Category Archives: Adventure Sketch

The Setup (Supers): Big Housers

The Setup is a one- or two-sentence  “high concept” for an RPG campaign or similar background.

This one is for a Supers world.

Big Housers

At 11:59:59 EST, it happened. Not at every prison, but at most of them, worldwide. Perfect spheres of bizarre energy of unknown composition, unknown source, and unknown event. Each circle was between a few hundred and a few thousand feet in diameter. It became known as the Drama.

The Drama infused people, and in rarer cases animals and objects, with spectacular (and random) powers. There are more than 2 million adult inmates in the US alone, and less than 500,000 correctional officers. In the blink of an eye more than half the people in prisons had powers… and criminals outnumbered people trying to maintain order four to one.

The chaos was instant.

No one knows exactly how many people gained powers. It wasn’t every incarcerated prisoner, guard, and administrator, but it was many of them. And sine the Drama created spheres, some few folks who simply had reason to be near prisons were also impacted. Tens of thousands of children in detention centers. Scores of lawyers with need to be with a client late at night, as well as a few law enforcement officers, witnesses to at least one execution, and at least one bus full of student athletes coming back from a late-night basketball game decided in overtime were driving by a county jail and got caught in the Drama.

All told, estimates were that 2,000,000 people, give or take, suddenly gained extraordinary abilities, 60% of them hardened criminals.

Roughly half gained some knack at or close to peak human performance, regardless of their previous physical or mental condition. Geriatric prisoners became as swift, or as fast, as Olympic athletes. Correctional officers of causal intellect became geniuses. Hardened criminals became philosopher poets. Secretaries became world class martial artist. In most cases people were affected directly, but in a few cases the power was imbued into something else. The wild dogs who later formed the Pound Pack gained human intellect. Sgt. Damian Hammer’s riot shield became nearly indestructible. The Folsom state prison’s computer network became the world’s first strong AI. But these were rare exceptions.

This level of power was quickly dubbed “one inmate” worth of Drama power, and that got shortened to 1M within a day of memes and 24 hour news cycles. But while half the subjects of the Drama got 1M, some got more. Roughly half as many 1M recipients were 2M–gaining either two forms of peak human ability, or one thing with twice the potency of the greatest human. Gangbangers able to lift 2,000 pounds, con men able to speak more than 100 languages fluently, assistant wardens able to run at 50 mph. These people from the Big House, were eventually called Big Housers more than they are called anything else.

The distribution of power followed the same rough linear pattern, one additional “inmate” worth of power being given to a group as as big. Half as many recipients who got 2M were 3Ms, and half as many 3Ms were 4Ms who had quadruple the ability of the best humans. Though the numbers were approximate, that means the distribution continued until about 1,875 Big Housers in the US alone were 10Ms.

A 1M might gain a punch with 1,000 pounds of peak force. A 3M could hit as hard as a handgun bullet.  A 10M hit as hard as an antitank round. And at about the 10M level, powers stopped being limited to things explained by science.

Flight. Telepathy. Telekenesis. Teleportation. Eye beams. Fire breath. Sonic screams. A 15m Big Houser might be “limited” to running at 375 mph and making 1,200 punches in 60 seconds… or he might have the power to turn lead into gold, or perfectly predict the next 15 seconds, or be able to regenerate a lost limb. Estimates place between 2,000 and 3,000 Big Housers in the US at 10M and higher, with a believed upper limit of 20M, but it’s extremely difficult to categorize such people. Red Hand, the crazed killer who can create a virus that causes insanity and stigmata, might be a 10M with a single inexplicable power–or he might be a 15M given his cunning, durability, charisma, and rumored ability to switch bodies. Slammer is just strong and hard to hurt, but is he 14 times peak human performance, or 18 times?

 

It’s been two years. More than 20% of the original Drama recipients are dead. Only roughly 10% have successfully been captured and incarcerated. Another 10-15% work for various governmental agencies, or actively work to protect the world against the rest.

But about half the Big Housers are still out there, committing crimes.

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Monday Bad Idea: Gelatinous Ghoul

Monday Bad Idea

Monday Bad Ideas are periodic, and not fully fleshed out. because, you know, they’re bad ideas.

A gelatinous ghoul is a rare from of ooze undead that generally occurs when some object an undead is connected to and which allows it to reform after destruction (sometimes the phylactery of a weak rich, or an object tied to a ghost’s reason for existence) is consumed by a gelatinous cube, but not destroyed, When the undead’s essence reforms around the object, the necromantic energies infuse the square ooze, creating a hybrid mix of gel and corpse.

Gelatinous ghouls generally look like a skull or severed head floating in a cube of transparent snot, though sometimes only a single hand or a glowing green tibia is sign of the deathly influence. Gelatinous ghouls have all the powers and immunities of both the ooze and the undead, and any ability that affects only one or the other has only a 50% chance of affecting it.

On the other hand they lack appendages, and are generally pretty ticked off (though a few ex-lich gelatinous ghouls are telekinetic, and describe the new state as “surprisingly comfy”).

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Game Fiction: Fairy Doctor

This began life as flavor text for a feat called “Fairy Doctor,” an idea from my longest-running fantasy d20 campaign.

It… got out of control.

And I STILL need to write the feat…

Fairy Doctor

Cyble ran one thick finger down her archlute’s top string, listening intensely to the soft brushing sound. She needed to ensure every string was taught and tuned, to ensure none failed in the confrontation with the sirenwraith shortly after dawn. On the other hand she also needed to be quiet since her companions were all sleeping, and she also didn’t want any of them failing in the morning.

It was, perhaps, then understandable that she didn’t notice the winged mote of light sneaking up from the far side of the campfire, despite the fact she was on watch. Her party members knew she could get distracted by her work even in the middle of the night, and thus rarely gave her watch duty. But this time she was the only spellcaster who hadn’t expended any spells, and she had assured them she was too focused to sleep.

Even so, they had left Stumper, Hawkin Green’s faithful hornhound companion, to keep watch with her. Stumper had, of course, seen the winged mote. Had even sniffed it once. Stumper had then laid his head back down.

So when the mote suddenly hissed “Psssssssst!” in Cyble’s ear, her reaction was reasonable. A bit rough on her archlute, but it had thin mithral reinforcement for just such rough uses.

The mote was slapped to the ground, where it stopped glowing and held up two tiny arms in a gesture of surrender.

“Mighty doctor, stay they wrath! I am but a simple fey, come to beg they aid! For I have ails, and…”

“Oh for FU..” Cyble choked off her own voice just as she began to shout. She glanced around the campsite, but the other adventurers really were too tired to be woken by her near-outburst. Grim Gelda stirred, but settled back into her patchwork skin sleeping roll.

Cyble fixed her gaze on the “simple fey,” a sprig-sprite no more than three inches tall, with the dewdrop leaf attire of a minor noble.

“Listen you little shi… shifty annoyance! This is not the time for that “fairy doctor” stuff. I have real issues to deal with!” She managed to put some of her lung’s impressive power into the rebuke, despite keeping it quiet and focused on the intruder.

The sprig seemed unphased. “But you ARE the fairy doctor! You save Reseld Queen from the morosity that claimed her! Not for seven generations..”

Cyble cut him off with a sharp wave of her hand. “Reseld was just depressed, and I sang a song to cheer her up. That’s it! If I’d know she wasn’t actually a bunny…”

“The Bunny Queen!” the sprig interjected proudly.

“Shut up! My point is I am not some mystic doctor of fairy ills. I just cheered up one fairy, one, and she couldn’t keep her yap shut about it!”

The spring nodded enthusiastically. “Indeed, one song and our beloved Majesty of the Cotton-Tail was back to her cavorting self! And then you saved the Lady of Dawn’s Gold…”

“She was broke, it all,” Cyble interrupted.” I gave her one gold coin.”

“And the Prince of Berries…”

“He was choking. I hit him. It’s not my fault he spit out that seed and survived.”

“…AND the entire Dewdrop Brigade!”

Cyble paused. “Okay, they had devil chills. But it was Grimmy who cured them.”

The sprig’s smile literally glowed. “You found them, assessed their ills, and found the cure in another mortal! You are a fairy doctor!”

Cyble sighed.

“If I diagnose your problem, will you leave me alone?”

The sprig nodded so hard his antennae slapped back and forth from his face to the back of his head. The noise was so ridiculous, Cyble could not help but smile.:

“Fine, but make it quick. And quiet! What’s wrong?”

His expression fell.

“I am small.”

Cyble gave the expression her acting maestro had called “deadpan.” The sprig got the message.

“Of course to you I must always seem small. But my heart, it is smaller. It struggles to meet the inside of my chest with each beat. Food has lost its taste. Flowers are no longer sweet to smell. I cannot match my shadow’s gait. In ways I was once enormous, I have shrunk into a shell.”

Cyble’s expression softened. She scooped the spring up, and set it on the apron covering her ample lap.

“Have you lost anyone close to you recently?”

The sprig shook its head, though large dewdrop tears formed at the corners of its now-huge eyes.

Cyble thought. “Pining after a girl?”

Another head-shake. This was going to be some weird fairy-problem, Cyble realized.

“When did this first begin?”

The sprig’s voice quavered. “Ten nights ago, as the first star sparkled. I looked at it, and wonder who else saw it. A hawk cried out. A child began to cry. And my heart sank, and I have been small ever since.”

“A child?” Cyble latched onto the one element that seemed un-fairy. “What child?”

The sprig shrugged. “I was near a town. Rocks-over-water, or some such.”

“Bridgeford?”

The sprig nodded. “Near an old farm. There was a child within, one old enough to care for itself, but seasons and seasons away from playing adult. It cried.”

“And how did that make you feel?”

Again, a shrug. “It’s mortal. It’ll play at being adult, be adult, learn to make cakes, gain a sliver of wisdom, and die.”

Cyble was trained to read as much into tone of voice as much as the words they spoke. And the sprig’s voice held a slight quaver, which deepened as it spoke.

She knew fairies had extreme emotions, and often it was a bad idea to let them interact with other races. The slightest insult could begin a lifelong grudge, and saving one could result in having them hunt you down for help for years afterwards. But if handled carefully, a fairy could be a real boon to a crying child.

“So, clearly the child saw, and wished on the same star.” She spoke slowly, making it up as she went along, but the sprig nodded again, and wiped a tear from its face.

“And,” she continued, “the child must have made a wish. Children do that. But the wish didn’t come true, and that made it cry. Children’s wishes” she added hurriedly “can’t always be granted. Sometimes it’s impossible, and sometimes it’s just a bad idea. But a sad child wishing on a star… you must have gotten star-worry.”

“Star-worry?” The sprig seemed confused. “I’ve never heard of it.”

I imagine not, Cyble thought. I just made it up.

“Star-worry happens when a star wants to help someone, but it can’t. Someone else looking at the star. Someone like, say, a brave and wise fairy, gets infected with the worry. That’s why you got small. The worries of a star are pressing you down.”

The sprig shook. “I am doomed!”

Cyble smiled. “Not necessarily. The star is worried about the child who wished on it. All you need to do is make sure the child is all right, not starving, not being beaten, and the star will stop worrying about it. Then you can stop being small. BUT!”

The sprig leaned in, its ears actually getting slightly bigger.

“You MUST be careful. Mortal children aren’t fey. You can’t just bathe her in gold or grant her a wish. Like a caterpillar struggling to escape a cocoon to be a butterfly, if you remove all the obstacles in her life, she won’t grow strong enough to survive. But if you add to her woes, she may never escape her childhood at all.”

“But… but… “ The sprig nearly wailed. “Then what can I DO!?”

“Your kind garden, yes?”
The sprig drew itself up to its full, miniscule, height. “We grow the sweetest berries, the brightest flowers, and the hardest stumps!”

Cyble nodded. “Good. That takes care, patience, and time. That’s what the child needs. You don’t know yet if the child is a berry or a stump. You can’t know how much rain or sun it needs. But if threatened by fire or blight, that you can assist with. When the child is no longer at too great a risk.\the star’s worry will lift, and then so will yours. Can you do that? With subtly, and care?”

The spring, to its credit, tilted its head and clearly thought hard. Ten long seconds passed. Then it nodded, once.

“You have found my ail, and given me the course for cure. I’ll go to Rocks-Over-Water, find the sad child, and gentle shepherd it through any grave threat. I am saved!”

The sprig began to glow again, and its wings hummed as it flew up to Cyble’s right pinky finger, which it took in both hands and shook vigorously.

“Thank you, THANK you, good fairy doctor. I shall spread word of your wisdom far an… ummmph!”

Cyble was sure not to squeeze to hard, but she kept her grip on the fey firm.

“Tell. NO. One. Clear?”

Slightly blue in the face, the sprig nodded.

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Campaign Ideas Hanging Around

The proposed (and definitely never happening) Analemma Tower would make an awesome set up for any number of campaigns using Anachronistic Adventures or Starfinder. Here are some campaign ideas for a mobile city-sized building hanging down from an asteroid.

All Along the Watchtower: The U.N of 2075 can’t operate out of any one nation or building anymore. Diplomacy, military intervention, and trade all work better from mobile city-towers hanging from asteroids.

Ark V: After the Quantum Genegineering Wars, the ground level of the world became uninhabitable. At the small scale, mutant Morlocks and hunter-killer drones are contant random threats. At the large scale, the doomsday weapon biotank Kaiju are drawn to any major stationary power source.
There are still survivors scrabbling to survive in a ruined world, and super-science and relics to be dug out of cities overrun by horrors. but the only way to get to them is to wait for a period of low threat, then jump down from the roaming bastion of science and civilization that is Ark V, our last, best hope for survival.

High Ground: The evil supergenius Tex Tanner could have engaged in countless battles to overthrow nations, establish shadow governments, and defeat heroes like Anthem Lass and the Gargoyle. Instead he created one overwhelming show of his scientific brilliance and endless resources, the mobile space-anchored archaeology known as High Ground. From there he runs TannerCorp, literally above the laws of other nations.
Is he done now that he’s made his point, or is High Ground just step one/ As as an archaeology under his exclusive control, why is he hiring street-level heroes to police his private fiefdom?

The Sword of D.A.M.O.C.L.E.S: Aliens have conquered Earth for Earth’s own good. Mostly humanity is left to its own devices, but certain activities and experiments are forbidden. The Department of Alien-Mandated Oversight, Committee of Law Enforcement Systems are mostly humans, though a few alien races also work within it, and makes sure forbidden actions are not attempted. DAMOCLES operates out of the Sword, a hanging alien watchtower that orbits the Earth in a variable pattern to allow maximum command support of hot spots.

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Genre: DieselDada

I’ve never been particularly happy with the term “DieselPunk,” because it often seems to be missing any “punk.” You perfectly well CAN add the punk philosophy to a superscience 1920s-1950s setting, but most people who make a run at it don’t seem to. Mostly, they are just doing flavors of pulp.

Now, I like pulp. A lot. I have mostly squared that circle by calling my own setting Diesel Pulp, which I feel helps convey more of what I am going for. But I have always wondered what a real effort to inject punk into a diesel-driven superscience setting would look like. And, personally, I think it would be more interesting to look to the movements of the era, and inject a big dose of Dada into a diesel-drvien superscience setting.

DiselDada

Imagine a world where calculating machines, broadcast power, personal flight, giant robots, teleportation, selective breeding, talking animals, and all sorts of other marvels and terrors of science and knowledge exist… because of a war. where the world has all the tools to build paradise, but they were just used to slaughter millions as retaliation for a single assassination. Where some individuals have spent years as super-powered solo operatives, given permission to do anything for victory, and are no being told to take 9-to-5 jobs to make toasters.
In response to that insane circumstance, many of them rebel not just against the establishment, but against the very ideas of logic, money, society as a whole, and even rationality. Some wish to help in their own way, others use their vast sea of options to create nonsense acts even if that hurts others.
That diesel-driven super-science post-war setting of individuals rejecting modern society’s ideals and rules because following them lead to the Great War, which they see as the Great Horror, is DieselDada.

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Roller Dungeon

So here is the idea:

Dungeon speed runs as a team sport, on roller skates. “Roller Dungeon Team T-Shirts” optional, but the Absalom Abyssals Woman’s Speed Destruction Team is my favorite.

EVERYONE is on roller skates. Heroes, monsters, gelatinous cubes… everyone.

The Rules

Every PC must have half their levels in barbarian, brawler, cavalier, fighter, investigator, kineticist, monk, ninja, rogue, or slayer.

For these mandatory class levels, you get +4 skill points per level, and the Skating skill. Also, any class that has Ride replaces it with Skating.

Skating works like Ride, but your “mount” is a pair of skates that take your space. Anything you could do on a mount, you can instead do on skates. All skates have a 30 foot move rate and, like a mount, if you control your skates without taking an action, you get a full action.

Skates are never battle-trained mounts, unless you would get a mount as a class feature like cavaliers).

All dungeons should be 2 CR lower than the APL *your spellcaster assistance has been limited after all, and you are making speed runs).

You only get full XP and treasure for a combat or trap encounter if you finish it in 5 rounds or less. For every round more than that, you lose 25% of your XP and treasure. An encounter begins when you become aware of it, so scouting eats into your time. If you complete an encounter in less than 4 rounds, you get a 10% treasure bonus for each round less time you take.

It’s assumed you have an audience, so Performance combat is an option.

Combine with DungeonBall! or X-Crawl as desired.

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Worldbuilding Week: Merothian Emnities

We’re continuing Worldbuilding week with a look at who the Merothians as a group hate, and who hates them. they say you can judge people by their enemies, so this both helps form a background a player can draw from, and gives guidance for things like bane weapons and favored enemies. It also helps a GM know what to use for “Merothian” combat encounters.

We already did a brief history of Merothia here, discussed Merothian traits characters could take here, and looked a Merothian culture here.

Merothian Enmities

Merothia was once a powerful coalition of proud baronies, feared by its foes and respected by its allies. Free Knights were well-known champions of freedom and liberty, and honored in every city that looked toward the light.

Now, only dwarves still look at Merothia as anything other than a failed land, or at Merothians as anything other than peasants who proved they cannot manage (and do not deserve) self-rule.

Some Merothains are bitter about this. Others aren’t, but know that in lands outside their own they are likely to be seen as bumpkins, idiots, or worse small-minded villains who seek only to steal the silverware.

In the days of the High Barons of Morothia, the three great threats to peace were mountain giants, orc raiders, and the garm. The epic tails of clashed against these forces are still told around bowls of donnersop, and most of the few remaining relics of old Merothia are weapons carried into battle with names like Worlfsplitter or Jotunslayer. Orcs, in particular, often raided into once-peaceful Merothians settlements when the Baron Kings fell, and though that was generations ago the memory of the Merothians survivors runs deep.

Because of the constant wars with orc tribes, many Merothian communities dislike and mistrust orcs and half-orcs, especially those from the Raudak. Though the orcblooded people of the Raudak have no direct connection to the orcs who plundered Merothia at the end of the Age of Tyrants, the fact the Raudak hold many Merothian towns as protectorates and has entirely taken over the few major Merothian cities near it causes current-day Merothians to heap the hate and fear of ancient orc tribes onto the modern-day Raudaki.

Though the old Jotun mountain giants appear to be gone, their degenerate offspring the stone giants and hill giants now control much of the Basalt Mountains. Such giants can raid with impunity into some Merothians towns, and are a constant threat to others. The orc tribes that answer to them, and the orroc who share giant blood, are much more likely to be actually encountered but the distrust, fear and hate for all these groups runs deep.

As the Njor often raid down from the north and clear have some Jotun blood, most Merothians are suspicious of groups of Njor. However, the fact that Njor Giantslayers often travel into the central Basalt Mountains seeking to kill off specific storied villains of gaintkind cause many Merothians to appreciate the value of a friendly Njor. A single Njor, or a couple of Njor travelling with other races, are more likely to be viewed in friendly terms, at least until livestock begin to go missing.

Though true garm are extremely rare since the Age of Tyrants, their close cousins the worgs and winter wolves remain threats throughout Merothia. If anything these canine creatures hate Merothians even more than the Merothians hate them, and worg shamans often gather small warbands together during storm season to destroy as many Merothians villages as possible.

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Diesel Pulp: Fordlandia and the Argentinian Reich

Fordlandia and the Argentinian Reich

In my Diesel Pulp setting, Henry Ford is a full-on Nazi. Given his strongly antisemitic views, the damage he did spreading those views, and his company’s willingness to use slave labor in Germany, I don’t feel bad about this at all.

I also have Fordlandia being both hugely successful, and being in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in far-southern Brazil. With so much technological effort being put toward compression gears, Cavorite, and other Martian-inspired technology, synthetic rubber does not develop, and rubber trees remain crucial right through the end of the Global War. With the British controlling most European-owned rubber plantations, and Japan being too far away for its holdings to make a good supplier for Germany, Fordlandia in southern Brazil is a crucial supply for the Nazi.

So, my setting assumed a Nazi-backed military coup takes control of Argentina early in the Global War, likely 1939, and quickly pressures Chile and Paraguay to join the South American “Argentinian Reich.” German-backed forces then strike into Brazil to cut off Rio Grande do Sul, taking both Fordlandia and Porto Alegre (the state’s capital and a major port). I feel a little bad about having these nations become Nazi allies… but given how long Argentina stayed neutral and that I am creating a new government backed by Nazis, I don’t feel too bad. And, any real-world historical group or figure in Argentina at the time that doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the broad brush can be added to the South American Resistance that pops up to oppose the Nazi-supported government.

This results in Brazilian and Mexican forces (with the aid of the US, economically at first with Lend-Lease, and then military assistance after 1941) fighting in South America against Argentinian Reich through the Global War. All other South and Central American Nations support the Allies against the Axis, at the minimum sending aid and in many cases (especially Bolivia, Peru, and Uruguay) troops.

I suspect this means no Brazilian Expeditionary Force, but since those troops are literally defending, and ultimately taking back, their homeland I don’t think that’s selling short Brazil’s contribution to the war. Similarly the Mexican Aztec Eagles and Fuerza Aerea Mexicana operations are going to stay closer to the continent, but remain heroically involved. The Pan-American Highway remains a high priority for the US and the Allies, and also gets pushed much closer to completion, though the route changes to more greatly favor Brazil.

A lot of this is, of course, ridiculous. But I like my Global War having actual fighting on every continent (sorry Australia), and like the idea of turning Fordlandia into a corporate-fascist autocratic city-state, as a place and idea for stories and events. And in a setting that assumes the War of the Worlds inspired walkers to be the main Diesel Age military technology and masked “irregulars” becoming common as military assets, I don’t mind some ridiculous alterations.

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Worldbuilding Week: Merothian Cultural Touchstones

We’re continuing Worldbuilding week with a look at little cultural notes or “touchstones” that GMs and players alike can use to build on Merothian themes. We already did a brief history of Merothia here, and discussed Merothian traits characters could take here. While the history was pure prose (with no rules to speak of, and the traits were solidly in the realm of rules (though with flavor text, of course), these cultural touchstones include elements of both.

Merothian Cultural Touchstones

There are some common elements of Merothains society that cross the boundary of a single village or group. Some are tied to specific rules elements, but others are just ideas a GM can hang a story or encounter on, of a player can use to craft a particularly “Merothian” background.

Arming Sword

The legendary Free Knights of Merothia carried a distinctive blade known as an “arming sword.” Similar to a longsword, an arming sword has a shorter handle with a cruciform hilt and a large lozenge-shaped pommel. Classically, Merothian knights carried an arming sword for use with shields, and had a greatsword for use in situations where heavier blows were required. This set them apart from most other sword-using elite warriors of the era, who carried bastard swords and adjusted their grip as needed.

Arming swords act like longswords with the following exceptions:
*A Medium arming sword deals 2d4 damage (and arming swords were not normally crafted in any other size)

*Because it is designed to work best with one hand, attacks using two hands with an arming sword suffer a -1 penalty to confirm critical threats.
*Because it is so well balanced and offers a firm grip with one-handed attacks, critical hits with an arming sword deal 2 additional point of damage (after all other calculations).

Community Granna and Granther

Generally every Merothian community has an elder woman and elder man respectfully known as “Granna” and “Ganther” respectively. These are often, but not always a married couple, and some communities have more than one of each (generally resulting in using the gran honorific as a title, such as “Granna Maeth” and “Granna Hilde”). They often act as receptacles of oral lore, teachers and babysitters of the very young, and impartial, unofficial arbitrators of minor community arguments. Though not officially in positions of rulership, these are seen as town elders, and are generally included in any community planning meeting to their opinion is heard (though traditionally they don’t then weigh in on the right course of action, just give historical context and opinions based on their own experiences).

For Merothians being a Granna or a Granther is not explicitly about age, which is why they don’t automatically accord the same title to any centuries-old dwarf or elf they encounter. Instead, Granna and Granther are revered because they continue to survive despite having love the vitality of their prime, and must know act with the knowledge they are closer to death and less able to save themselves. This distinction is well understood by most dwarves, but is often lost on elves of Te Astra and Te Essar.

Donnersop

Whenever anyone hunts, farms, butchers, kills, weaves, tans, or otherwise crafts or gathers materials, scraps are given to Granna and Granther. If the scraps are edible, they are generally turned into a soup by one of the these two elders. If they are a fabric or covering, they are sewn or weaved into a quilt or shawl. If they are wood, they carved into something useful, or if metal adapted to a new purpose with a stick and rawhide.

Granna and Granther uses these items for their own upkeep, but also give them out as needed to families having trouble, or call for an even where a segment of the community comes and enjoys these patched- and stewed- together offerings.

Both the tradition of given scraps, and the materials made from them, are known as donnersop, a uniquely Merothain word. When offered up to a segment of the community for communal enjoyment, this also becomes a time when tales are told, history recited, old songs sung, and initial long-term plans discussed.

While character’s can’t normally “buy” donnersop, they can receive goods worth 1-5 gp or less as donnersop if they seem sufficiently destitute, and worth aiding. Meanwhile a character who donates as little as 1 sp a week of material to a communities donnersop stores gains a +2 circumstance bonus to Diplomacy checks to gather information in that Merothian community.

Weapon Inscriptions

Merothians often inscribe letters onto their weapons, a practive that dates back to the Free Knights of Old Merothia. These are usually letters in Celestial, though older traditions use letters in Fey, that list just the first letter of several words that are a phrase or motto important to the weapon user. Many famously use CMAS which refers to the ancient knight’s cry corie meroth aeter sang, Celestial for “The Heart of Merothia Bleeds Eternally,” a promise that the Free Knights would suffer any hardship to fight for freedom and justice. Current Merothains often don’t speak either Celestial or Fey, and may ask am Abthanian priest or a druid to translate a phrase meaningful to the individual into letters.

Those familiar that own an heirloom arming sword with such an inscruiption consider it an object that must be maintained, and given to a family member who has proven the willingness and ability to use it. Since Merothians communities often can’t afford to make new swords, the inscription tradition has been extended to the more common axes, spears, bows, and knives poorer Merothians depend on to protect themselves.

While most inscriptions are not magical, for 15% above the normal cost of a scroll, a magical inscription that functions precisely like a scroll can be etched onto a weapon as an inscription. This is normally only done by Merothian spellcasters with strong ties to Old Merothia, most often druids, Abthanian priests, and witches.

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Encounter Environment: The Gravity Chamber

This week I saved all my creative energies for one big post, and TGIF!

(Seriously, I’ve sold pdfs shorter than this… )

The Gravity Chamber

The Gravity Chamber is an encounter environment idea. It’s a room in which gravity swaps one a round, every round, randomly and often with little warning. Down becomes up, and then the next round becomes down again. PCs must deal with being constantly slammed up and down, hopefully while you also add another encounter (like driders with boxes of caltrops and a cyclops alchemist) to keep thigns fresh and terrifying.

The Set Up

Have this be a big room, with a ceiling that’s 20 feet high, plus 10 feet per 5 full levels of the PCs. Also, describe the weird bloodstains, scattered gear, and broken crockery everywhere…

Once the PCs are all inside, something triggers the room. Maybe it’s an ancient eldritch trap that goesn;t go off until everyone is inside. Maybe it’s a malfunctioning antigrav drive with an AI that waits for all passengers to be aboard. Maybe it’s just bad timing. Maybe a super-powerful psychic child is sitting in the middle of the room waiting for her powers to kill her, and she throws a tantrum. Maybe there’s a big shiny button, and the fun starts when someone presses it. Your game, your call. This is just a tool in your toolbox.

Once it’s going, the Big Swap rolls initiative every round. Keep this secret. When it’s number comes up, down and up switch places.

If there’s an off switch, the PCs can try to reach it. If not, the effect likely lasts 10 rounds.

The Difficulty of Reverse Gravity

The difficulty of anything you attempt in the Gravity Chamber is modified by how much warning there is before gravity takes hold, and how suddenly it happens once the switch occurs. Those aren’t things that exist in real-world terms, so there can be as much or as little warning as you, the GM, want.
To keep things interesting, I recommend you make the Difficulty Value 1.5x the Average party Level of your group. When a calculation of a DC calls for a value of X + DV, this should keep things interesting for characters of any level. For example, if a wizard who is part of a 5th level group is flying in the gravity chamber, his Fly check have a DC of 22 (15 + a DV of 7.5, rounded down to 7).

You could of course decide that the gravity chamber is the most dangerous, most sudden, most unpredictable version possible, and make all the DV’s 30. But that’s not going to be much fun for 8th level characters.

If you want to use the gravity chamber more than once, you can actually vary the DV and give the players careful explanations. If they run into a gravity chamber at 5th level with a DV of 7, explain that there is some warning, a sense of tilting or a brief moment of weightlessness, before each gravity switch. If they run into another one at 8th level, rather than a DV of 12 (as the formula would suggest), perhaps it has a DV of only 5. Explain that there is a groan and a series of clicks before the gravity switch, and that gravity fades in and out, quickly but not with no warning. It’s actually easier than the first one they encountered (which also allows you to put a more dangerous complementary encounter in the chamber).

This, of course, sets them up for the extremely violent, no-warning gravity chamber they encounter at 10th level, with a DV of 20. One hopes by then the players have made some preparations for these types of encounters.

The Details

What happens when gravity reverses itself depends on what you were doing at the time.

Standing: If you are standing when gravity reverses itself, you are going to fall. The only question is, can you reduce the damage by “jumping” toward the new ground, flip midair, and land on your feet? That’s a DC 10 + DV check, rather than a flat DC 15. Also, since otherwise people are standing from prone every round, you may wish to give people a choice of reducing the damage by 10 feet 9and falling prone if they take any damage), or landing in a heroic 3-point stance, which means they take full damage but *aren’t* considered prone.

Deadpool would approve.

Flying: Flying characters don’t get a pass just because they aren’t touching the ground. Flying means you are pushing against “down” with some force to counteract gravity. Since you don’t know when gravity will reverse itself, there’s a definite risk that the force used to push against “down” will slam you into the new down when gravity flips. After all if it’s just 40 feet from one side to the other, at 1g it only takes about 1.5 seconds to fall that distance (ignoring things like wind drag), and if you are flying at the midpoint it’s less than 1 second.

When gravity reverses, anyone flying must make a Fly check with a DC of 15 + DV. The exception to this is flight with perfect maneuverability, which only needs to make a DC of 0 + DV. On a failed check you move a number of feet toward the new “down” equal to double the amount you missed the check by. If you move so far you hit the current “down,” you take following damage and are prone.

Climbing: Climbing the walls or trying to use the Climb skill to stick to the floor when it becomes the ceiling is tricky… but not impossible. Usually an “overhand with handholds and footholds only” is DC 30, which is pretty epic. But you could, of course, add actual rungs, loops, gnarly roots, or even netting strung across every surface. To make a Climb effort a viable option you may want to go with a DC of 20+ DV, and be liberal with bonuses for doing things like hammering in pitons or getting clever with an immovable rod.

If a character has a climb speed and can stick to a surface gecko-like, it’s MUCH easier to stay stuck to a surface when gravity reverses itself… but like flight it’s not automatic. DC 5 + DV.
If you fail a check by 1-4, you may choose to be staggered and immobile, but stay in your space (representing a death-grip to stay put), If you fail by 5 or more, or aren’t willing to be staggered, you fall and hit the new floor.

Landing: Things like wind drag, randomly pushing off other objects by accident, and gravity eddies mean you don’t land exactly above or below your starting point. If you succeed at an Acrobatics check as described above, pick a square either directly under you or adjacent to the one directly under you, and you land there. For any other result, roll 1d8 and 1d20. The 1d8 determines your direction of scatter, if any. If it and the d20 result in the same number, you land directly under your starting space. If the d8 result is smaller than the d20 result, you drift 5 feet in the direction indicated by the d8. If the d8 result is bigger than the d20 result, you drift ten feet in the direction indicated by the d8.

If two or more creatures end up in the same space, they all make grapple checks. The creature with the highest result is standing (and may shift one space if necessary). All others are prone. No one is actually grappling, that just represents the mad scrabble to end up on top as they are flung together.

Hazards

Remember I mentioned the driders you could add might have boxes of caltrops? This thing is a giant washing machine, and everything is being banged about. Each round, everyone must make a Reflex save with a DC of 5 + DV. On a success, you dodged all the debris. On a failure, you take damage equal to falling half the distance to the ground, as pebbles, old gear, and even small rodents slam into you.

You can also have small fields of caltrops, alchemists bombs, and angry hornet’s nests bouncing around, with people trying to avoid landing on them. Move these the same way you move creatures, but if they end up sharing a space, the creatures automatically slam into them.

Ouch.

Rewards

If you follow the guidelines given here, the Gravity Chamber is an encounter roughly the same CR as the party’s average level. If you add another encounter to it, boost that encounter’s CR by +2.

Of course being a higher CR encounter means more treasure… but what if everyone gains some special ability as a result to exposure to the strange gravatoinic radiation of the chamber? Perhaps everyone can feather fall once per day as a spell-like ability? And if they encounter a second chamber, maybe double exposure means they can each levitate once per day… and so on…

Or maybe they just get to gather up adamantine caltrops!

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