söndag 13 september 2020

I Loot the Body, But Find No Coin

First attempt at cover for a possible d13 Tribes of Vacuum Nomads zine.

 I Loot the Body, But Find No Coin

Those who roam the Great Vacuum care little for conventional riches, but are by no means above the love of worldly possessions. Here's d13 things you might find on a fallen nomad:

  1. Gourd filled with (actual) moonshine
  2. Glass pearls in many different colours
  3. Chipped dagger carved out of solid amber
  4. Pet asp (Save or hp to zero and bed-ridden for 1d4 days)
  5. Jar of honey
  6. Illustrated bestiary of (mostly extinct) ocean fauna
  7. Three torches discreetly interspersed with incense
  8. Alligator boots, very well made.
  9. Deed to family crypt below the canal city of Adomdes
  10. Jade cup with motif of nursing tiger
  11. Hyena skin cloak and a Mehen board, doubling as shield
  12. Long-stemmed pipe and 7 doses of grinded bone. ­Imparts permanent appetite for Venusians as well as the one-time use of random lvl 1 spell (first and second smoke). After that, each use grants a lvl 2 spell but the smoker needs to save or suffer a debilitating stroke.
  13. Pouch of cinnamon and a jet black porcelain shell; If blown, sounds like the mating call of the cinomolgus. 25% chance of attracting that ferocious bird if in mountain areas.

Speaking of worldly possessions: Toad of Holding and Remnants of the Restless Republic as physical artefacts below.

tisdag 1 september 2020

Fail again. Fail better. On Anastasis and those who provide it.

A PC dies, a player is too attached to let go: Between the Twin Canals, there is one option readily available: The Fountain of Second Youth. Here, a fortune can buy you a second chance -- but only one. What used to be a privilege of the imperial family and the higher echelons of the Ouroborée sect, changing circumstances have made available to the very lucky and the very rich.

The Autumn Palace & The Ouroborites
The Fountain is located in the center of The Autumn Palace of the Ever-Younger Emperors. Once rivalling the splendor of Phobos, the palace and its surrounding city is now a wilderness of broken architecture. The ruins are filled with white haired pilgrims, and those who would prey on them: robbers, two-bit oracles, peddlers of tonics and petitions, tavern owners, jackals, ghouls. And above: clouds of vultures, sometimes blotting out the sun.

The millennia have not been kind to the Ouroborite faith. There was a time when the High Mehen’s words would traverse the Red Planet in mere weeks, and worshipers would flock to the favoured cult of the Ever-Younger Emperors. Today, the Ouroborites are just barely tolerated by public opinion, and the ever-younger are openly reviled, especially by their proper heirs. In more than one Canal state those who age backwards are denied their former possessions and the civic rights of proper burghers.

The Ouroborite's godhead, The Laughing Hyena, imploring you to do the most of your second chance at life.

The Lottery
Nonetheless, the stigma is braved by many who fear death. Every morning, throngs of the soon-to-be-departed flock around a peristyle in the centre of the palace, forming lines to present their sealed-envelope offerings to the dried up Fountain, still standing before the Toppled Throne. When evening comes, the offerings disappear, and someone is chosen (At random? According to some hidden logic? A never-ending argument among the hopeful supplicants) to undergo the Rite in the subterranean halls of the ouroborites. (For a generous donation (2000+ gp) and a vow of discretion, the wealthy can bypass the Fountain's holy lottery and undergo the Rite.)

The money collected fund the ouroborée orphanages and charities for the elderly, from whose lips acolyte-caretakers collect the infantile blabber and senile ruminations for their always expanding corpus of religious texts.

The Rite
What is known is this: The rejuvenation procedure is generally initiated on the still-living. It will work on those who have not been dead for longer than a fortnight. After the rejuvenation, the revived body will grow ever-younger, until it reaches Second Childhood and, beyond that, the death from which there is no return: Unparturition.
The cost is 2000 gp OR a 1% chance per 150 gp in a petition envelope.

Short-term consequences: 
  • After the Rite, the rejuveniled character requires a week-long period of convalescence.
Long-term consequences:
  • Ages backward from time of death.
  • -2 on reaction rolls if exposed as an ever-younger.
  • Save against death or suffer an alteration (1d8):
  1. Suffers from frequent deja vus.
  2. Always new, creepily small milk teeth.
  3. Irrevocably bald
  4. Nails grow at an alarming speed, turns into faux ivory claws (1d4) if not filed down every day.
  5. Minor oracle; can predict one mundane occurrence in exchange for debilitating migraine for the rest of the day
  6. Half of face wrinkled; half smooth as a newborn’s
  7. Re-roll HP every morning; keep if lower.
  8. Accelerated youthfulness. 1d12 years younger every lvl up until unborn. Choose +1 str or dex every lvl up.

The Limits of Anastasis & What Really Goes On
No one, not even the Ever-Younger Emperors, has been allowed to undergo the Rite more than once. The particulars of the Rite is a sought after secret, and worth a lot to the right buyer. It is guarded thus, by seasoned acolytes half-way to Second childhood. Below the Autumn Palace, in the ancient catacombs that were there before the palace was built and remained after it was sacked, one of the few remaining vats of the Rejuvenile Heresy whirrs, its secrets lost to time. The supplicant, if still alive, is drugged to death. Then, the body is bathed for a night in the vat, filled with a mixture of acrid smelling herbs and the collected spittle of Little Ancients.

The Dirty Horde
The reason why the sect forbids a second reversal is that a second resurrection inevitably spells disaster; a breaking down of patterns, the fraying of an already-frayed vitality. It spawns abominations -- bearded children of impossible age, senile milk toothed beings that not even Death will go near. This is not known: The ouroborites keep the little ones, the Dirty Horde, in the catacombs below. Tending to them is penance, the collecting of the Holy Water saliva a small encouragement for a never-ending work. And, incidentally, gives them the key ingredient for the Rite.

No. Appearing: 14
HD: 1 AC: Unarmoured.
Attacks: Bite (1d4, raise the damage a die each round after the first as they grow more teeth)
Movement: Like a small child Saves: Not at all Morale: 12
Special: When HP reach zero they fall asleep for 1d12 rounds, then awake with replenished HP
Wants: Sweets, eternal rest, pulling living things apart.
Treasure: Drools holy water, 1 vial/turn.
Always followed: By the Keeper of the Dirty Hoard. At the moment, that would be Molter Benjin, a lvl 5 cleric armed with a stick, infinite patience and a sizable bag of sugar.

torsdag 2 juli 2020

Magic is a lost vice, ever rediscovered

(The following is just some loose thoughts: In our game we still use Whitehack's magic rules + d&d spells as unique treasure.)

Magic isn’t really a class. It is a series of bad life decisions.

But sure, let’s say there’s a class. On the understanding that it is a stand-in for a downward spiral, even (especially!) when it seems like an ascent. Those belonging to that class, the magic-users, have payed the price in full, and are versed in the ways of keeping spells in check. Still: There’s a silent minus before the levels: These are basement floors, circles of Hell, a losing of the tethers of reality.

Anyone can start using. The difference is that those who lack the secret regimens and fail-safes of the magic-user must always pay an individual price for every crumb of reality rending they dabble with. Practically speaking: They must pay for spells with a specific curse or disadvantage determined by the referee and connected to the spell’s effect, or (to speed the game along/when feeling uninspired) a generic price of a permanent -[spell level] to their lowest stat (to a minimum of 3, which marks the limits of their ability).

The price of magic must always have a practical in-game effect. Your eternal soul? Sure, but only if it makes people ill at ease around you (-1 on reaction rolls & double wages when hiring) or makes your shadow try to escape sharing your coming doom or whatever.

On Pacts and the Interpellation of Nature

Interpellating the forces of nature has its own problems, related to but distinct from spells: A Pact is a formalized quid pro quo, with the added complication of the tendency of elementals or things from beyond to wilfully misinterpret any command. The skilled jurist may minimize these problems, but never completely do away with them.

Prayers are simply pacts or spells with added sentimentality (generally optional: the observing of ritual is more important than the supplicant's intent).

Innovation is a lost art

"Oh, a way to make people fall asleep? That reminds me of The Dream Thief's Little Helper. Of course, that spell is slightly more subtle than what you are proposing."

A US Commissioner of Patents in the early 20th century is supposed to have said that ’everything that can be invented has been invented’. Apocryphal, it seems, and mostly illustrative of a certain kind of progress mongers’ tendency to reinvent a Dark age that compliments their own forward thinking. (I’m talking about the Elon Musks of the world here, not political progressives.)

But on the Red Planet, innovation is very much a lost art. At least in the spell business. People (and sturgeonites etc) have spent their lives in the shadows of the impossible accomplishments of a dozen Golden ages, and know that this is not one of them. So:

All spells have already been discovered at one point or other in history. Magical research is about finding and, at most, repurposing. Not about innovation. That era is long passed. Since we don't want the npcs to outshine the pcs, they are hacks and philologists as well. Make the spell name the overshadowing presence, never someone with an actual HD.*

So, like Vance’s Dying Earth wizards, Red Planet magic is rote based and almost-always carries the name of a much-more accomplished magician, a splendid city lost to the desert, a god no longer worshipped. Spells are found engraved in tombs, riding packs of jackals or in moldy grimoires. Like this one (reskinned, slightly modded spells from the Old-School Essentials spell lists, with suggested existential prices for non-mages):

Drusticc’s Abridged Dowry

Light of Last Sunrise (Like Light but): Steals a day's worth of light from the sun and stores it in a vessel. Every use shortens the sun’s life with a day; Sets your alignment to chaotic.
-mages: -1 in lowest attribute OR Insomniac. After use, ST to benefit from your next rest.

The Untimely Passing of the Walls of Oxus (Like Rock to mud but): Turns stone to blood soaked sand, accompanied by the screams of Oxians’ massacred when the last siege was cut short by the sudden crumbling of their city walls.
-5 in lowest attribute OR can never lock doors. Not a phobia, but a physical fact.

Ever-flowing Vintage of Tanaïs (Like Create water but): Wine instead of water. Not really created per se, but spirited away from the Imperial wine cellars on Phobos.
-mages: -4 in lowest attribute OR Roll 1d6 each use: On 6 a cup bearer notices the theft and makes arrangements to trace it back to the caster
and/or poisons the wine)

Ruic’s Taciturn Kiss: (Like Silence but): Removes the target’s speech with a kiss. No save allowed.
-mages: -2 in lowest attribute OR
permanently keeps the voice of whoever the caster last kissed.

* Excluding elves, obviously. They are always better than you. Though they did ruin the Green planet with their arrogance, even their failures are played out on a grander scale . The Unsealing of the Cornucopia was a tragedy; the fate of the Red planet merely a drawn-out farce in comparison. (Cf. http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com take on elves)

torsdag 14 maj 2020

Yet Another Effort, You Toiling Dead, If You Would Become Free

The Dead danced once before, and they might yet dance again.

[Edit 2020-08-23: A 12 page mini zine including the class is now available on DriveThruRPG.]
Why, you ask, are so many of the corpses you find while vandalizing the sepulchers of the Twin Canals gagged and shackled? Today it is mostly an empty tradition fueled by bad conscience, but once it was a matter of life and death. Listen: 

In the Great Disorder following the reign of the Maggot Empress A*****, cursed be her name, more than one local potentate turned to Necromancy as a workaround to labour shortages and unruly Nature. Where sufficient quantities of slaves proved hard to feed and clothe, a timely hecatomb followed by deals with forces beyond human ken ensured that the fields were tilled, aristocrats catered for and estates protected. And all was good: The dead worked for the living, while the graves of the poor yawned empty. But in time, in that Uncanny Valley of eternal servitude, working stiffs grew dimly conscious of their unhappy fate.

”While Skeletons delved and Ghouls span, what use of the lord, the burgher, the gentleman?”, the argument went. All wealth seemed to flow from the labour of the dead; by rights, should it not belong to them? The infamous Midnight Feast of Liris became the spark that lit up a hundred mansions, and revenant jacqueries spread along the Canals. A civil war pitted the toiling dead against their living betters. And, long story short, the latter won. Necromancers became shunned. The weak emperors of the Ever-Younger Dynasty merely put a legal stamp on the fait accompli when they outlawed the practice in their often cited, rarely read Vermilion Code. 

The insurgents were buried and sealed away. Yet, as long as one dead person still stands, the Restless Republic lives on. The battle hymns can be heard through the cracks of dry soil, from the detention crypts far below.

Class: Born Again Agitator 

It’s not your revolution if you’re not allowed to dance macabre
Languages: Common sprinkled with age-old phrases 
Armor and weapons: Any 
Levels, Saves, Attacks, HD: As Halfling
And a good day to you, Fellow Corpses! May I rouse you for a moment from your dreamless slumber?

Level 1: 
Eating habit: Not needed on a daily basis, but you can only digest: 1. Blood, 2. Brains, 3-5. Flesh of the living, 6. Withered, ancient foodstuffs. 
HP: Only regain HP when levelling up or (once per day) when eating.
Sleep: When you want to dream, otherwise not really necessary.
Poisons: Ineffective against the dead. Sickness: No effect on you, but potential Typhoid Mary.
Speak with dead:  Not that they necessarily want to speak with you: Roll reaction!

Level 2: 
Incite undead. The agitator can hold a rousing speech for groups of undead lvl times per day. Particularly reactionary undead (royal mummies, remains of saints) might be granted a ST.
Roll 2d6 for the audience's reaction [I guess it could be modelled more closely on the Turn undead table if preferred?]:
2 Shut her up! All undead focus their attacks on the Agitator. they will never listen to reason. 
3-5 Don’t want to be seen chatting with the trouble maker. Can’t be incited this fight.
6 Seems unrealistic; best to stick with the shackles one knows
7 Confused. The audience is indecisive; 2d6 + Cha-modifier HD worth of undead won't attack this turn.
8 Not worth undying for. 2d6 + CHA-modifier HD worth of undead walk away from the fight, looking for purpose in death 
9-11 Come dungeons dark or gallows grim. 2d6 + CHA-modifier HD worth of undead join you for the remainder of the battle, then spread the gospel on their own
12 Better dead on your feet than alive on your knees: 2d6 HD worth of undead join you for remainder of battle, one sticks around as retainer (roll loyalty etc)

Level 4: 
Scary. Instead of attacking, you can play on your obscene semblance of life to force a morale check. Once per battle. 

Level 5: 
Build the movement. Downtime activity. Dig up a 1HD comrade (roll for loyalty). Cumulative 10% risk that you draw the attention of authorities, churches or would-be despots of the dead for every new comrade exhumed in the area. 

Level 7:
Animate Dead: As per the Magic-User spell, minus the obedience. Once per day.

Level 8: 
Stronghold: The Born Again Agitator may form a fledgling Free Tomb, attracting 5d6 x 10 1HD undead followers and the enmity of all neighboring settlements.

onsdag 22 april 2020

The d13 Tribes of Vacuum Nomads

Reading the spell descriptions in Ben Laurence’s Through Ultan’s Door, I was impressed with how efficient a simple reskinning is for giving flavour to d&d staples. The Fleischguildsmen don't use cause light wounds but Cook Flesh, Shaltromo protects himself with a Shield of Memories instead of Sanctuary. Here's a riff on the ‘just use a bear’ notion (is Jack Guignol the originator? Google points in that direction, at least), using a bandit stat line instead.
 By dropping the vacuum prefix, these d13 tribes should be fairly easy to spirit away from their Red planet surroundings, either as nomads crisscrossing the wilderness around one Lost City or other, or as strange warrior-mystics/cultist.


(introductory lore dump)
Shamash raised up against Humbaba mighty tempests’– Southwind, Northwind, Eastwind, Westwind, Whistling Wind, Piercing Wind, Blizzard, Bad Wind, Wind of Simurru, Demon Wind, Ice Wind, Storm, Sandstorm– thirteen winds rose up against him and covered Humbaba’s face.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, Maureen Gallery Kovacs’ translation

The major Winds of the Red Planet have all dissipated, the minor ones forming local climes and wandering trade winds, hermit breezes and dwindling whirlwinds in an ever-present Vacuum. A rare few flock around the Phobian court, vying for the privilege to fan the brow of the Imperial Throne, courtiers anthropomorphized beyond (and into) recognition.
Some, such as the Weather of Jokk and the indentured Breaths of the Canal cities, remain bound through brute force or ancient contracts.
A small number roam the empty plains of the planet, as poisonous ill-winds or sandstorms. Fewer still travel with bands of vacuum nomads.
The latter day civilizations of the Red Planet huddle around the Canals, attempting to hold the Great Vacuum at bay. Trade routes and war campaigns are made according to the concatenations of available climes. Only seldom is travel done in a straight line.
If the citizens of the Canal States do their best to ignore the emptiness next door, the vacuum nomads have embraced it. They form mysterious tribes traversing the silent landscape of a dying planet, bent on bizarre undertakings and moved by strange ethics.


The tribes are, as implied by their name, seldom stationary for any longer period of time. Include them in your wilderness encounter table as a small scout force (1d8, without wind, 25% leader). When rolled, generate the tribe (3d10, with leader and wind) and place it in an adjacent hex. Stats as bandits.

Hieroglyphs as spoor of the nomads
The spoors of the nomads arefirst and foremost signs say­ing something about the hex or an adjacent hex. The vacuum nomads speak their own dialects of the lingua martia, understandable to any native of the Red planet. But in addition, the tribes use ancient hieroglyphs to mark out places of great danger, resting spots and hidden secrets among them­selves. They could be modelled on hobo signs or cuneiform.
A character with 13+ intelligence may use a spare language slot to decipher the meaning of the hieroglyphs. 


The members of the tribe wear...
1 Layers of thin veils, moving as if under water
2 Crusts of glittering mud, made from rare earths and slowly dwindling supply of ancient wines
3 Practical, no-nonsense clothing
4 Elaborate, non-figurative glass masks. Heirlooms.
5 Amber-embroidered kaftans, ever rattling
6 Copper chainmail, covered in verdigris
7 Swarms of overbred hummingbirds in yellows and purples
8 Long hair manes that have never been cut
9 Religious symbols and signs of office from fallen enemies
10 Scales of hydra
11 Impractical but light mineralised tree frames covered with primitive wind chimes
12 Millstone collars of much too long finger bones
13Tight fitting acrobat's leotards
...and are currently...
1 Selling their services to local potentate
2 Robbing travellers dressed in red
3 Bartering for an abstract concept with bewildered locals
4 Protecting a canal caravan
5 Fleeing a battle
6 Preparing a ritual
7 Negotiating a marriage with another tribe
8 Excavating their presumed ancestral home
9 Their chief is arguing with the tribal wind. The children cries.
10 Playing for their tribal wind. Smoking, drinking age-old teas.
11 Starving and thirsty
12 On a pilgrimage
13 Finding and abducting a new avatar for their patron

They worship their patron...
1 The Empty Lady
2 The Mineral Mirth
3 The Hidden Constellation
4 The Torso of Evenus
5 The Lichen Covenant
6 The Bull of Six-And-Seven Horns
7 The Petitioned Drought
8 The Clay of Many Colours
9 The Tindalos Hound-Mother
10 The Palace of a Thousand Suites (The Anemochory Godhead)
11 The Deimosian Litter
12 The Mystery of the Burning Lungs
13 The Tiger-of-Three-Shades

...who demands...
1 That the tribal song never ends, even for a moment
2 The co-mingling of disparate bloods
3 The shrouding of all hands
4 The desecration of long-forgotten temples
5 The damming of canals
6 The protection of travellers and massacre of the sessile
7 The decoration of abandoned architecture
8 That the tribe breeds and multiplies
9 Impossible wagers
10 The excavation of Phaëton-from-the-Skies
11 Novel culinary sensations
12 That sun beams never touch members of their congregation
13 Expeditious assaults and retreats


It is impossible to cross the Great Vacuum without wind, and every tribe has bound its fate to one of those fickle elementals. Use djinni stats, but with the weakness Addicted to music: Will be mesmerized by any new song or music it encounters.  
d13 Tribal Winds
1 Lacks a tribal wind, wear masks with imprisoned sylphs.
2 A perfumed summer breeze, gentle and forgiving
3 (The still before) a thunderstorm
4 A sophisticated dilettant searching for its primeval roots; doesn’t want to expose itself as a poser to tribe
5 Plague wind. Careful not to infects its humans.
6 An addict of wind chimes, tormented by bad conscience
7 An autumn gale, memento mori incarnate
8 A storm in a tea cup, choleric
9 A whirlwind, moving everything within reach
10 A mordant mistral, making everyone ill at ease
11 A former sandstorm, arranging mandala like grain patterns
12 A whispering cross-wind, tearing your eyes
13 A major Clime, tricked into service. Looking for a way out.


A lvl 1d4+1 fighter (1-2), thief (3-4), cleric (5) or magic-user (6)
1 Polypée
2 Tseresia
3 Aimo
4 Ceder
5 Twelfth
6 Vers
7 Önska
8 Tranĉilo
9 Kahle
10 Enterigita
11 Sonĝo
12 Ĉenataj
13 Elfosaĵo 

1 Sparapet
2 Tribune
3 Reciter
4 ... the Anointed One
5 ...the Eunuch
6 -Speaks-Last
7 Sibyl of Kison
8 of Monochrome Visions
9 Shofet
10 Prytaneis
11 Nomarch
12 Marasi
13  ...the Mnemonic

1 Opportunist
2 Resentful
3 Erratic
4 Loyal
5 Stubborn
6 Amorous
7 Brutal
8 Melancholic
9 Vain
10 Extravagant
11 Ancient
12 Howling
13 Stoic

...who carries...
1 A complicated metal flute. Belonged to a virtuoso at the Continuous Opera of Ochus. Charms audience once/week.
2 A wig made of impossibly thin strands of copper. Shields the wearer’s thoughts, but imparts a more-than-human coquetry.
3 Beautiful polydactyl white leather gloves. Wearer gains extra thumbs (+2 thief skills, no disadvantage for using two weapons).
4 A tardigrade shaped golden censer. Incense of the Sea (sealed minor water elemental, produces a cup of salt/day).
5 A necklace with kernels and seeds in impractical ampoule. One from each plant in the botanical garden of the Sleeping City.
6 Tattoo needles and green ink. Infected: Any tattoo will spread over the body until stopped by scars or burned skin.
7 Sandals with tribal history in pictograms engraved into soles.
8 The Executioner’s axe of Niph-Below-The-Sand. Attacks those that abuse hospitality in its presence, wielded or not.
9 The Ark of Dybbuk. Carries 1d4-1 ancient souls, waiting for new bodies to inhabit (demands a ritual).
10 Unbound verse by The Poet in the Tower. ST or inflicts madness if heard by the uninitiated.
11 A sturgeonite copper scroll. Ciphered map to caviar cache.
12 The Key of Second Solomon (opens any mundane lock once)
13 A Mantle of sand. Minor sand spirit forms a stylish mantle around the wearer of the contract (+1 AC, can’t cross water, en­cumbering when wet). Signed contract in silver locket.