Friday, 30 October 2009

[Iburi System Part II] Abashiri, the Old

Abashiri is a small, flat disc of rock barely 10 miles in diameter, orbiting very close to the fiery ring of Iburi. Its geography is simple: a ridge of mountains runs directly through its centre, with a small area of hills and flatland on either side. Abashiri rotates slowly and in perfect synchronisation with its orbit so that the same side of the mountanis always faces Iburi; this means that one side is constantly bathed in the light and heat of the Primary, while the other is in the permanent shadow of the mountains. From the highest peaks the edges of the disc and the stars beyond can be clearly seen.

Only two intelligent races inhabit Abashiri in any numbers, and their settlement areas are sharply divided by the mountains. On the Iburi side (sometimes called "The Face") live two tribes of primitive Thri-Kreen who thrive on the warmth and constant sunlight they enjoy. On the outward side (called "The Tail") are a handful of wild clans of Grimlocks dwelling in unending near-darkness and frigid temperatures. There are no cities or towns and the only permanent settlements are Grimlock caves and tunnels; the Thri-Kreen are nomadic. It probably has fewer than 100 inhabitants.

Abashiri produces little of value and is rarely visited by travellers from other bodies, though pirates and outlaws occasionally hide there. It is often called "Abashiri, the Old" by those who know of its existence; this arises from the ancient legend that the bodies orbiting Iburi were once living beings, lost in the phlogiston, who came to the Primary one by one. In this mythology Abashiri was believed to be the first to arrive and the last to die, and is hence the most aged.

[Iburi System Part I] Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space

By God I love a good random generator, and Spelljammer's Universe Builder is the ultimate in both scope and elegance. I'm going to create myself a little planetary system, just for the hell of it. Today I'll do the basics; tomorrow we'll see about fleshing things out.

1. System Type - Is our system your ordinary orbital one, or is it 'special' (a void, nested spheres, etc.)? The answer: standard. That's fine, this is our first effort after all.

2. Primary Type - Do we have a central sun/star, or do our planets orbit something weird and wonderful like a portal to the Negative Material Plane? Earth Body. The centre of this system is not a sun or star, but a body of elemental earth. Less weird than it could have been, but stranger than average. It's a massive cluster of asteriods surrounded by a huge, saturn-like ring of magma and fire which provides light and warmth for the entire system, and it is called Iburi.

3. Number of Planets - 6. Perfect - not too many, not too few.

4. Planet Types. Let's find out what's orbiting Iburi.
  • First up is an Earth type, which we'll call Abashiri. It's a tiny flatworld - a disc floating in space a safe but slightly uncomfortable distance from Iburi.
  • Second is Shiribeshi, another Earth type, considerably bigger than Abashiri, with an irregular shape; it takes the form of a gigantic U, with its inhabitants living on the outside edge. It is locked into a permanent ice age.
  • Next is a Water planet, Rumoi. It is gargantuan, a monstrous oceanic sphere floating through space. It has a cluster of 13 asteroids in orbit around it, believed by its inhabitants to be the corpses of 13 dead gods.
  • Fourth we have Utashinai, another Earth type and another giant to rival Rumoi in size. It is uncommonly hot, with a geography characterized by steaming jungles, parched deserts and vast sultry swamps. This is caused by massive levels of volcanic activity on its surface.
  • Fifth is an Air planet, Muroran, another mighty body, composed entirely of swirling wind, clouds, and pure oxygen. It is vastly distant from the other four planets, but is known to have one, solitary moon.
  • Finally, furthest from Iburi but itself a great source of light and heat, is Tomakomai, a great flat disc of flame. It is dominated by one great civilisation (perhaps beings of elemental fire?), and has 4 scorched moons orbiting it.
Starting tomorrow we'll think these worlds out in a little more detail. Feel free to make suggestions as to what kind of inhabitants they might have and what their geographies are like.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

I talk to planets baby

I've been on a real Spelljammer kick recently ever since reading this entry. Spelljammer is one of those things that you tend to forget about for long stretches of your life, but comes back with a vengeance when you least expect it. Like a girl you went out with in school and who you always bump into when you go back to your home town. You don't often mention her and you can go for years without even thinking about her. Then there she is on the dance floor, bam. And you want to play with her.

Ahem. Anyway, yeah, Spelljammer.

There are three things that I find interesting about Spelljammer.

The Grand List of Things That Are Interesting about Spelljammer
  1. It taps into that very compelling subgenre of fantasy that is sometimes called "Sword and Planet" ("Science fantasy" is both boring and inaccurate), and which swirls, vortex-like, around a certain Michael Moorcock. We all know about the connections between Hawkwind (the ur space rockers) and that author, but it goes much deeper than that - just about every Eternal Champion incarnation has some sort of space-going element to it. And since the Eternal Champion is just about the most interesting fantasy series ever written (if not the best, always the most interesting) that makes Spelljammer interesting too - brilliance through association. That's not even to mention Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  2. Don't even get me started on the picaresque. The thesis that D&D is a picaresque seems compelling to me and you don't get a better setting for that than riding through the phlogiston on a star sailing ship, landing on random planets and meeting space orcs. You just don't.
  3. There are not one, not two, but three subgenres of Spelljammer game which you can explore. (There are more than that actually, but let's look at the main three.
  • Horror Spelljammer. In space no one can hear you scream. In the phlogiston, people might hear you scream as the pack of githyanki pirates begin to eviscerate you with astral cleavers, but seeing as those people are likely to be illithids and neogi, you can forget being home in time for dinner. Spelljammer has a potential like no other setting (except Planescape, natch) for existential terror: in the big bad prime material plane there is only murder and pain.
  • Traveller Spelljammer. Roll up a sector of crystal spheres on a hex map and go off a-trading with the Zhodani scro in a combination of (arguably) the two greatest role playing games of all time. Just be careful of those space elves waiting in that asteroid belt.
  • Trad Spelljammer. The background music is Hawkwind, The Mars Volta, Pink Floyd, Monster Magnet, Klaatu, Ziggy Stardust, and weird Daft-Punk-esque French synth pop; the flavour art is stills from Ulysses 31 and Thundercats, the illithids are dressed like Marc Bolan. It's so naff that it has gone beyond naff into cool again. It's Spelljammer how God intended it, and it is really, really great.

When people talk about imaginative 2nd edition era settings they tend to bring up Dark Sun and Planescape the most, but if you ask me Spelljammer gives them both a serious run for their money. Buy it, play it, love it.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

War Crayfish

When the people of the Mountains of the Moon go to war, they employ phalanxes of specially bred giant crayfish - their equivalent of heavy cavalry. These crayfish are usually armoured with additional special barding and sharpened claws.

There are many problems associated with the use of war crayfish. They are stupid, belligerent and usually half-starved to make them more aggressive, so they are as likely to attack their own side as the other if they are not properly controlled. Though they have been bred for many generations to live out of the water, they still have to return to fresh water once a day. And they are totally incapable of following any but the most basic commands - essentially: face left, face right, face straight ahead, attack, halt. But timed correctly a crayfish charge can destroy entire formations of foot troops.

War crayfish are controlled with the aid of special magical items - Helms of Crustacean Control - which are operated by a religious cult of mercenary eunuchs. These eunuchs travel the oligarchies of the Mountains of the Moon, offering their services to the highest bidder; they are paid only in platinum and slave boys, who they train as apprentices. They have their own religion, which is based on a the worship of a pantheon of crayfish gods, and call themselves the Kep kep.

As well as being used in military formations, individual war crayfish are sometimes kept as pets or bodyguards, or found in gladiatorial arenas.

War Crayfish

Armour Class: 0 (with bronze scale barding)
Hit Dice: 4+4*
Move: 120' (60')
Attacks: 2 claws
Damage: 2d6+4/2d6+4 (with sharpened claws)
No. App: Special (up to 30 in one formation)
Save As: F3
Morale : Special
Treasure: Nil
Intelligence: 1
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value : 125

Special: One eunuch controller can command up to 30 war crayfish. If he is killed, his charges will attack the nearest warm-blooded creature - or, failing that, move in a random direction in search of fresh water.

War crayfish cause fear when they charge at non-elite troops and horses. Horses will flee in terror from a war crayfish charge for d6 turns; non-elite troops are permitted a saving throw vs. magic.

Helm of Crustacean Control

This helmet takes the form of a large copper crab, which grasps the wearer's skull with its legs. It allows the wearer to command up to 30 crustaceans who are within one mile. It also allows the wearer to sense telepathically any crustacean life within that distance.

Only a eunuch can operate a Helm of Crustacean Control. If a non-eunuch puts such a helm on his head its legs will press inwards and slowly crush his skull, killing him over the course of five turns. Once this process has begun it can only be stopped by a wish spell.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Come not between the dragon and his wrath

I read today something which surprised me from several different directions:
In previous editions, metallic dragons were good aligned, meaning that a DM would have to either create reasons that that the dragons were violently opposed to the PCs, or just ignore the “Always Lawful Good” and similar alignments. As we already knew from Monster Manual 2, this default assumption has changed a bit, tossing many of the metallic dragons squarely into the Unaligned category, giving some wiggle room to those playing it by the book. Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons takes it even further...
Critical hits previewing Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons, how doth thee surprise me, let me count the ways:
  1. The trivial one: You're telling me metallic dragons weren't in the first 4e Monster Manual? I suppose that makes sense from a business point of view (don't blow your load of iconics on the first book, because nobody will be interested in the second) but still.
  2. More serious: It's amazing how combat-oriented this quote reveals 4e to be. The fanboys on will say otherwise, but how else are we to interpret this radical rethink of "good" dragons, other than that it is geared to making them a more convenient enemy to fight? I'm particularly interested in this idea that in previous editions, DMs would either have to dream up reasons for metallic dragons being "violently opposed" to the PCs, or else just ignore the default alignment. It seems to imply that the only reason why you would want a monster to appear in a game is to have the PCs fight it. What happened to, you know, PCs just interacting with creatures, as opposed to fighting them?
  3. The third surprise: Where usually I read stuff about 4e and it makes me want to poke myself in the eye with a fork, I find myself conflicted about whether I think this is a bad development or a good one.

On the one hand, there is something in me that is repelled by the wimpiness of D&D dragons, and especially the good ones. The blame more or less lies with the Dragonlance books, which started off by building up dragons into terrifying demigods but wound up painting them as little more than big and talkative flying pets. Dragons should be in my opinion the most powerful and frightening D&D monsters; from The Bible to the legends of Tiamat to the works of William Blake to The Lord of the Rings, their most compelling portrayals have always been huge and mighty embodiments of malice, antagonism and cruelty. So doing away with good dragons is something I can get behind.

But on the other hand, I do think there is a place in the game for what you might call Old Testament Good - by which I mean the portrayal of God in those volumes as so Good he is to be feared. The stern, just, righteous kind of Good that sees wrongdoers turned into pillars of salt and smites the wicked. Good dragons play into that - as holy guardians and powerful fighters against evil everywhere. A bit like Batman, maybe.

So I view this development with mixed feelings. On the one hand, making Good dragons Neutral so that it's okay to fight them represents a kind of depressing banalism - yet more fodder for the Awesome Things Hitting Each Other routine that the 4e designers seem to want people to play. And yet on the other hand it represents a more-than-welcome step away from the odious Weis-and-Hicksian vision of Dragon-as-My-Little-Pony. A tough call, but I give the move a C+.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Kójó Cigarettes

As is the case everywhere in Yoon-Suin, the people of Lamarakh are keen smokers. Because they are river nomads who do not plant crops, they instead use the leaves of various trees found lining their waterways, particularly those of the kójó. The kójó is an ordinary jungle tree with rather mundane looking, but tasty, red fruits. Its large leaves are dried and then crushed, then wrapped in a whole one and smoked.

Something about the nature of kójó leaves allows them to be easily imbued with minor spells and cantrips, and a cottage industry has grown up in Lamarakh selling such magical cigarettes to traders from the Hundred Kingdoms, the Yellow City, Sughd and elsewhere. Some varieties are listed below:

Love Cigarette (50 gold pieces)

The smoke from this cigarette acts like a temporary charm person spell if it is blown directly into the face. The victim is permitted a saving throw vs. magic to resist the effects. The spell wears off after 12 hours.

Red Eye Cigarette (20 gold pieces)

This cigarette endows the smoker with infravision of 60' for 12 hours.

Ghost Eye Cigarette (10 gold pieces)

Invisible beings can be seen by looking through the smoke of this cigarette, as if it is a lens. This only lasts as long as the cigarette itself is lit.

Cigarette of Judgement (10 gold pieces)

The smoke from this cigarette functions as a know alignment spell; gazing through it at somebody reveals their nature to the smoker.

Cigarette of Choking (20 gold pieces)

This cigarette's smoke is equivalent to a stinking cloud spell which only affects one person. Inhaled directly it is safe, but when it is exhaled into the face of another it induces vomiting and weakness.

All cigarettes last for three minutes.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Yiyik's Hookah

[Inspired by something Alexis put in the comments to yesterday's post.]

Yiyik's Hookah

Yiyik, an archmage from Sughd, was fond of two things above all others: smoking and cruelty. He created a giant hookah with which to combine them.

The hookah itself has a large basin some four feet in height and eight in diameter; unlike other hookahs it is rather squat in shape, with its large charcoal burner plate being four feet in diameter but extending upwards only one foot. The basin is made from blue amber; the plate and burner are burnished bronze. There are four gold figurines at compass points at the top of the basin; one a tiger, another a dragon, a third a yak and a fourth an ape. From the mouth of each extends a hose with which to inhale.

Yiyik's Hookah can be smoked with ordinary tobacco and water. But if a living thing is sealed within the bowl, it causes magical effects; the creature begins to slowly dissolve in the smoke filtering downwards [losing one hit point per inhalation], and its very essence is sucked out through the hoses and into the lungs of the smokers.

This has three effects. First, it allows those inhaling the smoke to have access to all the captured being's memories and experiences. All secrets are rendered knowable to those smoking its essence. Second, it allows the smokers to steal the captive's magical knowledge. Any spells that the captive has memorised at the point of dissolution are then memorised by the smoker, who can cast them as usual that day in addition to his or her daily allotment of spells. (They are forgotten at the stroke of midnight.) Even non-mages have access to this effect.

Thirdly, the hookah slowly kills the unfortunate victim, who gradually withers and fades into liquid and smoke.

The hookah can only be opened from the outside.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Magical Cigarettes, Pipes, and Other Smoking Paraphernalia

I'm only an occasional smoker (and I used to smoke a lot more than I do now) but it seems unfortunate even to me that the depths of tobacco-related products are so unplumbed by D&D designers. After all, just look at how cool Gandalf, the chain-smoking wizard, is. The reason for the deliberate oversight is obvious - the designers didn't want to encourage kids to smoke, or at least didn't want to be accused of doing so. But hang on, isn't this a game in which the characters routinely engage in murder, theft, whoring and torture?

There are six categories of magical tobacco and tobacco related paraphernalia:
  1. Tobacco or other smoked material that causes its effects on the body via direct inhalation, i.e. which affects the physiology of the smoker;
  2. Tobacco or other smoked material that causes its effects on the body via indirect inhalation, i.e. which affects the physiology of those who the smoke is blown at or who inhale it second hand;
  3. Tobacco or other smoked material with effects that come about through the act of exhalation, i.e. with smoke which is itself intrinsically magical;
  4. Smoking-related equipment which conveys miscellaneous magical proporties to ordinary smoke;
  5. Smoking-related equipment which conveys miscellaneous magical properties to the smoker;
  6. Smoking-related equipment with miscellaneous magical properties which come about through the act of smoking but do not directly affect the smoke or smoker.
Of these, I would argue that the third is perhaps the most interesting, as it allows for the possibility of pipes, cigarettes etc. which summon beings from the Elemental Plane of Smoke. Hence:

Pipe of The Mephits

This is a very long and thin smoking pipe, with a stem made from amber and a graphite bowl. Both the bit and the bowl are decorate with whorled etched patterns inlaid with brass. The entire pipe is apparently impervious to harm and never shows signs of wear.

When the pipe is filled and puffed it takes one round for sufficient smoke to build in the immediate area. After another round the smoke begins to coalesce into vaguely humanoid, winged shapes. Finally, after the third round, 2d3 smoke mephits will have taken shape around the smoker.

These mephits always obey the smoker, though they are not mindless automata: their nature is capricious and wicked and they will take every opportunity available to twist, ignore or pervert the commands given to them. Their summoning from the Paraelemental Plane of Smoke is generally permanent, however, and they will be bound to the smoker until destroyed or released (by the smoker's death or command). The only exception to this is if they can immerse themselves in the smoke released by zinc burning in air; this allows them to break their bonds.

The Pipe of the Mephits functions as an ordinary pipe once it has been used to summon mephits in this way; it cannot summon more until the first group have been destroyed or released.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Amiga Power, Kangaroo Court, and RPGs

I'm not much of a magazine reader - if I'm going to have to leaf through a hundred pages of advertisements to read fifty pages of actual content they can pay me for the privilege, not the other way round - and the quality is generally better on the internet these days anyway. I'll make exceptions for Private Eye, The Economist and New Scientist, but that's about it.

When I was younger the ratio of shite to quality was much lower, and I had quite a few monthly subscriptions. Foremost among this elite group was the Commodore Amiga magazine Amiga Power, which I read religiously between 1991 and 1996 and still think of fondly. Written with a certain wit and intelligence which other games magazines don't have (writers were hired on the basis of writing skill rather than games knowledge, on the basis that it's easier to learn about games than to learn how to write), it's the kind of magazine that you could enjoy even if you didn't have any interest in the subject matter. The kind of games magazine that would write reviews of joysticks in-character as the Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse, make up 'Stupendous Tales' features exploring the sinister cult of spectators who can be seen in the background of fighting games like Streetfighter II (known as the "Behind Men"), and publish game write-ups so cuttingly disdainful that game companies would regularly try to sue. (AP's 'unique' sense of humour can be sampled on the myriad tribute pages, written by original mag contributors, here.) Some of this was down to the nature of Amiga owners, who in the early part of the 1990s were already a rather eccentric breed and who by the middle part of the decade could only be described as perverse - what with the SNES, Playstations and PCs readily available. As Cam Wistanley remarks:

"We never had to make up any letters because we could always get enough proper good ones. You never voted with your money by not buying us simply because we talked bollocks, never went on sale on time or produced slightly biffy cover disks. We succeeded because the Amiga owner was from that breed of slightly odd ZX Spectrum owner and therefore appreciated entertainment over information.

PC owners seem to be the other way round, which is why a PC POWER would never have worked - too many people would have written in to say 'Why must you waste space on features about the links between JFK and the Rwandan massacres? Couldn't you devote that space more sensibly to a roundup of modems?'

And then we'd have had to kill them."

One of AP's best features was Kangaroo Court, a monthly column in which game design "crimes" were detailed, a case for the prosecution made in a witty and entertaining manner, and a sentence (e.g. "execution by underwater spear-gun firing squad") prescribed. It only ran for 10 issues; the list of "crimes" covered will be well familiar to anybody who used to play computer games in the 1990s, and included:
  • "Loading...please wait" messages;
  • The Invisible Killer ("Having areas in your game where the player is killed without warning by something they couldn't see before it hit them, and then are expected to complete the game by finding all these areas (by dying, obviously) and then remembering where they are.");
  • Slip Slidin' Away ("Including in your game a so-called 'slippy-slidey ice world,' where normal inertia is greatly exaggerated to provide a more 'realistic' simulation of a character walking on an icy or snow-covered surface."); and
  • The Cheese Plant, then, maybe? ("Attempting to improve a game's presentation by replacing its menu screens with confusing, badly-drawn illustrations, areas of which you must click on to activate the various options.")
Which is of course a concept that can be applied to many different hobbies, including, for example, role playing games.

What would be Kangaroo Court candidates for me? I can think of a few:
  • It is an orc, but it is not an orc: Creatures in fantasy games that are to all intents and purposes orcs (or goblins, or elves, or dragons) except with another name, as if that's enough to make them original. Example: Eladrin in D&D 4e, who let's face it, are just elves, but not elves.
  • This is kewl and awesome: When it's obvious that the game designers are practically orgasming in their pants over the sheer brilliance of their own creation. Example: almost anything ever written about the drow.
  • If only real life could be like this: Wankfest utopian fantasy settings which are essentially thinly veiled political whinges. Example: Blue Rose.
  • This is what real imagination looks like: Excessive weirdness for the sheer sake of appearing creative. Examples: the setting for Reign; the Duck people from Glorantha.
  • This is an indie game, so it uses dice pools: Self explanatory, really.

There would have to be suitable sentences meted out by the RPG Kangaroo Court, of course. Underwater spear gun execution for the more minor offences.

Friday, 16 October 2009

She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean, she was the best damn woman that I ever seen

Zak Smith, artist, porn star, player of Blixa the thief in my Warhammer FRP game, and general all round renaissance man, has started a new blog. It's called Playing D&D with Porn Stars and it can be found here. It is much recommended - Zak is if nothing else a very inventive guy in-game and is a top commenter on Monsters & Manuals entries. Yes, the premise of the blog sounds too good to be true, but I can personally confirm that Strippers Like Gaming; a stripper ex-girlfriend of mine was among other things a huge D&D fan. (Unfortunately, she only ever used to play 3.5. She was also a lunatic. A tautology perhaps?)

Anyway. Enjoy. I'm back in England for a bit on business and before that was mostly being a newlywed and drinking. Regular posting schedule should start up again tomorrow. For sure this time! Highlights will include:
  • Nostaligia for a particular Commodore Amiga related magazine;
  • Thoughts on anthropomorphic insectoid Basic D&D;
  • A Yoon-Suin map;
  • Session playlists for ones iPod; and
  • Many varieties of magical cigarettes
Wait in bated breath.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Spare me the 'insights'

Sometimes google reader throws up these little blog recommendations. Often they are crushingly dull and of no interest whatsoever to me. ("English skill isn't built in a day", a blog about trying to learn English, for example. Not only do I know how to speak English, I also spent some years of my life despising myself for teaching it, so why on earth I would want to read such a blog is beyond me.) But sometimes you get some vaguely interesting titbits.

It was through such a recommendation that I came across the (now defunct) blog Enter the Octopus, what seems to have been a general grab bag of geek miscellania. This entry caught my interest; in particular this quote, which seems to have been cited with approval:

"Populated with cross-bred elves and dwarves, fantasy realms make people feel not quite so freakish, releasing them from their cages of identity. Playing half- or non-human characters can be an exploration of their freak side, a new door into themselves..."

pp. 56-57, Chapter Four, "Into the Dungeon Again"

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms
, by Ethan Gilsdorf.

Mainly because it seems like cod arm-chair psychology of the most banal kind. (You'll notice it's also self-contradictory - either fantasy realms make people feel less freakish or they help people explore their freakish side; which is it?)

I never think of fantasy gaming in that vein, and know very few people who do. Gaming is fun for a lot of reasons, but for me it has never ever been about making me feel "not so freakish", releasing me from my "cage of identity" or allowing me to explore my "freak side". I can do all that with beer. Maybe absinthe if I really want to explore my freak side.

Gaming for me is about two things: playing a game, socialising and stretching your imagination. All fun and worthy endeavours, especially when mixed. And there's nothing much more complicated to it than that.

Friday, 9 October 2009

God River Dolphins

Many species of river dolphin inhabit the myriad waterways of the God River. Most are harmless to anything other than fish, but a few species are also big and powerful enough to hunt human prey. Some are even known to attack canoes and other small river craft, knocking their crew into the water to be devoured. They are intelligent, fast, and can deafen and disorient prey with their sonar blasts.

Large River Dolphin

Armour Class: 4
Hit Dice: 4*(M)
Move: 180' (60')
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 2d6
No. App: 3d6
Save As: F3
Morale: 7
Treasure: Nil
Intelligence: 6
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value: 125

Special Attacks: River dolphins can target concentrated blasts of sonar at their prey. These blasts hit automatically and have a range of 20'. Victims must save vs. breath attack or be stunned (-2 to hit rolls, no spells, movement rate halved) for d3 rounds.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Nikolaus Storzenbecher, the Triton-Touched

The tritons of Bothnia do not tolerate intruders. Sailors who enter their territory, whether deliberately or otherwise, are attacked and captured. Their boats are then sunk and they find themselves stripped of all their belongings and left out at sea at night, miles from shore, to face "the judgement of the waves". Those who are pure of purpose are washed to shore unharmed by morning, while those who are not, drown.

It is said that only one man who was not pure of purpose has survived the judgement of the waves. His name is Nikolaus Storzenbecher, and he is chief of the pirate gang known as the Vitalienbrüder. According to the story, Storzenbecher was among the perpetrators of the sacking of Bergen in the spring of 1342. Fleeing capture he sailed due east, to the far kelp forests, and headed north to triton waters, knowing that none would be brave enough to follow. He presumably hoped to hide there long enough to avoid pursuit. But within hours of entering the triton domain his ship was capsized by a great wave and most of his crew were drowned; he and five companions were the only ones to survive long enough to be captured by the tritons.

Storzenbecher and his five companions were left out in the cold grey sea that very night, naked and helpless, to face the judgement of the waves. Only Storzenbecher made it back to shore alive. So much is known, or has been told by Storzenbecher himself.

But how he survived is a mystery. He was not pure of purpose, and in spring Bothnian waters are still cold enough to kill a man within minutes. Some say that Storzenbecher was aided by a beautiful sea spirit, who brought him back to shore in exchange for his seed, and that somewhere out in the gulf lives the product of that union - a boy even crueller and prouder than his father. Others say that the pirate somehow struck a bargain with the tritons, the content of which can only be guessed at. Still more believe that Storzenbecher was somehow helped by whales or dolphins. One of the more outlandish rumours is that a mighty kraken spared the man, recognising in him a soul even more evil than its own. What is for sure is that Storzenbecher either will not, or cannot, say.

Sometimes skeptical souls challenge that the tale contains any truth at all; they accuse Storzenbecher of making up the story so as to enhance his own prestige, and believe that he probably never went to triton waters at all. This may indeed be true. Pirates are not famous for their honesty. The only evidence that anything unusual happened to Storzenbecher that spring night is that previously his eyes were brown, and now they are a cold grey-blue.

NIkolaus Storzenbecher, the Triton-Touched

Level 8 Human Fighter
Chaotic Evil

STR 17
INT 13
WIS 16
CON 17
DEX 12
CHR 17

HP: 50
AC: 4

Equipment: Broadsword, handaxe, spear, studded leather armour.

Magic Items: Storzenbecher wears a plain copper ring of protection +3, and carries a flask each of Oil of Fiery Burning, Potion of Human Control and Potion of Giant Strength.

DM's Note: Once per day, Storzenbecher can summon aquatic monsters to his aid. These appear within 1d6 rounds. He can summon 2d3 scrags, 1d10 merrow, 5d4 lacedons or 5d6 sharks (3-5 HD). This power is a closely guarded secret which even his crew know nothing about; Storzenbecher willl only use it if his life is in great danger.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Back in the Swing

Looks like I'm finally getting back in business again. It also looks as if I managed a grand total of 0 posts during my wedding preparations. I thought I might have time for at least a couple, but clearly not!

So what's new in the world of noisms? Not a huge amount, is the answer. I was astounded to discover a branch of Yellow Submarine, Japan's answer to Forbidden Planet, in a rather anonymous Kawasaki suburb yesterday. The wife and I were wandering around a department store when suddenly there it was, bold as brass, a geek paradise par excellence somehow sprouting up between all the Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton boutiques, like some hideous banana-coloured alien. Naturally I forced the missus to spend an incredibly boring half hour in there while I paged through the Japanese edition of D&D 4e. I can confirm it is as unappealing to me in that form as it is in the original English. (And bloody expensive too: over 6000 yen for the PHB, which is about 45 quid in today's money or something approaching US$65.)

Otherwise, I've been working on some bits and pieces of flavour art for Yoon-Suin, as well as a map, which I'll post at some point - namely when it doesn't look like the pathetic scrawlings of an utter non-talent.

Good to be back. Regular posting will start later today or tomorrow morning.