Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Regional Monster Themes

One thing I really enjoy doing in my homebrew campaigns is monster theme-ing on the dungeon/regional level. It's helpful on a couple of levels, from giving players consistency they can prepare for to giving dungeons/regions a distinguishing character.

So here's a list of monster themes. I'm trying to go a bit beyond the typical ones like Undead and Fungi, as they're used fairly often.

1. Really BIG monsters. House-sized minimum.
2. Sorcerers with very specific powers, immunities, and weaknesses. They hate each other.
3. Cronenberg, but not from a human-centric perspective.
4. Things that used to be dynamic, but aren't anymore.
5. Things that weren't dynamic, but now are.
6. Planescape-style philosophically oriented factions. With very big guns. Too big for their own good.
7. Megaman style baddies. Each unique. Often ridiculous.
8. Enforcers of historical versions of abstract ideas such as Justice and Freedom.
9. Much smaller, weaker, and numerous. And also smarter.
10. Strategically oriented with little self preservation.
11. Wearable/Integrating
12. Non-sentient things that are now sentient and can communicate.
13. Language puzzles in monster form
14. Indefinitely duplicating things triggered by specific occurrences.
15. Clearly better than the party in every way, man for man. Now you are the goblins! (This one's pretty common, actually)
16. Everything has illusion magic.
17. Weather powers. Weird weather powers. State changes based on weather.
18. Musical monsters.
19. 5 Man Bands, or Power Rangers styled groups.
20. Cute but deadly. But cute!.. But deadly.

It's all a bit strange, now that I think about it. Monster themes as opposed to space themes. People usually design the idea of the character of the space first, and then occupy it with monsters, as opposed to the other way around. It gets me thinking about the possibilities of the vice versa, of designing spaces around monsters instead of monsters around spaces. How do these types of adventure spaces differ? How does it change adventure design?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Devils and the Solar Empire

Looking through the 5e monster manual I got an idea for my homebrew setting The Tidal Locked World (still working on a better name). Take these weird devils and turn them into a faction: The Solar Empire, based off of Plato's ideal city of Kallipolis. Their society is modelled to be the perfect meritocracy, complete with community-raised anonymous-heritaged children, a merit-based caste system, and ridiculously powerful devils at its helm. Less sexism though.

From bottom to top:

Lemures (The Unforged)
Little more than the melted souls and bodies to be forged into more powerful devils. Never seen outside of Tiamatris, the capital. They have no status.

They act as administrative assistants to more powerful devils. Physically weak yet usually crafty. They know a few spells which a secretary would find useful (Prestidigitation, Message, Sending).

Spine Devils (Drones)
Sentries and highly mobile shock troops. They carry incapacitating tazer-like spears. Drone-like intelligence, usually under the command of a Tiefling or a Malebranche. Unable to make judgements on their own.

People either born and raised in the Solar Empire or products of the Empire's eugenics breeding program. They have a wide range of possible positions and roles in the Empire, ranging from laborers to experts to foreign ambassadors and philosophers (the highest possible rank for a mortal).

Bearded Devils (Homeguards)
They guard important places in the Empire - birthing vats, schools, food storage. Their "beards", in addition to having paralytic effects, can act as a touch-recognition system to see through disguises or illusory magic.

(Here's where they start to get radically different)

Chain Devils (Temperate Martyrs)
Were normal people once. Then they decided to become a martyr for the good of the empire. Chain Devils take the vices and addictions of ordinary citizens within themselves, and then lock it all away with their soul-chains. They are despondent and quiet by nature, expressing little to no emotion. All hell can break loose if the chains are removed - not an easy task, as the Chain Devil can take one's want of violence away just as any other vice.

Bone Devils (Child Gusts)
Messengers and deliverers of post. "Post" includes children. Their primary task is ensuring that all children of the Empire are removed from their parents and placed in a proper school, where they will be anonymously raised and indoctrinated. Their ability to fly helps in this regard. They've got a gross little warm pouch on their underside for carrying babies, complete with highly nutritious milk sacks. They are single-minded in their approach, and shockingly good with children.

Horned Devils (Ministers of Truth)
Second highest-ranked devil, below the Erinyes and the Emperor. More than being able to fly and shoot fireballs, their greatest power is that they have perfect perceptions and insight. Perfect. Every one of them is like Sherlock Holmes times two. They can always discern lies. They can always tell half-truths from full-truths. They can tell when you're holding something back. They read the subconscious body language and analyze the micro-dilation in your eyes. They can follow your tracks from a month ago over hard ground and it rained yesterday. They can't turn this ability off. They have shelf lives.

Each acts as a sort of regional governor as part of the Ministry of Truth. They are the highest authority most people will ever encounter in their lives.

Erinyes (The Four Furies)
Each Fury is unique, a lieutenant to the Emperor, and in charge of their own division of the Empire. Their names are the Platonic Virtues: Courage, Wisdom, Temperance, and Justice. They each have the powers of Horned Devils, plus more.

Courage of the Silver Order (the Empire's army), leads expeditions into the unknown. Greatest warrior and tactician alive and a fire-tested general. His insight led to victory in the Demon-Devil wars, and he currently wages war on the Empire's behalf against the Orcs of Shadowmountain.

His ultimate power is the ability to administrate the flow of information on a regional scale, and to understand the psychology of the Empire's enemies.

Wisdom of The Order of Technocratic Wisdom, is crucially charged with acknowledging merit and assigning people their roles in the Empire. It built the being which built the being which designed the schematic for the Solar Empire.

Its power is in computation. Insane amounts of computation. It never stereotypes, as it doesn't need to. It is beyond statistics.

Temperance of the Temperate Covenant, leads the education of the young and the maintenance of the well-being of the Empire's citizens, as well as its Ambassador Corps. They are by far the nicest of the Furies, but no less terrifying.

With a simple wave of the hand they can take away your pain, your lust, your ambition. This is their greatest power.

Justice of the Ministry of Truth, finds suitable procedures for dealing with lawbreakers. She manages the Horned Devils and roots out corruption, whether internally or externally derived. She is not cruel in her sentencing, but she is firm.

Her power is as a Minister of Truth, but expanded to that which she cannot she. All must obey her judgement.

Pit Fiend (The Emperor)
Almost a god. The founder of the Solar Empire. A Philosopher King. A rebel from Hell. Looked to the classical for inspiration for a great experiment in producing a most just society. He sits on his Dark Throne in Tiamatris, pondering the greatest of questions in utter silence. His Furies direct the goings-on in the Empire, and he is only consulted if subordinates have reached an impassable disagreement.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


That's "were" as in past tense of "are". As in: "they were wolves, at some point".

The Were-Wolves were wolves before. When a wolf comes to know the desperate depths of starvation, when climate change and desertification have taken all hope of survival away, it might come to be a Were-Wolf.

In places and times when the Sun doesn't rise, the manged, starved thing out of purest desperation will begin to self-cannibalize. It eats itself into an ouroboros, its all-consuming hunger becoming all it is. First it eats its own paws, then its mangy tail, then its hind quarters. And then it's gone. It has become a Were-Wolf then.

Were-Wolves don't exist most of the time. They've starved and degraded past nothing.

They exist now only in the minds of others, as the experiences of wolves, rather than wolves' realities.

Howls in the night. Hungry yellow eyes in the darkness. The patter of paw behind you. Teeth rent through flesh. The Were-Wolf exists only in these states, with no intermediaries and no extremities. There is no wolf, only the eyes and the teeth and that which is conjured first in the mind, not the connecting flesh or the subtleties of anatomy.

Fighting them is difficult as they don't exist in tangible ways. Perhaps one can strike them when they've already bitten through to the bone or into the jugular, as they exist in that definitive state of victory. This countermeasure is undesirable for obvious reasons.

They are afraid of fire, and will not attack those who hold it.

AC: As Leather   
HD 3   
Speed: As Wolf
1d8 Bite
Undead Immunities
Partially Existent: The Were-Wolf cannot be attacked unless it has recently succeeded on an attack or the wolf has been suspended by some magical paralysis.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Infinity Hotel


All roads eventually lead to the Infinity Hotel. An extra-dimensional hostel with infinite rooms, all of them occupied, yet always with room for more (or infinitely infinitely more, as the case may be).

From the outside it looks like any other hotel, though no windows may be seen. Immediately inside there's a red-carpeted lobby attended by a polite concierge dressed in a crisp-ironed shirt. He'll offer you a room for a few gold pieces. There's always more, after all.

Just beyond that is a hallway with numbered rooms that curves ever so slightly. The numbers keep going up. The hallway never ends.

The elevator just beside each of the doors can take you to any room you desire... if you know how.

Mathematicians, philosophers and scientists have all tried to unlock the mystic elevator's potential to reach the spaces of the Infinity Hotel beyond the limits of our clunky base-10 mathematical limits. The Infinity Hotel, after all, contains literally everything within its walls. An infinite number of everything. One just needs to figure out how to get to it.

Hilbert's Paradox of the Grand Hotel

Halfway to Infinity

There's one place that we've figured out. It's called Halfway by the denizens of the Hotel. One can access it by the Mystic Elevator - an instantaneous trip. It's become a small beacon for humanity in the sea of incomprehensible mathematics surrounding it. And there is it rumored one can find ultimate power in the Five Philosophical Razors: magic swords that when combined grant one ultimate dominion over the Hotel and its multiverse.

The players aren't the only ones who've laid claim to these treasures. Within Halfway there are five Schools of Mancy, each seeking ultimate power through their chosen epic level arts. They might also need to contend with the Halfway Mercenary Company - a band of universal-law-breaking hooligans with unique reality-breaking powers.


The Hypermath Cult
The power of logarithms! They dress like scientists, they act like a cult. 10 ranks to the organization, each one allows the use of logarithms equal to its rank. The level 10 Logarithmancer can humble gods and absorb atomic blasts.

The Disomancers
The power of dance! They get their groove on in the Halfway Discotheque, where anyone's welcome to the party (and they do mean anyone). The greatest Discomancer believes that the ultimate spell can be conceived by observing the dance floor.

The Hydramancers
The power of exponential duplication! The Hydramancers of Hydra Hydra Hydra are all about augmentation through duplication. They've got all sorts of hydras in their spawning pits, including the Infinite Hydra (basically a sentient Sphere of Annihilation).

The power of reckless technological expansion! These guys are all about building paradoxs and impossible machines. The Technomancers built a robot that built a God - the omniscient Alpha, who has the power to create but not to destroy. Omega's on the way, the yang to Alpha's yin. It's only a matter of time before it's done.

The Paromancers
The power of language! Based around the Codex of Infinite Language, these guys are all about Paromancy, which is the ability to change a spell's function by changing its name into a paronym of its original form. Think "Shocking Grasp" into "Shocking Grass", or "Disguise Self" into "Disguise Shelf", or "Power Word: Kill" into "Power Word: Kilt". Widely regarded as the silliest of the Halfway Schools of Mancy

The Halfway Mercenary Company
These guys are nuts. Each one of them has some kind of game-breaking power.

One has broken the physical law of how many magical items one can wear and use at a time.
One has anything approaching them undergo a Zeno's Paradox (somewhat selectively).
One has Metagaming powers.
One has an aura of GM Resolution Dithering.
One has the ability to induce Rolling to Failure for any action.
One has the ability to morph reality (post-retroactively change the environment).

The Player Characters

This thing was designed as an epic level module. Level 20, positively game-breaking powers, and no fucks given. Anyone reasonably intelligent can doubtlessly find a way to instantly win using some of the pre-gens. The point is to let them do it. The real joy of the Infinity Hotel is to send that Unstoppable Force right into multiple Immovable Objects and let the fireworks fly.

Our Unstoppable Forces:
A psychonaut barbarian with the power to break Universal Laws and aspects of peoples' personalities.
A thief with a poison that can kill any one thing, a bag that produces any mundane objects, and the severed head of the God of Knowledge
A fighter - The Protagonist - with Plot Armor and effective-yet-shouldn't-be fighting skills
A wizard with a wand that can swap heads
A sorcerer with the ability to change die rolls
A cleric who can never die
A paladin who conquered Hell and usurped its throne, with the infinite legions of Hell at his disposal

How the Heck Does This All Work?

Surprisingly well, actually. I've run an alpha version of the Infinity Hotel with three different groups (a local Meetup, some friends, and my family) and each time it's produced some really wonderful play. The whole thing generally focuses in on Halfway as a dungeon, and plays out a lot like a Rick and Morty adventure. It takes a little while for everyone to get used to their near-limitless powers, but once that gets rolling things quickly get crazy fun.

It seems to produce the sorts of problems that the OSR has heralded: no obvious solutions but many possible answers, albeit with the power levels cranked all the way up. It seems to produce this kind of Level 1 old-school play at Level 20, which isn't something I've seen a lot in epic level adventures.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Gelatinous Tesseract

Few know this, but all oozes, everywhere, are all just parts of one creature. A fourth dimensional being, like Carl Sagan's apple traversing into Flatland, who has only just dipped its toe into our limited universe.

More of it will come, in time. And as it comes it will ignore the limitations of our universe, eschewing walls and vast distances and notions of space.

There's no stopping it. When it enters our universe it forms a sort of projection that we can understand, the forms of oozes that one typically encounters. This projection can be countered with sword and spell; however, the thing producing it cannot. Just as a 2D creature could only carve an infinitesimally small plane out of a 3D one, so to for us and the Gelatinous Tesseract.

Perhaps there is no counter, nothing that can stop it. Or perhaps some spell relying not on space and ones relation in it, but the spirit. Could one perhaps charm the Gelatinous Tesseract? Regardless, its nature does not lend itself to negotiation. It is an ooze (the ooze) after all.

Touching these projections carries risk. It can send a sword or a limb or even an entire whole person flying into the Fourth Dimension, like a 2D person suddenly caught in an updraft, spiraling to a spatial mode they cannot understand. You can end up anywhere.

Anywhere is rarely an ideal place to be.

In bookwyrm-ridden libraries there remain scrolls of ancient wizards who used the Singular Ooze to traverse great distances in an instant, to come to know places near and unreachable with supermathmatical hyper-clarity. They projected their souls into higher dimensions, ignorant of the consequences, and became something other.

The Projections of the Gelatinous Tesseract
1. Green and gelatinous, sweating sterile lubricant.
2. Bubbling radioactive molten lead, crusting at the edges.
3. A black sludge, constantly wetly flopping back and forth.
4. Burnt chocolate pudding, thrown from the pan all over the place.
5. Crystal clear and barely moving. Practically invisible.
6. Perfect spheres suspended in the air. Opaque colored glass of primary colors.
7. Pools of paint mixed but not completely. Smell burns nostrils.
8. Drops of acrid oil-in-water, suspended in a matrix of slimy kelp.
9. A cube within a cube. Apple juice inside green gelatin.
10. Ochre jellyfish with tentacles haphazardly splayed out.

What Happens When You Touch It?
1. Pole/Limb/Thing stretches like entering a black hole, giving no thought to walls.
2. Kicked into the Fourth Dimension. End up nearby. Gain an intimate knowledge of your surroundings, giving no heed to obstacle, wall, or door.
3. Kicked into the Fourth Dimension. End up far away. Teleported to elsewhere on planet.
4. Kicked into the Fourth Dimension. End up far away. Too far away. Most likely floating around in Space.
5. Pole/Limb/Thing disintegrates. Couldn't survive the new spatial arrangements.
6. Pole/Limb/Thing embedded in nearby wall/floor/ceiling/object (d4, in that order). Wasn't able to stick the landing.
7. Pole/Limb/Thing embedded in very far wall/floor/ceiling/object. Connecting thing remains in 4D, now exists in two or more spaces, and acts as a Gelatinous Tesseract conduit.
8-10. Nothing, thank goodness!