Monday, March 29, 2021


A summary of select excerpts from the Chronulean Journal of Sociology and Spiders Issue #129, co-authored by W. Smith and C. Le Brau, on the transformation of the most prominent drow festival holiday of Carnalia.

The JSS is the most-cited academic journal with
regard to Sociological and Spider studies.

The Carnalia is one of, if not the most important holiday within the Twilight Republic, and remains a testament to how even some of the most conservative elven traditions are in fact highly malleable. The week-long festival, which features elaborate patrician-sponsored public feasts, temporary liberation of slaves, religiously sanctioned acts of class violence, traditional gift-giving, various devotions to the god of chaos and dreams Manmanuk, and raucous acts of drunken revelry in the streets, is frequently celebrated as the most anticipated event of the year.

The holiday, established within the century, appears to represent a compromise between traditional drow values and the ever-evolving circumstances of their establishment of colonies on the surface.

The Night of Knives

One must start the history of the Carnalia with its now-outlawed predecessor: the Night of Knives. During the reign of the Spider Queens, the Night was an annual event sanctioned by the Queen in order to worship and appease the Goddess of Venoms with the violent purge of the unworthy.

Eyewitness to these events was the historian Sabzyrm di la Kenafin, who provided this testimony:

"The Spider Queen, and hence the goddess herself, declared when circumstances befit that those of weak will and fortitude should be purged from the realm. During this period gangs of festival worshipers bearing sacrificial knives and loose stones would paint themselves in the blood and viscera of the fallen and engage in acts of vandalism, aggravated battery, home intrusion, murder, and cannibalism (the last three acts normally reserved exclusively for the Royal House). The streets would be filled with rivers of blood as those unfit were purged. Great and poor House alike would be besieged and tested against the mobs, who would particularly revel in the consumption of incapable elites. In these ways the population of the disparate poor was controlled to levels manageable for the food supply, and the powerful Houses did not grow complacent."

A New Synthesis

As the monarchy was overthrown and the goddess expunged from elven society, this holiday was made illegal by the new Senate assembly, who more than likely saw it as a threat to their growing power and legitimacy.

These practices of the Night of Knives, however, contained some inertia among the populace. In the record of the last hundred years there have been statistically significant upticks of capital crimes during the period previously reserved for the Night. This testifies to the staying power of the tradition. Seeing as these traditional cathartic desires required an output, a compromise was struck between the institutions of government and religion to usurp the old Night of Knives for their own purposes.

In the year 570 ATL the first Carnalia was declared, in cooperation of the Senate, who had officially designated the holiday. Of the various new gods at their worship, Manmanuk was chosen to be the benefactor of this new holiday, in no small part to his attribution to causing the Tidal Lock itself (and hence opening up vast regions of the surface to the drow, who bear a sensitivity to sunlight).

So it was declared by Amom, the Rememberer of Manmanuk:

"For a period of one week at the conclusion of the solar calendar the great mask of Manmanuk shall be hoisted above the Twilight City to cast its pall. Festivities shall be had, and those showing devotion to the Forgetting God, to whom we owe our ascension, shall prepare feasts to be shared among the public, lest the faithful ransack their homes and take what the chaos god demands. Slaves shall be masters and masters shall be criticized without retaliation. Gifts shall be given among families. No vendettas between Houses shall be pursued. There shall be revelry in the streets, and let no person be withheld from their god-ordained right to mischief and misdemeanor."


Gifts given during Carnalia are typically small things with hints towards violence. Knives and elaborate letter openers are typical favorites, as are servings of properly-labelled poisons and mead. Frequently they tend towards the joking or ironic, such as the 'knife to stab your mistress with', or the 'effigy of an impotent man'.

Another popular gift to emerge during Carnalia is that of the spell scroll, which has become much cheaper to produce in recent years. Most frequently these are tightly wrapped up and hidden within other gifts, such as embedding one around the wrapped tang of a dagger, hiding one within the mouth of a household god-idol, or stuffing one behind the pane of a hand mirror.

Contents of these hidden scrolls often include ironic joke spells or useful cantrips. For instance, a scroll hidden on a dagger might contain a spell to mend bleeding, or one hidden in a silk rope might assist in freedom of movement.

A common iteration of this, particularly as gifts to children, is a puzzle-idol of Manmanuk. These idols, which greatly vary in appearance and function, are said to grant strange and alarming dreams to those to whom it was gifted until they can solve the puzzle and extract the magic scroll from the idol. Such puzzles may be mechanical in nature or be inscribed with riddles. 

An innovation upon the Magic Mouth spell appears to be the source of these idols, and previous research has found that dispelling these enchantments renders the puzzle-idol impossible to relinquish its reward.

Inversion of Social Pyramid

Slaves of house holding status are considered free during this time, and they are liberated to criticize their masters. In the early days of the Carnalia's institution, this often resulted in retaliations post-event, but has since been regulated by the priests of Manmanuk, who are capable of inflicting horrible nightmares, purportedly even madness and death by fright, upon those who do not respect the activities of the holiday.

Since then, these comeuppance have been largely accepted by the city's heads of households as inevitable and important. 


Most popular of foods, particularly among the Houseless and slaves, has been warmed spiced cider and bread - foods long to have been considered extremely rare and precious underground. These two, along with other surface staples, were traditionally acquired only during surface raids, and were hence reserved for Houses of high caloric exertion and favor with the Royal House.

Since then, however, they have shifted to being deigned a lower class food, due to their recent overabundance. Expansions into farmland in the Feyfjord and trade among the Southlands has made both of these things abundant, resulting in surpluses of caloric energy that have not existed in drow society since well before recorded history.

Recent Developments

Recently, this freedom has also extended to the city's undead, which were previously thought to have been mindless and hence immune to the social inversions of the holiday. As such, Carnalia is a time when skeleton, zombie, ghost and wraith alike will wander the streets, partaking in revelry and mischief without fear. This has led, particularly among those Houses with preserved lineages of undead family members, to the repeated criticisms of the Houses' matriarchs by their ancestors.

Particular so-called beasts of the house have also been given this freedom, resulting in numerous reports of manticores, giant snakes, dire bears, and other strange things roaming the streets during this time. And though murder is explicitly frowned upon during the Carnalia, the definitions of 'mischief and misdemeanors' often vary from species to species, resulting in a few rare instances of intervention by the magistrates to moderate the carnage.

Monday, March 22, 2021

What Hath Captain Meth Cook Cooked Up?

The Tidelock party has had a drug cook in their basement for the longest time and I was never really sure how to roleplay him until a few weeks ago when off the cuff I decided he should be like a old sea captain.

(From The Lighthouse)

Sir Morgan Bacardi Kraken Havana Appleton is cooking up some drugs!

He will always sample them before offering.


Drug Appearance

Arrrr! It’ll...

Side Effects May Include...



A fine white powder.

Turn yer eyes inside out, so ye can see the insides of yer skull!


Anarchistic Thought


Small yellow crystal like a kidney stone.

Give ye visions of yer own dying rotten putrescence!


Religious Disjunction


White powder with a little bit of blood in it.

Give ye the pep ye need to get that promotion!


Hallucinations About Spiders


Clear liquid coated on a rusty nail.

Straighten ye out like a fine razor!


Kidney Failure


Orange liquid slurped from a lit lantern.

Put hair on yer armpits! An’ gusto in yer gizzard!

Orbital Bleeding



Rubbery thing jammed up nose.

Make yer hair fall out!

Hair Loss

Doing Philosophy


Wrinkly black moldy chunk.

Make ye smooth like a baby’s bottom!




Neon yellow syringe

Shine a great an’ terrible light in the darkest pits o’ yer soul!


Craving for Human Flesh


Glowing rock

Bequeath ye the stomach to digest even the hardest o’ bones!


Stockholm Syndrome


It’s a fish knife. Why?

Spill yer beans like a blubberin’ boy nary a day separate from his mum!



Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Everything Can Listen, But Nothing Wants to Talk

This is (an increasingly not so short) reflection on how being able to talk to everything has changed my 5e home game: Tidelock. The Tidelock Languages post details alterations I made to the language system traditional to most fantasy games.


I introduced the change relatively late into the campaign - just about a year ago in a game that started in late 2015. It was retconned in to ignore what no doubt would've been a radical change in philosophy and understanding in-world: something I've always wanted the player-characters to instigate themselves, rather than being inconsequentially dragged along for the ride.

The change was to the nature of language, principally Common, and was thus: Everything can speak and understand Common. That's Everything with a capital "E", in the sense that everything a person could interact with (vegetable, animal, and mineral) can talk. Anything can have a discussion.

It may seem radical at first, but really this isn't a huge long shot for fantasy games. In many campaigns talking animals, intelligent swords, and speaking elementals aren't farfetched, they're just assumed to be a part of the universe.

But, you may ask, how is this not a chaotic mess? If Everything loved to talk one would imagine it hard to do anything: there's a bug on a frog on a log on a river in a valley, and they're all simultaneously screaming. You can't see the forest for the trees, because the intermittent air is annoying you with puns.

The solution: Everything can listen, but nothing wants to talk. Everything can understand you, but operating on human levels of discussion is hard for most things. Animals are distrustful. For most "inanimate objects" talking is painful. Air is notoriously multitudinous and fickle. Cells are talkative but very quiet.

I got inspiration for this from Caves of Qud, which allows you to attempt to talk and trade with most things, plants and pond fish included. They make poor traders and conversationalists. Still, being able to say: "Live and drink, aquafriend." is a pretty significant bit of worldbuilding.

Effect on the Game

Introducing this change has caused a significant shift in how the players interact with the world, especially during adventures and dungeon delving. Above all, it means that every single encounter is a potential negotiation. As such, I've noticed a sharp increase in attempts to negotiate. 

Side note: (One side effect of this is that I now have to think through the personalities of more things than I usually would).

Being the party face has suddenly become a vastly more important job, and the number of combats in any session has consequentially dropped. Personally, I find this most agreeable with 5e D&D, as combats using this system can sometimes run up to half the time of a 3-hour session, due in no small part to the bloat of the system.

Negotiations are like a puzzle, both for the players and for me. We both need to consider:

  • Is discussion something this thing wants?
  • If not, why not?
  • If yes, then what's its personality?
  • If yes, then what does it want?

The short list of things I've had to improvise include: rose bushes, a frog with a tongue siren parasite (separately), air, swords, a pile of garbage, birds, fish, and a field of corn.

This might seem a little daunting, but it isn't too hard to come up with some general rules for personalities. As humans, we already tend to anthropomorphize lots of stuff. Hence, there's already a rich cultural fabric to assist a DM. For example: we tend to think of foxes and mischievous and energetic. That one's easy. What about the pile of garbage? Or the field of corn? Or a pile of sand? Or a severed hand?

I've found some general rules can help:

  • Inanimate objects are usually pretty okay doing what they're doing. Sand is just fine being sand. They're not insecure about being what they are (most of the time).
  • The closer any particular thing is to human society, the more likely it wants to talk to humans. A basket made of woven reeds, for instance, would be more likely to talk to a human than those component reeds in the wild. A dog is more talkative than a sea urchin.
  • Plants and minerals are way more chill with death and ego annihilation than animals.
  • Personify descriptive adjectives: a block of ice might be pretty chill; a sharp stone might be clever and stubborn; a pile of garbage is a piece of crap, or perhaps its simply misunderstood.
  • Identifying units are treated as individuals. Despite a boulder or a human being made of many little pieces and atoms, we're going to treat it as one thing. Exceptions can be made, but they require special tools (languages) to microscope in on stuff. This scales up and down. Cells talk on the cellular level. Atoms on the atomic. Stars talk on the planetary level.
  • The more something stands out, the more unique its personality. The inverse is also true. So, like, a corn plant in a field of corn is pretty conformist, but a corn plant solitary in the wilderness might be a bit of a renegade loner. This applies doubly to magic items.



As a fun bit of worldbuilding, what are some of the unexplored implications?

For starters, it provides the basis of an invocational magic system. Much in a style of Earthsea, it's all about knowing the True Name of things. Conjuring a Fireball? Know fire's name. Speaking with Animals? Know the names of Animals. Craft an illusion? Know the names of empty space. Magic and power become an exercise in Linguistics.

Perhaps more importantly, though, it provides the groundwork for interesting philosophy regarding personhood. One can imagine that the communication barrier is a large hinderance for who or what is considered within our sphere of social consideration. With that barrier dissolved, how does this change things? Are animals considered people now? Are man-made objects like swords and textiles? Do you need to apologize to the ground on which your constantly tread? Does one consider Everything to be within its sphere of social consideration, and go about considering Everything this way and that? How would this affect society and law?

Everything Can Listen, I've found, is also a bit pessimistic. On some level its inherently alienating: you're effectively surrounded by people and (almost) nobody wants to talk. It's like being alone at a party, but the party is the world and you can't stop drinking to drown out your existential loneliness, but even the booze you keep staring at doesn't want to talk.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Graduate Library

The Graduate Library of Chronulus in Wizard City Hexcrawl looks like a building in bondage: flying buttresses propping up jutting floors, massive chains binding together crooked towers, impossible wings defying gravity and architectural modesty. It is recursive in the way it's supported: the buttresses have buttresses, the chains have chains.

The interior gives a similar impression. Rooms with other rooms inside and secret shelves between the shelves. Labelling is in constant renovation. To navigate without prior knowledge or a guiding Librarian is to risk isolation and ruin.

It's a labyrinth, in a very real sense: one may turn a corner to find the way back has been blocked by a shelf, or spend days making nothing but left turns only to find no exits. There's a Minotaur. It lairs in the Mythology section. The Librarians call it Alexis. It eats lost undergraduates.

The tentative map of the library.


Three factions hold dominion within the Graduate Library

The Grey Gnosts

a.k.a. The Grey Ghosts
a.k.a. The Bibliognosts of University of Chronulus Graduate Library
a.k.a. The Librarians

The Grey Gnosts are given sacred charge to administrate and protect the Graduate Library. In this line of duty they are rigorously trained in cataloguing, community outreach, database management, custodianship, curation, pathfinding, survival, tracking, infiltration, small unit tactics, assassination, marksmanship, and assault.

They have their hands occupied simultaneously managing the library and fighting a full-blown three-way war with the Bookworms and the Department of History, all without destroying the library's precious contents.

It's an ugly war. Casualties are high. With an ill-kept ceasefire arranged with the History Department, the Grey Gnosts have focused on exterminating the Bookworms with ruthless new tactics that safeguard the books: cold magic and poison gas.

Leader: Head Librarian Arcadia

Students call her Arcadia the Icepick, for her ruthlessness, stoic disposition, and sharp wit. Rumor has it she directly commands a mysterious black ops librarian unit called The Fumigators, which specializes in magical-chemical warfare and secretly returning books to enemy-occupied portions of the library.

The Bookworms

The Bookworms, contrary to popular belief, are not a single magically mutated and enlarged species of book-burrowing or book-eating pest, but a collection of several 'enhanced orders'. The population includes numerous species: giant weevils, wood cockroaches, fungus moths, cigarette beetles, and even a mutated pseudoscorpion variety.

To them, the Graduate Library is the only home they've ever known. The Library is life, and the Library is death. The Stacks contain enough food for a hundred generations. It provides for their young and facilitates their quick-paced evolution. Because of this, they are locked in an existential war for survival.

Every day, the various species of the Bookworms get smarter and more educated. Every time they consume a book its contents gets integrated into the genetic memory of the host, hence being passed on to future generations of bug. Fortunately for the other factions they've mostly just consumed dictionaries, old newspapers, and poetry. God forbid they consume a manual on small unit tactics: with smarts and numbers they'd be unstoppable.

Leader: The Council of Worm

There are no actual worms among the represented species: it's simply become their confederate name. There are five leaders on the council, and all decisions are made by majority rule.

Councilor Weevil - A gossip, a liar, and a flirt. Ate too many tabloids.
Councilor Cockroach - A survivalist to the core. Notoriously difficult to kill.
Councilor Moth - A poet and philosopher. Abhors this war. Very sad.
Councilor Beetle - A sesquipedalian pedant. Ate too many dictionaries. Pipe smoker.
Councilor Pseudoscorpion - Spiritual leader of the bugs. The Library is life!

The Department of History

The Department of History has, to this day, still not recognized the end of hostilities of the Great Departmental War. "We will never forget!" They chant, remembering the atrocities committed against them during that horrible conflict and since. As such, their department within the university is presently "extricated" (which is to say its funding has been divvied up and everyone pretends it doesn't exist).

The History Department wants to change that. They want people to remember. They will MAKE them remember! As such they exist in a perpetual guerilla war with the forces of the University, principally the Grey Gnosts, who they consider to be war criminals. Alas, the matter of war crimes will surely be a matter for the Historians... if they ever stop being in open rebellion.

The dwindling forces of the Department number about a hundred guerillas, spies, and 'civilian collaborators'. Recently, they came under control of the Rare Books collection, and are presently holding it hostage as collateral against invasion. This has brought forth an ill-kept ceasefire between them and the Gnosts. Both sides gear up for the conflict to get hot again, while fortifying their borders.

Hence, the Maze and the Minefield. The History Department has made good use of the Library's secret passages, using them to smuggle supplies and troops around for surprise attacks. It's more than likely they have sympathizers and spies within the Gnost ranks, allowing them to pick and choose their engagements.

They make war with the Bookworms for the same reason the Gnosts do: the bugs are eating the library. Recently though, there have been attempts between the two factions to try and create a separate temporary peace, allowing both of them to focus on fighting the Gnosts. Obviously, the librarians are doing everything in their power to sabotage these negotiations.

Overall, though, the Department of History is dwindling. This conflict has gone on for too long and cost too many non-tenured professors. They hope to sue for peace with favorable terms, despite their propaganda that they'll never back down from the fight.

Leader: Manixo, Chair, Department of History

Friend and foe alike call him: The Chair. Charismatic, intellectual, ruthless, tough as nails. He is a relic of a bygone era: a professor-veteran of the Great Departmental War and a mentor to hundreds that perished. He has not forgotten their names: he keeps a mental list of each and every student that has died for the cause (approximately seven hundred long), and is said to have a perfect memory.

His pioneering spell is called Memory Extraction. Victims are strapped to chairs and have their brains probed with metal needles like cooking roasts. Doing so produces a film-like collage of their memories, perfectly stored. The History Department keeps these for archive, and to write essays about them and maybe publish a book. The Department of Torture would like to examine this method very much.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Poor Auction

Found by the Wish Well in Wizard City Hexcrawl.

Cruel as Wizard City is, it is not without minute capacity for empathy for the plight of the impoverished. Historically, when the number of wizards in poverty achieves critical mass the city tends to boil over into rebellion, and rebelling wizards are particularly hazardous for capital.

So, after the Second Giant Fist Rebellion of 579, a process was instituted for residential districts to shoulder virtually all the responsibility of assisting the poor... Which naturally gravitated towards the lowest bidder. Districts periodically form assemblies constituting of various property owners to auction off the assignment of handling poor wizards short on magic, known as Poor Auctions. Anyone can partake in these Auctions, provided they can convince the assembly that they're actually doing what they say they'll be doing... Or sometimes not. (Exploitation and fraud are common in these auctions. Nobody's brought them to Suit Court yet, though.)

The resources and facilities provided by these Poor Auctions, while technically free, are notoriously inadequate and inhumane. Anyone can access them, provided they seem impoverished enough.





Living In...




Transmuted Krill

A used bath towel

An Enlarged Hand-Me-Down Shoe

One shot of cheap whiskey per night.

Thrown in the river.


Table scraps, like a dog.

Conspicuous bright orange jumpsuit

A lowest-bidder poorhouse

The communal bandages and splints.

Tossed in the Bottomless Pit.


Whey. Nothing but whey.

Bloodstained smock

An extradimensional closet.

Whatever gets scavenged from The Junk Pile

Fed to stray dogs.


One half-loaf of moldy bread per day.

Amateur avant garde rejected prototype jerkins

A sewer junction

Whatever gets scavenged from Surgeon Row

Doubled up into an already occupied grave.


Thin watery gruel.

Clownishly oversized pantaloons

A sweatshop

Free test samples from medical companies.

Shredded into plant fertilizer.


As many roasted rats as you can catch.

Regulation army surplus underwear

The Poor House

Expired serums.

Zombified for work detail.


Compacted cockroach protein bars.

Bags N’ Rags

Inexplicable trash cave

“Nothing a little fire won’t cure!”

Donated to science.


Anything Soup

Reject ‘Intelligent’ Clothing

A decent cage, as far as cages go

Free amputations.

Adorn a serial-killer’s trophy room.


The leftover sticks from Meat-On-A-Stick

A single leaf for modesty

Literal house of cards

Someone shouts at you to ‘just feel better’

Buried in the Junk Pile.


Gruel cut with sawdust

Newspaper toga

Gingerbread lean-to (doubles as food!)

A bucket full of anti-louse powder

Catapulted into another district.


Grass clippings mixed in water

Louse powder and a burlap sack

A whale’s mouth

Cold showers

Rendered into luxury soap.


Get your own food!

Two tank tops

Not-So-Horrible Black Void™

Medical, what medical??

Properly buried, but nobody cares to recall their name.