Monday, January 7, 2019

Magic: To Make Things Hidden

This spell allows the Magic-User to hide an object outside of all human perception until it is retrieved.

This spell can only be cast in places not being touched by the human hand, natural areas not maintained by civilization. If the world of man can be seen from a place, it is not a place this spell should be cast in.

This object must be placed on the ground before the Magic-User, and the Magic-User must be able to perceive the whole form of every object that will be hidden by the spell.

If you are able to see another area already being "used" for this spell from where you are, then you are not in an area suitable for this spell to be cast in. Note that there are no visual signs that this spell has been cast anywhere it has been.

A single object could be one silver coin, a ruby worth thousands, a priceless crown made of precious stones and metals, a sword in its specific hilt, or a single living creature with closed eyes.

To cast the spell the Magic-User must go into a state of trance, with closed eyes, for one turn for every object that is to be hidden. They must not be interrupted, and no human eyes may observe the spell as it is cast.

At the end of this trance their eyelids are snapped open to see the thing vanished, with only a fading negative impression in their field of view. From then on it is safe, preserved exactly as it was when it was hidden, for as long as it is left.

The object hidden in this way is outside of time and the rules of the physical world. It is also nearly outside the reach of magic. Any spell that would show where the object may be, give directions towards it, or even confirm its existence can be made to fail. If a spell like this is cast, the Magic-User may roll a Save to prevent it from working.

To retrieve a hidden object a human must return to the place where the spell was cast. They must wait there for one turn, with eyes closed, until their eyelids are snapped open. The object will be lying there before them. Anyone may retrieve the thing hidden. To fall asleep in this place would call back a thing hidden.

Living things affected by this spell feel nothing to indicate what has happened. If asleep they are asleep, and if awake they feel no time pass until they are retrieved. If a human were to lie under the leaves of a tree with dappled sun hitting their face as this spell was cast, to be hidden by this spell and retrieved 1000 years later, it would happen between the twitches of a leaf in the breeze. Their clothes would lie there empty for some time, in the shade.

Miscast Table

This spell can be miscast using the typical rules in Vaginas are Magic! and Eldritch Cock, and also by violating the various rules above.

All miscasts of this spell affect only the retrieval of hidden objects. It can be known that a miscast occurred when an object is hidden, but the effect should not be rolled for until the object is retrieved.

  1. The object that was supposed to be hidden is now simply gone. When the eyes of the retriever snap open there is nothing except a fading negative impression in the field of view.
  2. An equivalent object vanishes, as if maintaining a kind of balance. This is a very basic equivalency, the nearest most similar thing is simply gone forever. If retrieving a crown someone will lose a hat. If retrieving a person someone new will be lost.
  3. When the retrievers eyes snap open they cease to exist, and the object is in their place.
  4. The object retrieved is a weak imitation of  the thing hidden. It appears the same in every way, but falls apart once under stress while fulfilling its purpose. If it was a key it will break in the lock. If it was a person it will be messier.
  5. A spawning Mimesis Pest has been retrieved. This is a creature that has a body which looks exactly like the object, and functions in the same ways, but is in truth something else in the midst of a breeding cycle. Hidden on its form is an even number of many-jointed appendages, mandibular mouth-parts, and tiny but numerous pairs of eyes. In 6 days it will die, drying up like a beetle shell, becoming just as fragile then crumbling.

    Until then, whenever the object is used (for some intended purpose, not merely touched) roll 2d6. If an 8 or higher is rolled the Mimesis Pest becomes agitated. It viciously bites the user for 1d4 damage, if they fail a Save, before attempting to flee them.

    A Mimesis Pest moves at 1/3rd the speed of a person, and can move on vertical and upside-down surfaces as if they were normal ground. It has an armor of 16, and only 1 HP.

    While it is spawning, every day there is a 1 in 6 chance that 1d6 non-natural objects near the Mimesis Pest will become one. Only object with rigid forms like weaponry, coins, books, and wooden boxes, are at risk. Cloaks and tarps are not.

    Objects that are ever touching the Mimesis Pest, or that it could crawl to and back from are at risk. It has a 3 in 6 chance of not being spotted while it spawns.

    Note that an object being magical in nature does not in any way prevent it from being spawned-with by a Mimesis Pest. The "original" is gone if this happens.

    In 6 days new Mimesis Pests begin their spawning cycles, dying naturally 6 days afterwards.

    Retrieved living beings that are in truth Mimesis Pests should be thought of like puppets on strings, not Doppelgangers. They lack minds, and interacting with them at all qualifies as "use".
  6. An arbitrary object appears in the place of the thing hidden. The referee should pick up the nearest text (if not game-related then a book, magazine, etc.), open it to a random page, and without looking place their finger on the text. Whatever object in that text that is nearest to their finger appears. The original thing hidden is gone.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Worldbuilding: Vignettes from Carceral Place, and a rough table

some here are more isolated than others, their cells a good distance from the forums.

there is a banished scholar kept in an alcove inside a large domed chamber, the ground an alternating board of dark and light diamonds. the dome is large, and in the very center of it is a small dark circle. the scholar is found under this circle, looking up into it. 

very rarely this tiny circle, they say, shows pin pricks of light against the dark. they have looked at this for what must be years now. they have reasoned that this hole is an opening to the night sky, and the spots of brightness that fill it are celestial bodies.

they say the brightest one is the old world, the world all here have been taken from.

there is labor duty as well as watch duty. labor will involve dismantling bridges, sealing off passages, affixing blades and spikes to otherwise safe areas, arming booby-traps and preparing other hazards. If you are clever you will know of potential dangers, and might be able to sabotage them in advance. 

it is almost never quiet in this place, there are ceaseless echoes from hundreds of feet away in every direction. unexpected whispering galleries occur, faraway clangs of chain turn into bell tones, distant shouts become wordless tones.

the world around is built chaos too, an endless tangle of structure is dizzying. you have to learn to narrow their focus to avoid confusion.

imagine standing on a balcony that overlooks a series of arched bridges crossing at right angles, between that are narrow decorative archways, between them are also columns of various widths and heights. There are arcades you can see deep into, some duplicated with dead ends. There are blind arcades carefully carved to appear to have depth, and ledges carefully sloped to be useless and deadly.

This tangle continues both and and upward as far as your can eyes can peer in the dim light. Some areas are filled with large structures too, ziggurats and mausoleums, alcoves, basilica. Some immense columns are in fact structures, hidden stairwells and chimneys.

Chains and ladders hang just slightly out of reach, or reach just shy of where you would go. Things just far enough apart, or far enough away, to make drops and leaps into suicides without careful examination.

you may never be unwatched, as up and down in all directions there are ledges and hideaways where someone may be watching. This could be a benign fellow prisoner, or a scold noting your infractions.

those who refuse the food are changed. They become monsters worse than the pests, armored and many-limbed things that stalk the halls and wreak havoc.

This is the incentive to do as one is ordered while on watch or labor duty. The armors worn leave you unable to eat, which puts you at risk of having your humanity confiscated if you refuse to do your duty. Poor performance can lead to longer shifts, increasing this danger.

while wearing the armors of watch or labor you have no voice for other prisoners, but all the voices of those doing watch with you can be heard echoing inside the helmets, and you can be heard by them.

Very Rough Table

the basic premise of this place is that there's a potential way to go to almost every direction, but you'll need to "read" the structure to do it safely. You'll be doing everything in "dungeon turns" because of this, and can sort of map it as you go.

So, you are standing on an archway, and you want to go up. You spend one turn looking around to roll an Architecture check. If you succeed you roll on some tables. 

e.g. The Way Up
1. 1d4 x 5' away, across a chasm
2. on a column
3. down one level
4. 1d4 x 30' further down this way.
5. across a plaza
6. past a barred tunnel
1. a low chain to climb
2. a spiral stairwell
3. a wall with grippable stonework
4. a staircase
5.  a ladder
6. a cage on a pulley

1. to a ledge
2. to an alcove
3. to an arch
4. to a tunnel
5. to a plaza
6. to a column

So, there's a way up: a low chain to climb hanging only 5' away, it leads up to an alcove. You take turns jumping onto it and pulling yourselves up

Or there's a spiral stairwell on a column, it goes up to a plaza.

Or down one level is a staircase that goes up to another arch.

There will be difficulties too.

1. 1d6 x 2 Watch are there.
2. The stonework is crumbling
3. It is very dark.
4. There is a pest there.
5. It is tiny, with only room for one at the top.
6. It is a long distance.

So, you might see a wall with grippable stonework 120' down this archway, and it leads to a ledge. but, it's so tiny at that ledge that only one person can stand there at once.

Obviously you'll have several Prisoners checking at once, so you may end up with various routes. Choosing which route is best is what'll be interesting.

So, climbing up to that ledge will seems better than crossing that 10' chasm to reach a plaza with 6 Watch in it, even if that tunnel seems promising.

Some results lead to other tables (eg "how do we get across that chasm? how do we get down to that staircase?"). Not every result will be tenable either, but that won't be a journey-ending problem. You'll just have to keep moving, or go back a bit and try again.

You'll want to keep notes too, "go archways to the tunnel, climb down then follow the ledge. Past the fountain go into the alcove across the plaza. climb down to the courtyard full of moss and take the ladder up...". You'll need to repeat your journeys if you want to ever find a way out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Worldbuilding: The Watch in the Carceral Place

the carceral place wears down the spirit of the imprisoned with its unending cycles

the watch are one such consistent thing, while it is unpredictable where they'll be seen (and for how long) it is known that they always will be seen somewhere. it could be anywhere.

the silent watchmen are as permanent as the stones, just in a less fixed position.

a pair appeared on the other end of a drawbridge, one that gave you only a precious minute or so to gather up some flavorful red growths on that column it led to (otherwise, it was a dead end. a 10 diameter thing with a mere few-foot wide ledge for a walkway, with the bridge up you would be trapped, hopeless)

the growths on that column were a necessary toll for passage, the only way you would be permitted through that plaza, the one with the chain that hung just low enough for you to climb up to the archway leading away to a potentially useful stairwell.

or at least you thought as much.

it could not be said if these watchmen were placed there because it is true that the red growths you would use to cross the plaza to reach the archway were needed to reach a stairwell that would certainly lead to a way out from this place (at least eventually), as all prior sets of watchmen had impeded you reaching dead ends.

they may have simply appeared because you had been seen repeating this infraction too many times*, of leaving the plaza, crossing the drawbridge. gathering up red growths. it is all infractions, and their presence could be a mere punishment.

*it is known that you are not always watched in the carceral place, just that you always might be.

the watch are distinctive, unmistakable. their heads and faces are shielded, covered by grotesque helmets attached to shoulder and chest armors. this region of the carceral place presents its watch as mask-faces with crude, ugly expressions: these two smiled. they turned their chests and heads to face you. they are without speech.

watch are not often fast or agile (unlike the pests), as they are weighed down by the bulkier armor they can't remove, and often (as was the case with these) heavy armored robes.

Robe, Velvet, metal wrapped thread; embroidered

They carried simple weapons, staves with fat weighted heads, their purpose clear: they would clobber you, smash your skull and ribcage, toss you into the dark tangled abyss of structure below.

you reasoned that if you were able to push one off the edge with a good bash of some kind, and then not get tripped up by the other right after, it would then just be a matter of scraping off a bit of red growth as you moved around the column.

if you were able to get around and then back to the bridge without running into that second watch as  you did that, you would then easily outrun them.

this is what you would do then.

they readied their staves as the bridge lowered, and you pulled loose a cracked piece of stone ornamentation you had seen previously.

you heave the weathered knob into the solar plexus of the leftmost watch, and then you charge as they begin to tumble off the narrow column ledge from the blow. their bare arms and legs splay wildly as they appear to float off the edge of the architecture, their staff balancing for but a moment before joining them in the abyss as their robes ripple like sails.

they make no sound, but the second watch clangs their staff against the column, just above your head.

you rip out one handful of red growth, then two. you cannot see the watchman. you cannot hear them.

you wonder: would they have followed you around, or would they have turned face to charge you in a new direction?

you are certain they would not turn, and so you continue round the column.

and you see them, they are on the bridge. they did not follow you at all, and you are a fool, and the impact into your solar plexus is sudden and awful as the staff smashes you into the column before you crumple and fall into the dark as well. you barely take in breath before it is over.

and when you awake your breathing is far too loud.

your arms reach up and feel cold metal, and fumble over the integral locks that hold the grimacing helmet on your head when you find them. you arms are slowed too by armored robes, gaudy and worn down by time and many wearers. they smell like old sweat, the helmet like rust.

at first it was awful to take watch, excruciating. you would have wept, begged forgiveness if your voice could be heard. it is not like that anymore.

none ever speak of taking watch, since there is nothing to say. all here commit infractions, and so all at some time have taken watch. and shall again.

all here have thrown each other into the darkness, have cracked each others ribs and skulls. all here have been the cruel gargoyles watching over each others passage.

you understand that if you let them use your body for now and do as they will say they will at least not change it, or this will at least delay them changing it. at least this is understood, and so it is easy.

you will be able to eat and drink too, when the helmet is removed.

your infractions were not great today, and so you hope you will not be asked to do too much in penance.

though none will know that it was you, but it could of course be any one of you, and so it is always you.

and if you do this thing they ask of you they will let you return to your cell as you had died normally, without infractions. awaking as usual, barely clothed but without cruel assignments.

you listen for the creaking sounds of the many limbs of a warden as you rise up, testing the weight of the staff in one hand, and feeling a dent in the sternum of your armor with the other.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Worldbuilding: Cells in the Carceral Place

You entered this carceral place alone, by waking in the cell. The cluttering sound of stone onto stone is what woke you, a wall (or part of one) dissolving, to reveal how you were cloistered away. You rise off your low bench, your eyes adjusting to the dim. There is some low light coming in from somewhere, trickling from an architectural folly nearby.

There is a drip or trickle somewhere of fresh water, and it falls into an urn or bowl or basin (you soon will see this in all of them, all the other cells you find).

There is always growth, a fungus, lichen, or mold. It tastes like sour yeast, or cold boiled bird-meat, or the pungent tang of indigo-veined cheeses. It grows on some conspicuous place, it is deliberate. It is what you will eat in here. (and you'll see there is, thank the gods, frequent exchange between cells).

This place is your place because no one else can enter it. You have tried, everyone has, and the door always closes. You will always be alone inside here. You are safe in here.

There is food, there is water, and time passes. It is cool, not cold. Dry but not dusty.

The cell is square for some, others are arched, some have high ceilings, others are round chambers. Yours is clearly yours, but is still similar to others. Especially those close to it. All of them are like this.

You are not without entertainment, sometimes there is a stub of chalk or charcoal (though all marks that are left vanish when you sleep). Elaborate line-work and patterns are common, despite being so temporary. Some days a lump of clay, a shining ball, a few resonant rods of hollow metal. These stay and go sometimes, or they are traded, or borrowed. Games form in common areas. There is camaraderie, there is enmity, sometimes there is violence. Societies form and crumble around activity in these common areas.

You are free to walk the hallways here, cross the plazas, go between the vast columns. You may go under archways and up the stairs, or down them, and sometimes you find only walls, or places in ruin and about to crumble. Other times though, there are things worth finding.

You have seen whole chambers of moss and great troughs of vegetation tended to by others who live here. There were lightless tunnels, and even (oh wonder of wonders!) a window open to perhaps endless black sky, a hint of distant light (a moon? a fire?) reflecting on still water, a salt and murk in the air? It was too small to fit more than a hand through, but it was a precious place.

Many regions are broken and breaking, while others are stoic and pristine. Tile, stone, cold metal, iron and stone sculpture. Intricate stone carving and brickwork. Raw stone and cold water. Smoke and ashes and old fire. Smoke, mist, echoes. A language formed out of thousands of disparate tongues placed close together, close to what Christians would call the tongue of Babel.

The arches and stairs and flues and chains and walkways and catwalks here go up higher than a cathedral, all walled in with stone and lit with intermittent torches and candles. Great brassy bowls are like pitiful dwarf suns in the better sections, others are cold and dim with only tiny spots of light like cats eyes in certain corners. You've seen lamplighters in long robes, and have never spoken to them (a superstition you don't want to test).

It is said that if you go up you will find the most wondrous of beings in elaborate and inescapable terraria, and that if you go down there are the embarrassments and shames of the gods in black oubliettes. It is idiocy and glory to seek either of both. It is also possible to free them, goes the reasoning, since are clearly locked away.

You've seen forbidden things: parts of the "wardens" and "watchers" and other "guards" among the broken structures (or broken apart by some unknown cause).

You've touched these things, torn between the feeling of safety a weapon gives while being made uneasy knowing you might be seen with them. To hold contraband is a constant battle, you have heard. You've seen others speak of dedicated armies.

You have also seen the evidence and effluvia of the many uglier things that also wander here, the wretched things that keep most inside their cell, yourself included. 

Prisoners on a Projecting Platform, from Carceri d'invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome), Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of four (Robison)

Something once sat at the edge of your own dwelling for what could have been days. It had crawled and crept through the plaza on its limbs to your threshold, a wide mouth hanging open just so, eyes impassive but with a posture indicating menace. Larger than any man it moved like insects do, as you remember "insects" (there are none here). It sat there and was watching you, and you tried to not look at it too often. It never moved, though you knew it could. You awoke one day and it was gone. You were not sure if it had followed you here, or was only wandering through. None knew where it had gone. There are stairways everywhere, archways, tunnels, catwalks.

Some time later you gathered in the plaza again, and then some days after that you wandered the halls again, as almost all eventually do. Many things wander.

You are not certain if you have died here, though you've been told it is the same as sleeping. As with sleeping, when you die you awake inside your cell (no matter how far you have gone). Though unlike with sleeping, it is said that you can only die so many times (some say 12, or 14, or 37) before "you" are really gone, or at least sent somewhere deeper. Some are certain dying changes you also, but there are so many strange kinds here you cannot say who might have changed. Cells sometimes wall over when none are watching.

It is said that if one is daring enough there is the day-long path: a way out. If every correct step is taken one could be out of here, far enough away to sleep without worry, and awake somewhere new. This is why some wander, and learn the secrets of the structure. Perhaps there is a thing that can carry you away: a moth like a ship or a thousand angelic little birds (you still remember birds). Others use reason and mathematics to demonstrate why this is foolish, and will drive you to despair. This place goes on not forever, but far enough. Simply count your steps.

Still, those who are clever and wise and talented can guide you, they find ledges and gaps and loose stones. They find fast passage over vast areas, these architects and climbers. You seek them eagerly, even if some think this place may change when no ones looking.

The Round Tower, from 'Carceri d'invenzione' (Imaginary Prisons), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome), Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of four (Robison)

You once saw a broken drawbridge over a vast darkness. You threw stones into and heard no sound. You though of jumping in, eager to know what was there. You stopped when you realized you could not say for certain that you had never died. What if you had been killed when you were sleeping oh so many times, kept in place by being watched? Some things here wait for easy prey. How long has it been?

Time here is loose and memories are uncertain. The dreams you can remember never go past these walls, and some of those visions were the memories of an insomniacs wandering strolls. You've found places from these dreams down ways you've gone on impulse, or guided by various kinds of deja vu. You've found horrors too, halls of punishment that kept you waking for many hours, you've fled things that you can't describe.

It is said there are places here with secrets thought too noxious to even be kept in the world, so they were put into this one. Like you, and all the others here. You offended the sensibilities of power, enough to be thrown so far away you can't even be seen by your own god.

Others say different. This is the only world, and anything else you remember has been a dream. All sun, all rain, all fields and flowers are things that never were.

You were born when you woke here, and this is all there ever was. You have always been inside here. And any crime you recall, any furious king, any conspiracy, any theft? All false things. 

There was no magic, no spell, no imprisoning flowers. No tryst, no transgression, no defeat in the unjust war. There was no banishment to this place, no accident of travel. You never did anything wrong, and so there could be no such thing as a way out.

Others, naturally, disagree.

You are one of them.

You shall leave.
The Gothic Arch, from Carceri d'invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome), Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of six Robison)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Free Cock

I have an extra copy of Eldritch Cock and you, if you want it, can make it yours.

How? We are having a poetry raffle. To enter it all you have to do is write a poem. If you want to flatter me share my blog somewhere too or something, but a poem is all I ask of you.

Submissions are open for two weeks: write a poem about Eldritch Cock, leave it in the comments below, and after that a winner will be chosen at random. The winner gets Eldritch Cock in the mail.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Mapmaking: Path Cartograms

A Path Cartogram is a map for when the Adventurers must find a way through a vast place, searching for something hidden in the geography. It's for terrain that's untamed because it's not tamable. Places wisely left alone, even if they're found near friendlier terrain.

An ancient forest where the sun is dimmed by the trees, a grassland crammed with unascended hills, a stretch of barren wasteland filled with rolling dust and tremendous rocks.

A range of tooth-looking mountains with deep hidden valleys, an oppressively humid swamp that no one ever crosses.

Adventures have a reason to go in, they might seek a hidden treasure. The old stone dolmen where you can meet the Mother of the Woods. A burial mound, where you can find the weapons of the sacred dead. The "nostril of God", a vast cavern leading to the world's hollow core.

The journey itself might be the goal. There is no other way to reach the plateau of azure grass. The fungus that raises the dead sprouts somewhere deep in that place, nowhere else. This is the only place no one has searched for the lost scholars.

A Path Cartogram is for depicting an exploration over a long time, an expedition. It's a way to make preparing that kind of Adventure easier, and without you needing to become an expert cartographer. Once it's been explored you're left with a kind of mapped outdoor dungeon.

The game doesn't need an accurately mapped out world to be played, since the Adventurers aren't going to be surveyors. It just needs one that's ready to be discovered.

A Path Cartogram lays out some probabilities in a spatial sense, tells you what the Adventurers find as they explore an area, and creates a diagram that makes the place "real" once they're done.

It reveals a dungeon-like environment from the natural world as its used.

It's also Referee's tool, like a dungeon map. You don't show it to the players.

As Referee you'll describe the place before them in some general sweeping terms, and then they'll tell you which direction they go in. You roll some dice, tell them what they see, what they find, and what happens. Time passes, things are encountered. Places are discovered. You all see how it all unfolds.

A Cartogram represents a difficult example of a specific kind of environmental "place". The best term for this is an ecoregion. Ecoregions are places that share a large amount species, ecological dynamics, and conditions over a large area. There are more than 800 of them in our world, here's a good list. Although it's not exactly the right word, I'm going to use the word biome instead of "ecozone" going forward.

Remember, a Cartogram is for the especially difficult part of the rain forest, even if the whole region of your campaign is in and around the rain forest. The Cartogram is the part without roads, the part no one visits. You don't need to use one for every instance of this biome in your world.

Here's what a very simple Cartogram looks like before anything happens on it.

You can see that this looks a bit like a hex-crawl or the usual graph paper map, but it's not.

I use graph paper instead of hexes because no one has hex paper handy and squares are easier to draw. This also isn't a scaled map of a territory like a hex map or grid is.

Everything that's been outlined is the zone this Cartogram is about.

The base unit of the Cartogram is the blank square. Marking a square makes it into something else, so a blank square doesn't represent anything besides a potential something on the Cartogram.

You can't know anything about what's in a square without going through it. You can't "see" into it, like with a hex crawl. You'll have an idea of things (like mountains far away), and that it's part of this general ecoregion, but that's it.

Each of those groups of squares outlined in black is a region. All the regions together is the zone the Adventurers are going to explore.

The lines marking a region don't represent a barrier, or prevent movement. Regions are all still all the same biome, but there might be variations among them. Some areas could be more steep or flatter or a bit denser or sparser or whatever, but it's all still distinctly one particular kind of "place".  

Let's say our Cartogram is an old-growth forest. All regions would be filled with big trees, some still growing, some dead and standing. There are layers of tree canopy above, and a mess of wooden debris on the forest floor. There are smaller, newer trees growing up between the old ones, old stumps covered in fungus, pits and mounds formed when great trees fell. The rich soil is covered in mosses and ferns. It's temperate with regular rain, there will be streams, waterfalls, lakes. There are probably owls.

Outside of the regions the environment is different somehow. In narrative terms it could be a different biome (what you'd call an ecotone), or a milder version of the same biome as the zone.

In game terms this just means you'll handle things differently outside of the Cartogram if and when the Adventurers leave it. To put it another way a Cartogram is a dungeon: all the monsters and treasure are inside it, outside it's safe and boring with roads and towns.

For the old-growth forest this could be a gradual change into grassland caused by inferior soil, or a treeline caused by going higher up into the atmosphere where less can grow.

The thick grey line along the outside edge of some regions is where there is a barrier.

A barrier stops movement, it means you have to change directions.

The foot of a mountain no human could climb, the edge of some unbelievable canyon, an actual fucking river of boiling magma. You can't cross a barrier without extraordinary means, like flight. If Adventurers move into a barrier square they change direction.

Remember, Adventurers don’t "see" across the map enough to know what’s coming. Information is only gathered through travel.

In our old growth forest let's say the barrier is an impossibly steep mountain range. You would be aware of those mountains existing while you traveled, and of getting closer to them if you went in their direction, but you won't know when those mountains become a problem until you got to that exact square marked as a barrier on the Cartogram. 

Edges without a barrier are a just a porous border, beyond them is that transition into just regular wasteland, or whatever. If you cross the border onto the outside you can change directions, or you have the option to "step outside".

The red circle is a trailhead. This is the place where the journey begins, a last sunny meadow before the woods become cursed, or the tiny canyon leading into the rocky valley of tremendous arachnids.

The final cabin before the cliffs of green stone, that village of idiots at the edge of civilization, or some kind of other landmark like a miraculous oasis before the desert of the centipedes. It can also be a place where the journey ends, a stopping place of note, if it's discovered.

Our trailhead is a a campsite just a few dozen yards from the first indisputably massive ancient tree, at the edge of a sparser, less mystical woodland.

That red letter A is the locus. A locus is a goal, or endpoint. This is a very special place. It's important and distinct, and if it's the only one on the map it's probably the only reason you came here, it's the thing you're looking for. Finding a locus is just a matter of traveling to the square that designates it.

In our old growth forest we're trying to find the largest of all the ancient trees. It's been dead for centuries, and in it's hollow lives an immense white owl that is either a dreadful predator of women and men or an embodiment of nature with which we shall commune. Perhaps both.

Every Cartogram has an 8 point compass on it. Movement in all cardinal directions is possible, and must be recorded by the Referee. You'll want to draw a copy for the players (since they should be drawing a map for themselves), since North is typically pointing in an odd direction.

Here's a Cartogram after some movement has happened.

At a trailhead you can see what directions across adjacent squares lead into the zone, but nothing else.

So from this trailhead you can see that going W, NW, or N will take you into the zone. 

Adventurers make their first move by saying what direction they go in. The Referee then rolls a movement die, and draws a line leading from the trailhead to the center of the square that far away. (e.g., if a 1 was rolled they'd mark the center of an adjacent square, if a 2 "adjacent and a half", etc.).

The line is a trail, and a trail is formed whenever the Adventurers move. Trails are generally in one cardinal direction, but there are exceptions.

A dot is marked in the center of that square, and then numbered.

All dots are a landmark. A landmark is a spot that's distinct enough from the general environment to function as a sort of marker, but it's not special enough to be a locus.

Landmarks are numbered because they're assigned from a big table or list as they're discovered. In our ancient wood the landmarks so far are:
  • An immense stump 9 feet in diameter, covered in tiny scarlet mushrooms that dimly glow in the night. 
  • A tree taller than a church steeple, many quiet black birds are nesting in it communally. 
  • A placid pond with contemplative frogs that gaze at us lazily. 
  • A fallen tree at least two meters thick and 40 yards long, it had fallen across a small ravine so we walked beneath it. 
A landmark is found at the end of every trail. A trailhead is a landmark. Any locus, once found, is also a landmark.

After finding a landmark, movement continues in any valid direction, unless the passage of time dictates otherwise.

Trails between landmarks form a path that can be traveled again and again, in each direction.

Starting at the trailhead, this path was formed by going NW, NE, and then NW three more times.

The length of each trail is determined by the Referee with a die roll.

This Cartogram uses a d4. Starting at the trailhead this path was formed by rolling 3, 4, 2, 2, 3.

The length of a trail represents the same approximate amount of time, regardless of length. One day, half a day, a quarter of a day, etc.

We mentioned the passage of time a moment ago, this is where that comes in. On this Cartogram each trail is half a day, so after two trails are made it's time to set up camp and start a fire. In total it took 2 and a half days to reach the locus.

The number rolled for Movement indicates the qualities of the terrain, and from that an (unmeasured) distance can be conveyed.

On a d4: 1 is difficult, while 4 is pleasant. 2 and 3 is "fine", perhaps with some mild inconveniences. It could indicate that the path found was meandering and arduous, or miraculously straight and simple.

So, if you roll a 1 it means that the Adventurers went through some really awful, shitty terrain. In our forest that might be a steep hike, or areas cluttered with woody debris.

They plowed through this until when they finally find a resting place next to a large boulder precariously balanced on the edge of a small cliff.

If you rolled a 4 it meant they just had to high step over some ferns, maybe even with wildflowers and singing birds, until they came to a great tree that was blackened in a lightning strike.

That 2 was when they had to cross that stream with the slippery rocks before they found a fallen tree filled with millions of ants, it looked oily in the dappled sunlight.

A locus is reached when a path touches its square, ending movement immediately.

Play would “zoom in” at this point. You’d describe the wondrous thing they've found, and then use a dungeon map or combat rules or whatever to moderate things, and go back to the Cartogram once everyone leaves.

Here is where the Adventurers found the great owl tree, and possibly became owl pellets or maybe druids. There’s a path leading back if they want to use it, and all the other directions to go in if they want to keep exploring, or to try and see if there's a better way home. If they kept track of the ways they went in terms of the compass they know what directions should work to get them back, too.
If a trail touches a square with an existing landmark it connects to it, and ends movement.

If the Adventurers tried going South they'd discover a pleasant hike between the giant growths (4) towards (a new landmark) this rocky outcropping that resembled a clenched first covered in thick moss, and continued to the Southeast on another nice haunt (another 4), that luckily took them back to that stump with the luminous red fungus in just one day (ending movement). The next morning they'd be able to exit the forest by midday, following that old trail.

Multiple paths in the same direction from a landmark are possible.

If the Adventurers wanted to try a second path east they would have to move away from their first trail. They could make their second by going slightly south or east first (their choice), and then continuing. That would be drawn this way by the referee, if they had rolled a 4 and gone south first.
Additional trails in the same direction incur a penalty, since you must go further and further out to find a fresh way to go.

Even though they rolled a 4, the Adventurers only got that far out because they lose 1 square to moving SW and S, to establish the new trail.

When paths cross each other a real crossroad is formed, and the Adventurers may change direction at no penalty. The distance between two landmarks is always the same.

If you were at landmark 2 you could move to landmark 1, 8, 7, or 3 within a day.

Encountering a barriers or crossing borders subtracts 1 from any remaining movement, and is followed by a change in direction if any movement remains. Mark known barriers and borders with a small notch.

Remember that information is directional on a Cartogram. When you discover a barrier to the Northwest you don't know that it extends to the North and West, or further out on the other squares.

In this universe they went Southwest (rolling a 3) instead, and then found a pair of trees that had fallen into each other, forming a skewed triangle (landmark 5). After this they went Northwest (rolling a 3 again), but then (running into the barrier) discovered the ground became too steep for them to continue in that direction. That night they set up camp at a pond with a lone log bobbing gently inside it. (landmark 6, found there since they lost 1 from their remaining movement by discovering the barrier to the Northwest).

Think of discovering a barrier as going this way. The trail isn't drawn like this because the wasted movement isn't repeated if the path is followed again in the future, but this is why movement is lost that first time.

If they had rolled a 4 they could have continued on in any new direction other than Northwest, like South.

Crossing the outside border of a region works in a similar way, but there's the option of leaving as well as changing directions.

Adventurers might want to occasionally step out of the area to gather supplies or rest: maybe there's no water in the zone, or easier hunting on the outside.

Movement across a border always ends on the first square outside it.

They found a way out to the West (rolling a 1), and decided to use it to step away for a bit. This created a landmark, but it's just their campsite in a clearing of lesser trees (that's why it's not numbered, you don't need these to be that special). In a rare instance of being able to "see", the Adventurers will know there's a possible entrance to the North, Northeast, Southeast, and to the South. They'll find a barrier if they go North, mind you.

Movement ends immediately because the environment outside the zone doesn't need to use these Cartogram mechanics, you might be able to just "go" somewhere once you're outside and all that. If Adventurers want to try and go all around the perimeter of a zone that might be impossible and is at least always mostly fruitless: the whole reason it's a zone is because it's a difficult place you can't learn anything about without going inside.

They could learn that there's a bunch of crags or whatever along the Northeast edge from the outside, sure, but they still won't know when and where that'll matter once they're inside.


Think of a biome of your zone, the various general features of it. Have a locus and a trailhead, and a big list of possible landmarks. Think of the area outside of the zone too. Remember that landmarks can be dirt simple, if you're desperate just make a list of objects and every landmark can be a boulder or two shaped like one of those things. Every Cartogram is an environmental dungeon, so you should have a table of random encounters, even if they're few and far between, as well. Get some graph paper, a few different colors of pencils and pens, and some dice or a random number generator.

The next few choices you make will all bounce off of each other in interesting ways.

number of regions
size of regions
trail time
movement range
rate of encounters

First, how many regions will you have? About twice as many as there would be trails for an ideal journey to the locus seems to work alright, but a lot of the interesting things about a Cartogram happen more frequently on a larger map too. Our example map had 8

Next, how big is each region? Each region is made of a variable number of squares. A minimum of 9 with some dice on top of it works best, with the idea being that whole regions shouldn’t be easy to “skip” due to being tiny. The example had regions that were 9+3d6.

Now, how long is each trail? Combined with the previous two decisions you’ll now get a sense of scale. You can use one day per segment if you want a minor Lewis & Clark expedition to happen, Use half days or quarter days if you want something less grueling. Whatever you choose, remember it’s fixed.

The standard die for determining how many squares get covered per segment is 1d4. This seems right for a simulation of hiking through a dense forest or rocky badlands with mostly stable elevation. If the terrain was really unpredictable, going from near cliffs to plateaus and back again or something, you could use 1d6. If the map was like that and absolutely massive maybe you’d want to use 1d8.

For your random encounters use the trails like you would turns in a standard dungeon. The standard dungeon rate of a 1 in 3 chance of an encounter every 3 turns would be a little sparse. A 1 in 6 chance, or even a 1 in 3, as the Adventurers move along every trail might be better. If there’s going to be frequent camping you might want to have a different encounter roll for during the night, along with different encounters too.

With all that settled, now you can roll dice.

Roll your formula for regions as many times as you need, and then draw them.

You want to draw regions quickly and without thinking too much. The trick with these is that you're creating something using a process, instead of having to design something and be consciously clever. Draw the first one. Draw the next one touching the first one. The ones after that should usually touch at least two other regions.

Follow some rules of thumb: regions are meant to define a big, abstracted space, so they shouldn’t vary too wildly in width or thickness from row to row (adding weird little details will be an option later). They’re also supposed to emulate a naturally formed area, so avoid having perfect squares or rectangles.

You can do the next few things by chance or by design, and in any order you want.

Create a compass. Using 1d8 you can assume 1 is pointing to the top of your graph paper and 5 is pointing to the bottom, and so on. The number you roll is "North". Draw a compass for yourself, and one for the players.
Select a region, then a border square, and place the trailhead just outside it.
select a region and place the locus on a square inside it.
Place barriers around the zone.

There are a lot of ways to randomize barriers, here are a few ideas.

  • draw a barrier clockwise filling a random number of squares after the trailhead, followed by a random number of blank squares, until the trailhead is reached again
  • draw a barrier covering a random number of regions starting with the first region after the trailhead, going clockwise
  • draw a barrier around every region except for a randomly determined number of randomly chosen regions

Don't draw a barrier over a trailhead, or place a trailhead inside a barrier.

Some more ideas to explore:

A very obvious one: there can be more than one trailhead and more than one locus.

You can just mark squares that will be a locus, and use a non-repeating table to find out what they are when they get discovered.

locus list

1. cursed well
2. abandoned cabin
3. yawning cave
4. lucky geyser

If you want a locus or landmark to be easier to discover make it larger on the map.

If you touch any part of that larger locus area you've found it. The circle inside indicates which square all movement into or out is actually based on (movement across the others is free, just curve the trail into the locus). You can also do the same for a trailhead, like if there's some lost city instead of just another great place to build a cabin.

You can make the interior of the zone more restrictive.

Select a region or regions, then draw a barrier over an interior edge of a region, chosen at random.

You can have certain areas designated to have different features (like special encounter tables and whatnot) by coloring them in after selection. Orange has a chance of bears, purple is filled with snakes.

And there you go. There's a lot more than that in terms of options, but I'm testing some things out a bit. I'm using this in my games right now, and I'm very happy with how it's working.

An Adventure built around all this is forthcoming to show you how it all looks together, but this post has gone on long enough.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Mycology: Yellowed Elkhorn

Image result for Clavaria argillacea

Found in temperate open grassy areas, beyond the forests, in warmer weather. A distinct cluster of smooth pale to golden yellow clubs growing up and outward, said to resemble the growth of antlers on elk after injury, and so one of its' names is Yellowed Elkhorn. It is for some a symbol of the lost quarry on has forgotten.

A worthy specimen will stand up almost one foot tall. It grows solitary. If plucked and stored in a glass vial it emits a white dust as it withers. (a use for these dusts is detailed elsewhere).

For some the Elkhorn is edible, while others suffer varying levels of distress in the bowels after eating it. It is usually lighly boiled until softer, or simply sliced up and chewed raw.

Yellowed Elkhorn is found growing at a place where a valued thing was first truly thought to be forever lost or now at least unreachable but was truly not, and this sentimental sting of yearning is believed to have then buried itself in the ground after being expelled in sleep, and has now grown nourished from the friction of the truth.

The once-desiring person traveled on, and their yearning now emerges as the Yellowed Elkhorn some time later (days, years or even decades). Some say it only shows for those who ought to be the home for this yearning that's grown out from the dirt like a pearl.

This is why Yellowed Elkhorn is always found at a suitable place for encampment, someone has slept in this place before.

According to lore, legend, and hearsay if you consume the Yellowed Elkhorn you will be shown the way to some treasure so glorious a piece of a human soul got chipped away at the thought of its loss.

Roll when eaten
1. An odor of spices, and bitter, piquant, and metallic taste.
2. Edible but tasteless, tough, and elastic.
3. An acidulous flavor, 1 in 6 will suffer a mild laxative effect. You unable to nourish yourself for one day.
4. The flesh is sweetish, but all who eat it suffer a drastic laxative effect. You are starving and dehydrated the next day.

After someone has eaten the Yellowed Elkhorn they have dreams of themselves: they are lying in their bed and sleeping while elongated yellow clubs grow out from their hearts and heads and eyeballs, all out their whole body until there's nothin else except the yearning, pleading need for the lost object. The yellow clubs gently bend, curve, and sway as they grow longer, ever longer.

They are pointing towards the treasure, they are leading you. The dreamer cannot move in this dream but they see themselves lying there as the clubs grow longer, like long thin staffs now, perhaps so long they indicate a road to follow by lying on it as a tapestry. They flow out the windows, they indicate the horizon to cross.

The clubs are a compass that grows more precise as an instrument as you get closer to the precious thing. At first they show only a broad idea of direction, but can point to individual landmarks and structures once one is near enough. If you slept next to container with the treasure inside the dream is of all the clubs wrapping themselves around the treasure-vessel like adoring limbs and vines. If a person is what has the treasure you may dream of them being slowly wrapped in  the clubs, like deliberate snakes and worms coiling round them until the both of you are wrapped up and then both gone.

The dreams only end once you look upon the precious thing lost. If you get too much further from the treasure the clubs become brighter, and the sensations of growth and emergence more distinct. Eventually sleep is impossible, beyond a fevered nap where a thousand tubes of neon yellow sprout from you and point the other way.

The sources of treasure leading to the creation of Yellowed Elkhorn can range from the archetypal homeless grave robber giving up on the rings on the fingers of the corpses in a given tomb because they couldn't pick the lock to an actual Angels Trumpet at the bottom of a dank dungeon that some Adventurer long ago gave up on finding and deemed impossible to find.

Unless the Referee has an immediate use for Yellowed Elkhorn, they should roll when it is eaten to determine what sort of treasure it leads to, so they can make some preparations. They should not share this information with the Adventurers, ever.

3-5: something of only sentimental value: a letter in a dropped satchel (now unreadable), a lost toy beloved by a child, etc.
6-8: a fine but impressive thing, something worth less than 100SP such as a nice dagger or helmet that fell off a cart and then into a deep ravine.
9-12: something not really replaceable worth at least 500SP, a precious heirloom locket, a golden signet ring of office, something like that. It could be on the body an unrightful owner, or lost in a bears den or something.
13-15: it was valuable enough to still have stories told about it in the area, and is worth at least 1000SP. This should something that was given up on because it was very deliberately hidden and is just very hard to get your hands, or was lost in such a treacherous place it's an Adventure to just go and grab it from where it fell.
16-18: Something that is very actually priceless. This isn't an Adventure Lead, it's the beginning of a new campaign. Finding this treasure should have far reaching consequences, something royalty have failed to get found before this.

The distance of this treasure from the location of the Yellowed Elkhorn is at the Referees discretion.