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Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Department of Soul Studies: A Dungeon

Lexi of A Blasted, Cratered Land and I (of this blog, which you all know and love) collaborated on an academic dungeon a few months ago. It has suspicious professors and plenty of ways to lose yourself in your studies.

Read it here!!




This post is dedicated to Peter Wade, a teacher of mine

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Visit From the Arbiter


Hello! It's been awhile, but I thought I'd drop back in with something fluffy for you all. This is a set of tables I began writing for a campaign I ran almost 3 years ago. I was originally planning to have very odd Elves, in OSR fashion, but what I've ended up with might fit a more nebulous word. Something like "Neighbors", "Guests", or "Co inhabitants". 


François de Nomé, Explosion of Cathedral

How many ages have they been holed up in there? How many petty intellectuals have written treatise decrying imagined decadence and tyranny? Scribes copy and recopy these lies on vellum as the endless knot of the Elven world coils tighter and tighter. As the roots take hold of its foundations, as the grass chokes the promenades, as the locks rust to nothing the Elves continue their inscrutable project.

The earth is a watch. The watch has yet to be invented, but the Elves know that the earth is a watch. It is a law-bound system, subject to limitation, subject to chaos: ticking out of time. Wildfires and droughts and peasant revolts and, perhaps, eclipses are all like this: evidence of a contradiction running its course and trying to resolve. The watch begs to be wound up but betrays again as it loses synch. But what if a contradiction could be flipped inside out? I know, what does that even mean? ‘Flipped inside out’, a description of an object in space, not compatible with an abstract noun. But this is exactly what the Elves have attempted. An impossible task to make an impossible place. That is, a Utopia, no place at all.

Their logic is so calcified that it’s become endlessly creative. Every instrument of brutal, mechanical control has become its exact opposite. Grasping scarcity has become so ingrained in them that they have discovered limitless wealth. For centuries they have practiced their etiquette and manner. But none of this is extravagance, exactly the opposite. Every flourish is exquisitely necessary, organized to unknown ends. Nothing should work but it does.

Before they blinked out of history and out of their vast cities, the Elves struck a deal. This is the Ancient Contract. Nobody remembers who agreed to the terms. It is not so much a document as a mandate, a ritual, an action which constantly repeats. The Elven Arbiter arrives without warning, the Embassy is begun. Why? Something is wrong with our side of the world. Something like a quest needs to be performed. Our world must be kept as it is. There are details that must be maintained. Natural features, borders, social structures, ideological hegemonies, which the Elves have deemed necessary to the function of their hidden society.  It is as if we are not so separate afterall.

Mode of Transport: The Arbiter always travels in style.

1. Completely white litter carried by porcelain coloured humanoids without clothes, genitals, or faces
2. Bed of exotic flora which grows to move forward and withers just as fast
3. Floating glass pyramid inscribed with calligraphy, it keeps above the earth by constantly singing
4. A large crawling red hand with a small castle tower rising from the wrist
5. A carriage of silk which several large spiders swing through the trees
6. A muzzled troll whose belly can be slit open to reveal a lovely parlour with fleshy coloured furniture
7. A group of skeletons carrying four large iron wheels who fold together to make a carriage
8. A large egg which rips a chuck out of reality when cracked, replacing it with the Arbiter’s elegant drawing room. The egg appears in the fireplace and causes the room to disappear if it’s removed.
9. A massive roughhewn crystal crawling on crab legs. The sunlight makes its reflection the portal to a pleasant grotto.
10. A moving bonfire with a huge steel kettle cooking on it. A lovely kitchen is poured out when the water boils.

Appearance: It is forbidden for outsiders to gaze upon a being as mighty as the Arbiter, but they conceal themselves with the most stylish guise.

1. A crudely anthropomorphic crocodile. Eyes like stars wink from inside its jaws.
2. Robes like water, an obscuring cataract that gets nothing wet.
3. Light bends around the Arbiter, creating a moving void in sight.
4. The Arbiter is inside out. It is no shame for outsiders to see one’s guts and bones.
5. Light passes through the Arbiter, an unbreakable invisibility. But their voice is everywhere.
6. You. Just like you. A mirror.
7. A veil of chitinous insects surrounds them. Their whirring wings change colour, signalling mood.
8. A luminous silken veil from which copious sweet smoke spills.
9. A face-shaped obsidian cage encircles their body. Arms and legs, naked and pale, stick out.
10. Behind you. Always behind you. 

Knights: The Arbiter’s personal entourage. 

1.Dressed in armor made completely of slashing edges and stabbing points fitted together and riding muscular horses whose flesh is all scar tissue (Knights of Predation)
2.  Gnarled tree bark is fused to their flesh, they ride owlbears and wield wooden weapons (Knights of the Spring Thaw)
3. Wear armor of iron feathers and ride huge swans with the legs of lions (Knights of the Summer Updraft)
4. Dress in armor made of elegantly folded paper and ride gently purring snow clouds (Knights of the Winter Gale)
5. Their heads are grafted onto long spindly golems grown of glass and rosebushes. They carry their fleshy bodies on their backs in vats of purple jelly. (Knights of Spring’s Cull)
6. They are completely invisible but leave footprints of all manner of forest creatures as they march and sound like a whole zoo. Only during eclipses are they visible. (Knights of the Beast Star)
7. They appear as black blotches moving across the ground, beautiful shadow puppets of knights carrying clouds of banners atop displacer beasts. At the moment the sun sets completely, they rise from the shadows. (Knights of the Consecrated Moon)
8.  They are emaciated, missing limbs, eyes, mouths and wear armor of dark red resin which has been formed into strange prosthetic feet and hands. They ride fat quadrupedal devils who smile all the time. (Knights of the Sun’s Ash)
9. They ride steeds of flowing glass warped into the shape of horses with rooster-like manes. The knights are entombed in steaming glass canisters, like champagne flutes fitted around their arms and legs. Miscellaneous tubes hang from their chests, fragrance flowing freely. (Knights of High Summer)
10. They sit on long legged lizards with huge crests emblazoned with psychedelic patterns. Their armor is scale of petals held together with thorns. (Knights of the Spring Equinox)
What are the knights up to? After all the official business, they’ll need to blow off some steam.
1. Eating somebody’s cattle with their bare hands, they just chew the meat and spit it out
2. Standing perfectly still and staring at the sun
3. Beating each other with their own limbs, for training purposes
4. Stalking townsfolk, silently
5. Trying to trade flowers for goods and services, and succeeding
6. Peacefully sewing tapestries from grass, skin, and clouds
7. Shooting song birds out of the air with perfect accuracy and sorting their feathers by size and colour
8. Swallowing weapons, dogs, ect, and coughing them up in perfect, or more than perfect, condition
9. Burning vast amounts of incense and sitting in the flames, mediating
10. Laughing uncontrollably at every aspect of non-Elvish society. They might spend an hour just standing around an outhouse, finding everything about it hilarious.
Go-Between: The Arbiter belongs to the highest echelon of Elven society, they will not debase themselves by actually speaking with the party. Thus the Go-Between, who will speak on the Arbiter’s behalf to the players and vice versa. The Go-Between is not of high enough rank to even ask questions of the Arbiter, they must ask one of the knights to do so. This is a complicated procedure.

1. Low status Elven knight
2. Terrified local dignitary
3. An ambassador from a foreign place, kidnapped
4. Enchanted Bear
5. Treant Slave
6. An overeager wizard, obsessed with the Elves
7. Gibbering half-elven changeling
8. Drunken Satyr
9. Local farmer with an Elven device embedded in her skull. Her eyes sparkle and she is oh so courteous.
10.  An amalgam of local wildlife forced into semi-humanoid shape

What must be done? The task must be seen to or else both our worlds will fall apart, so they say. Trust me.
1. A custom is changing too quickly. A story or song is being forgotten or a style of dress is being replaced.
2. Unrest is brewing in the wrong group. An uprising in the earliest stages must be stopped or the object of its ire changed.
3. A place is not being respected. A grove is being impinged upon, a quarry mined, an ancient ruin looted for building material.
4. An institution is in crisis. A temple is falling apart, a government is losing its authority, an industry is losing relevancy.
5. A natural disaster is looming, it must be mitigated. A flood must not destroy the harvest, a volcanic eruption must not interrupt a festival.
6. Infrastructure must remain as it is. A road is not being maintained, a mode of transport must be kept in fashion, a new project (like an aqueduct) must not succeed, a new technology must be destroyed.
7. Everything is too stagnant. Something drastic and traumatic must happen to society.
8. A dispute amongst the elite is getting out of hand. A political border must be maintained, an aristocratic family must not fall apart, a war must not start. 

This post is dedicated to Algernon Blackwood

Monday, December 30, 2019

Garm Bays Loudly


I'm happy to announce the release of a new scenario for my old Norse magic trpg: Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave. Garm Bays Loudly focuses on a Norse community on the edge of the arctic as they struggle with winter, Viking age economics, and (as usual) the supernatural.


For the first month, Garm Bays Loudly will be pay what you can. Also, Fall at Old Uppsala will be pay what you can for the next week.

I'm excited to hear what you think of the new scenario!


This post is dedicated to Johan Turi 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Avalon Campaign Post Mortem

Image result for ballad of tamlin


At the request of Fiona Geist, I've taken some time to go over the campaign I've been running recently. This is a good excuse, I think, to talk about what I tried, what worked, and what didn't.
I've alluded to this game before in my last post and my knight table was based on a simpler version I use at the table for random encounters. So this was the pitch: original GLoG rules, British fairy tale/history pastiche setting. So it was founded: The mighty kingdom of Avalon (yes, I know), caught somewhere between Arthurian feudalism and the grasping rise of early modernity. The land is being enclosed, the work houses are going up, but the knight in arms still practices his chivalry.

I started by running Patrick Stuart's Sun Princess mystery and then stapled together other adventurers as we moved forward. My plan was to do as little prep as possible. I gave myself 1 hour a week to get the session ready and I mostly kept to my pledge. My memory is spotty but I promise that I will play the hits, and there are many.

So the heroes sally forth, the pickpocket (thief) Penny, the nanny (barbarian) Svetlana, and the chimney sweep (acrobat) Ishmael to save the Sun Princess' skin. They follow the clues, investigate the suspects (Lord Bluebeard and the Witch of the Black Woods absent at once? What!?), and from the churls on the street learn how to summon the Master Thief. He swindles them but shows them the way to the Goblin Market. The party, keenly, suspect the Princess' monkey is to blame.

At the market, the party solve the goblin riddles and acquire some trinkets at the expense of having to kiss goblins. They make their way to the Auction of Things that Cannot be Sold. They become acquainted with the guests and find their way to a secret chamber, the home of the Millipede King. The King's grubs are being held hostage in the pastoral pocket dimension of the mysterious event organizer, which the party punctures by disguise. Unfortunately, Ishmael is killed by the invisible guard dog. With the grubs safe, the millipedes are free to take the auction house back from the beetles who have captured it. Ishmael is luckily replaced by a chimney sweep named Queeqag (yes, I know). A scuffle ensues for the Princesses' skin as it goes up for auction and the millipede soldiers storm in. The Grand Vizier is killed by the Dry Necromancer, who is killed by the Executioner. Svetlana is captured in Queen Mab's amber bead as she rages, Queeqag is turned into a pig by the Witch of the Blackwoods as the party flees with the skin.

The campaign begins in earnest, and what a start! There are lots of threads to pull on. A angry Bluebeard, a loose Executioner, a party member imprisoned!

We abandon the original GLoG classes. So the next party members are Nicolai the Spider Boy (son of Svetlana) and some kind of odd cleric. With the Sun Princess' gratitude, they head to the Night School of Lord Stodore (from the Demon Collective) to save an estranged friend. After sneaking in and breaking out of the Night School several times, getting captured and escaping, the party finds the enclave of children hiding in the library and is able to organize a revolt against the teachers. Something like 1/3 of the children die, including the cleric, but the result is freedom. The hulking, monstrous Registrar is left alone in the abandoned school with one book, chosen by the party: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (oh no). We also rule that saving 1 child's life is worth 100 xp. The child whom they were after has a wealthy uncle who awards the party with a fine dueling cane.

The latest party member is a former student from the night school and literally a giant spider. The party goes off in search of a new hermit for King Gloom's garden. The old one lost his mind and fled. Through some investigating, the party discovers that the hermit had discovered the workings of the Gardens of Ynn (which needs no introduction) and that someone who matches the description of the Executioner was spotted on the castle grounds. They recover a tooth that can bite anything from the Garden and make their way to Tintern Abbey's ruins, where they stand a good chance of finding a new beggar to promote to official garden hermit. They experience a quadruple success: the former hermit, the Executioner, a new hermit, and the romantic poet William Wordsworth are all at the abbey. William tries to explain the power of nature to renovate the human mind and the devastating effect of the enclosure movement. The party decides they could use an adviser. All of them, minus the old, mutated hermit make their way back to the castle.

Image result for al annuri

Immediately, the Executioner is thrown into the dungeon at the request Al Annuri, ally to King Gloom in his war against the Spanish, for being an Abbasid spy. The party then heads north to assist the Laird o' Roxburgh in his hunt of Puck, servant of Queen Mab. Through this business they intend to discover the fate of Svetlana. They are thrown from their course when they encounter the Knight Tamlin on the road. He shares his tale of woe with them. Tamlin was kidnapped by Mab years ago and he can only be free if his true love, Janet, who carries his child, grabs him from his saddle on the night that he is to be sacrificed to the Devil as Mab's tithe to the kingdom of hell. The Laird o' Murray is Janet's father and just after the party shows up so to does Lord Bluebeard to seek Janet's hand in marriage.

As they plan for the eventful night, the party gets distracted by a haunting. The ghost of the Witch Agatha, sister of the Witch of the Black Woods, has been hunting children in Murray. Simply put, they decide to fight the ghost. They manage to drive off the spirit temporarily, but the spider-child (not the Spider Boy!) is killed and Penny develops several new organs. Luckily, a local book witch is able to join the party's quest. The next day, the party go to raid the witch's old cottage. They sneak around the cottage, steal valuables, and encounter Agatha's roommate: a young fiddler who is really the Devil. After gathering a posse in town, the party returns to the cottage to burn it to the ground. Some trapped children may have been killed but the party is able find the rest of the witch's money and smash the enchanted lantern which kept her spirit in this world. Casually, the Devil challenges the party to a fiddling/story telling contest. By revealing the Devil's true identity in the middle of the performance, the party turns the audience against the performer and win the contest.

Now, the party can return to the task at hand. They dress Janet in all the armor they can find: oven mits, heavy robes, pillows lashed to her. Tamlin has given them permission to enter the autumnal realm of Queen Mab: Carterhaugh. All but Penny enter, for she is known by name to Mab. They view the procession of Eldritch Knights and all the Lord and Ladies of Carterhuagh. There is Tamlin on the white steed! Janet, awkwardly armored, pulls him down. Mab, with a squeal of  displeasure, bays her court not lay a finger on her enemies. She instead calls upon her champion: none other than Svetlana (gasps from the table!). As Mab works her magic, turning Tamlin into dreadful animal shapes to make Janet drop him, Nicolai tries to reason with his mother and stop her from killing him. The party buys time, Janet keeps her hold of her love, Svetlana's old self flickers in her eyes. But once the curse on Tamlin is broken, Mab needs another tithe to hell! So she grabs Svetlana as she rides on her charger towards a gaping, blazing barrow mound. The party snatches Svetlana back and feeds her a rose which once belonged to Tamlin, which frees her of her own spell. But the tithe is still not paid! Someone says: "I give her William Wordsworth!" Indeed, she accepts. Betrayed, William cries out: "Oh will I never gaze upon the sylvan wye, never lay my eyes upon the face of Coleridge, my dear dear friend?" It is of no use! Mab throws him down, down, down into the pit.

Fin. Janet and Tamlin have fled but the rest of the party, now including Svetlana (kitted out with Elf  magic), are still in Carterhaugh. Now, there are different rules in this place. They are simple. To enter you need permission and to leave you need permission. Only the courtiers of Mab, who the party saw in the procession, can grant leave. Mab herself, King Oberon, the King of Birds, the Lord of Gnomes, the Laird o' Goblinkind, Morgan la Fey, and the Alder King all have this right. But Morgan is a witch and a witch is in the party, so they seek her. They discover that in Carterhaugh they do not have hit points, rather their sense of self decreases when they are hurt or when they go a day without eating food from their own world. After days of marching and tangling with fey nonsense they find Morgan's cottage. She is old and regretful that she has left witchery in such a poor state. She will free the party if they check in on her apprentices to make sure they have not turned to wickedness. Cat Leon, the book witch, pretends to be organizing a witch union to gain the trust of the other witches. They meet both the Alder King, who wants the party to dance with his daughters, and the Lord of Gnomes, who's geode heart was stolen by Mab.

I'll level with you. Most of what was in Carterhuagh was based directly on Over the Garden Wall. Morgan's two apprentices are Adelaide of the Pasture and Auntie Whispers. The party determined that, because she stabbed Cat Leon in the brain with a knitting needle, Adelaide was probably wicked. Whispers was a tougher nut for the party to crack. While staking out her cottage, they realized that their senses of self  were awfully low. They had only one source of food. It was pork. Yes, Queeqag. With heavy hearts they butchered the former human being. They snuck into the cottage and determined that Whispers was not yet wicked. Though there was a veritable mausoleum under her estate and she seemed to be keeping a child slave, it was all with good intentions. Happily, the party returned to Morgan and gained her blessing. They saw Mab one final time as they crossed the border again. They found time had passed them by, Penny was no where to be found! Months? Years? Days? I hope they'll find out soon.

Ah, and there the story closes. If I've learned two things from this it's that meaningless character deaths suck, that adding historical figures to games is good, and thirdly 1 hour is enough time to prep a good session. Let's go over those. When characters died in my campaign, it was often due to 'bad play' (for instance, just going to fight a ghost without any preparation). But these deaths didn't have any weight, they just felt empty. Secondly, using parts of real history or literature helped my players understand more quickly what was going on in the world. Queen Mab is instantly recognizable like 'vampire' is. Players automatically have an idea of what to expect. Finally, I've got much better at prep just from relying more on pre-published material and forcing myself into a time limit.

Image result for william wordsworth
R.I.P WILLIAM

Who else could this post be dedicated to but William Wordsworth?

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Revisiting the Original GLoG

Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Erol Otus

For the last few months, I’ve been running GLoG. Not rat on a stick edition or Mimics and Miscreants, but the original Goblin Laws of Gaming published in the halcyon days of 2016. Since then a tremendous number of GLoG hacks have been written and each has decided to carry forward or abandon elements from Arnold K’s original ruleset. For me it’s been valuable to experience the original rules first hand and see how my players, all new to the OSR, reacted to them. I hope to share what I’ve noticed and bring some less copied parts of the rules into the light of the GLoG-osphere again.

The Numbers

GLoG’s stat generation and its use of stealth and movement stats are used to make the game riskier in specific ways. Rolling 4d4, instead of 3d6, to generate stats lowers the maximum stat one can roll to 16, raises the minimum to 4, and makes it more likely for any stat to be roughly 10. This is a break from tradition but it works well with the roll under rules. Characters with an 18 strength have a slim chance of ever failing a strength roll made on a d20. But characters with 16 strength are still strong but doubly likely to miss their target number. The new equation for deriving stat bonuses has a similar effect, but the calculation is so fiddly that I’d much rather have a table with the values of each stat.

Stealth and movement are also not usually carried into GLoG hacks. They seem a bit redundant, many GMs would much rather have players roll dex. But GLoG wants most characters to be equally good at running away and for the odds of escape to be likely, so the base movement is 12. The same is true of stealth, but the system would prefer players to run instead of hiding, so the base stealth is 9.
Rolling the dice in GLoG is always risky to encourage players to avoid doing so. But the system’s numbers want to make certain actions riskier than others. Making ability rolls should always carry significant risk of failure, but fleeing should naturally be a little more likely to result in success.

Convictions 

I feel like convictions are a good idea but not a great tool. The way Arnold intends them to be used in the original rules makes sense. He wants to encourage more risk taking and role playing, but the application of the rule feels very narrow. Players, in my experience, won’t go very far out of their way to take risks and the conviction system doesn’t do much to help that. The design feels very carrot and stick, it tries to manipulate player psychology without adding much to play. I think I’d like convictions more if there was a table of them so at least players always started with a sense of what motivated their character from the get-go.

In play, I’ve found that convictions are more interesting if they’re used more like inspiration from 5e. If the parameters of what counts as acting to your conviction is broader then players are more interested in looking for opportunities to earn their conviction point. Personally, I like the idea of inspiration being tied more strongly to a particular character motivation instead of being nebulously awarded for good role playing. I, however, see how this approach doesn’t work for every GM’s style.

Illithid, Erol Otus, 1980

Skills

The skill system is another clever idea but a poor tool to use at the table. The 2d12 skill rolls and skill progression are interesting but they don’t get a lot of attention in play. The amount of complexity they introduce feels unwarranted.  I’m also not sure about what sort of things skills should cover. The vagueness is freeing, yes, but the guidelines in the rules only tell me what skills should not be, not what they should be. A lot of refereeing for GLoG comes down to enforcing the philosophy behind the rules but there’s almost nothing to go off of here. As a GM, the skill guidelines empower me to say ‘no’ but not ‘yes’ to player suggestions.

Classes

GLoG class design has changed drastically from the original Goblin Guts classes. In my experience, the original classes are a mixed bag. I love the barbarian, whose powers are all unique and uniquely useful, but the acrobat gets a hodgepodge of situational advantages which are nowhere near as interesting. Perhaps it was just my players, but nobody seemed particularly enthusiastic to play any of the original classes. The ingenuity of players is supposed to be more important than the power of their characters and so the classes take a back seat, seem less appealing. I’m perfectly ok with this, but I feel like the classes could use more energy, more interesting tools to use from 1st level. In my game, we started choosing classes randomly from the complete table of GLoG classes, which improved the game noticeably.

The stacking template bonuses are also an interesting feature which has become less popular. Original GLoG characters are supposed to get numerically better in many ways as they level up, their save rises, their attack rises, and another number on their character sheet usually increases as well. There’s a general consensus, I feel, that a broader toolbox is a better reward for leveling up than numerical increases but I feel there’s a good balance to be struck in the middle.

From all this, I think I understand much better why certain parts of the original GLoG rules have not been widely adopted by hacks. Maybe there’s a campaign out there where the original rules all make perfect sense - a game with plenty of temptations for convictions and high risk dungeon crawling – but it is not the game I run. Still, there are parts of the original rules which remain valuable or interesting and have not been translated into hacks.

This post is dedicated to Sam Vimes

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Knights of the d50 Table

I am Sir Launcelot du Lake, King Ban's son of Benwick, N. C. Wyeth, 1922

Arms and Amores! The two hearts of Chivalry, the code of the chevalier. The knight with a right hand raised to do good, a soul bemoaning the wounds of Christ and delighting in the joys of Mary! Passionate for the pontiff, loyal at the side of his liege, conquering while on campaign, most faithful to his fair maiden! But no body can fit two hearts. Lust overflows the limits of Christianity. The bloodrush of violence makes courtliness shrink in fear. To kiss and to kill. To be like an animal on the hunt and a saint in a fine lady's chamber. The knight contorts in the confusion, being pulled in each direction, only held together by the knot of the virtue that binds him.

Don't pity the horseman. His literature paints him too well. He's a marauder, a politician, a lord of land. He brings entrails to his mouth with his left hand. Just the word of him, the lais and prose, is a poison that felled Paolo and Francesca. A high-class thug half-saved by a faith half-sincere.

And a word for the faris, a southern equal to the northerly knight. He knows no French so his code is adab, the courtly refinement of a foreign land. His way is older but just bold as the upstart virtue of the Christian kind. Like cavalier he kills, like courtier he spies, engages in intrigue, and lies. No less an angel, no less a foe, he and the knight go toe to toe.

Galahad Discovers the Grail, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1895

50 Chevaliers
Call a known rider from the list below, or bring a composite knight into existence.




1. Sir Gawain: A brilliant shield, Pentangle emblazoned. Armor as shiny as virtue.
Seeks: The Green Chapel, where he is to be decapitated, but he seems lost…
Wields: A green girdle that prevents dismemberment.
2. Sir Patrick Spens: Dripping wet, drowned. Admirably dressed as admiralty.
 Seeks: Revenge on the king who ordered him out to sea in the season of storms.
Wields: Ghost sailor boy, climbs high in the sky to survey the land, sees bad weather and omens.
3. The Bacheler: Despondent, desperate, disheveled. He’s out of his depth.
 Seeks: The answer to a question: What do women most desire?
Wields: A letter of high authority ordering execution, no victim’s name yet written.
4. The Knight with the Rowan Shield: Deeply wounded, rides with hawk and hound at heel.
Seeks: The lake of the witch who can clean and heal his wound.
Wields: A golden rod. When immersed in a river or lake, it summons the water spirits.
5. Herr Olof: Courtly garments, a beautiful saddle. Dripping and drowned from the mermaid’s lair. Seeks: His wedding. He got lost on the way there. Has it really been so long?
Wields: A fine goblet, a gift from a maiden. Drinking from it makes you forget yourself.
6. Herr Holger: Wealthy, thin, ghoulish in aspect. His head has been stitched back on.
 Seeks: To warn mortals of the torments of hell, to make thieves and tax collectors repent.
Wields: A sack of gold coins from hell’s coffers. Each can pay a devil to do an evil deed.
7. Sir Tamlin: Misty in figure, too human to be fairy. Yearns to return to our world.
Seeks: To keep trespassers from the fey places, to punish them if they do pass.
Wields: A pure rose, eating it will purge the body of all curses, illness, pregnancies.
 8. Redcrosse Knight: Heavily armed, the crimson cross on his breast. A dragon killer.
Seeks: The castle of Arthur, where his wedding will be held.
Wields: His wife-to-be, the maiden matchless in virtue, Una.
9. Sir Bedivere: Beyond distraught, weeping as he rides. He is lost without his liege. One handed. Seeks: The lake where he might let go the royal blade and fulfil his king’s last wish
Wields: Excalibur, the mighty brand of Arthur.
10. The Green Knight: Entirely Emerald Green from forehead to foot. Carries a heavy axe.
Seeks: To challenge the virtue of proud nobility by beating them in a beheading contest.
Wields: His own head. If deprived of it, he’d do a lot to get it back.
11. Sir Guiomar: Prefers talking to fighting, struggles with his lust.
Seeks: To protect a newborn child delivered to his care. It may have a great destiny.
Wields: A token of love from a fairy most high.
12. Sir Britomart: A lady-knight of perfect chastity. Fair and courteous and a lover of jousts.
Seeks: Her destiny, a man worthy of her hand in marriage.
Wields: An enchanted promise ring. The wearer must keep the bond their swear on it.
13. Sir Bors the Younger: A scar on his forehead marks him. Takes his chastity most seriously.
Seeks: The way home. He has fulfilled his quest and lived.
Wields: A communion wafer, consecrated at the mass of the holy Grail.
14. Sir Brunor: An upstart, his coat covered in ghastly gore. Very used to being laughed at.
Seeks: Revenge for his father’s death.
Wields: A heart shaped stone. Beats violently when a murderer is near.
15. Sir Satyrane: Strangely chivalrous for a hairy, lusty satyr. Prone to wildness.
Seeks: An instructor, preferably a fair maiden, to teach him better chivalry
Wields: The girdle of a notable lady, how did he get that?
16. Sir Marinell: A watery, slippery, amphibian fellow. Fears women because one is fated to kill him.
Seeks: He’s trying to drown himself, a wizard has convinced him to, but it doesn’t work.
Wields: A string of sea-pearls. Each can be turned into a large, rubbery, floating bubble.
17. Sir Artegall: A sore loser, a great champion. Dressed in the armor Achilles wore, how old school. Seeks: To resolve conflicts between arguing parties fairly and justly.
Wields: A blade that can cut through any material.
18. Sir Pelleas: A stammering, pathetic young knight. Gentle and undeceiving.
Seeks: Solace from his grief, his one true love has slept with another knight.
Wields: A beautiful gold arm ring. It is worth a lot. How hard would it be to take?
19. Sir Sagramore: Hot tempered and good. Prone to fits.
Seeks: To find a quest worthy of his knighthood, to prove himself.
Wields: A deed to land in a faraway kingdom.
20. Sir Galehaut: Gigantic heritage. Appears fierce at first but hides a most honorable soul.
Seeks: To rescue his dearest friend, captured nearby.
Wields: A turbid, passionate letter of love to an unnamed beloved.
 21. Sir Dinadan: An extrovert of cynical humor. He smiles, he cajoles, he coaxes.
Seeks: A bard who is willing to play an insulting ballad in the king’s court.
Wields: A most slanderous tract, a fantastic insult written on parchment.
22. Sir Perceval: Ignorant of the world, he wants to fit in, he wants to do his best.
Seeks: The unicorn. He doesn’t know if he should kill it.
Wields: A witch’s token of affection. If people turn jealous of the wielder, they become frogs.
23. Sir Kay: A mocking, opportunistic, mean knight. He doesn’t realize the harm he does.
Seeks: A tournament worthy of his knightly prowess.
Wields: A sharp squire, the best one could hope for. Loyal and clever and perfect in measure.
 24. Sir Lionel: A vengeful character, eager to resent. He’s constantly preening his mustache.
 Seeks: A huge wild boar which killed the family of a noble lady.
 Wields: A fine hunting hound, with a top-notch sense of smell and greater speed.
25. Sir Turquine: Obviously villainous, roughish, uncourtly and cruel.
Seeks: To delight his appetite for torture, to cause pain in others and pleasure in himself.
Wields: A whip of brairs. Does little damage but strings like no tomorrow.

8 Stages of the Chansom de Roland, Simon Marmion, 15th century

26. Sir Daniel: Determined beyond sense, unable to surrender.
Seeks: An enemy king, with an inventible army of giants and mechanical horrors, to slay.
Wields: An enchanted net that can be thrown far, a magic sword, a camel.
27. Sir Moriaen: A dark skinned knight in Moorish attire. Dispossessed, needing allies.
Seeks: To be reunited with his father and reclaim his mother’s lands.
Wields: A round shield, perfectly black. It absorbs light like nothing else.
28. Sir Palamedes: Not a knight but a faris, converted and comedic.
Seeks: A way to his homeland, to visit his family.
Wields: A finest raiment of foreign fashion, a trained singing bird that can talk like a child.
29. Sir Tor: Born as shepherd, revealed to have courtly blood. No manners but a good heart.
Seeks: A strange dog, a hound mysteriously, purely white.
Wields: A fine shepherd’s crook, it won’t let go what it latches.
 30. Sir Calogrenant: Eloquent beyond measure, courtly as ever.
Seeks: To escape a rogue knight, who is chasing him down.
Wields: A bladder of water from an enchanted spring, pouring it out will summon a rainstorm.
31. Sir Roland: A haughty paladin. His head is very clearly exploded. Yet he continues on.
Seeks: The gate of heaven, which he so rightly deserves to enter.
Wields: A frightfully loud war horn. Its sound resounds across plains and valleys.
32. Sir Oliver: A calculating, wise paladin. How surprising.
Seeks: A true emperor who can unite the world.
Wields: A holy of holies, a relic most dear. Should he keep it for himself or return it?
33. Sir Fierabras: A gigantic faris. He seems imposing but weak willed, easily convinced.
Seeks: Temples to wreck, clergy to kill, reliquaries to pillage.
Wields: A huge riding horse. It could carry 4 riders in heavy arms, tons of baggage.
34. The Fause Knight: Armor forehead to foot, the Devil riding is dis-guise.
Seeks: To web fools in words. Turn your back and you’re done for. Stand and answer to survive. Wields: A satanic fiddle. Its sound drive mortals to mad dancing.
35. Sir Hoel: Virtuous and far seeing, a saint in the making.
Seeks: A cure to the poison coursing through his veins, a bane to his bane.
Wields: A bottle of fine wine that never empties.
36. Sir Launfal: A generous, jolly knight. He loves to host and adores a good boast.
Seeks: A new court to call home. He’s lost favor, been ejected, from his old castle.
Wields: An invisible butler. It serves its master perfectly but cannot commit violence.
37. Sir Astolfo: An experienced knight wielding sorcerous powers. A bit wooden due to a curse. Seeks: A chariot that can carry him to the moon, where the wits of his comrade are hidden
Wields: A magic lance which throws opponents with the slightest touch.
38. Sir Ruggiero: A conflicted soul, torn between two faiths, between two bloods in his veins.
Seeks: An oracle who will tell him his destiny. Surely he will find two conflicting fates.
Wields: A mighty hippogriff from far off lands.
39. Sir Lancelot: Handsome, high status, high stature, a heroic kind. A love like no other lurks inside. Seeks: A shoulder to cry on, he was tricked into sleeping with a maid who is not his true love. Wields: A stone from a holy grave, it repels the undead and devils from the holder.
40. Sir Ganelon: His pride leads easily to treachery, his worst crimes are committed already.
Seeks: To find a place to hide, to lay low for a time or forever, whichever comes first.
Wields: Thirty pieces of silver, which the devil can smell, track perfectly.
41. Sir Renaud: Haphazard and foolish. Beloved by his brothers, unfortunately separated.
Seeks: To avoid punishment for a murder he accidentally committed.
Wields: The last dregs of a love potion soaked into his kerchief, dripping til tis drunk.
42. Sir Galahad: Most perfect, most pure, as if a halo surrounds him. He fights, he wins, he spares. Seeks: The Holy Grail.
Wields: Nothing but what chivalry demands.
43. Sir Dagonet: A hilarious jester but an unrepentant coward. He’s a buffoon but he’s kept around. Seeks: To convince someone that he’s prevailed in a fight, he’s even battered his own shield.
Wields: A magic sword. It’s not actually magic, someone was just humoring this knight.
44. Sir Pellinore: An aged old man who rambles easily. Strokes his beard and gazes off into space. Seeks: The Questing Beast, which he is destined to chase but never catch.
Wields: A sword that will break any blade it crosses it with.
45. Sir Erec: He’s getting older, the hair turning grey. Yearns for domestic life, the little things.
Seeks: To court the maid he has fallen for, however he is neglecting an important quest.
Wields: A sack of infinite silver coins. If he tells of the sack’s magic, it will cease to work.
46. Herr Karl: A clever young man, he yearns badly to get his way.
Seeks: To free his true love from a covenant, he plans to fake his own death.
Wields: A most elegant burial shroud, a tray of fine funeral meats.
47. Sir Aldingar: A cagey character, histories of mistakes trial behind.
 Seeks: A cure for the leprosy which has afflicted him as punishment for his sins.
Wields: A curative ointment, it eases pain incredibly but does nothing more.
48. Sir Cawline: Proud but he can back it up, boasts but he can prove it.
Seeks: To slay the Elven King, a deed to win his lady’s love.
Wields: A giant’s thigh bone, an unbreakable beater, a bludgeon bar-none.
49. Herr Peder: An expert evader, honest to none. He looks disheveled, unraveled.
Seeks: A soul to confess his sins to. He has done disgusting things, but can he admit it?
Wields: A charter from the highest authority, to force any captain to make any journey.
50. Sir Gornemant: He’s seen many a squire grow to a good knight, hopeful at heart.
Seeks: A squire with potential to tutor in proper chivalry.
Wields: Almace, a time-honored blade. Totally mundane, but its name is feared.

This table would not have been possible without the code written by Betty of Paper Elemental

The Arming and Departure of the Knights, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and John Henry Dearle,  19th cent

Further Reading
Though all the figures on this list are drawn from real traditions of poetry, prose, and balladry I have not been completely faithful to my sources. This is some of the fun of the chivalric romance. All the authors writing in the genre love to tweak it and remold it. Familiar characters emerge, evolve, and merge. These are my knights, but consider reading the works below to learn what deviations I've made.

The works of Thomas Malory
Gawain and the Green Knight (this is the best chivalric poem, read it.)
Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo
Orlando Furioso
The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer
The works of Chrétien de Troyes
The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Chanson de Roland
Don Quixote by Cervantes
The Child Ballads (particularly 3, 39, 58, and 61)
Swedish Ballads (particularly Herr Holger, Herr Olof, Herr Karl, and Herr Peder)

This post is dedicated to the Pearl Poet

Monday, October 7, 2019

Adulterated Lineages of the Primordial Flesh

Breeding Pit, Anson Maddocks, 1994

The moon shone that night, its disk complete, like polished horn or dulled ivory. There Marwan stood. He was one of the pale people, tall and gaunt, and so the fullmoon rays shone through him, revealing the contours of his bones, the colour of his liver and kidneys. But more was unveiled. The new lobes bulged, beating as hearts in the old flesh of Marwan. From them flowed ichors, hormones, and types of cells found in no being born from a womb. These too were made brilliant in the silver light. The bodies shuddered, they convulsed. They squirmed with their strength and lent it to their host.

Marwan leaped from roof to roof like a cat. His pursuers tried to follow suit, making fools of themselves in the process. He turned to laugh at his enemies fumbling over themselves. Seeing Marwan pause, Yasmin raised her arms to cast a harmless light charm. Marwan felt a sudden tightening of all the muscles in his body. His implanted organs failed for a second. He lost his balance. His feet slipped from the lip of a roof. His skull cracked open when he struck the earth.

The Anatomy of the eye according to Hunayn Ibn Ishaq, from 13th century manuscript

A History
From the Primordial Flesh, from some unknown source in antiquity, came Exquisite Organs and surgeons who know how to bind them in new flesh. They kept the old flesh too, they preserved it, they cherished it. But the mind is eager to tinker, even with perfection. The flesh was mingled with geomancy and devilry and alchemy and necromancy and the blood of rulers. 

Make Me One With Unclean Meat
The new lineages are much blunter, cleverer tools. The organs are distinctive, active. They will slip into any gaping wound and integrate themselves, no surgeon required. They are eccentric, each lineage blessed and cursed with a particular side effect. How they reproduce is largely mysterious but they can be found in just about the same situations as normal Exquisite Organs. 

Organ Spells:  Found in dubious medical treatises and scrolls of made of skin

Birth Organ, R: 15ft  T: A Living Body D: Permanent 
You cause an organ of a random adulterated lineage to be born in a body. The target may attempt a Con save to stop the birth. Normally, the organs produced by this spell provide no stat bonuses but if you expend 500GP in alchemical regeants and sacrifice an animal while casting the spell, the organ provides +1d6 to a random ability score. 

Emergency Transplant, R: Touch T: 2 Organs in Bodies D: Permanent 
You touch 2 bodies and select 2 organs within them. The organs flow through you, swapping hosts. Each target body may make a Con save to resist this effect. 

20 Corrupt Lineages
All organs give a permanent bonus to a stat, usually +2 or greater

1. Strength - Increased Muscle Mass, Tertiary Lung, Increased Adrenaline
2. Dexterity - Improved Neural Sheathing, Faster Metabolism, Improved Fine Motor Skills
3. Constitution - Secondary Liver, Secondary Heart, Increased Bone Mass
4. Intelligence - Secondary Hippocampus, Increased Neural Density (not always in the brain)
5. Wisdom - Improved Vision, Increased Neural Plasticity
6. Charisma - Pheromone Glands, Improved Social Awareness

1. Lineage of the Esoteric Tongue
Organs of this lineage are incredibly light, almost weightless, and a light blue or turquoise color.
Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you develop an allergy to magic. You get an itch when in the presence of magical places or beings. Whenever a spell is cast within 60ft of you, you undergo a spasm and drop what you're holding. You cannot wield or wear magical equipment, you burst out in hives if you try.

2.  Linage of the Midnight Lodge
Organs of this lineage are dark in color, produce a pitch black oily substance, and are prone to failure. If you roll a 1 on a check or save associated with the organ, it fails completely, you lose the stat bonus the organs provides and you will go into septic shock and die in 1d10 days if the organ is not removed. The defective organ can be made into a potent poison by a chemist.

3. Lineage of the Blood of the Warping Wood
Organs of this lineage look a fetus gestated in a tree stump, they have sightless eyes wound with thin roots, little arms with woody talons. Once implanted with an organ of this linage, you develop a terrible bloodlust. When you see and smell fresh blood, you are driven into a frenzy like a barbarian's rage. The rage can only be ended if you ingest a pound of blood and flesh.

4. Lineage of the Chthonic Star
Organs of this lineage are bulbous and rubbery, like big water balloons full of slushy ice, and highly bioluminescent. When you are in darkness, the organ glows a pale red in your body. Without taking major measures to hide your luminescence, you cannot hide in darkness.

6. Lineage of the Archon's Sons
Organs of this lineage are a dull yellow color and produce fluids that look like mercury but are sour to the tongue. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage you lose the ability to lie, directly and indirectly. You cannot lie by omission or even refuse to answers questions directed at you.

7. Lineage of the Limestone Shaws
Organs of this lineage are always warm and have cracks in them like a heated coal. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage your body temperature rises greatly as if you have a bad fever. If you overheat any further, perhaps because of being in a hot climate or wearing heavy clothing in sunny weather, you will fall unconscious from heat stroke.

8. Lineage of the Hive Lords
Organs of this lineage look like bits of white chewing gum, all chewed up and spat out. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, all your pores begin to produce a sticky mucus. It takes double the amount of time for you to remove equipped armor or drop held items.

9. Lineage of the Tide Walker
Organs of this lineage have a tough exterior that looks like mother of pearl. Interfacing tubes poke through cracks in the shell. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you become slightly amphibian. If you don't keep your skin moist you begin to wither. You constitution score lowers by 1 for each day you go without moistening, you die when it reaches 0.

10. Lineage of the Grey-Bearded Emperors
Organs of this lineage are slightly hairy, sometimes fine as dander or bristly as a bear. Organs of this lineage have latent personalities trapped inside them, such as a (1. Bigoted Senator 2.  Blustering Sophist 3. Brilliant Sycophant 4. Beautiful Courtesan 5. Bold Tactician 6. Bespoken Politician 7. Bashful Priest 8. Beneficent Governor). The personality is confused, a pagan, and used to being extremely privileged. The personality has a 1 in 8 chance of asserting itself over yours when you wake from sleep or any other unconsciousness. Increase this chance to 6 in 8 if you are under the effect of mind altering drugs.

Organic Landscape 3, Igor Vitkovskiy, (Source)

11. Linage of the Eternal Academy of the Love of Understanding
Organs of this lineage are pocked like meteors and porous as a sponge. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, your body begins to slowly turn to marble. You will be completely immobilized in 2d6 months. You get +4 to your AC and you speed is divided in half when your are halfway to being fully frozen. Basilisk stomach acid is one of the compounds which can reverse this effect.

12. Lineage of the Divided King
Organs of this lineage are desiccated, deposits of salt and calcium cling to them. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you begin to mummify. After 1d4 weeks you will be technically dead but cling to unholy life until you are destroyed or the organ is removed. In this state, you are vulnerable to water. For every round you are in contact with water, you take 1d8 damage.

13. Lineage of the Twisting Hermit
Organs of this lineage look like crushed beer cans but darker, more muscled. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, your limbs become incredibly easy to slice. Whenever you are hit by a slicing attack, there is a 1 in 8 chance that one of your limbs will be severed from your body.

14. Lineage of the Sun Horned Bull
Organs of this lineage are a rich orange, like a brilliant egg yolk, and almost perfectly, uncomfortably, round. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you must wake and sleep with the sun. When the sun sets you fall to sleep and when it rises you awake.

15. Lineage of the Unfortunate Weaver
Organs of this lineage are dark purple, web-like threads hang from them. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you become a locus for evil, as if tied to it by invisible threads. The Undead, devils, demons, and all other abominations and ne'er do wells can detect your presence up to 6 miles away. They will be drawn to you.

16. Lineage of the Angelic Viscera
Organs of this lineage sprout thorn-like spikes, make a dull moaning sound, and have a sense of moral duty. If an organ of this lineage is in the presence of a subject who acts more righteously than its current host, it will bust from the host's body and implant itself in the new subject.

17. Lineage of the Reborn Garden of Paradise
Organs of this lineage have a pair of small wings sprouting from them, always flashy with gorgeous feathers. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, your body begins to weight much less. Strong gusts of wind will lift you off your feet unless you are weighted down.

18. Lineage of the Triumphant Temple
Organs of this lineage are slightly architectural. Cartilage structures like roofs, columns. Arteries like elaborate doorways. They also smell like incense. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you become the seed of a dungeon. Whenever you level up, you have a level in 20 chance of running off into the wilderness and assuming the fetal position. You sink into the earth, you expand, you deepen, monsters are drawn to you. Once the process is fully completed you are a dungeon with a number of floors equal to your level. The hazards and creatures have personalities similar to yours. Your own treasure and items and more can be retrieved from within.

19. Lineage of the Barren Legion
Organs of this lineage have a metallic smell. They are covered in lesions the shape of a shield boss.
Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you cannot help but stand at attention when you hear trumpets, drums, or any other bombastic martial instruments being played.

20. Lineage of the Tyrant's Banquet
Organs of this lineage are covered with little lips, closed tight. From a few of them beaks poke out. Once implanted with an organ of this lineage, you develop strange cravings. Each week you crave (1. Fine Olive Oil 2. Caviar 3. Mollusks 4. Honey 5. Quail Eggs 6. Spiced Dates 7. Oranges 8. Sheep Eyes 9. Crow Guts 10. Octopus). If you cannot satisfy your craving within the week, the organ dies. You lose the stat bonus the organs provides and you will go into septic shock and die in 1d10 days if the organ is not removed.


This post is dedicated to Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, the falasuf and physician