Saturday 29 January 2022

An alternative to adventure hooks

When it comes to designing trad RPG adventures, one of the first things you need is a hook to get the players involved in that adventure. If the hook isn't good enough then no adventure.

Really, this isn't good design. As a group you already know you're under the social contact of the game when you enter that magic circle. When the GM asks you to roll a die for a check, you roll the die, or perhaps suggest an alternative. You don't just say 'nah, don't feel like it'. But that's kind of how plot/story hooks are used in a game. 

The alternative is the GM asking the players "Here's the situation. How would your character get involved in this adventure?" Revolve the adventure around the characters rather than the other way around. How do their motivations or fears play into this adventure? This is a great opportunity to create emergent backgrounds for characters. "Well, my father went out to the Borderlands but never returned. I would want to see if I can find his remains." 

Saturday 22 January 2022

Sacred Wells and Springs in Romance of the Perilous Land

Around the Perilous Land are various springs and wells deemed sacred by the populace for their restorative and divinatory properties. These blessed waters bubble up from the earth, attracting all manner of magical beings (lending them their common name of fairy wells). It's not known why, but the western coast is home to a high density of sacred Wells, stretching all the way up Escose. Great tales are told of springs rising from the ground where a legendary hero has perished. 

Druids gather around a sacred well to divine the will and mood of the gods. At sunset a pebble is dropped in the water and the number of bubbles determines the answer to the diviner's questions (such as 'how many days until the next storm?). 

Most wells are used for healing. Taking a rag to sacred water and wrapping around a wound causes it to heal twice as fast during a rest, but only as the sun rises and they have circled the well thrice. Drinking by starlight (it absolutely must be clear) can alleviate all manner of maladies. In game terms, a disease effect ends. 

As for some rarer effects, drawing water from a sacred well an hour before midnight on the eve of a new year turns the water to wine (called druid's wine). 

Water should not be taken from a well without giving something back. A coin will do the trick, as will a cloutie, a piece of cloth rag tied to a tree branch. Leaving without an offering has an effect on the well user until they return with an offering.

1. They are stalked by a magical being, such as a fairy, boggart or bogie. The being will steal from their pack, make noises and generally be mischievous. 

2. Their weapons are dulled or become brittle and useless. Weapon damage is halved.

3. They can't sleep due to awful nightmares, becoming fatigued.

4. Their body becomes weak, getting a setback on all Might-based checks and saves.

5. Their armour becomes cracked and worn, falling apart. Their effective armour points are reduced to 1.

6. They are stalked by a Black Dog.

There is a 1 in 4 chance that a sacred spring will appear at the site of a level 10 character death (if they die in a spot where a natural spring would make sense). The chance is reduced by 1 for every Valour point that has been used. 

Thursday 20 January 2022

Quill scenario: So You Want to Join A Doomsday Cult?



You are a member of a sinister cult hell-bent on ending the world, but it's a real struggle to find new recruits. You've been trusted with creating a new pamphlet all about your, erm, religion in an effort to win new people to the cause. Also, there's something in the pit. Probably not worth going near that.

Rules of Correspondence:

Begin with 5 Lucidity. You may spend a Lucidity to automatically pass a test. At the end of your letter roll a die. If the score is below your current Lucidity, you are fine. If it's above, reduce your final points by 3. 

Create your character:

Throw together a character with Penmanship, Heart and Language. Assign the scores 1, 2 and 3. Alternatively, use the character options from Shadow & Ink. 

Ink Pot:

Glorious revival/ Painful death

Fun games/ Terrifying ordeals

Robes/ Bathrobes

Guest/ Sacrifice

Divine nectar/ Weak tea

Benevolent/ Clearly Evil

Enjoy/ Loathe

Tentacles/ Tentacles

Transformation/ Brainwashing

Chambers of the Holy House/ Ned's Cellar


Less than 5 points

This could be your greatest achievement to date, the finest writing ever put to paper. So why on earth have you been summoned to the Chamber? Probably to get some sort of accolade for cult marketing. It soon becomes apparent by the leagues of guard escorts that this may not be an entirely positive meeting. Ah, the Glorious Leader, they will put all this right. Wait, is that a knife? Oh, oh no. Into the pit you go. 

5-7 points

This may not have been your greatest work. Over the next month the cult gets a trickle of new recruits but, let's face it, they're not top-of-the-line. They just stand there at meetings, half-cut from the day session at the pub. Even the pit creature doesn't want to touch them and that thing's made of tangible regret. They come and go as easy sacrifices, but nothing more. Back to the drawing board. 

8-10 points

Sometimes you impress even yourself. A week after your fine pamphlet hits the dark corners of the city you get a flood of new recruits. Young, old, rich, poor - the whole works. Poor schmucks. The Glorious Leader is pleased as punch, so pleased that at the next cult luncheon you get a special name drop. Over time the cult grows and grows. Soon it will be time...

11+ points

Ah, so maybe you did TOO good a job. You find yourself elbow deep in recruits - a city block's worth in a few days. That thing in the pit is happy as Larry but the Glorious Leader looks perturbed. They speak to you in hushed tones (they've never spoken to you alone - this is big). Turns out that this unprecedented influx of new sacrifices has actually sped up the end of days by, oh, 500 years (accounting for leap years). That brings the end of the world to...2pm today. The Glorious Leader is sobbing, the thing in the pit is writhing. You back away and run out into the street as the clouds collapse. 

Saturday 15 January 2022

Aubresque: The Champagne Collective

What does the very essence of life taste like? Perhaps I'll find out.

Madame Rouge is the leader of the The Champagne Collective, a secret society of socialites who maintain their youth by drinking champagne with the blood of the proletariat.

Located beneath the arches of the Rue Dragon, in the vast wine cellar belonging to the aristocrat Norman Auldes, The Champagne Collective meets on a blood moon. Madame Rouge takes the head of each victim and places them on a consecrated table. The blood drains from the neck onto white silk and is then wrung out into a champagne decanter. In order of hierarchy, from Madame Rouge, through to Madame Vert, the congregation sips the champagne and gives thanks to the blood moon for its gift of vitality. Members of the cult live for hundreds of years, and it is rumoured that Madame Rouge is over 1000 years old.

The ritual has the following effects:

* The participant will not age for another year

* The participant is healed of all wounds and afflictions

* The participant has +2 to Wisdom for the next week

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Yes, you can be a barista in D&D. Get over it

 Yesterday I wrote about the so-called "barista" adventure for D&D set in Strixhaven in which I explained how I would improve on it because currently the engagement factor is pretty low. 

A certain segment of old-school fans on Twitter have taken great umbrage with this adventure because it's what they see as an erosion of what D&D used to be. It's a little pathetic, really. You can criticise the adventure fairly for how it engages players, but to say that it's the sign of some sort of apocalypse in gaming is silly. 

Now, I love ye olde D&D games. I really like OSR stuff, whether it's based on the original game, an offshoot or a totally different game (i.e. BOSR). But to decry 5e (a game I don't particularly care for) and its players as the harbinger of all things "woke" is whiny at best. 

1. You can do what you want in your gaming world. If you want to just run a gritty dungeon-fucker, then do it. 

2. Old D&D and OSR are right there. They're catered for you. Go have fun with that. 5e clearly isn't for you. 

3. This particular setting is based on a Magic: the Gathering set. M:TG is famously science fantasy. Strixhaven is not Dark Sun. 

4. In the scheme of things, what does it matter?

There's room for all kinds of flavours, playstyles and traditions even under the same banner. There are thousands of games out there - hell, create your own! The world isn't ending because there was an adventure in the 40 years of D&D where you have to wipe a table. 

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Revamping the "Barista" D&D adventure

This one caught my eye today as I saw a couple of people talking about it. I've actually been kicking around a coffee shop roleplaying game for years but never did anything with it, so I was interested to see what D&D Beyond has done with the free Strixhaven promo adventure No Tears Over Spilled Coffee. I love coffee!

Ok, so what I read didn't really impress. I understand it's free and it's not super bad, per se, but it feels like it's full of missed opportunities. So I decided to consider how I would change it if I were to run it. 

Its main sin is that it doesn't really offer anything interesting to do. Cleaning tables and serving coffee isn't interesting in a high fantasy world. Sure there are two very hollow encounters but what choices are players actually making? And the events seem to happen without much reason.

So first I'd fill it with hooky NPCs with weird orders. Treat them as random encounters throughout.

Bartleby Flob, a first year who has brought in his own flavouring for his coffee. Problem is that he's got the ingredients wrong and it transforms him into a great gorilla. Looking through his book can possibly help reverse it, or make it worse (mega gorilla). He'll start trashing the joint unless he's brought down. 

Bebe Sabrelast, transmuter. She's on a date, but her date tries to impress her by turning a staff into a snake. It does not go well.

Nurt Sheaffer, a student with a charm on them that causes those within 20ft to fawn over them incessantly. Suddenly there's a huge horde of sycophants in the shop getting in the way. Let's hope a certain gorilla doesn't come to play right now. 

As for the mephits - they've been placed there by a spurned ex employee who's in disguise in the quiet room looking on. The mephits don't just attack - they go at the patrons, they break pottery. The more rounds they aren't dead the more money the cafe loses. The more they lose the more impetus the PCs have to get extra tips. Oh, and the mephits need to be projected. Some is curling from the coffee machine and it smells of brimstone. There's a gurgling within.

The ex employee may continue to try screw things up for the PCs throughout the day. They turn people's coffee bitter so they ask for refunds. They start spreading rumours that they have an infestation in the basement. Which leads me to...

The Infestation in the Basement

At some point the PCs need to get more beans from the basement. The ex-employee has released several giant weasels down there, who are eating the valuable beans! The more the PCs delay, the more they eat and the more money is lost. 

Finally, Quentillius comes along. I don't get what's so bad about him in the original adventure, he tips well and you can charge a stupid amount for a coffee. Let's turn him into an inspector. He's looking to make sure everything is ship shape. In fact, let's make sure that the PCs know there may be an inspector coming sometime during the adventure so the drama ramps up. Now they've got to make sure they're throwing out weasel bodies and cleaning up weird potion spills. The inspector grades them based on the number of discrepancies. If it's low enough the cafe could be completely shut down! 

Anyway, that's what I would do. 

Sunday 9 January 2022

Aubresque: The Court of Sycophants


We are the infernal. Your vices are ours and ours yours.

The demoness Vestrenna is at the centre of the grand Court of Sycophants. The organisation is housed in the Yellow Bastille, once a fortification crafted by the Church, now a place of hedonism, vice, and occult. Members of the clergy pass through the oak doors nightly, escaping their chaste-fronted lives and delving into a world of excess and gratification. They fawn over Vestrenna, whom they call their Eternal Mistress, bringing her gifts of gold, trinkets and sacrifices.

Vestrenna has built a great network of Sycophants throughout Mon Parier – Hush Spies who recruit new Sycophants and destroy those who stand against the Court.

Vestrenna is in direct contact with the Horned One, Belenagoth, the Beast of the Wastes, the Black Star. When she first emerged into the world, her objective was to pull society into a web of vice, causing an end to civilization. But she found the task much more difficult than she anticipated. She set her sights on Mon Parier as a beginning point. Belenagoth chastises her for becoming distracted by the very hedonism she is supposed to be spreading. If she can't complete her task in the next decade, she will be destroyed.

Vestrenna, the Eternal Mistress, HD7, AC 3 (16), Atk Vile Spear (d8 + Poison), MV 120', SV as MU8.

If Vestrenna deals damage with her spear, the target must save vs poison or take an additional d6 damage.

Sycophantic Clergy HD3, AC 6 (13), Atk Flail (d8), MV 100', SV as F3.

Hush Spy HD4, AC 5 (14), Atk Rapier or Shortbow (d8), MV 120', SV as T4.

A Hush Spy gains AC-1 (+1)when fighting from the shadows.

Saturday 8 January 2022

The weird art of Erol Otus

I make no bones about my love for the Moldvay/Cooke BX rules. For me these are the concentrated essence of D&D - deadly dungeons and hexcrawling wilderness. Beautiful.

I wanted to take a look at the cover of Basic today, created by the incredible Erol Otus. Otus is one of my favourite D&D artists. I love the weirdness he brings to his pieces and the colour, almost monochrome in some cases, that seeps off the page. 

With Otus you don't get a character study. There are no adventurers sat around being introspective. No, Otus is about the moment of action and we can see this in the cover for the magenta BX box. It's an image laced with potential kinetic energy - the fighter ready to thrust his spear into the creature's flank while the magic-user calls forth a ball of green flame, no doubt cooking up a magic missile bound for the creature's weak points. And the monster, perhaps a dragon or some water-dwelling cousin (it has gills and webbing, after all), is emerging, its claw on the rock. Its mouth is gaping, about to bite or make a breath attack, all the while rendered in a brilliant acid green. 

And there are the finer details. The shape of the torch is almost alien. The look on the magic-user's face - she's clearly been taken by surprise, an ambush from below. The little round gems found on the wizard's belt, cloak and the fighter's pommel suggest hard-won treasures. All of this pushed to the foreground by the dark purple of the cave.

Let's contrast this with Otus' Hackmaster Basic piece, a self-homage that gives us a similar set up, but now the action has moved on a fraction of a second later. The creature is obviously different, some multi-necked, colourful monstrosity, but the situation remains the same. Now the fighter has landed his blow and the magic-user has unleashed her spell, blasting a head. But much like the dragon-thing was primed to pounce in BX, now it has struck twice! A toothy hand (or mouth) draws blood from the fighter's leg and the wizard's staff has been blasted from her hand by a breath weapon.

Otus is the master of the weird, drawing from pulp fantasy much more than from Middle-earth. His domains are vast and his creatures unknowable - cosmic horrors doing battle with heroes. For me, the BX covers are the more D&D of any, including the 1e PHB. 

Thursday 6 January 2022

Aubresque: Perfume Barges of the Averon

Olfactory is the most intimate of senses

Anyone who is anyone in the city of Mon Parier spends some of their leisure time (and significant wealth) on the Perfume Barges that float down the Averon. Aristocrats, High Clergy, Royalty and demons of high society pay a hefty fee to ride the two barges for a few hours. The barges are run by the Parfumier par Excellence, Hugo Lorenze, master of scents.

The perfumes available on each barge are exclusive and available only for the duration of the trip, after which they are incinerated.

Starflower: Notes of mandarin, banana and elderflower. Tinged with harrowleaf. When applied gives the wearer +1 Charisma for 3 hours. The more basic fragrance, but still sought after.

Moonshadow: A potent concoction formed of radiant moonlight and septimus grass. A lemony scent. The wearer is able to speak any language for 3 hours.

Fireglow: A curious lime green perfume that occasionally turns orange. The wearer may speak three words of sleep 'lein morrienne cortiusse'. Anyone hearing this falls into a deep sleep for 2 hours or until woken. They dream of you in a positive, often erotic way. When they awake they are drawn to you.

Wednesday 5 January 2022

The Aubresque Project

 I see everything in a grotesque way – Aubrey Beardsley

For years I've admired the clean, decadent lines of Aubrey Beardsley, a late 19th century illustrator and co-founder of The Yellow Book. Beardsley was known for his perverse, dark art nouveau style that fit with the growing aestheticism movement. His erotically-charged imagery revealed a side of society that was ugly in its sheer beauty.

Aubresque is a play on the artist's name being formed into an adjective, as well as refering back to his own admission of seeing everything as 'grotesque'. It's a setting that's built from his own illustrations, creating a world that is in part a twisted 19th century Paris where aesthetics are the pinnacle of achievement and decadence leads always to corruption. This is a place of aristocracy, of bohemian artists and of those who would put their own beauty before human life. All in tinged with a yellow hue, the colour of sickness, vice and heroism. The locals drink potent green alcohol and smoke opium. The aristocracy uses magic to become more alluring or to maintain their youth. Everyone is out for beauty, but it is but a shallow veneer painted over a doomed life.

Aubresque uses the BX version of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game. It is not a setting where the monsters are obvious – there is more need for a quick wit and a silk tongue than a sword here (though a sword can also come in handy). Those who play here will find themselves uncovering the machinations of hidden sects, talking their way into a masked ball to assassinate a corrupt priest, and rubbing shoulders with nefarious artists who use magic to achieve the highest levels of beauty. There are demons here, both metaphorical and real. The church admonishes sinners while defiling the scriptures they supposedly hold sacred.

Join me as I create this world of foul decadence, where the grotesque is everywhere.

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Skeleton Oak for Romance of the Perilous Land

A fat, ancient oak tree blasted through the middle by some unknown calamity, its gnarled branches extending outwards like bony claws. The Skeleton Oak grows only in so-called 'places of sacrifice', its hefty blackened roots thirsting for the blood soaked within the dirt. The twisted tree becomes the home of restless, malevolent spirits of the hungry dead who crawl from the sundered centre to feast on unfortunate wanderers. The fear oozing from the cracked bark is palpable, sending those who come close into cold sweats. On quiet nights they say you can hear the groaning of the dead as they writhe dreadfully within the tree's trunk.

Restless Spirit

HD5 (15)

HP 22


Atk: Vicious bite (melee), Chill breath (ranged, 15ft)

Damage: d8+5


- As long as the spirit is within 15ft of the Skeleton Oak it gains edge on attacks

- Mundane weapons do half damage, while magic weapons do d8 extra damage

Skeleton Oak

HD 6 (16)

HP 40

AP 10

Atk: None


- Any living creature within 15ft must save Vs Mind at the start of each turn or become restrained until the start of their next turn.

- As 2 actions the Oak may release a Restless Spirit (up to 10 in total)

- The oak cannot be burned

Monday 3 January 2022

Miniatures for Romance of the Perilous Land

 I may be a little biased here, what with it being Osprey and all, but I think the Frostgrave minis are really neat and many of them can work well in a Romance of the Perilous Land game (particularly in a campaign set in northern Escose).




Cunning Folk

(You could use pretty much any wizard, but I like this sculpt)



Sunday 2 January 2022

Hagg Worm (Romance of the Perilous Land)

Hagg Worm

Location: Hutton, Norhaut

Travellers of the northern forests, particularly around the Radiant Wold, should keep their eyes firmly peeled for the wretched hagg worm. Large enough to devour a magpie in one gulp, these serpents are covered in a fine brown hair and they move with such speed that outrunning them is nigh on impossible. Their copper fangs can easily rend flesh and tear through armour and because they can dart up into tree branches they have been known to drop from above right onto their prey's heads. I've heard of cunning folk using hagg worm eggs as part of rituals to draw poison from wounds, but those they hire to find the eggs ask for a pretty penny to do so.

HD3 (TN13), HP13, AP1, AT Bite (d6+4), Special: The hagg worm moves at double normal speed and ignores difficult terrain. 

Saturday 1 January 2022

Onwards to 2022 - the daily blogging challenge

 I've recently been having pretty fond memories of the RPG blogosphere of the ancient days (what, like 10 years ago?). This year Trollish Delver will turn 13 years old - officially a teenager, so I'm challenging myself to post every day. I will likely fail, but I have good intentions. It might mean there's some random stuff on here. I like the way Grognardia does pulps, and while I don't intend on reviewing anything I'd be more than happy to comment on things like pulps, films and comics. 

Oh, there's something big coming down the line, but not for a while. It's the most exciting project I've done, but I can't say anything for a while yet. Just watch this space.