Saturday, February 7, 2015

Map numbering conventions

What do you think?

For my hex map I'm numbering hexes as [Island Abbreviation-##]. Numbering goes left to right, top to bottom. So a hex on Hot Springs Island would be [HS-01] or [HS-25] where as a hex on the Shimmering Jungle would be [SJ-02] and the Isle of Blooms would be [IB-05].

The purpose for doing it this way is because it makes more sense to me to do it this way for the purpose of referencing other locations in the text. This way if I'm talking about a Point of Interest on one island and need to reference it to a Point of Interest on another island I'd say the name of the point and its hex (e.g., _The Bone Tree [HS-02]_.

Now, each island has its own "submaps" for villages and dungeons. I'm treating the features of these locations similarly to Points of Interest too. Some of these submaps have floors.

Originally I was just numbering the points on a submap based on that specific map. So for example, Boar's Head Encampment [HS-01] has 7 locations, so I numbered them 1-7. But then I got to one of my maps with floors Svarku's Volcanic Layer [HS-06]. I'd originally numbered the locations on each floor starting with 1. So the Ground Floor has callouts  1-14 and the Third Floor has callouts 1-11.

So I started thinking that for the locations with multiple floors I should just number the whole thing beginning at 1.

And then I started thinking maybe I should just number ALL the points on submaps together so that each point has a unique number and 3 is always unique.

The purpose behind this thought once again is for the sake of ease of cross reference. So that way the nereid is trapped at 5, and wherever I reference that nereid I can link it back to 5.

But now... as I ramble through this, I wonder....

The Swordfish Islands is made up of Islands. Each has a unique name and abbreviation.

Each island is made up of numbered hexes.

Each hex has 3 unique points of interest.

Some of the hexes have submaps.

Some of the submaps have levels.

All of the submaps have unique points of interest too.

So what if I did, [Island-Hex#-POI#-Submap#]?

Then the PARADE GROUND in Svarku's Volcanic Lair would be [HS-06-2-01] and the RUSTED COLUMN in the Dire Boar den would be [HS-03-2-03].

I dunno, maybe this is stupidly overcomplicated and unnecessary, but it'd be a nice unique digital marker to sort of tie disparate information to a place. When you're looking at the map, and reading about the points on the map it makes sense to say "The names of all the dead ogres are carved on the wall here". And then elsewhere in the book, when you're reading about the ogre Glavrok and how he wants to be sure to have a record of all the names of the ogres killed on the island so he makes trips to collect rubbing of them (or send others) at [HS-10-2-02].

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Oh... Hello!

What's been going on with the Swordfish Islands? No updates since October? WTF? Vaporware?

October: Try to find a new place to live in Austin that meets a certain set of parameters. Run around with realtors. Do that horrible dance 'cause all these people keep moving here. Spin up more vaporware ideas and drop them into the void. Meet with a local printer that seems really great. Make a lot of cookies.

November: Move.

December: Be on team "left leg" and help my wife push out our first baby. Finally, a project that finishes itself.

January: Realize that I've never heard back from the local printer. Even after I said "Yes, let me pay you a stupidly large amount of money for five 'proof' books." Say "fuck it", and go to Lulu where I can print proof books for ~$5 a pop instead of ~$45 a pop. Quietly wonder why the hell I ever thought it would have been ok to even consider paying that much. Get prints. /muchexcite

The Field Guide to Hot Springs Island is done. Well... it's ready to go to Kickstarter so hopefully I can pay for professional editing and a super beautiful physical print job. The Dark of Hot Spring Island is still in the works. My edits and layout work progress, but I'm really feeling excited about things.

Here's to more posts!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Map for Players

Woo! This G+ post got long enough that it makes sense as a blog post. My revised-revised-revised-revised-revised version of the Field Guide to Hot Springs Island is laid out to a point that I'm happy with, and I've budged from my one time "smyth-sewn only" position for its eventual printing. I want to include a map for the players in the book itself, and this is the first iteration I've come up with that seems legible and didn't make me immediately start again.

What do you think about it?

What is this? A map of Hot Springs Island (my hexcrawl)

What do I want to do with this? Use it as the end papers in my player's book A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island.

What exactly is the Field Guide? It's an in-character _prop_ players can use at the table during play (if they'd like). The goal is to provide them with hook filled information, pictures, rumors and stories that can help players make informed decisions about where to go and what to do (see end).

Why are there so many blanks? Because there are 3 points of interest in each numbered hex. I don't know that players will ever really explore them all in a single game or even a campaign, but because I want this to be a sandbox, I want to communicate to the players somehow where the "blank" patches on the map are.

Why are some of the blanks filled in?
Because these points of interest are "documented" in the Field Guide or other materials.

How big will this be printed? The current plan is 8.5"x11" (letter sized)

What do you think? Too crowded? Too busy? Overwhelming? Dumb? Opine away!

(Regarding the Field Guide in play. In order for a sandbox to work, your players have to buy into it and self-lead. The book is absolutely NOT necessary for players to have in order to play on Hot Springs, _but_ if a player chooses to read it and use it they can act as a sort of co-DM by using their extra knowledge to direct play. For example: The leader, instead of immediately attacking when a monster jumps out of the undergrowth, could take a few rounds to try and use the guide to identify the creature and maybe determine strengths/weaknesses/strategies. Once combat is over, they could use the book to determine which pieces of the creature are considered to be valuable by the various factions on the island. And when the party camps for the night they could try and learn more about those factions and help drive the group, and thus the game in a different direction. It's also an ingame object that could be "taken away" due to poor decisions in game. For example, if my pack catches on fire, now I'm worried about a real, tangible thing I've been holding in my hands and using. Maybe now I won't swim across that river. If you've gotten this far and are saying "why the hell would you even make something like this? my answers are: 1. Because this type of game play is tremendously personally appealing to me. 2. Because I fucking love world building. 3. Because I watched too much Duck Tales as a kid and loved the way the "Jr. Woodchucks' Guide Book" could get a party into and out of so much trouble. 4. Because at the end of the day, I want to pay my artists and contributors, but I refuse to sell "new rules" and "new feats" or anything junky like that. If you only have products game masters can buy, and nothing players can buy, then you're effectively ignoring 75% or more of your potential customers, and I think this Field Guide is an excellent, value packed, way to not do that.)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Backgrounds, Adventures and but therefore

vaporware thoughts

I've been thinking about how some new 5e backgrounds define they way your character reacted/reacts to certain events, and read a few mutterings about how it might be better to set up backgrounds as "here are things that happened to your character in the past" and then you as the player define how the character dealt with those things. This got me thinking back to a presentation MTV did with Trey Parker and Matt Stone where they talk about how they structure their South Park Stories. You can watch the full video at the link, but the particularly relevant bits are:

Trey Parker: We found out this really simple rule that maybe you guys have all heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it. We can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline, and if the words "and then" belong between those beats... you're fucked. Basically. You've got something pretty boring.

What should happen between every beat that you've written down is either the word "therefore" or "but". Right? So so, what I'm saying is, that you come up with an idea and it's like "Ok, this happens" right? AND THEN "this happens". no no no

It should be "This happens" and THEREFORE "This happens"... BUT "This happens" THEREFORE "This happens"

And that's why you get a show that feels like Ok, this to that to this to that but this "here's the complication" to that.

And there's so many scripts we read from new writers....

Matt Stone: Yeah you see movies that you're watching and it's like "this happend and then this happens and then this happens" and that's when you're in a movie going "what the fuck am I watching this movie for?"

I saw this years ago, and I try and incorporate it into the stuff I write.

For example with Swordfish Islands:
Svarku the efreet, the son of a petty noble efreet with low self esteem and everything to prove, liked to gamble with his daddy's money. BUT one night he lost too much. THEREFORE he killed the guy that won. BUT the guy he killed was an important emissary delivering an artifact. THEREFORE he ran away to the physical plane. BUT he found an island in the primal wilderness with exceptionally lucrative crystal deposits. THEREFORE he brokered some secret deals to get an army/slaves to harvest it. BUT he's terrible at managing personnel. THEREFORE the slaves revolted. BUT he was locked into his shady deals. THEREFORE he started using his army to mine. BUT they hated it and almost revolved. THEREFORE he went begging back to the people who set him up originally. BUT they weren't as supportive the second time and the new helpers they sent were loyal to them and not Svarku. BUT Svarku doesn't realize this. THEREFORE when the adventurers show up on the island they have multiple factions to play with/against and many angles they can take.

Then with Goldmother:
Sorceress Orana was from a long magical bloodline and supposed to be a twin. BUT she consumed her sister in the womb. THEREFORE Demogorgon decided to take a mild interest in her. BUT the sister did not die (becoming a tiny malformed face on the back of Orana's head). THEREFORE Orana has had to struggle with her sister for control of the body on a daily basis. BUT this did not stop her from becoming a beautiful, powerful sorceress, capable of casting spells "above her level". THEREFORE she attracted the attention of a variety of scumbags, notably the shade of a powerful necromancer who tried to "ride up" one of her spells, possess her body, and return to corporeality. BUT even though he was more powerful than her at the time, she'd effectively been preparing for this fight her whole life. THEREFORE she was able to whoop the shade's ethereal ass and trap him in a gemmed brooch she was wearing at the time. BUT when it was over, the necromancer's shade pretended it was all a misunderstanding. THEREFORE the shade tried to buy his freedom by offering to share secret knowledge. BUT Orana didn't trust him. THEREFORE she didn't let him go and instead tortured much of it (including the location of his old tower and library) out of him. BUT he managed to hide his true name and many of the secrets to unlocking his tower and library. THEREFORE when the game begins she's focused on cracking these secrets open.

I'm thinking there could be a way to spin this structure into a background generator. Maybe a [TABLE 1] happened AND [TABLE 2] happened BUT [TABLE 3] THEREFORE [player makes up]. type structure. The therefore then becomes the way the player reacted to what happened. The thought would be to roll one of each of these lines for flaw/ideal/personality/bond BUT...... this could would require making a ton of entries for each line (due to the subtables) THEREFORE it's probably going to forever be vaporware. BUT it won't stop rolling around in my brain. THEREFORE I'll just blog about it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Albino Ravens and Blightwalkers


 Zombies - Not Zombies
When the a game of Goldmother's Vale begins, Sorceress Orana is focuses almost completely on cracking the remaining protections on Salmu Seru's library in The Broken Spire[0804]. She knows there is a great power source in Windsong Cave[1308] but she doesn't know what it is exactly, how to get to it (it's behind seals) or how to corrupt it to her personal use. She also knows that the snows are coming soon and that the valley folk are about to become hyperactive and hypersensitive to anything they might connect to the "sleeping evil" (Orana always laughs and uses air quotes and melodramatic accents when she says this phrase to her henchmen), and she knows that Sinnu Daku (her personal mercenaries) are not yet assembled in full force. Thus Orana's plan is twofold:

1. Build up a utility force to distract/fragment/control the people of the valley without needing to risk her own troops (the Cult of Blood and Briar might work for this but they're too bumpkiny for her tastes, and she doesn't fully trust them).

2. Create a utilitarian grand-ritual-pentagram around the petrified altar in Windsong Cave[1308]. She's not exactly sure how she'll use the pentagram, but she's begun to piece together enough about the necromancer who used to live in her tower to know that it will probably be called for in whatever relevant ritual she finds.

She figures zombies (well, Blightwalkers) paired with the cult's mutated beasts should do the job nicely.

Albino Ravens
One to two weeks before the game begins, Sorceress Orana and several prominent members of the Cult of Blood and Briar set up a ritual pentagram in the mountains where the treeline ends and created The Black Line[1408]. Each night 3d4+3 albino ravens are birthed from the pentagram there, and at sunrise they fly away to drain the souls of humanoids. A raven must deal 20 HP worth of damage to consume an entire soul and they prefer to do so after a target has already dropped to 0 HP, is sleeping, paralyzed, restrained, young, old or can't otherwise fight back.

During an attack the raven will open its beak and begin to literally suck the soul from its victim (+5 to hit, 5ft reach, 1 target). On a successful hit the raven becomes attached to the humanoid by a ghostly beam. The beam suspends the white raven in the air and it spreads its wings and feathers (like a heraldric eagle) as it drains its target. The target takes 1d4+3 damage at the start of the raven's turn (DC 15 wisdom saving throw).

Once a raven has consumed a soul it flies directly to The Broken Spire[0804] (before Orana has cracked Salmu Seru's library) OR to Windsong Cave[1308] (after Orana has begun her ritual to corrupt the trapped Goldmother). When it arrives at the appointed destination it vomits up the soul for Orana's use before returning to the valley to seek out more targets.

[Stats like a Stirge, pretty stat box 'n whatnot to come eventually]

Any humanoid drained of their soul (takes 20 HP worth of damage from a single albino raven), will fall into an apparent deep sleep. They will appear whole and beautiful with regular breathing and a rosy complection, but their eyeballs will be completely black, hard, and smooth like polished obsidian. This bodily restoration/beautification will also occur in corpses drained after death (e.g., a hunter is mauled by a bear and dies in a shreaded mess. Two days later their body is found and drained by an albino raven. After being completely soul-drained their body will appear whole, beautiful and sleeping, but their clothes will still be destroyed).

Humanoid corpses CANNOT be drained IF:
1. They have been dead for a week and a day
2. Funerary rites have begun on the body (even simple, rudimentary or incomplete rites)
3. The tears of a loved one have fallen on the body

A drained corpse will appear to sleep for at least 24 hours, then, at the next sun set, it will open its eyes, begin screaming, and the pentagram at The Black Line[1408] will erupt with a swarm of roaches OR rats OR frogs OR snakes. The swarm will travel directly to the corpse that called for it and can pass through one hex every two hours. Swarms CANNOT travel over sacred or consecrated ground and cannot pass through doors, windows or under lintels. They can however enter homes through cracks, holes and chimneys. Once the swarm has gained access to its body, the creatures will enter it through all available orifices, rapidly hollow it out and then proceed to shamble around with it like a slow moving zombie. Each blightwalker contains a single swarm or a single creature type and if multiple corpses are ready at sunset, multiple swarm eruptions will occur at The Black Line[1408].

[Stats as a Zombie, with different attacks by variant]

Blightwalker (frogs):
Slam - +3 to hit, reach 5ft, one target, 1d6+1 bludgeoning damage
Sticky Tongues - +4 to hit, reach 5ft, one target, DC 15 dexterity save or GRAPPLED (frog tongues erupt from everywhere on the blightwalker's body and stick to the target. If the blightwalker is grappling a target they cannot Slam, only Bite)
Bite - +1 to hit (+5 if grappling), reach 5ft, one target, 2d4+2 piercing damage

Blightwalker (roaches):
Scream: All the roaches scream and buzz simultaneously. Anyone within 10', DC 12 constitution save or be STUNNED for 1 round and DEAFENED for the remainder of combat.

Blightwalker (rats):
Exodus: All the rats leave the body enmasse and the skin and bones crumple to the ground like paper. Anyone watching this event DC 15 wisdom save or FRIGHTENED
Swarm: If the rats have exited their body they can swarm over a single target in a clawing, biting mass. DC 20 dexterity save or GRAPPLED and take 1d4+1 damage each turn.

Blightwalker (snakes):
Venomous Slam - +3 to hit, reach 5ft, one target, 1d6+3 piercing damage, DC 12 constitution save or POISONED

Blightwalkers are capable of following and carrying out simple instructions such as "gather flesh", "gather innocents", "dig", "bury" etc.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Goldmother's Vale - Unfinished Alpha

So... my Goldmother's Vale Hexcrawl isn't done, but it's at a point that's semi-coherent enough to call an "unfinished alpha". There are still big, gaping holes, but you can snag the PDF here:

I'd love any feedback you've got. =)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Cult of Blood and Briar

Cultists by Matthew Adams

The Cult of Blood and Briar is a relatively recent institution in Horned Mountain Valley, dating back only a couple of generations. They began rather benignly (probably as a response to the valley's growing population) holding low key ceremonies among old growth trees, to mark important yearly celestial events such as the solstice and equinox. Over time they became more and more radicalized, preaching your run of the mill pro-wilderness/anti-civilization doctrines. They took to planting brambles and other painful plants, like poison sumac and nettles, throughout the vale to promote a "return to the wild". Although they possessed no real power, they had a great flair for elaborate ritual and a deep, burning hatred of the Goldmother. Their hatred springs from two fonts. First, they believe the Goldmother abandoned the valley and took her blessing from the trees and land. Second, they believe she should never have allowed humans to settle in, and thus profane, the valley in the first place (lots of self loathing).

Sorceress Orana and the cult took to one another immediately upon their first meeting after she arrived in the valley. She started talking about "points of light in the wilderness" beliefs, displayed actual power, and they swore themselves to her cause without hesitation. In turn she taught them a number of magical rituals so they could aid her as she leads the valley and then the world into the new wilderness.

Cult members are almost all from the Flam(tallowmakers), Mull(merchants), and Textor(weavers) families and HIGHLY secretive. There is no official rank or hierarchy to the cult but Rowan Mull[STATBLOCK] is in many ways the de facto leader due to his successful infiltration and manipulation of the Utag clan (and he's the only one who communicates with Orana directly). Max Flam[STATBLOCK] and Violet Textor[STATBLOCK] are effectively his lieutenants and give the most consistently powerful and impassioned speeches.

Nudity, Red Paint and Briars:
Eschewing robes and common cultist attire, members of the Cult of Blood and Briar hold their meetings and perform their rituals naked and masked as it is the closest to nature they can be. Now that Orana has come to the vale they have adjusted this in two subtle ways. The cultists now mask their face using thorny briars (see Briar Shield below), and they paint their bodies completely red. This red paint makes them immune to poison and impervious to the effects of painful plants (e.g., poison ivy, poison sumac, etc).

What does the Cult Want?
To return the world to a primal, natural state
To assist Orana in any way possible
To find where the Goldmother fled and make her suffer for abandoning them

What does the Cult NOT want?
To be discovered or found out
To rapidly induct new recruits
For the valley folk to be united on any front or topic. There must always be dissent.

What else?
Orana taught the cultists five rituals of wild terror. Under normal circumstances, require 20 minutes of preparation, and 10 minutes of casting, or a total of 30 minutes from start to finish. At least two cultists are required for a ritual, and they must each cut themselves with a natural blade (quartz or bone preferred), and incorporate 1d4+1 HP worth of their blood into the spell. They can cast rituals into Splinters of Corruption (detailed below), but doing so requires at least four cultists and 1d6+1 HP of blood from each. Prepared splinters can be broken to instantly release the spell within.

Splinter of Corruption
Splinters can only come from a plant or animal that has died due to a splinter of corruption, and the cultists favor using fragments from antlers and blighted aspens. The normal ritual (2 cultists, 30 minutes, 1d4+1 HP of blood from each), can create 1d6+1 charged splinters. Each additional cultist participating in the ritual ad adding their own blood, charges an additional 1d4 splinters. A virgin may be sacrificed in place of cultists providing their own blood, and will yield 1d6 splinters for each cultist participating in the ritual. Charged splinters glow with a black aura and splinters loaded with another spell glow red (not enough to see by but enough to be seen).

If a charged splinter is inserted into a living organism it will burrow deeply into it and cause it to rot from the inside out. This prevents any natural healing and deals 1d6 HP of necrotic damage each day. Attempting to remove one by non-magical means is extremely difficult. The infected organism must make a Constitution DC20 save whenever the bloated, feverish wound is touched, or immediately go into a feral rage, striking and biting at anything nearby. The pain of touching the wound is so great that even trees will try and hit you away. Anything dying to a splinter will begin to split, crack, and ooze purplish goo. Particularly dense sections of the organism (bones, antlers, hardwood, etc) will appear to blossom into vile looking fractal flowers of potential splinters. The number of potential splinters yielded by a corpse depends on its size and amount of dense biomass, so a small dense creature with bony plates will likely yield more than a medium sized creature made of mostly squishy stuff.

Potential Splinters

Mutate Beast
Works on unintelligent beasts and animals and is pretty much what it says on the tin. In addition to the mutation animals mutated by this spell have a 25% chance to gibber incessantly, and of those, a 10% chance to whisper one true, evil secret over and over in an ancient language.

Mutation Table 3d4
Mutation Table (3d4)
Two Heads
One head is "obviously evil" (black with red eyes). When not foaming at the mouth it breathes fire (5' cone, 1d8 damage)
Fungal Friend
Tiny black and purple mushrooms sprout in its footsteps. Hallucinogenic.
Inner Glow
Stops breathing, sweating and excreting, and begins to emit heat and light. May catch on fire if it gets too active. Normally live 3d6 days before burning up from overexertion.
Glistens with sweat and pants continually. If stationary for 5 minutes, sticky puddles form beneath it. They stink and should be treated as difficult terrain.
Walks Wrong
The creature moves at normal movement speed, but now, walks on its hind legs, moves sideways only, moves backwards only, or has large hairy spider legs.
Sprouts 1d6 coral snakes on its body. 25% chance the animal and snakes don't get along.
Its skin cracks and stuff drips out that looks like strawberry jam. Gains pseudopod attack (1d6 bludgeoning)
Creature bloats and struggles to walk (half speed). If its skin is cut or punctured it will burst, forming a poison cloud (10' diameter, DC12 constitution save, 3d6 damage and poisoned on failed save)
Obviously Evil
Turns black with red glowing eyes. Poisonous or painful plants grow faster when it is near, but the animal is totally normal in all other regards.
Poisonous Carnivore
Grows a scorpion tail and hungers insatiably for raw meat. Tends to live about 1d6 days before succumbing to hunger and eating itself.

Vile Plants
As a ritual, Vile Plants can be cast with half the requirements of others (1 cultist, 15 minutes, 2 HP of caster's blood). The spell can have two different, but related, outcomes (determined by caster).
1. All poisonous, carnivorous or thorny plants in an area 20' in diameter will grow from seed to full adult size over the next 24 hours.
2. The caster can pass through plants and undergrowth without leaving any traces of their passage for 2 hours (no broken branches, torn leaves or bent grass). Footprints are still left in the dirt, but the plants provide exceptional cover. Additionally, any intelligent creature disturbing any plants touched by the caster for the next day will break out with a severe rash, as if they'd been in poison ivy.

Briar Shield
The caster is able to instantly grow thorny briars on or over an organic object. As the briars grow the caster can shape them to their wishes and must determine an "unlock" passphrase. The thorns dig into the organic material covered (causing no real pain), in such a way that if they are forcibly removed the object covered is destroyed, or at least defaced. The Cult of Blood and Briar uses this spell most frequently to hide their faces so that if their mask is removed without their consent their face is ripped off with it, preserving the secret of their identity. They have also been known to use this spell to hide hostages and treasure. Being covered in the briars provides protection as leather armor (AC 11) and deals 1d4 damage if used offensively. Briars last for 3 days or until unlocked.

Sweet Thorn
This ritual requires two whole thorny plants (roots and all), which transform into 10 sweet thorns (plus an additional 1d4 for each extra participating cultist). The thorns look like large bramble thorns (2" to 3" long), and smell like buttery cookies pulled fresh from the oven. If these thorns are stabbed into, or carried by a creature, the cultists who created the thorns are able to scry the carrier using a bowl filled with the blood of animals less than 6 weeks old.

Aster Flam, proprietor of Tallowyck's Candle Shop in Shearing, recently began making short, fat, sweet smelling candles using these thorns as the wick. When burned in this manner they emit a strong, but initially pleasant, cloying scent that sticks to clothes and hair for about 6 hours. While the cultists cannot track or scry anyone covered in these odor clouds, the smell attracts albino ravens[PAGE].