söndag 21 november 2021

Thin Desert Fauna: Dune Sirens

René Bull's "Salomé".
 Beautiful voices beckon the weary traveller to leave the ­relative safety of the road. Few can ­resist the alluring call of the desert . ­Presenting as ­beauti­ful specimens of a suitable gender, these ­ancient homunculi drink the souls of their victims.

No. Appearing: 1d6 HD: 2+1 AC: Naked Morale: 8
Attacks: 1 Bite (1d6) MV: As human Saves As: Magic-User
Special 1: Charm those who listen. Save vs magic or succumb to their requests, fighting anyone trying to stop you.
Special 2: Drain victim of one permanent Cha per turn, healing 1d6 hp. Last in turn, melee range, interruptible.
Treasure: Each adorned with 2d100 worth of jewellery

Lair: Cave of Eyes
Dried-up bodies of varying age litter the floor. Puddles of ecstatic tears. 2d100 eyes have been placed in the crevices of the walls, ravenous for a glimpse of their masters/mistresses.

Soft voices in the wind. Eyeless but otherwise unharmed bodies.

Rumours about dune sirens

  1. They collect their victims’ eyes, bathing in their adoration.
  2. The best way to hunt them is to let someone be entranced while connected to a long rope.
  3. Once works of art, the sirens hunger for an audience.
  4. No, they are the ghosts of unresolved love affairs
  5. Spymasters and voyeurs pay handsomely for an eye hoard
  6. Veteran ­caravan leaders fill their ears with wax or ­cotton. If you can’t hear them, they can’t entrance you.

Magic item: Never-Blinking Eye
Some eyes (5%) remain fully functional after the siren’s demise and work as prosthetics. A magic-user can spend a downtime ­period of at least a week to align herself with an eye, ­after which it can be used for remote surveillance. Takes up one memorization slot until deactivated, and must be in physical contact to be reactivated.

What is the dune siren doing?

  1. Adored by aged pillar skeptic, taking its time to feed
  2. Singing broken verses from ancient opera
  3. Takes the shape of a pc:s childhood sweetheart
  4. Presenting as the hazy memories of a night of debauchery
  5. Rearranging its eye hoard to give everyone a better view
  6. Bathing in a pool of tears, laughing with childish mirth

torsdag 14 oktober 2021

Thin Desert Fauna: Cinomolgus

The Cinomolgi are migratory birds, known for building their nests with cinnamon wood collected from some faraway clime. To hunt these dangerous predators is to court disaster, but a single nest lets a band of cinnamon hunters live comfortably for years. 

No. App.: 1 HD: 9 AC: As leather Morale: 8 Saves As: Fighter
Attacks: 1 Beak (2d8) or 2 Talons (1d8) MV: Triple human in air
Special 1: Lift victim hit with talons (save or brought to nest)
Special 2: When full, must pass a save to take to the air, and another not to break its nest with its own weight 

Lair: Cinnamon branch nest. High above in ancient pines. The ground below littered with feces, red-and-yellow feathers, pine cones and the bones of game. The nest itself an emperor’s ransom in cinnamon branches (worth 10d6 x 100 gp). 1d4-1 eggs, each enough for a week's worth of omelette.

Spoors: The smell of cinnamon, rotten meat, red-and-yellow feathers.

What is the cinomolgus doing?

  1. Eating a still living goat
  2. Circling above the pcs
  3. Enticing a mate with its call and a trail of cinnamon bark
  4. Teaching its young (1d4, stats as giant hawks) to fly
  5. Fighting with jackals over a carcass
  6. Wounded with lead arrows (Halp HP), a band of 2d6 hunters arrive within the hour.

1d6 facts about cinnamon hunters

  1. Many belong to the Fragrant Society, a shadowy guild that supplies the over-indulged tastebuds of Canal gentry with the rare spices they require to be roused from their ennui
  2. Some fashion light but tough breastplates (leather +1) from the speckled egg shells of their prey
  3. They mimic the bird’s mating call with jet black shells
  4. Fattened oxen used as bait make the bird too full to take to the sky
  5. Leaden arrows are used to weigh down airborne birds
  6. They are friendly to travellers, but known to use them as bird bait if the oxen runs out

fredag 15 januari 2021

So, You've Killed Yourself a Dragon

Solomon VK at World Building & Woolgathering recently made a post on that old staple, the dragon in fantasy world building. He discusses various dragon myths, and the (apparently refuted but great) phylogenetic fancy that dragons are found in nearly all cultures because of some hard (or semi-hard) coded primordial fear of snakes. At the end of the post, the author suggests how one can avoid the worn out name 'dragon' by turning to the kenning of the skalds of old: more or less complicated ways of speaking about a person or phenomena without mentioning their names. One part code, one part poetic image. The sea becomes 'way of the whale', the raven a 'corpse cuckoo' and treasure 'Fafnir's bed' after the dragon in the Völsunga saga.

Using the Völsunga saga as point of departure there's also the possibility of using 'dragon' not as species, but as the end result of greed (or accumulation of wealth not spread around?). For Fafnir was once a mortal man (Or possibly a dwarf. With a brother who could turn into an otter.), but driven by greed he murders his father to lay claim to a great treasure. He then retires with this treasure into the wilderness where he, ever watchful of those who would steal the gold, transforms into a great, venomous wyrm. The characteristics of the monstrous seeps into both the treasure (being cursed, and accompanied by misfortune for anyone laying claim to it) and his very blood (giving those who drink it the ability to understand the language of birds).

There's a lot of transgressions going on in the Fafnir myth. Apart from the  kind of obvious father murdering (frowned upon in many cultures, apparently), two important points are  (1) Fafnir's refusal to give his brother his rightful part of the inheritance, and (2) that the act of accumulation of wealth is separated from the distribution of it among friends, kin, loyal followers, rivals etc. that is expected from the rich and mighty (At least one kenning for 'lord' referring to the golden rings he is supposed to gift to his loyal hirdsmen). 

From this we could take the following idea to the gaming table: There is not first a monster, and then a treasure, but rather a pile of unimaginable riches that produces the monster that sleeps on it. In other words:, 'dragon' envisioned as a taint or curse, a sibling affliction to lycanthropy. The dragon slayer who is more afraid of the dragon than its treasure is a dilettante dragon slayer.*

The killing of Fafner as retold on the Rimsund carving, one of several Sigurd stones.

 In game terms, such a conception of dragons could look something like this:

The same scene as imagined by Arthur Rackham, via Wagner.

The Dragon Curse

First off: Dragons don't belong to a species. They are monsters, a break with nature and proper customs. They are not the end result of an amorous encounter between two dragon lovers, but of the unproductive accumulation of wealth. The dragon hoard predates and spawns the dragon, and works as a curse on whoever has it in his possession. The hoard is conveniently statted out in B/X as Treasure type H. It varies in size and content, but is worth an average of 60,000 gp in coins gems, jewellery and the occasional magic item. Fafnir's treasure, for example, had some really impressive armour, if the saga is anything to go by.

Anyone who has received a share of the dragon hoard (PCs, retainers, sponsors) must save against spells once every week for as long as they possess any part of the original treasure. If they fail, they have to roll on the draconic traits table below. Re-roll any non-cumulative repeating results. If you feel that the table is too beneficial, either add +1 for each previously failed save if you want to make the becoming-a-dragon a more acute danger. Or demand a save every morning.

1D20 Draconic Traits

1. Speak with birds (not that they necessarily want to speak with you)
2. Speak with reptiles. As 1.
3. Sniff for gold (10 ft).Can sense any source of gold within the range. Can be rolled multiple times, increasing the range each time.
4. Frightening: -1 on all reaction rolls, -1 on all morale rolls for enemies. Can be rolled multiple times.
5. Mine, all mine! Must pass a ST when parting with any of her belongings. If failed, she loses a permanent HP until it has been returned
6. Fire resistance. She (but not her belongings) take half damage from mundane flames. If rolled again, she becomes immune to fire.
7. Poison resistance. As 6.
8. Dragon sleep. The sleeping pattern changes. Roll 1d6 every week: 1-5: Has no need for sleep except for HP and spell memorizing purposes. 6: Sleeps for a week, but can force herself to stay awake with a cumulative -1 on all rolls per day without sleep.
9. Ancient sejd. Gains a random lvl 1d6 spell, usable 1/day
10. Proper bed. Must sleep on lvl x 1000 gp worth of treasure to regain HP and spell slots from resting
11. Alarm. Can sense thieves. Immediately knows if anyone has stolen one of her possessions. When that happens, ST or fly into a berserker rage (-2 ac, +2 tohit). First priority is the thief, but if he is out of reach, the closest ally will do just fine.
12. Rip & shred. Nails grow into sharp claws (2x1d6)
13. Dragon size. Grows 1 HD in size. Can be rolled multiple times.
14. Poison breath. Usable 1/day. Poisonous cloud. Lvl x d6 in damage, victims must save or suffer -4 on all rolls while in the cloud. Can be rolled multiple times.
15. Scales/Fur. +1 in natural AC, but looks distinctly inhuman. Note: Opponents versed in dragon lore (knights, magic-users, bards, etc) can spend a turn looking for your weak spot, nullifying the natural AC bonus for future attacks. Can be rolled multiple times.
16. Fire breath. Usable 1/day. Damage as current HP, AOE. Can be rolled multiple times.
17. Wings. Half walking speed if unencumbered. Each additional result doubles the flying speed. She can no longer use a normal packback.
18. Slithering. Legs turn into snakelike tail. Unable to do those things that demand that you be bipedal.
19.Devour Yggdrasil! Head turns reptilian, complete with terrible fangs (1d8)
20. Full transformation. Roll a new pc if a player. HD etc like current lvl, but no smaller than a young dragon.

A dragon has no friends

The gradual change into a dragon is only part of the curse. It also affects all those around you. Make a loyalty roll for each retainer and hireling every night. If failed, they attempt to steal the most valuable piece of the dragon hoard. Or, if in a position of strength, murder the PCs and take the whole treasure for their own.

Getting rid of the curse

Carousing and charity is the only known cures to stop the transformation. The owner of a dragon's hoard is allowed an ST every time she goes carousing or rolls on a similar table: If successful, the waster of wealth may rid herself of one dragon trait. If she finds herself without dragon traits and broke as Conan at the beginning of a short story, she is free of the curse. (Or, if you want to go a more classic route: The curse ends when you drop the hoard into the Rhine river.)

* Solomon VK points out another great example of the trope: Eustace Scrubb, the spoiled boy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that turns into a dragon in similar (if more sanitized and, perhaps, christian) circumstances.

onsdag 13 januari 2021

Read Magic, No Wait, Law

Wizards, we are told, are quite jealous when it comes to guarding their secrets. Legal knowledge, on the other hand, is generally thought of in terms of transparency: laws, to be functional and fair, should be available to anyone who is subject to them. This is of course more of an ideal conception than a material truth: Legal texts are not known for being easily deciphered by the layman. It is also a very modern conception. In Njàls Saga. A Critical Introduction, Lars Lönnroth sketches an altogether different approach to the law, as it was practiced on Iceland before the country became subjected to the Norwegian crown. It is an oral, secretive practicing of juridical formulae that a player of d&d might be tempted to call a 'vancian' system of law -- complete with an emphasis on memorization*: 

"As we have seen, every legal case [pre-Járnsíða] was handled as a case of civil litigation, in which neither plaintiff nor defendant could base his arguments on written documents but had to rely on oral tradition merely in order to find out what the law said. No wonder, then, that legal knowledge was often as jealously guarded as a family secret or that genealogies -- on which inheritance claims could be based -- were carefully memorized." (Lönnroth, Njáls Saga. A Critical Introduction, p. 213)
In some ways, the secrecy and the fragile balance is similar to how I envision natural law on the Red Planet: Remnants of a juridical caste, guarding and collecting potent formulations to force their own (or, more likely, their employer's) will on man and nature. It begs the question -- how many legal mysteries can a lvl 3 itinerant jurist memorize?

Here's a magic item with some bearing on the above discussion:

Footsteps, yes, but where is the feet that made them?


A small silver box.

Covered in flowing jugendesque etchings. Filled with talc powder. An invisible force creates and erases geometrical doodles in the powder. On the inside of the lid, a risque etching of a nude wind bound to an allegorical rack, the four cardinal winds pulling in different directions. The inner bottom of the box details the terms of the contract for the aerial servant bound to the box: Every week it can be employed as a porter (for six days) OR as a spy/scout (for an hour) OR as a courier (Max distance: 6 miles, double the speed of a racing horse). The contract stipulates that the owner must provide the elemental with one day of rest and one melody it has never heard before every week. 

About the elemental: 1 HP, reforms after 1d4 days if destroyed. Doesn't like the experience. It cannot fly, but is very fast and nimble. The spirit is mute, but can communicate via writing in the talc powder. It is invisible, but blowing powder or sand at it will temporarily reveal its contours.

...and its attitude: The elemental is addicted to music, and has gone without for ages. On a positive reaction roll it will make itself known when the box is opened, on a neutral or negative roll it will only make itself known if someone unearths the contract. It wants (from highest to lowest priority): 

  • The box destroyed & to be freed
  • To have a song written for it
  • To hear new melodies (any new song mesmerizes it for the duration of the performance)
  • To be addressed politely

If it is slighted, or an initial reaction roll goes poorly it will:

  • Drop or hide items of sentimental importance to the owner of the box
  • Make noise in the hopes of drawing hostile attention to the owner
  • Word its reports to maximize the potential of misinterpretation

* The guarantee of the law on Iceland was, of course, very different from the material power it carries along the canals. It rested on a complex network of always competing, often feuding families. In many ways simply a method of giving forms to the blood feud that ensured it didn't develop into a full-scale civil war.

tisdag 29 december 2020

On Diminutive Deserts, Red Planet Commerce & 1d12 Thin Desert Caravans



While scouring the internet for public domain pictures of Thin deserts I stumbled upon one of its sibling: The Petit désert, as imagined by dadaist Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes in 1920. A ready-made drop table if ever there was one, but one using domino bricks in lieu of dice. A great idea and, I soon discovered, one explored a decade ago at Telecanter's Receding Rules. 

Since the desert's length mirrors the Canals, to actually map it in its entirety would be quite a time sink. Perhaps better to make random tables for generating a particular road, its characteristics, the points of interest surrounding it, and the hazards peculiar to it.

Still, there is something to be said for the other route suggested by the painting. And that is taking it literally. A stretch of desert with the occasional, giant domino brick. Eroded by time, and half covered in sand. And through those remnants of who-knows-what game: A stream of poetics bubbling with the impossible reveries & dunemares of the Sleeping City further upstream. 

Edrick from Vaults & Van Goghs suggested it might correspond to a certain stretch of the desert: The Eight-and-Score Barrows of the Domino Princelings. Or shrines of discarded deities who lost out in one grand metaphysical game of chance or other. Obvious, when you think about it. Speaking of that blog: The author just posted a useful and beautifully illustrated text on ancient martian air rifles, and has been employing the AI at Talk to Transformer for remixing some of the random tables from this blog. I learned several things I didn't know about Red Planet histories. Check it out!

 One probably should refrain from posts without any at least semi-useful content, so here's some relating to

Commerce, that two-faced sycophant of the Canal

The intimate connection between trade and waterways once seemed a bottomless source of bon mots for gifted (and not-so-gifted) aphorists. ”A rising tide lifts all boats” etc. This is reflected in the vernacular, where foam remains a stand-in for a handful of copper pieces. 

As the weathers wane and the Great Vacuum grow always-closer, the close-but-not-quite identity between canal and commerce that allowed esprit just enough room to maneuver has turned into a literal, pedestrian truth: Trade routes seldom stray far from the crumbling quays of the canals. There, ancient climes still provide breathable air, and travel by ship is significantly faster than the land routes. 

However: The overlapping weathers of the Twin Canals does provide some opportunity for semi-regular intra-canal communications, passing through the stretched-out wilderness of the Thin Desert. As one approaches the desert, estates and villages grow further and further apart. A striking contrast to the wild Thothic gardens and ancient Nepenthian wineries. Then lonely farmsteads, in a futile struggle against dust and sand. 

Caravans cross the Thin Desert, but only armed and only where the Imperial roads still trace a just perceptible line. If you follow the roads, it only takes a couple of days to cross the wilderness. However, this has shown itself to be quite enough time for caravans to get eaten, waylaid, driven mad or simply disappear. So: 

1d12 Caravans braving the Thin Desert

  • 1 A train of porters, carrying amphoras of aged vinegar and baskets filled with thistles. The caravan is destined for the Flagellante Despondency of Athabasc
  • 2 The Tithe of Persb. According to an ancient treaty, every 30 years the League of Hitae is required to hand over the flower of its youth to ensure the league's thralldom to the Temple of Persb. The balance of power has changed since then: Seldom has such a choice collection of half-witted, sickly speciments been collected. 25% that one is carrying a contagious disease.
  • 3 A secretive band of cinnamon hunters. Bringing a great many oxen & armed with lead arrows. Will go off-road in their hunt for the fragrant nests of the voracious cinomolgus.
  • 4 Opportunistic purveyors of statues. Half withered statues are very much in vogue along this stretch of the Canal. The caravan is one of many under equipped, over enthusiastic attempts to get rich quick before the fad ends. Will go off road at some point in search of statues. 50% chance that a competing caravan is being rushed together.
  • 5 Pilgrims on their way to the pillar-sophists of the Spiralling Dialectic, where the sharpest minds of a generation show by example how fragile the balance of sanity, how fleeting the monuments of men and gods.
  • 6 A cache of recently unearthed genealogical records, in a bid to upset power structures in crumbling Jamuna. Well armed, with a 25% risk of being waylaid every day.
  • 7 Two competing porcelain merchants, forced to cooperate for safety. The mode du jour along the stretch of Canal they normally frequent is firmly in favour of organic dinnerware, making the prices on porcelain plummet. Hopefully fashions differ on the other side of the desert.
  • 8 Frankincense traders. The leader of the caravan is covered in scars from his many encounters with the winged serpents that guard it. One of the ox-drivers have hidden a number of snake eggs, intent on creating his own frankincense grove.
  • 9 Yeasts of many colors, collected for an exiled master cook trying to get into the good graces of the Emperor once more. A member of the court has vowed never to break bread made from the same yeast culture twice.
  • 10 A quite ordinary caravan, the majority of trade goods being: 1. Almond milk. 2 Nutmeg. 3. Molluscs in oil. 4. Saffron. 5. Antiques from the lost glassworks of Nili Fossae. 6. Perfumed salts.
  • 11 Covered carts, filled with rose bushes. The caravan is loaded with water, its members working in shifts to keep the roses well-watered and cared for. (Really a front for blue poppy smugglers. The flowers are illegal in most places along the Twin Canals, for fear of a second Sleeping City, but since they are a very potent stimulant for poets and mystics, there are always buyers.)
  • 12 Peaches from the Dellavolpe estate. The stone of each peach is biomantically marked with the orchard’s seal of quality, and will not grow outside of the estate.

söndag 27 december 2020

Thin Desert Travellers (2d8)

The unhappy fate of a lone pilgrim
Only the very foolish or very competent try to cross the Thin Desert alone. There are many things that would prey on the lone pilgrim, courier, graverobber. Better to wait for a caravan to join. Below a random table of travellers looking for travel companions. Some could be of use as hired help or as new pcs Some might rob you in your sleep. A majority might at the very least be slower than you when fleeing the spellridden pack of jackals pursuing your caravan.


 2d8 travellers

From Geschichte des Kostüms (1905).

2 Ancient urchin. Ever-Younger, disgraced viceroy of Lim. Spends his second youth as pickpocket and rumourmonger.
3 One-armed terracotta deserter, looking for blue clay to repair its cracked body.
4 Hopeful suitor with entourage, coffers filled with silk spiders busily weaving complicated apparel
5 Theatre troupe touring with new play. Beautiful animal masks, inane script. The actors know this, and wants a new play.
6 Fugitive from the Sleeping City. Has slept for centuries, now insomniac afraid of dreaming forth new horrors.
7 Jurist specializing in natural law. On the run after accidentally ruining a simple contract of dormancy with minor volcano.
8 Would-be settlers leaving dustbowled homestead
9 Landscape painter, with letters of recommendation to several prominent elementals
10 Sturgeonites, with carefully covered gills and webbed hands, moving a caviar nursery hidden among barrels of cider.
11 Pythagorean tutor. Belongs to sect practicing forbidden arithmetics. With complicated abacus, sack of chickpeas, two yawning pupils.
12 Imperial courier. The report she is carrying would bruise the fragile ego of the emperor, and spell her death. Splendid but impractical clothes. Sylph-in-a-bottle for one-way trip to Phobos.
13 Writer of travelogues, looking for exotic vistas and customs. Sack full of manuscripts, and a readership waiting for new book.
14 Connoisseur of drugs from the Microlevant-by-the-Thoth. Oscillates between obtrusive mania and oneiric reveries. Carries a traveller’s pharmacy with an impressive variety of stimulantia.
15 Astrologist, brooding over the movement of heavenly bodies, giving unasked-for interpretations of dreams and omens.
16 Retired mercenary, on her way to the Cutting Gardens to plant her scimitars for good. Too old, she says, for this shit.


tisdag 22 december 2020

On the Interpellation of Nature; or, The Sorcerer's Apprentice


Interpellation erodes natural law; not over night but over generations; meaning infiltrates dumb matter, whether stream, hill or bone, redrawing the borders that separate what has a voice and what lacks one. Elementalism & diablerie, poetry & necromancy are fruits growing on the same reality-twisting tree. On Earth, the over-saturation with meaning is just starting. On the Red Planet, it has reached its terminal stage: a dying world chorus of improbable voices slowly fading away.

Interpellation and its discontents

The great naturalists that ushered in the Age of Excess proceeded from a simple fact: Not every stone is a gnome. From this, they drew out the differentia specifica that distinguished dead object from personality, and elaborated it into an elementary theory of interpellation.

The proposition was the following: Where nature was treated like matter, worked on in silence – there nature remained dumb. But where mortals turned to it with prayers, curses, exhortations & admonitions – it became a moment in the moral economy and, in time, spoke back.

Taking advantage of the stream, the cliff, the wind became a matter of cultivating meaning. The sciences of Rhetoric and Law found new practical applications. A golden age, in many ways. Like Phobos above the Red Planet, Man's sovereignty over the elements seemed a foregone conclusion. But the continuous sophistication of nature soon meant that Fire refused to stay at its hearth, that the Wind refused its yoke. And thus started an era of strife between mortals and the forces of nature, and a struggle sometimes waged in the open, as civil war, and sometimes through intrigue and bargains.

 Nature was bound through a thousand treaties, formulated with all the sophistication that History's greatest lawyers could muster. Over time, this patchwork of servitutes and pacts grew into a bureaucratic jungle. Dying nobles gave freedom to a favourite among its djinni, juridical archives were lost in fires. A class of free elementals were slowly formed. Shaped in the image of Man they formed their own clubs and courts, salons and guilds. And what nature had once given freely and in abundance, it now refused to give at all or gave only in exchange for treasures fit for queens. Through personal adress, all the major forces of nature have gotten other interests than acting as ground water for their former masters. Why waste your life raining, heating, cooling, eroding, blowing when you could dance, travel the Ether, feud with your neighbors?


At the end of history

To the degree that the elements still perform those functions necessary for the preservation of life, they do so because they are bound by ancient, shrewdly formulated contracts – or because they gain something otherwise beyond their grasp. Some play at being local deities, content by the adoration and sacrifices of their flock. Quid pro quo is the only natural legislation.

The remnants of human civilization that huddle around the Canals thus owe their continuing existence to brittle documents, whose opaque formulations few understand the true meaning of. The great legal schools of the past have degenerated into scholastic, pseudo-religious doctrines. Documents and catalogues of archaic turns-of-phrase are traded or stolen, memorized but seldom understood. One can imagine the bitterness of those waves and winds who remain in thrall to the mere shadows of former tyrants.



On Natural Law & Those Who Wield It

I like the idea of a class of itinerant natural lawyers, brokering deals with ancient volcanoes, finding loopholes when the 10,000 year long lease on breathable air is running out for a Canal principality, and the Weather in question is dead set on leaving the quite frankly depressing surface of the Red Planet. I'm not sure how to implement such a class (or if it should be one?), but I guess reading Elric! or the different iterations of the warlock class might give me some ideas. Or the auction mechanic in Whitehack. Or a version of the 2d6 reaction table, with the rolls modified by the strength of the elemental, the terms of the contract, etc. Perhaps something like this:

Getting the elemental to the bargaining table might be tricky. Perhaps you have to defeat it, perhaps you can trick or flatter it. Perhaps you present a suitably lavish gift (rare firewoods for the salamander, a custom made map for the road elemental).

Finalizing the Contract (2d6)

  • 1-2: Provoked to attack or leave (if defeated: dissipates into dumb nature)
  • 3-4: Won't sign anything (if defeated: dissipates into dumb nature)
  • 5-7: Temporary bound (1d4 uses), but missed something in the fine print
  • 8-9: Temporary bound (1d4 uses), with significant price
  • 10-11: Bound, with moderate price
  • 12+: Bound, with trivial price

Modifications might be things such as:

  • Anyone lacking legal training: -3 [Anyone can of course attempt to strike up a conversation with elementals, but perhaps the natural lawyer class gains bonuses through unearthed fragments of ancient natural law?)
  • Cha 13+: +1
  • The power has been defeated: +2
  • The power has received a lavish gift: +1
  • You have compromising gossip about the power: +1-6
  • A determined number of uses <4: -1
  • HD of the power is 1-4: -1
  • 5-8: -2
  • 9-11: -3
  • 12+: -4

Without sample pacts this is all very abstract. But lets say we have a



Prerequisite: Being on a paved road

Pact 1: The Scenic Route. Decrease the travel speed of a pursuer with HD miles per use.

Pact 2: Downhill All the Way: Increase the travel speed of the party with HD miles per use.

Pact 3:  Charm Caravan: The road elemental lures a caravan in this direction. Arrives in 1d6 hours, willing to sell basic supplies.

Prices: Trivial: A new milestone per use. Clean a significant portion of weeds. Moderate: Write a detailed travelogue/biography of the road. A formal apology from rival route.  Significant: The road wants to stretch onward, to the city of Palimpspolis.

...the range of prices would have to differ significantly between a HD1 breeze and the HD12 Weather of Jokk, of course.

Three considerations: 

Most importantly: 99 times out of a hundred, a pebble is just a pebble. Spontaneous interpellation works like erosion: It takes a very long time, and the final form is generally not very useful. A whisper in the wind, a pattern in granite. I don't want the Red Planet to turn into  a swords & sorcery reskin of Pokemon.

Also: It is not magic, per se. Not any more than rhetoric or gravitational theory is magic: More like engineering on a world were natural forces might engage you in conversation.

Finally: This is probably all too convoluted, and should be a whole lot more streamlined. 1, 2, 3, a thousand pacts, sure. But not as many fiddly mechanical bits.