Sunday, December 12, 2010

Khju Again

Khju looks at people the way people look at vegetables.

Khju: God of Subjugation

Symbol: None
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: Fly 60’ (20’)
Armor Class: 0
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 24 (184hp)
Attacks: Spells
Damage: By Spell
Save: M24
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: nil
XP: 14750

Khju hulks comatose in an abominable tarry cyst in the bowels of the earth. He appears as a huge (50' high) chitinous tentacled thing. He is known to become active for short periods of time only after inactive periods of centuries or millennia and only when the world is wracked by catastrophic vulcanism. Khju seems to require boiling mud, poisonous fumes and a sky dimmed by ash to endure the atmosphere of the upper world. At such times, however, he will arise in horrific majesty to wreak destruction on the surface.

The worship of Khju is associated with slaves and outcasts who yearn for a great catastrophe to bring about the collapse of civilisation. The exact nature of the god is rarely completely comprehended by the worshippers as his manifestations are shrouded by chaos and a web of deadly sorcery which few survive. His practice is to parasitise populations, using magic to draw in as many living beings as possible to be consumed before Khju must descend again to his prison.

In any given year there is a 0.1% chance (rolled on d1000%) that sufficient vulcanism will occur to allow Khju to awaken and pass out of his prison and into the upper world. He will arise for 3d10 days and immediately begin to weave a web of magic to draw in and enslave all intelligent beings.

Khju has the inherent capacity to cast any 8th-level magic spell at will once per round. These are;

Clenched Fist (Coiled Tentacle)
Glass Like Steel
Incendiary Cloud
Irresistible Dance
Mass Charm
Mind Blank
Polymorph Any Object
Trap the Soul

Immediately upon his manifestation Khju will begin to weave sorceries to draw in victims. He will Mass Charm as many sentient beings as possible then bid them bring in more victims. Ultimately, his intent is to trap as many souls as possible (using Trap the Soul) for consumption. He will busily float about erecting menhirs enchanted with Sympathy or Antipathy and inscribing Symbols of despair, fear and insanity across the landscape, creating a web of powerful magic to ensnare his prey. Khju will also, somewhat inscrutably, Polymorph animals, plants and other objects into weird living sculptures, destroying anything he does not change with Incendiary Clouds. Within a day the landscape for a mile around Khju will be a smoking wasteland filled with the mewling aberrations where sooty thralls jog about on missions to bring in more followers.

Khju is a being of an entirely different order of reality, as such; his relationship with sentient beings is entirely instrumental. He has no capacity for sympathy or understanding. To Khju, living things are resources to be utilised. His actions are bent on organising a means of harvesting as many souls as possible within his brief sojourn on the surface world.

Reaction Table 1d4

1. Khju consumes the character immediately
2-3. Khju Charms the character and instructs it to go forth and gather followers
4. Khju Polymorphs the character into something unspeakable.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Whoops, real life and non-rpg projects swallowed me whole for five months. James from Grognardia recently inspired me with a nice juxtaposition of words: Petty Gods. I like that. You can put together two words from opposite ends of the glory spectrum (e.g. feculent angel, diffident Christ, pristine carnality) and something new and beautiful occurs.

Recent investigations have delved perhaps too deeply into the abject and the irrelevant to be of interest to members of this community but it is possible I might dip my foot back in here from time to time.

Name: Chulg
Symbol: Neusis construction diagram of the interior angles of a regular heptagon
Alignment: Lawful
Movement: 30’ (10’)
Armor Class: -3
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 7 (56hp)
Attacks: See Below
Damage: See Below
Save: C7
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: nil
XP: 1100

If certain ancient malachite funerary ornaments are disturbed when the moon is gibbous there is a 4% chance that Chulg will descend through a cartilaginous rift from seven-dimensional pseudo-space, arriving in 1d4 rounds. Upon arrival Chulg will recite a series of charges against the offender with a hideous voice that sublimates reality, causing the air to burn within 60’ and causing 2d8 damage per round to anyone within that radius. The recitation will last 3d4 rounds upon which time Chulg will return to its place of origin for 3d100 years.

Chulg’s visage is so utterly loathsome as to cause fear (as a 7th-level magic-user) to anyone that looks upon it.

Chulg is immune to non-magical weapons and all spells of less than third level.

The propitiation of Chulg was undertaken by worshippers whose origins are lost in deep time. Its manifestation seems to be associated, to a lesser extent, with the breaching of certain taboos regarding heptagonal objects. Since few understand the specific conditions that will incur Chulg’s attention, judicious avoidance of heptagons is often held to be the best policy.

Reaction Table for Heptagonal Blasphemies (roll 2d12)

2-5 Chulg merely peers through a vortex from the Gulches of Schlaem. Explosive decompression ensues, all characters within 20’ must save vs. petrification or be sucked into the vortex to their deaths.

6-7 Chulg manifests as a flickering 2-dimensional image tottering on the edge of reality, invulnerable to attack. In this form it causes fear as normal but does nothing else until it flickers out of existence after 1d3 rounds.

8-13 Chulg partially manifests inside the body of an offending character in order to remove part of their bile duct before disappearing again. This causes 2d10 damage.

13-20 Chulg appears and sings the Green Lullaby, causing voice damage as above for one round and acting as a hold person cast by a 7th-level Magic-user. Chulg then confiscates any heptagons and returns to its place of origin.

21-24 For some reason Chulg exudes a buttery green substance that renders anyone who rubs it on their body invisible (as cast by M-U7). 1d3 smearings of this substance are left. In such cases Chulg appears, exudes and leaves within 2 rounds.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

This skeleton has an arquebus.

How cool is that?

This version of that iconic staple of renaissance millenarianism is a fresco in The Oratorio dei Disciplini at Clusone ,executed in 1485 by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On Languages and Herbalism

Extending Languages

As with the rules for Retainers, I feel that the rules for languages have an untapped potential and can be extended to make the game richer and more interesting as well as more specifically evocative of the intended atmosphere. I recall paying very little attention to languages when I played D&D, and as a result of that, completely discounting the Intelligence attribute as anything but a guideline for role-playing. I think languages can be a means of introducing a kind of skill system-lite without adding a whole other mechanic.

All characters speak the Low Tongue (i.e. Common) and their alignment tongue, additional languages are granted to characters with high intelligence. Knowing a particular language not only allows a PC to communicate with other speakers of that language and thus have the opportunity to hire them as retainers, it also allows them to access and use particular equipment not available to speakers of other languages. Use of magical or sacred items of equipment requires special cultural knowledge that is unavailable to those that do not speak the appropriate language.

In effect, this allows the imposition of a skill mechanic by welding it onto an already existing and underused mechanic. Languages can provide options beyond those of race and class. I am interested in using languages as a means of utilising resources – treasure – as well as adding an aesthetic component, allowing characters to engage with different aspects of the setting in different ways.

Assuming that languages are generally fairly much ignored except as a means of providing important information to specific players, Intelligence becomes a dump stat, in much the same way as Charisma is a dump stat if retainers and reaction rolls are underutilised.

The Low Tongue: A bastardised version of the imperial tongue mixed with the ancestral languages of the peoples of the northern parts of the Empire. It is the language spoken by the most of the people of the Northern Marches.

Retainers: Peasants, Pilgrims, Poachers etc.

Special Items: Legendary Weapons and Armour, Amulets, Magic rings, caps and cloaks, Potions

The Sacred Imperial Tongue: The language of the Empire of the South and the divine language of the Imperial Church.

Retainers: Imperial Guardsmen, Agents and Priests

Special Items: The Sacred Canon, Clerical scrolls, Ensorcelled weapons of the Empire, Holy Relics

The Old Tongue: The language of barbarian outlanders and of witches and wizards.

Retainers: Heathens, Hermits, Druids, Shamans

Special Items: Magical spellbooks, Talismans, Idols, Druidic Tools, Magical Scrolls

The Language of Wild Beasts:

Retainers: Birds and beasts, Spirits of the Wild

Special Items: Wild Talismans

The Language of Trees:

Retainers: Entities of the Wild Wood

Special Items: Staves, Wands, Herbs

The Language of the Dead:

Retainers: Grave Diggers, Body Snatchers, Death Cultists, The Unquiet Dead

Special Items: Cursed Weapons and Armour of the Dead, Unholy Relics

The Language of Faerie

Retainers: Elves, Dwarfs, Halflings, Faeries

Special Items: Faerie Weapons and Armour, Fey Talismans

Tinkers’ Cant

Retainers: Vagabonds, Troubadours, Bandits, Tinkers

Special Items: Poisons, Thieves’ tools, Charlatans’ Tricks

Other Languages Might Include: The Trade-Tongue, The Celestial Speech, The Infernal Speech, The Language of the Kingdom-Beyond-the-Sea, The Secret Language of Gnomes, Alchemists’ Cant etc.


I’ve loved the idea of herbalism in rpgs since I played Maelstrom when I was young. It fits especially well with the psychedelic Dung Age vibe I’m trying to achieve and also allows for the introduction of minor magical effects to the toolkit of the Average Joe. The real Middle Ages was full of cultural practices that were attributed with miraculous power (little has changed, really). I want for there to be a spectrum between mundane items and magical items that encompasses herbs, idols, shrines, holy relics and scriptures, alchemical formulae and various other oddments. I do not want to overcomplicate things with extra mechanics for PCs but to open up options available under existing mechanics by introducing campaign-specific items that require knowledge of specific languages to utilise.

Herbs may be found at random, or sought out at the cost of a number of Wandering Monster/Unpleasant Event checks. Uncommon herbs are found 10% of the time after two checks, Rare herbs are found 10% of the time after 4 checks. The DM may adjust frequency of discovery according to discretion.

Bladdervine: +1 Strength, -1 Dexterity for 1d6 turns. Uncommon

Bog Moss: Heals 1d4 hp but stains mouth, teeth and hands, -2 Cha for 1 day. Uncommon

Lanthorn Poppy: Smoker falls into a deep slumber for 2 hours, after which one first-level spell may be recalled. Rare

Sweet Grimblewort: +1 Charisma due to delightful fragrance. Uncommon

Glimmerweed: Infravision to 60’ for 1d4 turn, Character is at -1 to hit in bright light. Rare

Salamander Rush: +1d4 temporary hit points for 1d6 turn, -3 to Wisdom. Uncommon

Fireflower: +2 to dmg for 1 turn but causes 1 dmg. Rare

Yeoman’s Blessing: +1 to missile attacks. Uncommon

Harrow Grass: Detect Invisible for 1d4 turns, PC goes blind for 1d6 turns, 10% chance of being permanent. Rare

Scathe Nettle: Grants a +2 to saving throw vs. poison for 6 turns but causes 1 turn of violent purging during which character is incapacitated. Uncommon

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Fells

Long time no post, here are a couple of things I've been working on in a reasonably presentable form. I'm not sure if this is the direstion I should be going in at the moment. I feel like taking things in a transhuman primordial biotech science fantasy direction but I'm sure the urge will pass.


The Fells are the haunted uplands that lie beyond the border of the northern marches in the outlands, the Land-Beyond-The-Empire. The Fells embodied the Wildness of the Wilderness, fear, loneliness, strangeness and danger. The Horrors of the Middenmurk lie beyond.

Events that might befall travellers

1. Stinking Mires: 1d4 retainers start to sink, Successful Strength check by a PC within 3 rounds to rescue from drowning

2. Knuckerholes: Foul pit opens in ground, Random retainer falls in on 1-2 on 1d6 for 1d6 dmg

3. Dreary Fog: Saps meaning from the world, Save vs. Spells or -1 to Wisdom

4. Desolation: Great vistas of bleak emptiness. Morale check for Retainers

5. Darkling Woods: Forest of shadows, tangled roots and branches like scratching fingers in perpetual darkness, -1 to attack, missile fire impossible.

6. Creeping Chill: A bitter cold that seeps into the bones and saps the will. Con Check or -1 to Strength.

7. Witch-lights: Ghostly candles in the distance, Hirelings must make morale check or wander off into darkness.

8. Miasma

9. Cairn: Monument of piled stones, 10% chance of finding offering. Leave offering to receive bonus for 1 day. roll d3 1. +1 Strength, 2. +1 Constitution, 3. +1 Charisma.

10. Shrine: Pray for one turn and receive; 1d3 1. 2 hp 2. +1 Saving Throw for 1 day, 3. Pilgrim retainer that will accompany character for a week.


The dreadful influence of the Middenmurk has made the Fells a place of nightmares. Creatures lurk there that are embodiments of the wild elements of the accursed landscape.

Things Rumoured to Exist in the Fells.

Dead Lord Crethering, Hrulf the Unbegotten, Aelfrick the Weirman, Netherus Cramp, Pentecost the Harbourmaster, The Stork-Woman, Old Braithie, Flendel and Briggs, Webba of Auld Skerrick, Trammel, Gristlebairns, The Alabaster Sow, The Ragged King, The Lang Man of Osterwick, The Hound of Kelmsley, Candlewrack, Uncle Nigh-to-Earth, Father Bracken, Broadbasket Shamwell, Minser Corbie, Eponymous Brock, Irongrin Skoathe, Flinties, The Feculent Dowager, Mill-wights, Privy-wights, The Lost Seneschal, The Seven Sisters of Fyldewocky, Murdoch Hillstrider, The Thicketty Man, The Maid in the Millpond, Mother Mansrot, Auld Rinkrank, Sir Umberton Nunsputter the Thrice-cursed, The Dawn Bear, Rufus Bombastus – Lord of the Eastern Wastes, The Miracle Swine, The Oracle Thrush, Knuckerbrides, Hoary Clooters, Bleakenswick Hares, Drusus the Vain, Asphodel the Blighted One, Maddock and Caddock, Anvilkine, Epiphany Fowl, Gossamer Cockerels, Avatars of Lassitude, Splinterfoxes, Whiskery Concubines, Nefarious Conflagrati, The Beast of Crippswich Hollow, Aunt Ailith, Eadgyth Coppertongue, Wickerboys, Treacle the Catamite, Tarn Shucks.

Roll d8s for Passion, Element and Form


1. Cursed: drains 1 level on successful hit
2. Raging: Causes double damage
3. Tricksy: Charm person 3/day
4. Ravenous: Swallows whole on a 20, d6 dmg per round until the monster dies
5. Idiotic: +1 HD -2AC (penalty)
6. Pestilent: Cause Disease on successful hit.
7. Insidious: Surprises on 1-4
8. Tyrannical: Cause Fear 3/day


1. Barrow: regenerates 1 hp per round while in its lair
2. Weed: entangles on a successful attack and hits automatically every round thereafter, Strength check to break free
3. Cave: +2 AC
4. Mist: Protection from normal missiles
5. Toad: Extra tongue attack, if successful the next attack automatically succeeds.
6. Horse: Double speed.
7. Dog: Savage Bite, +2 dmg, -1 Morale
8. Fen: Drags opponent into a bog on a successful attack if a Strength check is failed, victim must succeed in a Strength check within 3 rounds or drown


I. Ogre: A brutal giant, save vs. paralysation on successful hit or be knocked out for 1d4 turns (treat as hold person)
AC: 7 HD: 3 Dmg: d8 ML: 9

II. Hag: A sorcerous crone,

1. Fly 150’ (50’) on a broom or pitchfork, or in a cauldron
2. Rides a giant angry billygoat familiar MV 150’ (50’) AC 7 HD 3 Dmg d8
3. Curse 3/day, save vs. spells or suffer effects; Weakling! – half strength, Idiot! – half intelligence, Fool! – half wisdom
4. Murder of Crows: 2d4 dmg to anyone in light armour or less, range 200’, 3/day
5. Iron claws: 1d8 dmg
6. Devoted Slaves: 1d6 Degenerate Heathens AC 7 HD 1-1 dmg d6 ML:7

AC: 8 MV: 60’(20’) HD: 2 Dmg: d6 ML: 8

III. Bogey: A terrifying hunter; Sleep (faint dead away) 1/day, Ventriloquism 1/day
AC: 7 MV: 120’(40’) HD: 1 Dmg: 1d4 ML: 6

IV. Grim: An ill-omened guardian of forbidden things, presence causes blight
AC: 4 MV: 120’(40’) HD: 1 Dmg: 1d6 ML: 4

V. Beastie: A terrible shaggy thing,
AC: 6 MV: 180’(60’) HD: 5 Dmg: 1d12 ML: 9

VI. Shade: A nightmare from beyond, drains 1 point from an ability score per successful attack; roll 1d6 to determine which ability score a shade will drain 1. Strength , 2. Intelligence , 3. Wisdom, 4 Dexterity , 5. Constitution, 5. Charisma
AC: 7 MV: 120’(40’) HD: 3 Dmg: 1d6 ML: 9

VII. Wose: A wild creature of the woods, Hide 33%, Sneak 25%, 10% chance of possessing a Talisman

Wose Talismans, roll d6
1. Toadstone – Invisibility 1/day
2. Shrunken Head – +2 to attack rolls
3. Mad-Cap Mushroom – +2 dmg for 6 rds
4. Ancient Torc – +1 HD
5. Ram’s Horn – Summons a beastie of the same element 1/day
6. Hideous Idol – seeing the idol requires a save vs. spells or blinded for 6 turns
AC: 7 MV: 120’(40’) HD: 1 Dmg: 1d4 (cudgel) ML: 8

VIII. Gargoyle: A stony idol animated by foul magic, Invulnerable to normal weapons

General Appearance

1. Squamous
2. Serpentine
3. Simian
4. Bird-like

AC: 6 MV: 90’(30’) Fly 150’ (50’) HD: 2 Dmg: 1d8 ML: 12

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Omentide part 1

1. A horde of spiders emerge from crevices in the ground, they seem to be making their way westward.
2. A small grey and angry rain cloud comes up from the south and rains heavily atop the party, continuing thus for the rest of the day.
3. A small grove of yew trees is seen to be full of hanged men, women and children. One man is in the process of hanging himself.
4. An unfriendly group of charcoal burners curse the PCs and spit upon the ground. For 1d3 days thereafter the party is followed by mocking jackdaws.
5. A human heart is found at the base of a tree. Affixed to the tree with a dagger is a parchment bearing these words “Unto such ends do traitors go”.
6. A donkey with a naked man tied facing backwards atop it gallops across the path. The man is laughing hysterically.
7. All the birds fall dead from the sky.
8. The constellations of the night sky seem to do battle for three nights running.
9. A great fish is found dying in a field far from any watercourse.
10. A mob of young men dressed as fishwives, with faces painted black and sprigs of nettle in their bonnets run by whooping and squealing, following a terrified cow upon which the word “Mirth” is daubed in drying blood.
11. A smoky darkness ascends from the ground and the sound of laughter and drums comes with it.
12. A dule tree stands at a crossroad; a gibbet-cage hangs from it, within which a starving man with his eyes torn out sings an old ballad about a lusty nun.
13. A pair of horses trots along drawing a blazing wagon.
14. A council of thirty burghers are seen meeting at a moot hill; they are discussing whether a gaggle of geese that were seen to go widdershins round a thorn tree are responsible for the ill-luck that has beset their village.
15. A scrawny old woman is gathering herbs with a sickle of bronze, murmuring a song in some queer tongue. She runs into the forest when she sees the party.
16. A Halfling wench is tied to a stake in the middle of a large clearing with a pile of faggots at her feet, she is cursing and swearing at the top of her voice, no one else is to be seen.
17. An ancient oak tree bursts into flames and appears to writhe in pain as it burns. A pair of storks alight nearby to watch it burn.
18. A distraught young woman stumbles along the path with a babe-in-arms. The newborn has a birthmark on her face. An angry mob follows.
19. The rhythmic sound of whipping precedes a procession of flagellants with rapturous expressions turned skyward. They demand recruits.
20. A broadsword-shaped star is seen in the sky for eight nights running. Panic ensues.
21. Ten grim monks are in the process of martyring a saint by sawing off the top of his head. The “saint” resists all attempts at rescue.
22. The countryside is desolate, half-eaten livestock are seen in trees, farmhouses burned, people thrown into wells and streams befouled.
23. A group of rough-looking bog-trotters are preparing to set their dogs onto an elf-boy, who is grinning idiotically. They ask the PCs if they want to join the betting on which dog rips the mooncalf’s throat out.
24. An elf-woman dressed in parti-coloured motley lies asleep in a muddy ditch.
25. A host of starving children singing an ancient hymn pass by on their way to a mythical holy city in the uttermost south. The stripling girl who leads them is blind.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Lowly

If there is one part of the D&D ruleset I vastly underutilised back in the day it was the retainer/hireling/henchman rules. Using the retainers rules as written in BECMI or LL there is no reason why any dungeoneer would not hire as many retainers as they could to provide more firepower or cannon fodder. For some reason my friends and I always assumed this would be too complicated but, really, it is no more complicated and requires no more bookkeeping than all the monsters we rolled up and slaughtered time after time.

I think that retainers offer a number of opportunities to increase the grittiness of the Dung-Age milieux. Their lowliness appeals to me. I have little interest in having retainers that are the equal of the PCs in power so I’ve gone with the assumption that retainers are zero-level grunts whose survival is even more tenuous than that of the PCs. The death of retainers hammers home the Crapsack World atmosphere as well as heightening the chaos and tension of play. Additionally, reatainers are ready-made PCs-in-waiting. When one of the PCs dies a retainer can be automatically promoted to whatever class is appropriate to become one of the protagonists.

As an aside I am going to be using a simplified version of the encumbrance rules wherein each character is able to carry up to their strength rating in items. Going over this means the character moves at half pace. Some items have a higher or lower rating (e.g. 100 coins = 1 item, a mail shirt = 3 items) but I will try to keep it abstract and simple. All retainers are assumed to have ability scores of 10 until such time as they become PCs so are able to carry 10 items. I will not include rations and clothes and suchlike stuff because I am not interested, I think I’ll use some other rule to determine when characters run out of stuff rather than make people keep track of how many rations each of their five retainers has.

I’m allowing most of the retainers to have some of the abilities of various classes as a means of augmenting the abilities of the PCs. If the party has no thief proper, an urchin, a poacher and a tinker will be able to perform many of the same tricks.

All retainers are going to be human. Demihumans are weird and exotic and I’d prefer to focus on the lowly, the grotty and the superstitious to maintain the atmosphere.

Morale is fun. People do run away from battle far more often than they fight to the death. Retainers allow this to occur without the players losing agency over their characters.

Retainer Characteristics
(No mechanical effect, will just make the retainers annoying and/or memorable)

Roll d20

1. Surly
2. Filthy
3. Lecherous
4. Servile
5. Superstitious
6. Sardonic
7. Itchy
8. Fey
9. Addle-pated
10. Devout
11. Pock-marked
12. Gluttonous
13. Indolent
14. Sly
15. Sneering
16. Belligerent
17. Rash
18. Cock-eyed
19. Boastful
20. Snaggle-toothed

Types of retainer d100

01-02: Chirurgeon
03-15: Urchin
15-20: Pagan
21-30: Pilgrim
31-35: Poacher
36-37: Hermit
38-40: Tinker
41-43: Scholar
43-48: Fool
49-50: Apothecary
51-00: Peasant

Chirurgeons are field surgeons, barbers and leeches. They have the ability to treat wounds. If a chirurgeon attempts to treat a wounded character that character must succeed in a constitution check to receive 1 hit point’s worth of healing. Failure in the check means the character sustains one point of damage due to the brutal nature of the treatment.

Hit points: 1d4

Equipment: Field surgery kit (counts as 3 items), dagger

Cost: 5gp/day

Urchins are beggars and cutpurses. Urchins are able to pick pockets (23%) and Hide in Shadows (13%) as a first level thief. They also receive a -2 penalty to morale.

Hit points: d4

Equipment: Dagger

Cost: 5sp/day

Heathens are idolatrous savages from the outlands. Heathens gain a +1 to morale except when in the employ of a fanatic when they receive -1.

Hit Points: d6

Equipment: Spear, throwing axe, helmet, shield

Cost: 2gp/day

Pilgrims are pious folk in search of redemption or enlightenment. Pilgrims in the service of a fanatic gain a morale bonus equivalent to the fanatic’s level.

Hit points: d6

Equipment: staff, holy texts.

Cost: 1gp/day

Poachers are stealthy hunters and outdoorsmen. They can move silently as a 1st level thief (13%) and track enemies on a 1-2 on d6.

Hit Points: d6

Cost: 3gp/day

Equipment: Shortbow, quiver of arrows, hunting knife

Hermits are solitary outcasts with fey wisdom. Hermits are capable of performing hedge magick like cunning men. They receive a -1 on morale due to their generally uncooperative nature.

Hit points: d4

Equipment: Staff, pouch of magical ingredients.

Cost 3 gp/day

Tinkers are wandering pedlars, hawkers and tinsmiths. They are capable of picking locks (17%) and finding and removing traps (23%) as a first level thief.

Hit points: d4

Equipment: Tinker’s tool-kit, dagger, cudgel

Cost: 2gp/day

Scholars are learned individuals seeking knowledge. They are able to read and write three languages (usually the Low Speech, the Imperial Tongue and the Old Tongue).

Hit points: d4

Equipment: cut-and-thrust sword, books of arcane lore

Cost: 4gp/day

Fools are itinerant street performers, jugglers, tricksters and acrobats. Fools are able to climb walls (87%) and pick pockets (23%) as a first-level thief.

Hit points: d4

Equipment: motley garb, 3 daggers

Cost: 4gp/day

Apothecaries are pedlars of herbal potions, ointments and poultices. A herbalist is able to treat wounds, poisonings and illnesses through the application of their skills with herbs. The treated character must make a save vs. poison, success means the character regains one hit point, failure means the character loses one hit point.

Hit Points: d4

Equipment: Pouches of herbs, Book of Herbalism, Sickle

Cost: 5gp/day

Peasants are the most common type of retainer and represent a variety of different professions; ploughmen, woodsmen, charcoal burners, rat-catchers, dung-collectors, fishwives and swineherds.

Hit points: d6

Equipment: roll d8

1. Pitchfork
2. Maul
3. Hatchet
4. Threshing-Flail
5. Cudgel
6. Sickle
7. Billhook
8. Quarterstaff

Cost: 1gp/day

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hedge Magick

I seem to remember the idea of cantrips being tossed around on other blogs recently. I've been thinking along those lines myself lately. What I want to do is give low-level magic users (or Hermits or Cunning Men/Wise Women or whatever I am going to call them) something to do at those times when they've used their paltry quota of magic or are saving their detect magic spell for the crucial moment when it is really going to count. Also, and this is important to me, I'd like to introduce some way of emulating the grubby eccentrics that were the wizards and witches of the middle ages (or of the Dung Age conception thereof). These people performed, presided over, or guided various ritualistic actions that had ambiguous or negligible outcomes. In these situations the appearance of performing an action to achieve some degree of control over some aspect of a chaotic universe was important.

In a game situation I think this kind of minor magick could be reflected as allowing the magic-user character to influence the outcome of a roll, granting a +1 bonus. This is not a game-breaking power, but I think it needs to be balanced with some mechanism. The mechanisms that could be utilised to ballance this power are time and cost, each Hedge Magick cantrip takes 1 turn and costs 10gp (maybe 5) in magical ingredients. If the ritual granting Tostig the Ruffian a +1 to his strength check as he attempts to topple the idol takes one turn rather than one round, or if the necessary materials sacrificed to propitiate the spirits to grant a +1 bonus to a search for secret doors cost ten gold pieces then the players have incentives to not overuse these minor powers.

I am not yet sure how this would work out in play, the threat of poverty and extra wandering monster checks may not be suffieciently prohibitive to prevent the party's Hedge Wizard from consulting the bones, burning mystical incense, drawing magical designs etc. before each and every action that is attempted. The time constraint will have the effect of making it impossible to use hedge magick in battle, but potentially a charms could be worked beforehand to influence the outcome of a couple of rolls.

The cantrips are further restricted by only being active for one turn after completion of casting (or maybe 1 turn per level of caster).

Rolls that can be influenced include;

-A specific saving throw e.g. a charm against poison
-An specific ability check
-A reaction roll
-An initiative roll
-An attack or damage roll (a weapon could be enchanted)
-A search for secret doors roll
-An open doors roll
-Armour Class, a special case, equivalent to a -1 penalty to opponents attack roll.

The fluff component of this could take the form of;

-Incantation/mumbling/screeching of magical words
-Trance-like meditation/concentration (caster may be asleep)
-Burning of foul-smelling incense/candles/sacred herbs
-Imbibing of sacramental entheogens
-incising/drawing/painting strange magical designs/runes/glyphs on the subject
-Anointing of subject with unpleasant ointments/unguents
-Consumption of unappetising objects/substances
-Strange and unsettling dances with singing and/or the ringing of bells/chimes or the rattling of rattles.
-Consultation of the liver/spleen of an animal/person
-Repetitive and interminable casting of the bones/runestones

et cetera

Any combination of the above would be appropriate. I think a random table would be in order but it's too late here now and I have to get up early.

I think this has the potential of being flavoursome and frequently of little help which is very suitable. The greater magicks that constitute the wizard's spellbook should be rare and special - beyond the experience of the rude peasants who might occasionally call upon charms of dubious efficacy from the local madman.

This whole concept relies, to a certain extent, upon the low-level nature of the campaign. I am capping human characters at level 7 and Demihumans at about level 4 or 5. Magic-users do not have the heights of awe-inspiring power to look forward to so they need to be compensated with some extra options at low level.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Ogres

As I’ve stated before, I do not want to use a standardised monster list for the Middenmurk campaign - predictability is the enemy of monsters. Instead I want to develop tools for the construction of interesting and evocative antagonists. I will however draw inspiration from ideas about various mythic archetypes as a means of establishing parameters or a field of possibilities within which a monster can be defined, rather than nailing it down. I really want to avoid over-determining that which should be made of the stuff of legend.

To my mind, the quintessential monster is the ogre. I was inspired to write about the ogre in part because of comments made in Zak Smith’s excellent blog, see this post. Zak characterises ogres as a primitive and brutal and unsettling reflection of humanity, “ like a brother with some tragic, moany, drooly and brutal mental problem.”

I like this. It captures some of the disturbing nature of the monstrous. There is an extent to which humanoid monsters draw from our familiarity with ourselves and subvert it. The thing is scary because it is a reflection of the monstrous within us or it is scary because it is a hideous parody of us, too close for comfort.

There are a variety of different ways I can see to approach the ogre. My conception would probably be the synthesis of a variety of different approaches to produce something satisfying rich and complex

-As a mythic personification of cannibalistic bandits in the vein of Sawney Bean and Christie-Cleek. or generic horrible inbred hillbilly cannibals. Essentially, ogres are cannibalism with brute force rather than cannibalism with subterfuge like ghouls. Ogres are the essence of ravenous predation, big hungry bellies on legs who smell the blood of an Englishman.

-As a personification of desolate wild hill-country. Wildernesses with rugged rocks seem to me to suggest, through the process of paraeidolia, big and powerful figures. These ogres are why people disappear in lonely places.

-The cruelty of boys who torture animals given form. Merciless sadism, the petty tyranny of the insignificant wielded against the powerless, made manifest. In this sense I see violence in company as being characteristically ogrish, (Zak subscribes to solitary ogres) hooting and laughing and trying to outdo one-another in the extent of their cruelty. Gang-rapists too, with their competitive atrocities and the acquiescence of the weaker individuals evoke this idea of collaborative evil.

-In a similar sense, cruelty on a different scale informs my conception. The acts of Gilles de Rais and Vlad the Impaler and of modern serial killers sexually addicted to the rush of violent acts are at the outer limits of what is horrible about humanity. In my experience ogres are not generally attributed with such capacities. I think it is only fitting that such atrocities are common among ogres. They are elemental cruelty, it is what they do.

-The tyranny of the powerful is ogrish. Ogres are bullies who are empowered by their own native strength to impose their will on others. An ogre is like a pack of jackbooted fascists knocking down your door and ruining your life.

-There is evidence for the Palaeolithic past of humanity being an exceptionally violent milieux. Observations of hunter-gatherer cultures in modern-times have recorded an exceptionally high death-rate from constant small-scale warfare, far-outstripping that of notorious warlike modern cultures. Evidence suggests that the further back one goes into human pre-history the worse things get.
Modern humans have many paedomorphic or neotenous characteristics. As the late evolutionary biologist Steven J. Gould wrote "Man, in his bodily development, is a primate foetus that has become sexually mature". Compared to other animals we are playful and sociable even in adulthood. Contrast chimps, who make companionable pets when young but become extremely dangerous and immensely strong in adulthood. Ogres can be seen as like humans who have made an extreme transition into bestial adulthood, or as representatives of an archaic lineage like Homo heidelbergensis, hyper-robust and savagely violent, or as demonised fictions about dawn-raiders from an alien tribe, or as products of a hideous culture manifesting the "abuse begets abusers" cycle, or as Anti-Rousseau-ian ignoble savages.

I think you get the idea. Ogres are horrible. They are precisely as horrible as we have the propensity to be but without all the redeeming features I’m told some humans have. If PCs are going to kill stuff without remorse I feel it is necessary to make it fairly unpleasant.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I have long felt a niggling sense of dissatisfaction with the cleric as a class. I believe I am not alone in this. Despite OD&D including the cleric but not the thief as one of the foundational three classes, there seems to be general sense that while thieves and nimble roguish characters are well-represented in the source material, clerics are not.

The prevailing orthodoxy is that cleric characters represent something akin to members of militant religious orders such as the Knights Templar or the Teutonic Knights. The hoary old creation myth of Sir Fang and the need for someone to counter his undead power contradicts this tale. Clerics seem to be an unholy mish-mash of various sources; part Solomon Kane and part Abraham Van Helsing, with a healthy dose of biblical miracle-worker and the cudgel-wielding Bishop Odo from the Bayeux Tapestry thrown in for good measure.

For my Dung Age interpretation of the cleric I've decided to bring the cleric back to its mediaeval roots. In this context it is necessary to consider the ramifications of a monotheistic religion with a vast and dominant church. The culture of Mediaeval Europe was united and dominated by one God and one Church that played a part in everyone's life.

Interestingly the tropes of pulp fantasy downplay the influence of religion and display a strong tendency toward a kind of pantheism, perhaps in emulation of antiquity. This has been translated in D&D-world in such a manner as to produce campaign settings where religion and the gods play little part other than as exotic window-dressing. Sure there is occasionally the trope of pseudo-Olympians playing a great game with mortals as pawns but the point I am trying to make is that traditional D&D pantheism does very little to produce a dynamic that emulates the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the one defining characteristic of Mediaeval Europe is monolithic and inflexible and pervasive Christianity. Contrary to this in D&D's nominally mediaeval settings, desire for escapism (plus social factors that I can barely conceive as an Australian atheist) has produced cookie-cutter blandly tolerant pantheistic worlds.

The truth of the mediaeval world was often very unpleasant. The Catholic Church persecuted and destroyed non-believers, and waged a highly successful war for the hearts and minds of the peoples of Europe. The history of this world of unquestioned monotheism is filled with thousands of accounts of individuals whose faith in god makes them miracle workers - saints. There seems to have been a saint for every village, "Dark Age" Britain in particular is crawling with them. It is as if the more benighted a place is the more tales of divine heroes who banish snakes and kill dragons and heal the sick and plough up fish from the soil appear.

All of this is a bloated and unwieldy preamble to my re-interpretation of clerics and religion for the Middenmurk setting. A single monotheistic religion that is pervasive and dominant is necessary for the evocation of the classic Dung-Age atmosphere. This religion needs to be served by zealots, saints-in-the-making. I'm re-imagining clerics as fanatics - people touched by the One God, so fiercely devoted as to be able to work miracles and banish evil.

Importantly, fanatics need not be members of the clergy (though most probably are) many saints, such as Joan of Arc and various of the Holy Roman Emperors were just particularly devout members of the laity.

Other threads of mediaeval religiosity also inform my imagining of fanatics. Various heretical sects engaged in religious uprisings such as the Hussites, flagellants and visionaries, individuals like Peter the Hermit and the nameless French peasant boy who led the Children’s Crusade and the historically later phenomenon of the inquisition.

In the Northern Marches, every day is a saint’s day. Every village has a crack-brained holy man predicting holy doom. Pilgrimages criss-cross the countryside as the faithful seek atonement for their sins, and the fanatics whip up religious hysteria, crusades and witch-burnings, exorcisms and torture, persecution and martyrdom. The fearful populace cling to their faith because the righteous fury of its servants is often the only thing standing between them and the real evil of that which lies somewhere over the horizon.

So, integral to fanatics is their capacity to work miracles (cast cleric spells), not their combat ability (which isn’t too shabby but not what you’d expect of elite shock troops like the Templars).

The blunt weapon thing is just so arbitrary, I’m going to allow fanatics to use good, honest peasant-uprising style agricultural weapons –pitchforks, mauls, billhooks, threshing-flails, sickles, hatchets, staves and cudgels. These guys aren’t so much trained warriors as those driven by zeal to smite the enemy with whatever means are available, as well as this it keeps things earthy.

No heavy armour, for similar reasons.

There will be some kind of mortification of the flesh going on, scourges and whips, cilices and hairshirts, not sure precisely how I’ll implement this but I’ve got a couple of ideas.

XP will be given for gold donated or distributed among the poor.

Angry mobs of hirelings in a fanatic’s pay (or potentially merely devoted followers) should have a morale bonus to reflect their zeal.

The fanatic should probably be able to preach to believers, adding their level to reaction rolls.

Turn Undead will become Banish Evil and have wider applicability including cleansing miasmas and exorcising demons.

Tonsures and/or crazy eyes will be back in fashion.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


As I have promised I am going to present my conceptualisation of elves for the Middenmurk setting, or rather, for the “Northern Marches” – the ad hoc term I will use for the (semi) civilised lands nearest to the Middenmurk dungeon. As a matter of course I am assuming that the Middenmurk will be flexible like any other Megadungeon, having certain assumptions about flavour and texture associated with it but fairly much unattached to a specific setting so people can stick it where they want it. Which is a way of saying I’m not making a sandbox but I am doing bits and pieces of setting stuff.

So, I conceive of elves of the Northern Marches as being very much unlike the elves of Tolkien’s legendarium and, as such, fairly much different from elves as presented in D&D and role-playing games in general. The starting point for the approach I am making is the idea of elves as being objects of fear to peasants within the Mediaeval paradigm. Elves are fundamentally supernatural entities from beyond the fields we know that visit the world of the everyday to cause trouble for inscrutable reasons. Elves can be helpful but are associated with sickness and ill-luck, with nightmares, curdled milk, blighted crops and, worst of all, stolen babies.

The word elf is etymologically connected with the word oaf, which is associated with the idea of the changeling child; weird, uncouth, fey and shunned by the community. In this context elves can be seen as a kind of mythic explanation for a variety of intellectual disabilities, developmental disorders and mental illnesses. They can also be the explanation for manic creativity and savant abilities and psychopathic disregard for the well-being of others.

The idea of entities that will come in the night and steal your child is a deep-rooted and primordial fear. I guess this makes elves the perfect primitive psychological projection of the unknown other.

I am fond of the idea that elves are different and otherworldly, but not necessarily graceful and beautiful. They are merely different. They exist in a kind of strange parasitic relationship to human communities, possessed of uncanny secrets of the otherworld and with great capacity to help mankind, but a capriciousness and proclivity to inflict harm with casual detachment.

Additionally, and significantly, elves live among human beings like cuckoos. Elf PC’s will be changeling children or foundling urchins or uncanny strangers who are tolerated for a while by the superstitious peasants of the Northern Marches. They will always be on the margins of society, however, and always be a little odd. The association of elf and oaf – a word derived from elf - informs my conception.

Devil’s in the Details: Elves (oafs, changelings, hogboys, wights, Yule-lads, Fae)

Yes, I am well aware that James Maliszewski has already presented elves in this format. I have the utmost respect for James and think him a capital fellow, however, his Eld are from a fundamentally different paradigm to my elves (though they are similarly quite sinister) and I think there is space enough for both to exist (and let’s face it, James is the king of the OSR blog-o-sphere and I am a swineherd from the outlying provinces).

As I did with dwarfs I am presenting some aspects of elves as being analogous to real-world human psychological and developmental disorders. I do this in the interests of remaining faithful to the original subject matter as I see it, i.e. within a Mediaeval paradigm, these disorders are explained by and attributable to supernatural agents. Any offence caused by this approach is unintentional and I apologise in advance.

Many Elves (d20 thrice)

1. Speak in a raspy whisper.
2. Fear the colour red, won’t touch it and refuse to wear red garments.
3. Laugh at funerals, cry at glad tidings and show no compassion.
4. Make strange bestial noises, seemingly without being aware of what they are doing.
5. Have the ears of an ass, which they hide beneath some kind of headgear.
6. Appear to be perpetually adolescent, but with ancient eyes - or - appear wizened with age, but bright-eyed and hale.
7. Have a tail like a cow’s, which they conceal beneath clothing.
8. Have a strange floral or herbal fragrance.
9. Don’t tend to come in out of the rain or in any other way avoid discomfort.
10. Skulk around bone-yards, crossroads and other such ill-omened places
11. Feel compelled to build cairns of stones and little idols of sticks at random places.
12. Have the eyes of a falcon and stare at people in an unsettling manner.
13. Eat insects, snails and spiders.
14. Occasionally go into a trancelike state where they murmur in a long-forgotten tongue and rock back and forth.
15. Creep around at night and do odd jobs for people.
16. Dislike iron and avoid touching iron objects.
17. Have teeth which are disconcertingly sharp.
18. Periodically give away money and valuables.
19. Have skin which is cold to the touch.
20. Sing songs of unearthly beauty.

Some Elves (d16, 1d3 times)

1. Have a vacant, open-mouthed, idiotic expression.
2. Have no sense of privacy or modesty.
3. Have a sharp, feral, countenance.
4. Fear the sun and shroud themselves in layers of cloth to avoid its rays.
5. Harass and ride livestock to amuse themselves.
6. Take delight in frightening people with cruel pranks.
7. Cast a pale shadow.
8. Tend to attract the attention of various small animals.
9. Habitually sleep in ditches, up trees, or under hedges.
10. Are androgynous.
11. Creep around at night and peer through windows.
12. Crave butter and cream and will pay almost any price to get hold of it.
13. Are very lustful and seductive.
14. Move with feline grace.
15. Destroy things for no apparent reason.
16. Are very tall and gaunt or small and childlike.

Common Travelling Gear (d16 thrice)

1. A hazel switch
2. A small pouch containing (1d6) 1. Henbane 2. Dried Elf-Cap Mushroom 3. Datura 4. Mandrake 5. Belladonna 6. Diviner’s Sage
3. A stone that looks like a toad
4. A tall dunce’s cap
5. Ragged finery, tattered and befouled
6. An ancient bronze dagger.
7. A bone flute.
8. A sprig of mistletoe
9. An old shillelagh
10. A shortbow and quiver of arrows
11. An archaic corselet of bronze scale armour
12. A staff inscribed with ancient secrets in runes or ogham
13. A rote or lyre
14. A lock of human hair
15. A collection of elf-shot
16. Golden chains from a barrow-tomb

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Very Silly

I was absolutely delighted to discover that Joesky had statted up and produced a very detailed description and ecology of the Woosie, based upon this little drawing I did at his request. Here is his description.

I'm working on elves and fanatics at the moment. Elves are going to be weird and a little creepy, as you'd expect from the kind of people who'd steal your child and replace it with one of their own.

Fanatics are how I am going to translate clerics. I like crusading zealots filled with divine inspiration to be wielding pitchforks and threshing flails, frothing at the mouth and pronouncing prophecies of doom. Religion in the Middle Ages wasn't always nice and I find traditional D&D bland pantheism to be far too tolerant.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Disease is a big part of what makes the Dung Age conceptualisation of the Middle Ages such a rich vein of inspiration for me. The Forgotten Realms, where I played most of my teenage D&D, seemed to be an anodyne place, bereft of all the sickness, madness and brutality of the historical accounts of the mediaeval period I had read. I want to create a setting that is grimmer and darker and consequently much more fun.

Commonly encountered in the Vermin-pits of the Middenmurk, miasma is “bad air” that causes disease, a manifestation of pure corruption that issues forth from the Middenmurk to plague the unhappy world, bringing suffering and misery. Miasmata appear as hazy patches of air and as a sense of foreboding and the stench of decay, i.e. players should probably have some warning of their presence. They tend to drift along slowly on currents of foul air or lurk in particularly noisome areas.

Vitruvius on miasma, 1st Century AD;

"For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mist from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy."

Fanatics (clerics) are able to cleanse miasma (as did Abaris the Hyperborean as mentioned in this Wikipedia article), doing so requires a turn undead check as against wights.

Having a nosegay of posies or marjoram will grant a character a +1 to their save.

Miasma Table

Roll 1d8 to determine what manner of contagion the miasma carries.

1. Ague: Fever, sweating, cramps, headache. Save vs. poison or lose 1d3 points of constitution per day and suffer -2 penalty to actions for 1d8 days, after which constitution returns at one point per day.

2. Dropsy: Swelling of the brain causing stupor and confusion. Save vs. poison or spell-casting and other tasks requiring concentration (such as finding secret doors) fail unless a wisdom check is successful. Duration: 2d6 days.

3. Flux: Diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps. Save vs. poison each day or lose a point of constitution. Three consecutive saves indicates recovery.

4. Grippe: Fever, mucus, lethargy. Save vs. poison or lose 1 point from intelligence, strength, constitution and charisma. Save again each day to recover.

5. Horrors: Hallucinations and shakes. Save vs. poison or lose 1d4 wisdom and dexterity. A wisdom check is necessary each time an action is attempted, failure indicates inability to perform task due to confusion. Duration: 1d6 days.

6. Palsy: Shakes and partial paralysis. Save vs. poison or lose 1d8 dexterity. Duration: 1d6 days.

7. Consumption: Coughing up blood, fatigue, fever. Save vs. poison or lose 1d3 points of strength and constitution per week unless subsequent save is made. Duration: 1d6 weeks.

8. Pox: Painful lesions, cramps, fever. Save vs. Poison or lose 1 hit point per day, and loss of 1d6 points of Charisma, one point of which is permanent. Duration: 2d8 days.

I'll figure a way of working them into some kind of encounter table at some stage.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Monsters for Joesky

The inimitable dungeon brawler, Joesky, requested that I draw the cruels and the woosies from the C.S. Lewis quote I posted recently. Being a generally agreeable fellow, and well-disposed toward Joesky because of his unparalleled awesomeness, I decided to do the drawings. Here are the results. A Cruel;

And a Woose;

I might stat 'em up for Labyrinth Lord one of these days.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

But such people!

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won't describe because if I did the grownups would probably not let you read this book - Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins. In fact here were all those who were on the Witch's side and whom the Wolf had summoned at her command. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.

Yes, I acknowledge how the condescending narrative asides C.S. Lewis uses grate upon my nerves now. But when I was eight this was the most exciting passage of prose I had ever encountered, that list of monsters inculcated in me a love of monsters that still abides. I have been collecting lists of monsters ever since and consider this blog to be, in part, a response to this very passage.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Horrors of The Vermin-Pits

Whatever world the Middenmurk exists within, it is the bad place, the source of nightmares. I envisage it as being a dungeon that was delved too deep and ruptured the boundary between the worlds so that a badness was unleashed. Things crept into the dungeon from elsewhere and were unleashed upon the world, harbingers of pestilence and death – demons from beyond the world.

It is important to me that there is nothing in the Middenmurk that is too familiar. Everything should be new and different, whether or not goblins and ogres and dragons exist in the campaign world (my default position is that they do not) down in the hole are other things, entities that do not have names and histories. I am aware that there is an extent to which I will be making a trade-off, sacrificing the preconceptions and assumptions associated with familiar icons of the genre in order to be able to take advantage of the shock of the new.

This particular angle arose for me from a couple of sources. James Maliszewski’s assertion (based on a passage from OSRIC) that the primary activity of D&D was exploration, and Philotomy Jurament’s characterisation of the dungeon as The Mythic Underworld. These things captured my imagination and led me on what is essentially an atavistic exercise. I am essentially trying to recapture that ephemeral essence of what was so enchanting to me about the game, and fantasy in general, when I was young. What was, and is, intriguing to me about dungeons is the mystery, they are perfect repositories for the projection of fears of the unknown, of darkness and predation.

I remember with fondness the exhilaration of being new to the hobby and encountering carrion crawlers and rust monsters for the first time. I intend to produce a set of random monster generators and other associated tables to generate novel content in an attempt to capture that sense of exhilaration.

One of the other concepts I’ve become intrigued by in old school play is the open world. All the DM needs to provide for the players at first level is a dungeon and a town or two and perhaps a rough concept of the world around, the world can grow to accommodate the actions of the players according to their actions. This intrigues me and appeals to me. The agency of the players in this respect is very important to the development of the world. In a similar sense, I hope to provide tools to allow the players and DM to collaboratively stock the world with elements which are brought to life and rendered significant by the interactions of PCs. Essentially, I hope to provide scope for emergent phenomena to spring forth from the interaction of complex systems. I don’t think this is anything new and believe it to be something that happens in normal play all the time. The unpredictability of setting PCs loose upon the world causes all manner of interesting shenanigans to happen. I do, however, intend to make the collaborative exploration of the unknown geography and inhabitants of a mythic underground foregrounded in this setting.

As a DM it’s nice to have all the elements prepared and ready to run so that the work is minimised. It can also be a lot of fun to have free rein to craft your world. I’m trying to tread that middle road between by preparing lots of nice tables for random generation or selection of content, a distinctive look and atmosphere and various other tools to make the process of crafting a grim-dark psychedelic hell-pit dungeon easy.


Vermin-pits are frequently found in upper levels of the Middenmurk, they are unwholesome places, filled with organic detritus and festering with disease. Many crawling, biting and stinging creatures lurk in these caves, having crept in from some dimension of creeping horrors. Tunnels are often natural caverns, the burrows of some enormous otherworldly thing, or if hewn by intelligent beings, long since overwhelmed by the swarms of extra-planar vermin that infest these accursed places.

Here is the prototype of the vermin generation tables, as with all of these tables it is suggested the DM generate the creatures ahead of time.

DM rolls for Special+Element+Form and also rolls for atmospherics if they can't think or somethink cool. e.g. (rolls) Invisible-Gloom-Toad, follows at a distance never coming close. Damn! That would be comical if it wasn't creepy. OK, it is comical.

Default No. Appearing is 2d6.


Roll d10

1. Flying: MV 150’ (50’) (360’ (120’) if already flying.
2. Leaping: Initiative Reach bonus in first round of combat
3. Chameleonic: Surprise on 1-4
4. Venomous: Save vs. poison or paralysed 1d4 turns (Save or Die if already poisonous)
5. Festering: Save vs. poison or contract disease (i.e. mummy rot)
6. Giant: Double hit dice and dmg
7. Armoured: + 3 AC bonus
8. Spitting: Corrosive drool 30’ range, 1d6 dmg
9. Invisible: -4 to hit
10. Hypnotic: Save vs. petrification or paralysed 1d6 rounds


Roll 1d10

1. Gristle: +3 hp
2. Chitin: +2 AC bonus
3. Cinder: extra fire attack 1d6 dmg/HD
4. Glow: thrice per day can project a concentrated flash that blinds for 1d4 turns
5. Fungus: when struck releases a cloud of spores 20’ radius save vs. poison or suffer confusion
6. Muck: Stinking aura, save vs. poison or lose 1d6 Strength for 10 rounds
7. Gloom: Darkness 15’ radius 1/day
8. Blight: save vs. poison or contract disease (treat as mummy rot)
9. Phase: If initiative is won, this creature attacks, then phases out before it is struck back
10. Lightning: extra lightning attack 1d6 dmg/HD 30’ range 3/day


Roll 1d12

1. Rat: AC: 7 MV: 90’ (30’) HD: ½ Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 Morale: 5
2. Bat: AC: 5 MV: Fl 240’ (80’) HD: ½ Att 1 Dmg: 1d2 Morale: 5
3. Serpent AC 7 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1 Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 + paralysing poison Morale:8
4. Beetle AC 5 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1 Att: 1 Dmg 1d4 Morale: 8
5. Spider AC: 8 MV: 90’ (30’) HD ½ Att:1 Dmg 1d3 + paralysing poison Special: Web 1/day as M-U spell Morale: 8
6. Ooze: AC 9 MV: 30’ (10’) HD 3 Att: 1 Dmg: 1d6 Morale: 12
7. Leech: AC 7 MV: 60’ (20’) HD: 1Att: 1 Dmg: 1d2 + 1d2 blood drain/rd until dead. Morale: 10
8. Fowl: AC 6 MV: 60 (20) Fl 240’ (80’) HD: ½ Dmg: 1d3
9. Toad: AC: 8 MV 60’ (20’) HD 2 Att: 1 Dmg:1d4 + Swallow small creatures on a 20. Morale: 7
10. Lizard: AC: 6 MV 90’ (30’) HD 1 Att:1 Dmg: 1d3 Morale: 7
11. Fly: AC: 4 MV 60’ (20’) Fl 240’ (80’) HD ½ Dmg: 1d3 Morale: 8
12. Swarm AC: 9 MV: 120’ (40’) HD:3 Att: special Dmg: 1d4/round 10’ radius Morale: 11


1. Smells of ozone, brimstone, blood, decay or ripe fruit
2. Is associated with half-heard eldritch whispering
3. Is albino white, blood red or sulphur yellow
4. Has striking metallic striations
5. Appears to dance weirdly
6. Pulsates unpleasantly
7. Is associated with apparently purposeful glyphic marks
8. Follows at a distance, never coming close
9. Has extra eyes that glitter with malice
10. Makes a hideous scratching/hissing/tearing/buzzing noise

The Vermin-pits need lots of extra tables for room contents, hazards, smells, textures, miasmas and treasure, of course. I expect to produce tables for Fell-warrens, Abyssal Deeps, Necropolises, Verdant Gulches and various other unpleasant domains of the Middenmurk.

Additionally, information about whatever world these creatures came from (e.g. cinder-world, phase-world, muck-world)would be cool.

Pictured is a festering-phase-serpent, a Grinzelwurm, poisonous, contagious and otherworldly, hisses horribly as it phases between worlds.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is the Middenmurk?

This is a project to produce a Megadungeon/Campaign Dungeon Setting for Labyrinth Lord. I intend to publish, probably as a free pdf, but for money if things go well, before the end of the year. I'm shooting for about 64-pages. There will be a few points of difference about this setting that will make it distinctive.

- It will all be lavishly illustrated by me. I'm not the greatest illustrator in the world, but neither am I the worst, I spent long enough at art school to be able to pump out some semi-competent stuff. My personal qualifications for rendering what is in my minds eye could not be better. Illustrating my own stuff should eliminate poor translation of my personal vision. Creating a distinctive grungy look for the Middenmurk is something I am passionate about.

-It will be distinctly Northern. Interesting coming from an Australian but I have a deep fascination with the visceral and fatalistic atmosphere that permeates the northern renaissance, as well as earlier Germanic sagas and latterday manifestations of the gothic. I really love and appreciate the gonzo-Orientalist weirdness of Planet Algol and various other thriving neo-old school (p'raps neoclassical is a good term after all) settings but I want to focus on some of the material that excited me when i was young. Warmammer, Fighting Fantasy and British fantasy in general has a rich vein of grime that always intrigued me. The Middenmurk will be gothic, but more Visigothic than Nightclub gothic, Dung-Age gothic with the bad teeth and realistic mud.

-It will be Weird. It will not have a list of monsters and treasure. I'm not even sure how much of the dungeon I really want to draw, what I want is to utilise random generation to produce things the players would not have any preconceptions about. I envisage the Middenmurk as the source of all that is wrong with the world, hell-on-earth, The Cacotopic Stain and The Great Blight and Utumno on ergot and datura. Unnamed Boschian entities will abound in the Middenmurk. PCs will have no knowledge of these creatures, will not know their powers and vulnerabilities and will be forced to fight these things in the hostile darkness with the rug of familiarity pulled from under their feet.

Another aspect of this point is that DMs will be empowered by the toolkit for creating stuff. The dungeon rooms and traps and treasures and creatures will be made internally consistent and given meaning by their creator. I have this idea that the players will give them names, that they will evolve significance and meaning out of the primordial soup of random generation in the environment of collaborative imagination.

-As I've said before it'll be all about the chaos of 3d6-in-order. Characters likely won't be glorious and pretty, theyll be ruffians, vagabonds, fanatics and hermits, outcast dwarfs, Rabelaisian halflings and sinister elves.

I'll be tempering the darkness of the setting with a helping of the carnivalesque. Bruder Pfortner will be be ever-present.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

3d6 in order

At the heart of my interest in the old-school-renaissance is the concept of characters rolled with 3d6 in order. There is a freedom in the surrendering to the whims of fate that 3d6 in order brings, letting the dice fall where they may, and imagining the hell out of it from that starting point.

When I was young and played 2nd edition AD&D, our Silver Age assumptions and diet of high fantasy led us to the assumption that a character rolled with 3d6-in-order was not going to be the legendary hero who would save the world from the evil threat while looking impressive and competent and cool.

Our assumption was that our characters and our adventures were going to resemble the models set out for us in those execrable TSR novels and the images that illustrated our game and the Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta posters that adorned our walls. There was a powerful force at play in the world we inhabited that declared "your characters must be brawny and lithe and attractive and well-liked". In order that our characters in some way resembled those icons of our culture we used various other means of generating ability scores. I seem to remeber the 2e PHB having a bunch of them, each more twinky than the last. I believe we were prone to using the twinkiest of all. It was a rare fighter indeed who didn't have percentile strength (what an odd conceit that was, it made sense back in the day, I guess).

The aesthetic style, then, dictates to some extent the mechanics of the game. This can be seen very clearly in the relationship between the imagery and the mechanics of later versions of the game. Illustrated characters all have that suave insouciance one sees in contemporary action films, where the protagonists strut and pose their way through hyper-stylised violent acts without apparent moral consequence. 4e chit-chat on the web centres around the construction of mechanically efficient characters, like in the pictures, like in the movies - characters whose stats make them hyper-capable machines.

3d6-in-order transports you into an entirely different world. Characters are not, can not be, emulations of gym-sculpted model-turned-actors or their kinetic caricatures in digital paintings. Characters become people. People who are sometimes stupid or weak or clumsy and are vulnerable. This vulnerability, this frailty, this lack of choreographed slickness makes old-school, for me, a far more appealing option.

The Middenmurk campaign dungeon setting will be made with the assumption that characters are going to be rolled up in the old school way. That was the thing that sparked the idea in the first place. Some of the characters will be frail and foolish and ill-favoured and yet still they will face dire peril, still sometimes they will succeed against all odds. Then their stories will be worth telling

Monday, March 15, 2010

Armed Combat

I have had some experience messing about with blunted weapons as a mediaeval re-enactor. I do not claim, by any means, to be an expert on the topic. There are a growing number of people dedicated to recreating European martial arts from original manuscripts and making interesting discoveries. I am not one of these people but I do have some experience and understanding of the dynamics of armed combat (or the simulation of such). Drawing from this experience I am able to make some assertions with confidence and better interpret the insights of others with far more experience than me regarding mediaeval armed combat.

When I was younger I thought D&D's armed combat was rubbish and had no resemblance to what real armed combat was about. I believed a lot of nonsense about two-headed battleaxes and extremely heavy swords, horned helmets and knights who couldn't get up when they fell over because of the weight of their armour.

In actual fact D&D, whether by accident or design, gets a lot of stuff right.

Armour class is a good example. I used to favour systems in which armour acts to reduce damage. In actual fact, armour tends to be tremendously effective at resisting blows. Plate armour is effectively sword-proof, it is virtually impossible to chop through it. Mail is also astonishingly difficult to chop through and, when combined as it usually is with a padded garment, resists arrows exceptionally well. The upshotof all this is that mediaeval warriors avoided striking at the armoured bits of their foes, it tended to be a fairly ineffective tactic, instead, blows were aimed at unarmoured parts of their foe and at chinks in the armour. Armour was effectively bypassed, rather than penetrated. I'm generalising here to an extent because some weapons and some blows could penetrate armour but as a general rule, armour makes you more difficult to hit rather than reducing the damage you sustain.

Hit Points is another conceit that I thought were terribly inaccurate. When I discovered games with body levels and wound penalties and critical hits I thought they were far more realistic and more fun. In fact, it is surprising how well hit points simulate reality. People tend to be okay, or at least functioning, even with terrible wounds, or they collapse and cannot do anything. In times of high adrenalin like deadly combat, human beings tend to ignore wounds. Individuals do not fight on from their knees, they fight on pure adrenalin or go down. Hit points make sense.

The one thing about the BECMI rules set that I do not like and will not use is the idea that two handed weapons are slow and therefore strike at the end of the round. A hangover from AD&D's weapon speed, it is precisely the opposite of what should happen. Real weapons were never slow. Reach is a very important factor in armed combat, weapons were not put on the end of long sticks for nothing. In a re-enactment simulated comabt situation (admittedly with a lot of safety regulations impairing the realism of the action but sufficiently realistic to investigate certain dynamics) attacking an individual or group of individuals armed with spears or other polearms (when you don't have one yourself and are armed with a sword and shield) requires you to parry, dodge, or otherwise defend against the pole weapons in order to close on your enemy. They get to attack first, every time.

My house rule answer to this is: In the first round of combat two handed weapons win initiative against one-handed weapons i.e. they strike in a different phase. Spears, used one-handed, count as two-handed weapons for the purpose of this rule. This is essentially just an inversion of the old BECMI rule.

This rule should make spears a more palatable option. They were, after all, the most common weapon on the mediaeval battlefield. And they were common for a reason.

Subsequent rounds of combat could mix things up a little more, a wise ruling in this case might be that, once a two-handed weapon wielder misses or is struck they lose their reach advantage.

In especially close combat, very short weapons gain the advantage. I would rule that once a short sword/dagger wielder strikes an opponent they are able to get in close and automatically win intiative in the next round.

This seems like it is getting too complicated, I am inclined to ignore the extras and just allow two-handed weapons a first-round-only automatic initiative win.

Similar rules should apply to larger-than-man-size monsters. I would rule that large monsters go in the same initiative phase as two-handed weapons.

I like the idea that this will encourage people to use not only spears, but all manner of polearms, the beautiful, deadly flowers of the mediaeval and renaissance battlefield. I could see how this might discourage shield use, I am thus inclined to increase shield's protective bonus to +2 instead of +1. I think this would be appropriate as shields are really a tremendous boon on the field and act to deflect more than 5-10% of potential wounds.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Devil's in the Details: Dwarfs

Yes Dwarfs! Unlike halflings, dwarfs have proliferated in a wide variety of different media and mutated into something resembling drunken Scotsmen with ridiculously short legs played for comic relief. I've decided to go for a different tack that honours some elements of their maggots-in-the-body-of-the-world-giant mythological origins at the same time as mixing in some dung-age mediaeval grittiness. A little bit of itinerant Ashkenazim, a little bit of circus carney and a little bit of character from a Tom Waits song is how my Dwarfs are going to be.

Many Dwarfs (d20 Thrice)

1. Go about turbanned and veiled, refusing to reveal their face to anyone not of dwarfish descent.
2. Have harsh, gravelly voices.
3. Are (1d2) 1. as tall as humans, but tend to stoop 2. As short as halflings, with outsized heads, hands and feet.
4. Have eyes that (1d2) 1. glow like coals when they are angry 2. Are dead white.
5. Mistrust everyone to the extent that they require blood-oaths, pacts and documentation to ensure fidelity before embarking on any mutual endeavour.
6. Have deeply poetic souls.
7. Are feared and distrusted by animals as if there was something unnatural about them.
8. Become obsessed with a single topic such that they are prone to talking about it whether others are interested or not.
9. Go into decline when thwarted, muttering and rocking and dealing out savage beatings.
10. Have thin scraggly beards (if male) or thinning hair (if female).
11. Have gnarled, bony fists.
12. Act like sly street-hustlers.
13. Dress in the colourful garb of an itinerant street performer.
14. Bury hoards of gold an secret caches and never dig them up.
15. Are zealous ancestor-worshippers and must spend one day a week muttering prayers over old bones.
16. Are very gaunt, all bone and sinew.
17. Have the brand of a thief burnt into their face.
18. Never laugh or smile, leer strangely or snort instead.
19. Smell of (1d4) 1. Brimstone 2. Iron 3. Fresh Earth 4. Wet Dog.
20. Are albino.

Some Dwarfs (d16, 1d3 times)

1. Consider themselves to be a kind of elf.
2. Speak the language of the hills, enabling them to predict the weather with 70% accuracy.
3. Have strange taloned feet, which they go to great lengths to conceal.
4. Use a crutch, even if they don't need to.
5. Are terrified of fish, won't eat it, and will not ever go in the water when there are likely to be fish around.
6. Are able to, once per day, hone a weapon to sufficient sharpness that it will do +1 damage in one encounter.
7. Consider themselves related to wrens, beavers and newts and will fight to protect them as for close family members
8. Have secret names, knowing a dwarf's secret name allows one to force them to reveal the whereabouts of their gold.
9. Practice usury and are banned from other professions.
10. Seek to replace as many teeth as possible with gold ones.
11. Have an ancient warcry which they shout before battle.
12. Practice sky burial with their own people.
13. Smoke thick black cigarillos.
14. Speak with thick slavic accents.
15. Harbour body vermin, causing them to scratch incessantly.
16. Have a persecution complex.

Common Travelling Gear (d16 thrice)

1. Blunderbuss.
2. Bundle of goods for market (d6) 1. furs 2. pots and pans 3. documents revealing shady dealings of local notaries 4. stolen silverware 5. high-grade steel ingots 6.
3. Hefty tome chronicling the woes of the dwarfish people.
4. Accounts book, ledger, writing paraphernalia.
5. Phylactery containing ancestral bone relic.
6. Musical Instrument (1d4) 1. tin whistle 2. tabor 3. cittern 4. serpent
7. Phrygian cap.
8. Hazel dowsing rod.
9. Journeyman's tool Kit for (1d4) 1. masonry 2. carpentry 3. leather-working 4. Blacksmithing.
10. Vial of deadly poison (aconite).
11. Shapeless dun-coloured smock.
12. Falchion and Buckler.
13. Kettle Hat .
14. Collection of self-penned love-poems.
15. Thick, knotty shortbow
16. Pouch of uncut gems.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


image by Ian Miller

25 words/phrases or less to describe the Middenmurk;

John Blanche, Ian Miller, Russ Nicholson, The Labyrinth, Ergotism, Gormenghast, 1347, Peasant's Crusade, Corsairs of the Second Ether, Bruder Pfortner, Brueghel, Bosch, The Dung Ages, pareidolia, Fighting Fantasy, Early Warhammer, bestiaries, Demons, Revelations, flagellants, tryptamines, Lovecraft, WWI, deathtraps, Chaos.

Devil's in the Details: Halflings

Ok so I'm jumping on the bandwagon led by Aaron Kesher and followed by a variety of talented others. I have an issue with halflings being a little twee and Tolkien-specific but I am going to include them in the Middenmurk because I want to have the basic trappings of BECMI D&D as a touchstone of familiarity against which all the weird psychedelic stuff can be contrasted.

Unlike the other races which have a fairly significant representation in fiction, computer games and other areas of culture, halflings are very D&D specific. Most of the words that have been devoted to halflings over the course of their existence has occurred within the covers of D&D supplements (as well as on the web, of course). Because of D&D, halflings have mutated from hobbitses to something more lean, mean and kewl. I like hobbitses, but, in keeping with old-school sensibilities and the psychedelic dung-age atmospherics I am trying to evoke, I have an idea of halflings as being small rustic embodiments of earthy human traits - honest, hearty, gluttonous and rude, like one of those buffoons in a Brueghel or Bosch painting.

Many Halflings (d20, thrice)

1. Do wear shoes, curly ones, ridiculously long.
2. Constantly make fum of humans and dwarfs for their clumsiness.
3. Have short-person syndrome and are all in-your-face about it.
4. Are very, very florid.
5. Eat upwards of nine meals a day at particular times with associated etiquette for each. "You can't have spatchcock with nuncheontide". Must purchase thrice normal quantity of provisions in order to keep up.
6. Are exaggeratedly steatopygous.
7. Whistle tunelessly all the time.
8. Have no inside voice.
9. Are rowdy and shadow-box imaginary foes.
10. Laugh for far too long when anything humorous occurs.
11. Regale others with tales of their ancestor's heroism and horticultural prowess.
12. Wear striped leggings.
13. Have bowl haircuts.
14. Are superstitious to a ludicrous extent, spending 1d3 turns each morning performing rituals to ensure success in the day's activities.
15. Smoke very large pipes.
16. Try to scare off enemies by rearing and plunging.
17. Dress like Landsknechts when they can afford to.
18. Often try to resolve conflicts with drinking sessions, including with hostile monsters.
19. Collect and hoard any and all items of even meagre value to sell later on.
20. Speak with west-country accents.

Some Halflings (d16, d3 times)

1. Celebrate some kind of religious festival almost every day and observe appropriate customs.
2. Pose as if for a trophy photo with every slain enemy.
3. Take credit for things they didn't do.
4. Run amok after battle, taking 1d4 turns to calm down.
5. Invent mocking names for everyone and everything around them.
6. Cheat at games.
7. Cry at the drop of a hat.
8. Strut around like a cock-of-the-walk whenever they have the slightest success.
9. Have a diet that makes them fart, burp, sneeze, cough and hiccup noisily and often (10% chance it will ruin sneaking attempts)
10. Show no fear.
11. Start fires as part of their combat strategy.
12. Always try to find a high perch from which to pelt missiles at enemies.
13. Sulk when slighted.
14. Attempt to recruit as many hirelings as possible, regardless of race, species or appropriateness.
15. Try to get opponents to surrender rather than kill them.
16. Are very inquisitive about elves.

Common Travelling gear (d16 thrice)

1. Hat with spoon in it in case of invitation to banquet.
2. Helmet shaped like a funnel.
3. Caltrops (2d10)
4. A book of thrilling tales.
5. 1d6 Maps of various degrees of usefulness.
6. Large and bulky set of pots and pans.
7. Satchel of medicinal herbs of dubious efficacy
8. 2d4 different knives, all wickedly sharp.
9. Set of bagpipes of unusual manufacture.
10. Liripipe hood
11. Several different grades of rope and string
12. Small keg of strong drink.
13. A variety of gambling accoutrements.
14. A large and bulky crossbow.
15. A wheelbarrow.
16. A sarcastic blackbird.

Kobolds, Elves, Slaves of Shkeen, Jann, Orcs, Gnomes