Monday, February 18, 2019


Who doesn't like bandits?...

Most people, actually. They're usually boring cannon fodder. That is BAD. Bandits should be scary. Murderers and extortionists should be scary. If they can't pose any threat then how do they exist?

((EDIT: This statement was dumb. Of course people love bandits. I love bandits! But I don't like generic nameless bandits. Those are dull.))

Now THIS is a bandit!
Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai
They should also, notably, be people. Living, breathing, talking people with desires and goals and tactics and all the things that make people more interesting than rabid wolves.

Each Bandit Gang has three big shots: The Talker, The Bruiser, and The Leader.

Each Bandit Gang has a Tactic, an Edge, and an obvious Drawback.

The Talker is likely the first person you'll meet: they're the one who's going to try and convince you that it's a better idea to hand over your money than to come to violence. If diplomacy is necessary, they'll be involved. They bribe the officials. They talk to travelers and locals for information. They threaten and coerce.

The Bruiser is the biggest baddest most psychologically daunting fighter they've got. When things come down to a fight they're the one that'll carry it. Losing them (as well as The Leader) will prompt a Morale roll.

The Leader is the senior bandit. For whatever reason they're the one that makes big decisions. They  command respect, or fear. They get the biggest share. Not infrequently they'll have military experience. When it comes down to tactics and strategy they'll be the opposition.

Tactics are how they extort and fight.

Edge is their strength.

Drawback is a possible weakness, among others. Never assume they have just one weakness, but keep in mind the obvious one listed here.

Some more excellent bandits!
I am quite the fan of the "I need armor but it's really hot outside
so let me put this breastplate over my bare naked skin" look.


These ramp up in ridiculousness as the list progresses. Stats for bandits:

Standard Bandit/Talker
AC As Leather + Shield  HD 1  HP 1d8
1d6 Weapon

AC  As Plate  HD 3  HP 15
1d12 Weapon

AC  As Chain + Shield  HD 3  HP 12
1d8 Weapon

Standard bandit gang size is 5-40. Don't expect for them to fight if they're outgunned. Bandits never try to take on anything they couldn't stomp with minimal casualties. They will not fight fair.

1. Tax Collector Masquerade

Talker: Phillip - A very dirty person. Clearly infested with lice. Far better at making demands that actually keeping a coherent story. Sympathetic but firm when he needs to be. Relies on Goward to save him in bad situations.
Leader: Gowald the Elder - Mastermind of the gang. Missing his left leg. Sits on the sidelines. Big-jawed and smells of pipe smoke. Needs to constantly coach Phillip and the others at their roles.
Bruiser: Frederick the Reckless - Tall man with long reach. Constantly grinding his teeth hard enough to hear. Little patience, paranoid.

Tactic: Pretend to be tax collectors and extort people for money and goods. Given taxes tend to be so arbitrary and unpredictable anyways, this is easy to impersonate.
Edge: Official documents and seals stolen from a legitimate tax collector.
Drawback: Half of them have scale mail pilfered from the tax collector’s guards. The armor still has holes and blood stains from when these bandits killed them.

2. Horse Bandits

Talker: “Hill Dwarf” - A very angry man who makes very angry threats on behalf of The Duke. Loves waving his sword around like an idiot. Near-always blushing like a beet.
Leader: “The Duke” - His enormous mustache matches his ambition. Minor nobility turned rogue. Strokes his black beard often. Rules through intimidation. Makes examples. Would rather send his entire gang to their death and mutilation before defeat.
Bruiser: “The Quick Arrow” - A crack shot with a bow, while mounted no less. Long beautiful hair and piercing eyes.

Tactic: They’ve come to steal the barley! Pillage, loot, and kidnap seasonally and sleep off the rest of the year.
Edge: They have fast sturdy horses and a mountain lair to retreat to.
Drawback: They only come around once a year (twice if they’re bored). And they appear at particular villages on a very consistent schedule. The locals hate them, and the villages can be fairly defensible when some effort and know-how is put to it.

3. Knights of Poor Job Prospects

Talker: Sir Bartholomew - A liar and a cheat, fond of dice games and abusing the powerless. Manicured fingers and parted hair, with a face you just want to punch.
Leader: Sir Roland - A mercenary turned minor nobility, just biding his time until another war comes along. Big white blood-stained beard and smell likes booze from 20 feet away. Notorious for "splitting his enemies in twain!"
Bruiser: Sir Roger - A perfect exemplar of chivalric knighthood: fast, agile, tough, loyal, robust, and utterly sociopathic. His helmet and breastplate bear roosters insignias.

Tactic: Intimidate while gaining better position, then strike hard and fast. Take valuable hostages. Kill the rest. If negotiating, stay true to their words if dealing with nobles. If dealing with peasants, they have no qualms about betraying their agreements and slaughtering everyone anyway.
Edge: They are well-equipped. All but one or two of them are equipped in half-plate with weapons of war (poleaxes, warhammers, warbows).
Drawback: They have actual knighthoods, which means that they are subject to higher laws than you. It also means they can likely be whisked away if brought promise of richer plunder, and amnesty.

4. The King’s Men

Talker: “Pretty Boy” Rolof - Good looking chap with a smooth voice and a killer smile. Likes to be cheeky and vague with his threats, while appearing outwarding nonviolent.
Leader: Anson DeFair - An idealist of a bandit. More of a brute than he cares to recognize. Always finds a way to rationalize his violence to his men. Formed a cult of personality. Charismatic silver fox with well-groomed beard and ponytail.
Bruiser: The Green Wastrel - A lithe and well-dressed fellow. Quick and witty at his remarks. Always accepts surrender and violence both. Fond of elaborately-feathered hats.

Tactic: Have the Talker confront travelers. Ask politely for money. Say it’s a “charitable contribution for a good cause”. Inform them that there will be consequences if they don’t comply. Let them go on their way if they refuse, then bushwhack them. Fight from maximum range and cover once the Talker has gotten out of the way.
Edge: Good positioning, good cover, good camouflage, and accurate longbows.
Drawback: If you can demonstrate that you’re poor, or devout Royalists, they’ll let you go scot-free.

5. Home Alone

Talker: None
Leader: A wild-savvy white-bearded old hermit. Totally anti-social. Suffers dementia. Nobody knows his name, even him.
Bruiser: None

Tactic: Booby traps everywhere. Everywhere. On the road, in the forest, along routes well-travelled and paths nobody in their right mind would take. Pit traps under pit traps. Punji sticks, trip wires, log traps, land mines, the list goes on and on. Picks valuables and food from the bodies when they’re dead and he can smell the rot.
Edge: He is the best trap maker in the world. The traps are genius and well-placed and numerous. His forest is a death trap.
Drawback: Old age. The hermit is old, and not long for this world. He is terrified that death will come for him at any moment, hence the traps. He hopes to trap Death and bargain with it, but the thought of confronting Death strikes an existential terror.

6. Brotherhood of the Beer

Talker: “Uncle” Jack - a portly and rosy-cheeked man with a habit of telling good stories. Doesn’t do the killing himself but he watches, unblinking. Crux of the gang.
Leader: Dugan - A skinny non-talkative man missing an eye. Says he lost it in a farming accident (mule kick). A victim gouged it with a finger it while he was strangling them. Watches and strategizes. Gives the final signal to kill.
Bruiser: “Little” Luna - small broad woman. Long pigtails. Takes the toughest looking person. Knows all the places to get a knife through.

Tactic: Make a very cozy camp. Welcome travellers to stay with them for the night. Get people off their guard by telling them stories and being generally rosy. Offer to take the second watch. Kill everybody in their sleep.
Edge: Their talker is a very charismatic guy. The sort of guy you want to have many drinks with. You want to listen to him late into the evening. He’s your bud!
Drawback: There are quite a number of weapons hidden around the camp - in bushes, buried in loose soil, hidden under too many clothes for this few men. There might be a body, too, not too far. Maybe they didn’t bury it and it’s starting to stink...

7. Pox Looters

Talker: Lun Caster - Doesn’t do much talking, but plenty of plague spreading. Permanently hobbled. Has immune system that keeps him constantly contagious and infected.
Leader: Able - More a de facto leader than a proper one. The eldest of the group - an old cynical woman and a survivor.
Bruiser: Percy - A cruel blade. Prone to mood swings between joking and horrendous random violence. Talks up a storm about his martial prowess, but only kills people who can’t fight back. Blonde-haired teenager brought up in a better place.

Tactic: Get Lun to smother the travellers in ultra-contagious germs by coughing/sneezing on them or such. Trail them for several days. Hit ‘em when they’re at peak incapacitation with knives and hammers.
Edge: They’ve developed an immunity to the sickness. They’re also very patient.
Drawback: Poorly equipped and unable to take anyone on in a fair fight. They’re more looters than bandits. They have small families that travel with them.

8. Saint’s Chosen

Talker: Proselytizer Gom - A fiery bellow-gutted preacher. Hides threats in promises of salvation. Demands you respect Saint Lisa.
Leader: Saint Lisa - Trialed by a censur-swinging boy and protected fanatically by her troops. Claims to be the reincarnated patron saint of travellers. Half-true. She is the reincarnated patron saint of highwaymen.
Bruiser: Decklin - Crazy eyes, never says a word. Bare hairy back shows off flagellant scars. Carries a spiky nail stick.

Tactic: Request “alms”. If not given, then three scouts stalk the marks until nightfall. The gang strikes at night.
Edge: Saints bones tied to their ramshackle armor. Each bandit has one bone which prevents the first instance of damage and then shatters.
Drawback: They aren’t really pious, but nobody in the gang wants to be perceived as such. If confronted with actual piety they will hopelessly flounder about with their moral justifications.

9. The Troll Hagglers

Talker: Buse - Likes to smile, missing all his teeth. Enjoys big exaggerated arm motions and cartoonish mockery of the troll eating peoples’ legs to supplement his threats - gumming on his forearm, simulating the troll eating a leg, is his favorite.
Leader: “Diggy” Smith - A stocky dark-browed man who likes to chastise Buse at every opportunity. Never talks to Dug directly - always through Buse.
Bruiser: Dug, Cave Troll. Has a fondness for eating legs. Not picky about the source.

Tactic: They have a cave troll! Their entire negotiating tactic revolves around haggling you down from having the cave troll eat all your legs, to you giving them money and giving the troll a non-leg-based meal.
Edge: The cave troll, of course.
Drawback: The cave troll isn’t exactly loyal to the gang. They’re just the best facilitators of leg-eating that he’s got. Won’t betray them unless a more guaranteed source of edible legs is given.

10. Zeus Crab-Tower

Talker: Hugo - wizard’s apprentice, if by chance it comes to negotiations. Hopes Jargus will die soon so he can co-opt his secrets.
Leader: Jargus the Bright, Lightning Wizard. Given most of his body for power - crab claw arm and horrible gait.
Bruiser: A giant hermit crab that lives in a wizard’s tower. Jargus calls him “Charles”.

Tactic: Hastily move the crab to key crossroads junctures. Wait for travellers to come within range. Strike them with lightning bolts. Have the giant crab move over and scoop them up and eat them. Some time later it poops out the remains into the tower for collection.
Edge: The tower enhances the range of his lightning. He can accurately strike targets up to 2 miles away.
Drawback: With the proper command spell, or perhaps a solid understanding of demolition, could collapse the tower in moments. The whole structure is a shell, swaying in too strong winds and overly hollow on the inside.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Tidelock Themes

((Retroactive statement: I'm not sure I can call these things below "Themes" like the other blogs have. They're more just aspects of my campaign philosophy that have emerged over time - less like story themes and more like DMing natural laws.))


I'm getting on this train. Six core themes for my home campaign setting: Tidelock. (Which, strangely, I can't link to, 'cause I haven't done a total write-up of it yet. Guess I'll need to do that!)

My home campaign is as much as a reflection of my worldview as you can get, which is kind of depressing, now that I think about it. Despite the presence of plenty of light-hearted gonzo goofiness, it very much feels like a grimdark campaign. Kind of like, uhh...

Nah. Too bleak/boring.
Getting warmer...


1. Everyone is Cynical and Self-Interested

Oh yeah, this is me. This is my worldview leaking right into the campaign world. Everyone is scheming, everyone has an agenda, nobody ever does anything purely for the common good. (With maybe one exception, but the way that they do so is clearly designed to be as uncomfortable and questionable as possible.)

The factions of this campaign world are:

The Drow
Capitalist-Libertarian-Authoritarian Wizards (yes, this is contradictory. But since when did that stop anyone?)
Dark Sun-esque Dragons (maybe a bit more benign, but still seeped in sorcery)
An Assimilationist Philosopher Emperor
Theocratic Anarchists

(Been trying to find original source. No luck. Source.)

2. Marxism Is Magic
(I'm going to regret writing this, aren't I?)

I mean that if I take a Marxist lens to my campaign world, then magic = capital. And since it's fiction I can make it as Marxist as I want.

Either you have power (magic) or you don't. Either you're a capitalist with supreme power or you're a prole.

All players will be powerful by default. Their view of the world will be colored by this. Only occasionally will there be hint that there is this tremendous underclass of people, suffering beneath the onslaught.

Eventually it will bubble up and the cauldron of oppression will overflow. Will the players see it in time? Maybe.

3. The Gods Are Dead
Well, most of them, anyway, but you'd hardly be able to tell.

My atheism and agnosticism has surely had an influence on the campaign. I take a very Jungian approach in Tidelock: Gods never interact directly; their power is proportional to their human influence; they are symbolic of pieces of humanity: our rationalizing, our dreams, and our fears. They are unmistakably human. Think American Gods.

There aren't even giant dead god skeletons or various heavens and hells to explore. There is no trace of real divinity anywhere, only nature as we (humanity) tries to understand it.

Divine magic is still a thing, but it's questionable where its power comes from. Most people will say they come from the gods, but then there are atheistic clerics.

4. Life Is Cheap
There's nothing quite as shattering to one's worldview than enchantment, necromantic, transmutation, and time magic. Personalities, bodies, and free will - every single aspect of a person - are as mutable as clay to some, and this has the overall effect of lowering everyone's personal sovereignty to that of pawn in someone else's game.

This is where the campaign starts to mirror more dystopian visions as portrayed in popular culture: your cyberpunk, your steampunk, your biopunk, your (insert suffix)-punk. We've got cybernetics and robots and brains-in-jars and bio-engineering, right up alongside medieval societies and barbarian tribes.

5. Kinetic Precipice
Everywhere exists in a steady state until some free actors come in and tip the scales.

Left cart, 'cept things can go either way.
This allows for maximum chaos for when the players come in and do, well... anything. Change is the greatest force in Tidelock, and also the most interesting. It's the god of the Parable of the Sower (the Octavia Butler book). It is both everything and everything I want to see in a campaign.

6. You Are The Hero
All of this misery, all of this doom and gloom, all this difficulty and what do the players do? Do they take the easy, safer, and wiser route, and give in to the cynicism and tenants of the world? I have found that they do not.

It's easy to be a good person when there's little risk of doing so.

It's hard to be a good person in our campaign - there are no rewards, no bonuses, and no benefits to being a good person. There's no alignment system to positively reinforce your choices. Nearly every faction will hate you for being good, and this is precisely what makes it shine. You have to cut against the grain to be a good person in Tidelock. You have to compromise and struggle. You have to sacrifice and fight against the prevailing tide, and in doing so you may lose everything, for nothing.

But, you will have dignity. You will have tried, and that's more than most can say. This is what makes your character a Hero.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Accessing Infinity

Was reading ALL THESE CONCEPTS ARE FORBIDDEN, and it got me excited. Excited enough to draft a post. Encouraged me to put down some ideas I've had stewing about in my head about The Infinity Hotel - the setting for a stupid over-the-top epic level module I wrote last year about a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, all of them full.

(Playtested it as a one shot three times. All three times were awesome! 
Might do it again with encouragement. Maybe on Discord.)

Heck yeah, time to bring back this pic!

The Mystic Elevator

All people try to rationalize infinity. It isn't possible, but they try nonetheless.

In the Infinity Hotel, this rationalization is facilitated by a device named "The Mystic Elevator". It is, simply, an elevator. It can take you to any room number you are capable of entering into its calculator-like internal panel. It has a red carpeted floor. Upbeat music emits from embedded speakers. There're probably an infinite number of Mystic Elevator carriages, all working simultaneously. You can get to it from the hotel lobby.

So, you want to head to room 17? It'll take you to room 17. Want to go to room one billion and three? It'll get you there just as long as it took to get to room 17.

This is about right.
Pic by wolfkann.

Without it, the Hotel could not function. It would, in fact, be just like Stuart's City of Infinite Ruin - a bastion of humanity on a precipice of infinite spatial abyss.

Though, a magically teleporting FTL elevator does not change this relation, it merely alters it. For if indeed infinity exists within the Infinity Hotel, then there are still spaces inaccessible to humans.

These spaces are not inaccessible by distance, they are inaccessible by concept. There are numbers the human mind cannot conceive - ones which may not be Natural to us, but exist in nature nonetheless. For each and every number exists a hotel room. Some are merely further than we can imagine. In these great infinite gulfs exist strange realities born from infinite impossibility made possible.


The Hypermath Cult works tirelessly to invent or discover new numbers that may be used to input into the Mystic Elevator. They were the first to discover the Elevator's chalkboard, hidden behind the back wall. It functions as a more freeform input than the calculator panel.

There are numbers that may be found, but they cannot be comprehended.

Drug-fueled mathematicians will portent and slave tirelessly so that rooms by these numbers may be colonized. The numbers then become ports in the infinite sea of the Hotel, that man may conquer the unknown.

Adventure time Mathematical by Jo-Tyea
By Jo-Tyea

Number Title
What It Is...
Supertask Alpha
The incalculable sum of accumulated actions of a person caught in immortal indestructible temporal solitude.
The Calculator’s Number
The highest natural number possibly achieved by a person entering numbers on a calculator for their entire life without rest.
Supertask Inverse Alpha
The dimensions of an average person who shrinks their dimensions by half continuously, until they slip between the fabric of reality - the inverse of this number.
Pi, multiplied by a square-factor of 10, enough to make it a whole number.
The number of grains of sand in all the universe multiplied by itself.
Supertask Inverse Beta
The inverse of the period of on/off alteration in a Thomson Lamp at its culmination.
The distance of the shoreline of Great Britain using the absolute smallest measurement, multiplied by a square-factor of 10 up to a whole number.
When you count up whole numbers from zero, eventually you will reach one which is entirely uninteresting in some way. Paradoxically, this makes it interesting. Eventually you get to one which isn’t for everyone in the universe despite the paradox. This is that number. It's quite big, but not interestingly so.
Weird Noght
The sum of all Weird Numbers (70, 836, 4030, 5830…)
It’s the “10” of a base-infinity number system.
Imaginary Vertex
When circumstances are appropriate, rooms of the hotel may split down into the Imaginary (i) Axis. This axis is also infinite. Because it is infinite, there must exist points along the axis at which it intersects with the non-Imaginary again.
Non-Omega Point
The Omega Point is the final divine point of accumulation for everything in the universe. The existence of Infinity creates Non-Omega points - places where things escape the end. They sequester. Even the destruction of Time and Space won’t collapse their reality. These rooms are so far into Infinity that they avoid the End of Everything.


Hyper-Mathematicians have divided the Hotel into regions of accessibility, dubbed from most to least accessible: "The Near Hotel", "The Far Hotel", and "The Deep Hotel". Within each certain patterns may arise which have been the subject of much drug-fueled debate.

The Near Hotel

These are room numbers that are not immediately by the entrance but are easily conceivable by anybody with an elementary school education (such as One Million, any tumbling of random numbers like someone mashing on a calculator, or 42). Y’know, numbers that people know. Things tend to be fairly familiar near these rooms.

Discomancer Annex: Faced with the reality of actual infinity, and upon realizing that such a thing means that within its bounds exists literally everything, and more so an infinite number of everything, including oneself, the Discomancers declared: “Fuck it. Nothing matters. Might as well dance ‘til I die!”

While the main Discomancer dance floor exists at Halfway to Infinity, minor annexes may be found throughout the hotel. The ones in Near Places are popular destinations for bourgeois infinity-tourists.

“Hell”: Room number 6. It’s actually not that bad, really just a slightly crappier room than ones around it. The sort of place with creaky mattresses and dirty corners, like: “Ugh! This room is hell!”

Room number 66 is like this, but slightly worse. Room 666 even more so. Every time you add a six digit, the room gets worse and worse.

The first hundred sixes added or so are just crappy rooms.
The next hundred you swear could be haunted.
The following are haunted for sure.
Then they look like murder scenes.
Then they are active murder scenes.
Then Demons.
Then you reach Hell proper.

Heaven: Room number 7. Same as Hell, but the opposite. They get nicer for every 7 you add.

The Gobpile: Goblins, given the right inclinations, will obsess over numbers. They are transfixed by numerology. Give a goblin a number, and it will steal it close and squeeze it for secrets. Give a goblin Math and it will hoard numbers like dragons hoard gold.

Goblin piles tend to form up around specific room numbers, like 888, 342160, or 5.

A Gobpile is, more precisely, when goblins pack up into a given so-called sacred room to the point where they destroy the furniture and start to spill out into the hallway in a big gnashing biting dogpile.

More broadly it refers to an area around which goblins operate within the hotel. This is usually accompanied by the prying off of brass room numbers with chisels, the forming of secret number stashes and warlords, the attempting of Math, and initiation of Number War.

This is considered a typical, although annoying, hazard in the Near Places, as it can easily be navigated around by the Mystic Elevator. However, the stealing and swapping of room numbers can throw off newcomers.

The Far Hotel

These room numbers would only be thought of by educated or at least persistent people. They include numbers within specific jargon vocabularies, such as a googolplex, Avogadro’s number (6.02214076 x 10^23) ,or 2^100,000,000,000,000. Shit starts to get weird here.

The Roomwild: Biomes of the hotel alter frequently between natural extremes. Here you will find stony crags next to thriving jungle, wild tundra aside sweeping deserts. The width of halls stretch to the horizon, and rooms are scattered and hidden about in secret places - under tree stumps, behind heavy boulders, or found within a bear's mouth. The region has its own weather and ecology.

The Halls of Dom Green: All objects within these halls will animate, growing a personality to match its nature. Everything, down to the last doorknob or room number, is sentient, and can talk, and can pester you for walking on it. Stop disrespecting the floor!

Hell: Room with six-hundred sixty six 6's. Technically speaking, the Infinity Hotel should contain an infinite number of Hells within its walls. This is one of them - the quintessential Hell. It’s exactly how’d you depict it in a gothic christian church: flame, pain, screaming, being tortured by devils. Hieronymous Bosch body horror. Each Hell from here on out only gets worse.

Heaven: a room with seven-hundred seventy seven 7’s. A classical depiction of heaven: with clouds, harps, and all. Pretty rad place. People eventually get bored and leave, though.

Chadsville: The entire region is occupied by Vaping Chads. Pretty chill place, but there’s vape smoke all over the damn place. Chad, as has been established by inalterable physical law, is the polar opposite of James Dean.

The Deep Hotel

Nobody in their right mind would conceive of these numbers. Only mathematicians or crazy people would ever come up with them. Some of the numbers in these places had to be invented. Their locations are entirely alien, usually bordering areas rooming aberrations or complex outsiders familiar in alien mathematics. Examples of such numbers are included in the above table.

Horrible Black Void: It tries to suck everyone out of the elevator, killing them in seconds. There is no hallway. Only room.

Hell Irrational: “You know nothing. Hell is only a word. The reality is much, much worse. Let me show you!” (Quote: Event Horizon) The worst Hell. Indescribable, maddening. To even glimpse at its chaos will break the mind. Room 666 repeating.

Heaven Irrational: Despite being Hell Irrational’s complete opposite, it is just as maddening and equally inhospitable.

The Crooked Realm: It looks just like the lobby. You could almost never guess you hadn't returned to the entrance, or the Mystic Elevator was malfunctioning, but everything is just a little off… The walls sometimes slant. Bugs crawl into spaces that don’t exist. Things feel off-balance, somehow. People say things they never would.

The region contains an entire copy of reality within its boundaries, including its own Hotel and Mystic Elevator. Those who enter cannot escape, except if they immediately turn back. If not, they will forever roam the Infinity Hotel as their reality, never knowing what exactly changed.

The Doubling Cancer: The halls are plagued with an all-consuming cancerous tumor. It seeps into the carpeted floors and walls, overtaking the Hotel at an exponential rate of growth. Fortunately for all reality, this means that it will never reach the entrance.