farm alike, and rarely, if ever, see the light of the sun.
  • Elevated roads spiral up from street level to reach the lofty heights of the city's higher tiers; mechanical lifts extend down into the depths of the city and up into its elevated districts.
  • Rumor has it that Wunderspire was built on the site of a far more ancient metropolis and that the foundations of that earlier city still exist as winding and unexplored catacombs beneath the Warrens.

Wunderspire is a City of Varied Multitudes
  • Though the majority of Wunderspire's citizens are what we would call “human,” numberless races and species inhabit the City-State.
  • The people of Wunderspire are policed by the Gray Bishops, a constabulary force that answers to the Illustrious Society. The detectives of the Gray Bishops use ever-developing scientific methods to catch criminals, but those seeking satisfaction outside the normal channels of law have recourse to organizations such as Blind Justice—sightless thief-takers and bounty hunters who use precognition to find and capture their prey.
  • The pubs of Wunderspire are the great levelers of social class; shared pub songs unite the populace in ways that few other traditions can manage.
  • The streets of Wunderspire are patrolled by a masked vigilante known as the Red Wraith.

Wunderspire is a City of a Thousand Gods
  • The streets of Wunderspire's Cathedral Ward are lined with a myriad of churches, temples, ashrams, monasteries, and other places of worship.
  • Although a multitude of incompatible faiths are practiced throughout Wunderspire, there is precious little open hostility between the various religions.
  • One of the most popular faiths in Wunderspire is the Church of the Brass Messiah, a religion that preaches that technology will be the savior of all.
  • Although most faiths practice openly in Wunderspire, there are a number of vile cults and mystery religions whose rites must be consummated in the shadows. For example, the Children of Fimbul are a sect of druids who believe that they must usher in the end of days to restart the natural cycle of death and rebirth.

Wunderspire is a City of Cultured Intrigue
  • One of Wunderspire's most powerful institutions is the Libris Rex, the grandest circulating library in the known world. The librarian-explorers of Libris Rex often fund expeditions to forsaken ruins to retrieve lost knowledge and to preserve rare texts.
  • The opera houses of Wunderspire are as famed for the gossip, idle talk, and information trading that transpires therein as they are for the quality of the artistic performances that take place on stage.
  • Some aristocratic families cling to feuds that stretch back through generations; these feuds often erupt in street violence between gangs of partisans or duels to the death.
  • The impoverished upper classes borrow heavily from the goblin mafia. You don't mess with the goblin mafia.

Friday, June 12, 2015

All Weal Little Woe (VI. Historical Horror Trash TV)

I've already covered my love of Penny Dreadful in a previous installment of All Weal Little Woe, but what do you watch in those moments where you want something less high-minded and less literary? Something a bit tawdry, a bit trashy--something that exists as bloody-minded soap-opera spectacle? 

Well, my friends, we live in a glorious moment of historical horror trash television. Might I suggest you check out: