Category Archives: Adventure Sketch

Excerpt from “The Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes,” the Indigo Notebook, by Ben-Derek Hayes (Ages 14-17)

Excerpts from another of the “Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes” by Ben-Derek Hayes. This one is exclusively “Worstiary” entries (“Like a Bestiary, but the monsters are even worse!”), and indeed is exclusively creatures created through “Menagermancy,” which appears to be a lost school of magic practiced by the Nightfall Empires and People From Before the First Dawn. Also unlike the majority of the Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes, there is a range of ages listed on this one. Many entries have a cruder drawing that seems to be their original illustration, and then more photo-mash-up looking examples pasted in later “for art reference” when the “publishers come knocking.”

So, adapting the original sketches and later art-references of the hybrid creatures found in the Commonlands* calls for a different art style than previously used. For this task, the art of Marinavorona has been used in this article. While there are dozens of hybrid creatures in the Indigo Book, I have selected three that I particularly enjoy for this excerpt.

*Apparently, according to a note I found with the Arktos entry, the Commonlands are “Those lands held “in common” by the original city-states of the Dwarven, Elven, Human Alliance [“Dehallia”]. While those City-states have mostly expanded into kingdoms [or collapsed], the Commonlands are not allowed to have any government bigger than a single city and what can be hit by a bowshot from its walls. This is supposed to ensure freedom of people in the Commonlands from invasion or conquest by foreign cultures, but in practice actually means the various Dehallia kingdoms are constantly fighting and maneuvering and scheming to gain more control over the various smaller governments, and their alliances and factions which try to bypass the government-size restrictions. This vicious and constant backbiting, ignoring of other more serious threats, and constant digging into older layers and accidentally unleashing things is why the vocation of “Adventurer” is considered normal within the Commonlands, despite being almost unknown elsewhere.”

Arktos

The Arktos is the Beast of the North, also known as the Ursapard, Winter Warden and King of the Midnight Sun. An Arktos has the head and antlers of a caribou, body of a polar bear, and tail of a snow leopard. They are extremely intelligent, but have utterly un-humanoid interests and concerns. They can live for centuries, some learn druidic magic, and they are extremely territorial.

(Arktos)

An Arktos thinks nothing of eating other thinking creatures, and is not offended when other creatures try to eat it. What they do mind is anything that makes major changes to what they consider their territory. However, packs of Arktos sometimes prowl over a circuit that takes 10-20 years to complete. When Commonlands settlements expand hunting, logging, or even building further north, sometimes they discover years after doing so the area is considered claimed by an Arktos pack, which is merciless in driving out what it sees as “invaders.”

Some older Arktos grow black lichen on their horns. They are shunned by others of their kind, sometimes practice necromancy, and usually end up going on killing sprees southward until put down.

The Klaken

(The Klaken)

The Klaken has the forebody of a lobster, but a series of tentacles instead of a tail. The Klaken prefer to eat seafood that comes from a hard shell, for unknown reasons, causing them to attack other shellfish, the armored WhaleGods… and ships. A Klaken can eat x5 its body weight in a day, but can also go for years in a form of torpor when food is more scarce, waking during storms to see what has been churned up by the thunder and rough seas.

Unlike most creatures that top out at Apocalypse -tier, the Klaken can grow to Kaiju and even Daikaiju tiers. Indeed, Klaken continue to grow in both size and intelligence as they age, with many Dusk Kingdoms have rules about how big a Klaken you can eat (though the Dehallia have no such restrictions), with a length of 118-157 inches being typical cutoff points.

Magnificat

The species commonly known as Magnifcats are technically “peafelines,” brightly-colored felines with the wings, talons, and tail plumage of peafowls. Magnificats come in a range of colors, and unlike peafowls feather patterns can be bland or bold regardless of gender. White, cream, and calico Magnificats are most often female, and males are much more likely to be almost exclusively red, orange, gold, black, or azure in color, with multicolor male cats rarer.

The talons of the Magnificat are deceptively long and dangerous. When “retracted” the tips remain visible (though canted upwards, allowing the peafeline to softly push with its paws without causing injury. However, the claws can still “extend” from that position, making them x3 to x4 larger than those of a typical cat of the same size. They are also of much stronger material than most animals, and Magnificats do claw damage as if they were two size categories larger than their true size.

Magnficats are on the same intelligence and power scale as pseudodragons, imps, and quasits. rather than the powers of those creatures, Magnificats can use their tail-display to dazzle, confuse, stagger, or even blind and stun. They make amazing familiar, but rather than being selected by a spellcaster, a Magnificat forges a familiar bond with whoever it wants to, weather mage or not, and with no warning. Some families host colonies of Magnificats at their homes or lands in the hopes their children will be so familiarized. When asked why they bother, most Magnificats just claim they like having someone nearby who has thumbs.

(Peafeline, aka “Magnificat”)

Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes Index

As I translate and post more excerpts from these amazing analects of creativity, I’ll post the links to the end of the first Horrors & Heroes post, so serve as an Index for all the Horrors & Heroes content.

Patreon

Obviously this kind of undertaking requires resources! If you wish to support me in developing “The Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes,” please join my Patreon, or drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi.

Excerpt from “The Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes,” the Caput Mortuum Notebook, by Ben-Derek Hayes (Age 16)

Excerpts from another of the “Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes” by Ben-Derek Hayes. This one is from a few years later in Hayes’ career, and it’s clear from both the use of “caput mortuum” to describe a purple-brown spiral notebook color, and the periodic notes in margins about Greek architecture, the Roman Empire, the “missing Sea Peoples,” and pop quiz dates that out author wrote much of this while taking ancient history and Humanities courses in public school. As before, the art of Zdenek Sasek attempts to capture the essence of Hayes’ art sketches, which show real improvement since his earliest notebooks.

While the idea of wargates and other “typical” categories of trapped items is fascinating, I actually chose to showcase this excerpt because of the worldbuilding hinted at, with multi-species empires fighting and collapsing, apparent categories of societies based on how “new in the day” they are, and some shade thrown at classic “fantasy good guy” lands rules by dwarves, elves, and humans. I hope to find more information on these topics as I go through the notebooks, but it looks like it is scattered throughout the last few years of notebooks, and may take considerable compiling and revising before a clear picture of this fantasy world (which, if it has a name, I have not found yet) becomes clear.

Even so, the deep mix of the familiar, the gonzo, and the unexpectedly reasonable in this excerpt reminds me of my earliest days as a GM, and takes my breath away.

WARDGATES

Wardgates are one of the Seven Typically Trapped Things -7TTT- along with chests, forbiddings, holdouts, panopticons, necropolises, and sarcophagi. As long as appropriate knowledge/lore checks or recon reveals something to be one of the 7TTT, characters automatically get to search for traps without the player having to say so. If something isn’t a 7TTT, and is trapped (THIS IS RARE – NO MORE THAN ONCE PER STORY ARC) you still get such automatic checks but at -5 (unless you have a power to allow you to always be trapfinding), in which case you do not. Players never need to (or get to) slow down the game by asking if things are trapped, but also never get penalized for not thinking to ask if every single thing is trapped — all trapchecking rolls are called for by the GM, though research and study of an area in advance can grant checks to know if there are 7TTT or Rare Other Traps present.

Wardgates originated with Gaub-Algen Empire, before it’s destruction at the hands of the Dwarf/Elf/Human Alliance (or Dehallia) [which created the Dehallia prejudice against all Gaub-Algen, or “goblins” including orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, ogres, giants*, trolls, knuckies (the mammalian of the two races both wrongly called “kobolds” by Dehallian sources), draugh (or “dark elves” which can be any color but have much longer ears making them “obviously” degenerate and inferior to High Elf/Wood Elf standards)], and like many things Gaub-Algenian has been adopted by most of the Dawn Kingdoms, and no small number of Noon Kingdoms and even a few Dusk Empires.

*Technically not the Fomorians — athatch, cyclops, ettins, and firbolgs, who were part of the Giganarchy which opposed and was destroyed by Gaub-Algen prior to the DEH Alliance taking down the Empire — nor the Nephilim — oni, rakshasa, titans, and other part-angelic creatures, who are still quite in power to the Far West in Muthuul-Danleib and only some of which come far enough east to hit the Commonlands and run into adventurers. But most Dehallia sources don’t bother to differentiate between types of giants.

Wardgates were used as large, impressive entrances to important places. They would often be open and safe, but could be both locked, and locked as “armed” (meaning the trap is set to go off). The function of a wardgate is multifold. First, it is a symbol of power — look, see, we have entrances that can defend themselves! Second, when locked and activated it serves as an unmanned line of defense — likely not enough to stop a rampaging beetlephant or pyrosaurus rex, but something that hurts them, may drive off less sapient monsters, and delays or slows them while the guard/army/magic missile-only brigade prepares a defense in-depth. Third it can be a crowd control deterrent — no one wants to riot in Upper Silverholt because the Royal Elven Wardgate might be closed, making it difficult for anyone to get home. Fourth, they can be tested in the name of local defense, but thus showing off how advanced your kingdom’s flaming poisoned caltrop launchers have become as a form of international saber-rattling.

Since most of those functions require people to know a wardgate is a wardgate, they tend to be big, conspicuous, and obviously something more than just a hole in their connected wall. Of course, wargates from different cultures are marked differently, so especially when dealing with Dusk or Nightfall Kingdoms, cultural/historical knowledge/lore is helpful when identifying them. Even so, if when crawling through an Nightfall Ruin, if an archway has a fanged face worked into its keystone, and that turns out to be a wardgate, it’s easy enough to treat all future portals with fanged-face-keystones as potentially trapped.

Some typical wardgate traps:

INSTANT ROCKFALL: Crude, yet effective, the instant rockfall is built so a defender inside the attached wall (or a watchtower for slightly more advanced versions) can hammer loose a brake, dropping a weighted chain down a shaft, causing the chain to pull free lynchpins within the wardgate, so it collapses. This is a one-use wardgate that literally requires it to be rebuilt after each use, so they are almost always only observer-triggered. Thus difficult to disarm. In ruins an instant rockfall is only dangerous because the lynchpins may be rusted or missing, thus a strong shock (like a fireball) can cause it to collapse more easily than surrounding ruined sections.

HELLGATE: A hellgate is a form of iron portcullis made of hollow, perforated metal with spaces at the bottom for Greek fire. Arming it requires placing the Greek fire in the slots, and then if it is dropped (rather than slowly lowered) the Greek fire vials break, the hollow grille works as a chimeny, and the whole gate and an area around it bursts into fire. More advanced hellgates may also have ways to add agents through the hollow grille from above, ranging from oil (to keep the fires going), smoking/tear gas agents, and even fire-elemental-summoning-stones.

(Hellgate)

SPIN SCYTHECLE: A spin scythecle has blades on spinning wheels mounted low that can rotate out and cut everyone off at the knee. The gearworks are generally driven by weights on chains, and thus have limited runtimes, but more advanced versions can be powered by waterwheels, or have backuphampster-wheel power to extend runtime once activated.

WALLCRUSHER: The wardgate is a short corridor, and the sides are under pressure, often from counterbalanced gears and shafts. When closed, it is armed by the door being broken. Once armed, any pressure on the center of the corridor released the spiked walls. After the walls crush, they form two new narrower hallways, allowing counterattacks to be launched. Damage, area, escape difficulty all scale with level. Setting it off when disarming tends not to damage trapwright, but it’s loud as heck.

(Wallcrusher)

Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes Index

As I translate and post more excerpts from these amazing analects of creativity, I’ll post the links to the end of the first Horrors & Heroes post, so serve as an Index for all the Horrors & Heroes content.

Patreon

Obviously this kind of undertaking requires resources! If you wish to support me in developing “The Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes,” please join my Patreon, or drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi.

Excerpt from “The Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes,” the Brown Notebook, by Ben-Derek Hayes (Age 12)

From time to time there come into my possession works by gamers who, for whatever reason, have not previously received the level of exposure and appreciation they deserve. Such is the case in the “Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes” by Ben-Derek Hays. These notebooks were sent to me mysteriously and anonymously, with no known provenance, but clear instructions for me to make what I could of them and legal papers freeing me from my normal concern for looking at unsolicited submissions. All effort to find the original author have, as thus, failed.

Somewhat chaotic as a first draft, these notebooks of varying size and composition range over a number of years and are color-coded in a system I have yet to fully grasp. But there is no doubt that mixed in with the raw exuberance and untested systems, there are sparks of true genius in these books. As they sit in my care now I shall, as editor and chronicler tasked with compiling these disparate nuggets of raw creativity into some cogent, playable form, from time to time offer excerpts of partially-developed material taken from one or more of the notebooks. A each is color coded and marked with the age of the author (though it is unclear if this is the age when a notebook is begun, or when it is finished, or some other relevant date), I’ll include such information in these entries when I can.

This is very much a work-in-progress, as development is going to be a lengthy process undertaken in stages. For example, for the moment I am correcting spelling and doing my best to ensure sentences are complete and can be parsed, but am otherwise not altering the content of the entries I am previewing here. Similarly, Ben-Derek Hayes (Age 12) provided many illustrations in the Brown Notebook, which are clearly intended as just sketch stages (with notes such as “draw better,” “Pay real artist to make this ozsome,” and “get gud” scrawled next to many), but at the same time I feel the general style used for each picture carries important content and tone. While the illustrations in this article are all by Zdenek Sasek, I have endeavored to ensure they capture the spirit of the original sketches as closely as possible

The material presented today is not only all from The Brown Notebook (Age 12), the selected entries are all marked as being from a theoretical “Worstiary” (which, it is noted in a few entries, is “Like a Bestiary, but the things in it are Worse”). I’m not yet sure if the Worstiary is a separate notebook, from which some data was copied, or if the intent was to someday compile the monsters from the Brown Notebook into a formal Horrors & Heroes Worstiary. Indeed, it’s not clear to me if Horrors & Heroes was intended as a stand-alone game system, a supplement for some specific game (or chimera of multiple similar game systems), or a truly audacious attempt to create a supplement that works with any ttRPG.

But those organizational concerns are by burden to bear. You may simply sit back, and bask in the unfettered imagination of Ben-Derek Hayes (Age 12).

Your humble editor and appointed Horrors & Heroes developer, Owen K.C. Stephens

Man of Arms

(Man of Arms)

A Man of Arms is a zombie thing made of nothing but people arms stitched together. It has no head, but it’s body, legs, and arms are made of lots of different arms. It can move as fast when prone as when standing by doing that creepy stop-motion-skittering thing from cable horror movies.

Other than being undead, a man of arms is just 1d4+1 humanoid monsters that only move once a round, but get to make attacks and do other things as often as that many people would. So a Man of Arms made of 3 people moves once, but has initiative and actions for 3 people. All damage goes to the people making it up one at a time, and when you kill one, you’ve hacked off that many arms (so it attacks less and stuff). With no heads they can’t hear or see things and are immune to gazes and songs, but still fight good (but maybe not any ranged attacks since that would be dumb).

Any treasure a Man of Arms has should be a cool weapon some Hero can use.

Scare Bear

(Scare Bear)

A scare bear is like a normal bear (or a Dire, Fel, or Apocalypse Bear for higher-level fights), but it has the Direful Howl. Whenever the scare bear sees things but doesn’t attack for a round, or anytime it takes damage or fails a save against an effect, it howls (not an action, just happens). All creatures within 6561.68 feet must save against fear or be more frightened than they were before. You can only be less frightened by running away from the scare bear for a round, killing it, or successfully saying something witty about fear or bears (must roll as high as the scare bear’s Direful Howl save). Which means Scare Bears can understand any language, I guess, so they’re magic too.

Scare bears are big and shaggy, and their eyes glow scary colors, which means even if they use Stealth you know there’s something with glowing eyes in their space.

Scare bears were created through Menagermancy by Udek-Kai the Unliked. One of the People From Before the First Dawn, Udek-Kai grew the Gardens of All Feeling, and made Scare Bears to scare off thieves and kids and crows and stuff. The Gardens of All Feeling also were home to the Fel Scorpionbees, who are immune to fear and make the Eternal Honey, so Scare Bears never got hungry or aged. When the Gardens were burned in the First Day War, the scare bears scattered and changed. They are still drawn to the few remaining Feeling Plants, especially Orchids of Sadness, Roses of Love, and the tiny, delicate Clover of Wondering if Someone Likes You.

Marginal Ideas

Literally ideas written in the margins of the notebook. Some of these may have longer writeups or sketches in later notebooks, which would supersede these short descriptions.

Eye Bug: An eye bug is a big round beetle that crawls into your face when you are sleeping, and eats one of your eyes without you feeling it. To make sure you don’t dig it out, it looks cool and gives you better vision so you can see ghosts and invisible hobbits and traps and stuff. When you cry, microscopic eye bug eggs flow away in your tears and grow up to eat other people’s eyes.

Hangman’s Kite: Sometimes when a kite gets stuck in a hangman’s tree and abandoned, it absorbs the mean from the dead people in the tree. It turns its string into a hangman’s noose, and goes flying looking for people to choke and pull up into the sky by their neck.

(Hangman’s Kite)

Web Kittens: The size of kittens, but with two tails and six spider legs (ending in kitten-paws) rather than normal kitten legs. Can make webs, but normally only do so to form their own balls to play with. Venomous, but their venom makes you love them and want to take care of them. Popular as pets, but illegal in many fortresses and valleys.

Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes Index

As I translate and post more excerpts from these amazing analects of creativity, I’ll post the links to future articles here, so serve as repository for all the Horrors & Heroes content.

The Caput Mortuum Notebook (Age 16) – Wardgates, explanation of the Seven Typically Trapped Things, notes on the Gaub-Algen Empire (“goblins”), the Dwarf/Elf/Human Alliance (or Dehallia), Dawn, Noon, Dusk, and Nightfall Empires, Giganarchy, the “Far West” of Muthuul-Danleiband, and the Commonlands. Namedrops beetlephant and pyrosaurus rex.

The Brown Notebook (Age 12) – This page! Monsters from the Worstiary.

The Byzantium Notebook (Age 13+) – Cosmology including Gods, principalities, Lesser Gods, and Demigods. Mentioned – Urgar-Mawt, the King of Crows; Anath’al, the Witchwife; Dragon Empress of Varghun; Wyrm God.
(Second Entry) Major Principles – Avergentis, the Heartflock, Marugal, the North Wind, Plautaurch, Uhr, Wrogan.
(Third Entry) The Seven Winds: The North Wind, the South Wind, the Rogue Wind, the East Wind, the Tea Wind, the West Wind, the Death Wind.

The Indigo Notebook (Ages 14-17) – More Worstiary entries (Arktos, the Klaken, Magnificat), and some notes on the Commonlands.

Patreon

Obviously this kind of undertaking requires resources! If you wish to support me in developing “The Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes,” please join my Patreon, or drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi.

ShadowFinder Gazetteer: Elseward

ShadowFinder continues to work towards release. Some of the material I am drawing on for parts of the worldbuilding in this play mode are heavily inspired by things that helped me through some dark times in my life. Elseward is one of those.

(Art by Grandfailure)

Elseward

Some of the areas in the demiplane known as the Shadowblast that are very close to the Material Plane. These regions, called Shallows, appear to be tightly bound to some mortal concepts or emotions and follow special rules compared to the rest of the Shadowblast. There exist natives of the Material Plane who are survivors of severe trauma and depression that can access a Shallows section of the Shadowblast known as Elseward – a violent, vicious realm that mixes dense noir city and surreal untamed jungle with no apparent rhyme or reason – usually without even knowing it. Projecting themselves partially into the Shallows, these Elsewarders exist in both their native Material Planes and the Elseward Shallow. They see and experience things other folk around them in the Material world do not, often mistaking Elseward events for daydreams. Some Elsewarders even develop special powers with the Shallows, creating a ethereal ShadowSelf that exists within Elseward even when the Elsewarders are not connected to it. Elsewarders then experience their ShadowSelf lives through dreams and reveries.

In a few cases, Elsewarders manage to heal and slowly disconnect from the Shallow, perhaps leaving their ShadowSelf behind, perhaps integrating it into themselves and departing from Elseward entirely. But more often, they eventually begin to draw bits of that Shallow region out into the Material Plane, beginning with minor Shadowblastoi creatures crossing over and growing in number, complexity, and power as time goes on. Such a traveller from Elseward into the Material Plane is known as a Drawesle, and its behavior is often dictated by the fears and nightmares of the Elsewarder that drew it through the Shallow.

(Art by Duy)

It’s common for Drawesles to destroy their related Elsewarder, ending their link to the Material world and sending them back to the Shadowblast. Elsewarders with extreme will or some eldritch power source sometimes instead begin to spread their vision of the Elseward into their own world, and in rare cases even forge links between the Elseward and Material world denizens to whom they have strong (not necessarily positive) emotional connections. These advanced situations can result in small groups or even tightly-linked communities existing in both their own realities and the Elseward at once, appearing to experience ongoing shared dreams and hallucinations.

Some Elsewarders continue to hop back-and-forth for decades, with more and more links to the Shadowblast connecting to them as time passes. When the Elsewarder is secure, supported, and dealing with their trauma well, incidents are mostly just deep dreams and odd noises in dark corners, and easily dismissed by them and others as a wandering mind’s intrusive thoughts. When exposed to new trauma or under high stress, these well-worn links can actually anchor parts of Elseward to the Material world, generally in abandoned, remote, or chaotic, badly monitored locations. This leads to Drawesles building a Material Plane power base, seeking to torment the Elsewarder and those close to them to further strengthen the link.

In these cases, outside intervention is often needed to save the Elsewarder and those near them from their literal personal demons. This may be done by seeking out and ending the Drawesles’ base of operations on the Material world, or it may require a trip into Elseward to cut off the intrusion from the source. Of course, destroying a trauma-induced monstrosity preying on an Elsewarder doesn’t end the Elsewarder’s underlying issues. But it can help give them space to do the work needed to heal themselves, and give reassurance that their trials are very, very real.

(Art by evilinside)

DEEP ELSEWARDER [QUIRKY]
At one time, you were tightly linked to the Elseward, or some other section of the Shallows in the Shadowblast, and you have developed special powers that only function there.
Benefit: For each character level, you can select one tier of enigma power, one bonus feat for which you meet the prerequisites, or one level of spellcasting from a specific spellcaster class list (gaining spells known, spells per day, and a caster level equal to your levels of spellcasting selected with this feat). These are separate from your normal feats and (if you have them) enigma powers and spells. Abilities gained through this feat only function in Beachheads and Shallows of the Shadowblast.

Want to get news about ShadowFinder as it develops? Send an email to shadowfinderlist@gmail.com and ask to sign up, so we can send you notifications for this project and its tie-ins!

PATREON!
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: The Pixie Ring

The Pixie Ring is a cozy cottage, part-time tavern, small inn, and herbalism shop sitting in a beatific glade just out of site of a major trade road. There’s a small town just another hour or so down the road, but the Pixie Ring stands on its own near the mouth of an extensive, wild valley. With a living thatched roof, multiple ovens often baking sweetbreads and hearty soups, herb trying racks, and a small brewery in back, it’s often said that when the wid is just right, the smell of the place bringing in more customers than any sign or visibility could. It’s also said that despite being isolated and apparently undefended, the Pixie Ring is the last place anyone would want to attack, because it’s protected by the forces of nature itself. It’s proprietor, an ageless-looking woman named Vassilya Darghrace (who seems both matronly and filled with the bloom of spring) just smiles when asked, and says it’s true, without ever going into details if she can help it.

(Art by Artlier Sommerland)

And, indeed, the Pixie Ring is so protected, because Vassilya Darghrave is renowned in the fairy realms as a “Fey Chirurgeon,” a mortal who can solve ailments of the Fair Folk. This reputation stems from her saving a winged pixie from an (iron) bear trap when she was a child, right on the location where the Pixie Ring now stands. The pixie was a favorite of the a major Fey Court noble, who swore to protect Vassilya whenever she was in the field where she saved the pixie. No fool, Vassilya built a small cottage there as a teen, so she had a place to go if ill, moody, or in danger where the fey realm itself would defend her.

What Vassilya did not count on was other fairy creatures bringing her their problems. She has no special powers as a Fey Chirurgeon, just an expectation from sylvan beings that, given her reputation, she can fix any problem they bring her. Over the decades she has soothed a unicorn’s broken heart, stitched a shadow back onto its grig, made peace between warring lilac fields, split 1 keg of honey into 7 equally-large kegs promised to 7 fairy nobles by turning into mead, and nursed a whole host of sprites through winter cold by feeding them herbal soup.

Each fairy problem she has been brought has forced Vassilya to find a solution, which has often meant picking up a new skill. She’s become a master cook, herbalist, brewer, seamstress, woodworker, and painter. While she learned the basics of each skill through hard work and dedication, often travelling for months to reach a master able to teach her what she needed to know, once she used a craft to aid a fey creature, other fey creatures often paid her for her services in secret knacks. Spiderfolk taught her to weave secret eaves. Brownies shared their secrets of brewing morning dew. Tommyknockers showed her their woodworking techniques. As she practiced these arts, her humble shack grew bigger, and grander, and more beautiful.

(Art by Artlier Sommerland)

In time, non-fey began to drop by as well, and being a hospitable person, she tended to feed and house them. In appreciation, most paid her… though she was just as likely to ask them to chop wood, or bring her hard-to-get seasoning on their next time through. Locals tried to keep her presence secret, but once a few traders found her, word of the off-the-path reststop spread. Vassslya slowly expanded her home, trading seasonable contracts with caravans for ceramic stoves in her fireplaces (no iron!), construction materials, labor, and unfinished furnishing she could refine herself.

Vassilya turns no one away. Those with problems are offered solutions if Vassilya can think of one, and given advice on where to get some if she can’t. The hungry are fed, the sick tended to, the tired allowed to rest. Payment is asked only of those who seem likely to afford it. Money is accepted (and tossed carelessly into a drawer, where fey friends carry it off to a more secure location, bringing her coins when she needs them), but trade and service are just as good. If someone just has one spare wagon wheel to trade, Vassilya takes it with the same gravitas as gold or a hand-painted doll. And, in her experience, someone will eventually come along who really needs a wagon wheel.

And, of course, as a crafter, she often turns broken barrels into tables for her garden. Indeed, she often repurposes something just before she or someone else unexpectedly find need for it. Even Vassilya doesn’t know if this is some effect of fairy influence, or is the fates just spun the thread of her life to overlap others’ at useful moments.

(Art by Obsidian Fantasy)

The Pixie Ring is now a “common secret,” a place lots of travelers and traders know of, but most people don’t share knowledge of without good reason. Most people never see the fey who come for help, or the ones who have become friends and tend to live in her building. Their presence is sometimes hinted at, when birds help set the table, scuttering occurs in shadows, wolves and bears appear to growl at the unruly, or things get fixed or cleaned when left unattended. Those few people Vassilya consider close friends or family are more likely to be trusted with seeing the fair folk, as are druids, bards, and similar visitors, but only when “outsiders” are not present.

Vassilya does her best to not have to leave the Pixie Ring anymore, and often pays others to find materials or bring crafting manuals to her so she can fins the problems mortals and fey bring to her. In a more extreme case, if she must leave for a short jaunt, she finds someone she trusts (she’s an excellent judge of character) and leaves them “in charge” for a few days or weeks. When this happens, some shy minor fey almost always shows up with a problem they considered too minor to brother the “great fey chirurgeon” with, which may be as simple as needing advice on what to wear to a fairy dance, or as complex as being exiled from their home court under pain of death. Anyone who can successfully deal with such issues is generally rewarded, and often becomes part of Vassilya’s trusted inner circle.

PATREON
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Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: The Wandering Monster

The Wandering Monster is an unusual tavern, in that it literally wanders. A sturdy 2-story wagon (or very small enclosed civilian siege tower, depending on how you look at it), The Wandering Monster is a combination mobile bar, potion and elixir shop, and residence for its owner, the retired gnomish alchemist and conjurer Kykin Dinferthort.

(Art by Obisidan Fantasy)

Dinferthort trained to be a guild potion-maker, or possibly a court sage, but found the idea of living in a single location much too restraining to accept any of the standard positions upon ending his apprenticeship. Instead, he allowed himself to be hired by a band of adventurers delving into an ancient cistern complex (or, as Dinferthort refered to it, an “adventure hole”) to guard their basecamp and brew potions for them. This proved lucrative enough Dinferthort was able to buy a merchant wagon, and create a roving elixir business. He began traveling an “Adventure Hole Circuit,” hitting locations where adventurers were trying to clear out ancient labyrinths, long-lost sewers, chaotic caverns, buried cities, and other large-scale site-based sources of danger and wealth. Over time he discovered he could make more money on booze and cleaning or mending spells than potions, and upgraded his wagon to a full-fledged (if compact) mobile tavern.

(Art by Obsidian Fantasy)

The lower floor of the Wandering Monster has a single bar with a few casks and stools, though Dinferthort also has a number of leather cushions and tarps to make drinking outside nearby a comfortable option. The gnomish proprietor has focused on items popular with adventurers, including a few simple comfort foods, money-exchange spells (turning copper pieces into platinum pieces or even gems, for just a small cut), communication magic and, of course, healing and curse-removal potions and weapon oils. The upper floor is Dinferthort’s loft, bunk, and personal storage (which is tight, even for gnomish scale, but adequate for his needs… especially since he can conjure extradimensional space if he needs it).

Dinferthort is friendly, but not stupid. He normally only uses his conjuring to provide a few assistants as needed to run his business and creatures to pull the Wandering Monster itself, but always has a fair number of combat and escape-related magics and conjurations ready, just in case. Usually, however, his services are just too useful to adventurers in the field for anyone to dare attack him, or cause trouble for the Wandering Monster.

PATREON
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: Titan’s Keg

Legend has it that the Titan’s Keg is partially built out of an actual keg of mead once owned by a titan, or at least a very large giant. This idea is reinforced by the fact the Meadhall section of the tavern has a deep, pleasant honey-mead scent permeating its wooden exterior and, of course, the barrel-like appearance of that section of the building.

(Art by Warpaintcobra)

The truth is more prosaic, though arguable interesting in its own right. The Titan’s Keg sits in a section of town reserved for residential shops and guild offices–places where people both live and work as crafters or representatives for crafters. The only enforcement mechanism for this vague zoning law is that shop signs must be approved by local crafter guilds, and to discourage public houses they don’t allow signs for inns or taverns. To get around this, the owner of the Titan’s Keg bought scrap wood from a shipyard wrecker, and used it to add a room to his home that had a keg-like appearance. The fact the wood came from a ship that had be damaged in a storm and hundreds of mead barrels had broken in its hold and soaked into the wood was a happy coincidence, though now the owner stains the interior wood every year with alchemical compounds that reinforce and restore the honey scent.

In addition to being a tavern and home, the Titan’s Keg is also the guild-independent shop of Ruvald Hain, an alchemist who specializes in food and flavoring. because his arts could be used to mask the taste of poisons (which he never works with), the Alchemist’s Guild and Herbalist’s Guild both insist he should pay them vast sums of money to oversee (and in his opinion, spy on and copy) his work. In defiance he refuses to join or work with either guild, and thus is only allowed to work in, sell from, and buy materials in his own building. The Titan’s Keg brings in most of his revenue (his experiments in flavors often leading to popular, often limited-time, drink flavors such as cheery mead, orange-blossom red wine, and the startlingly popular lime beer), which Ruvald spends convincing customers to bring him alchemical reagents for him to buy without doing business outside his building.

(Art by ratpack223)

The Meadhall of the Titan’s Keg is kept clean and brightly-painted. A cauldron is always on the fire, though patrons have learned to confirm it’s cooking food before dipping themselves a mug of its contents. The interior arches are lined with shelves that have serving plats and steins, but also various alchemical agents Ruvald doesn’t have room to keep in his residence. In fact, Ruvald’s personal possessions often end up scattered about, and regulars keep an eye on them to make sure no one makes off with anything important. Often, the unmarked bottles simply have flavor essences and preservatives but not always, and only Ruvald knows which is which.

Ruvald has a small, but dedicated staff of halfling and gnome cooks, bartenders, and servers who keep the place running smoothly more in spite of him that with his help. They also double as his alchemy assistants, housekeepers, and bookkeepers. He pays them well, but most work for him as a kind of informal apprenticeship, picking up culinary and alchemical knowledge by observing and assisting him. They keep the Meadhall open most hours, but if Ruvald is sick or sleeping after several days of work, they may insist everyone “keep it down” so he can recover.

PATREON
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Themed Fantasy Tavern Week: The Rise and Fold

I’m looking at pulling a ton of my personal campaign notes, from up to 22 years ago, into actual for-sale polished products (maybe on Paizo Infinite, maybe just as rules-light, map-, art-, and flavor-heavy pdfs on OpenGamingStore and DriveThru –anyone have opinions on which you’d rather see?).

That includes a TON of material I wrote on locations for 3.x/Pf1/4e/Wizards & Warlocks games–some as part of old professional projects that ended up not happening, some for home campaigns, some for my previous online efforts before this blog. While a great deal of that material really needs the conext of a world or city to link it to, some stand on their own pretty well as drop-anywhere fantasy locations.

Especially the taverns.

Throughout this week I’ll be putting out short descriptions of four Fantasy Taverns. they are designed to be unusual and interesting, the kinds of places PCs gravitate towards, investigate, buy, or turn into regular hangouts. (Wednesday will be an Owen Explains It All article tying-in to the show recording Feb 14th.)

None of these are as complete as I’d produce as for-sale products (which would include exterior shots, interior shots, and maps for each one), but if you like these snippets, let me know and maybe I’ll add some polish to the bigger entries of my old material and turn them into a professional product. The longest entry is the first one, and the rest are currently more written sketches. But, if they are popular enough, I can easily do another week worth of entries from Feb 21-25.

The Raise and Fold

Officially, The Raise, a Public Parlor and The Fold Alehouse are two different businesses, and indeed they have two different owners. It’s not even known if the owners like each other–they are never seen together or speak of one another–but they obviously have some kind of arrangement to benefit both establishments.

But since the two businesses are the top floor and bottom floor (respectively) of the same building, and a tab run up at one must be paid off before purchases can be made at the other, and they both feature gambling and drinking, people just call them The Raise and Fold, unless greater specificity is needed.

(The Raise and Fold, art by 3drenderings)

The Raise, A Public Parlor

“The Raise” is run by Gyster Feirn, a half-elf poet and scion of a winery-owning family who seems to have been stuck with the tavern to wait from him to “season” over a few decades before being allowed to benefit from any other familiar businesses. Feirn is genteel and runs a small, expensive, selective establishment where from dusk to dawn there is always a table of high-stakes As-Nas being run by the house and buying 20 gp/glass drinks is part of the cost of participating. In addition to socializing and playing cards, numerous deals are made within the parlor of “The Raise,” often including the buying and selling of “opportunities,” which range from the rights for caravan goods stolen by bandits (which you can buy for coppers and the gold… but then need to go recover yourself), to ancient maps, logbooks from sunken cargo ships, and debts due to be collected from grumpy dragons or infamous wizards.

Feirn acts as host and card dealer more than proprietor. Business issues are generally handled by the quiet, taciturn dwarf Drun Ironnail, who rumor suggests is related to the owner of “The Fold,” though no one who would know is ever willing to talk about that. Drun is a very minor spellcaster, using cantrips to clean and brighten the room and fetch drinks, spending about as much time in the tiny “back room” (where money goes and drinks come from) as in the parlor which takes up most of the upper floor. No one else seems to work for “The Rise,” though if anyone starts trouble, “cudgelers” from “The Fold” quickly stomp up the stairs to deal with it.

“The Raise” is kept bright, clean, and fresh-smelling, with comfortable and high-end (though mismatched) furnishings, warm carved wood tables and posts, and is set up more like the sitting room of a minor noble than a pub or gambling house. Pillows, books, flowers, and teapots are common, with many patrons appreciating a hot tea chaser and a few sweetcakes to go with their fine wines and expensive card games. Small trays of foods keep easily, including sweets, cheeses, nuts, and dried fruits, can be purchased along with a vast and ever-changing wine, mead, and spirits list.

(The Raise Parlor, Art by Digital Storm)

No one gets into “The Raise” unless they are a member, the guest of a member, or are recommend by Maridern of “The Fold.” Anyone who makes trouble or can’t pay their debts are banned from “The Raise,” and directed to “The Fold.”

The Fold Alehouse

The Fold is much lower in asperations than it’s upstairs neighbor, but is also shockingly much, much larger. Though from the outside it looks to take up only a single lower story, in fact “The Fold” has 5 lower levels, which have rooms for for private meetings and parties, storage, cooking, living quarters for its owner and her “cudgelers,” a small infirmary, and a vault (in the middle of lower-level 3, with no exterior wall that doesn’t have a room on the far side). Lower levels are always guarded, and are heated by brick stoves connected to the main kitchen fires.

(Lower level stove in The Fold, art by Ralf Kraft)

However, most patrons never go below the main level, which is the open “Aleroom,” a dark space light by candles (which seem to glow more than their flames should suggest), with sturdy wooden furnishings designed more to survive a brawl than provide comfort. The walls and floor are stone, the room more thick wood (though any loud commotion from “The Raise” can clearly be heard), with a few fire pits, a serving station and a secure counter and door where cudgelers watch for troublemakers, and keep anything the Tavern’s owner, Maridern decides not to let patrons hold on to while drinking.

Maridern is a older dwarven woman whose face has been compared to an dried potato… a comparison she doesn’t mind. She’s an ex-adventurer, though no one is sure how long ago or what her area of specialty was, and she retired to “the Fold” when her bones creaked more than the doors she’d burst through. She runs her Alehouse like the stern grandmother of a rowdy family, shamelessly admitting she has favorites who get better deals and care than typical patrons, and if someone doesn’t like it they can drink and play tiles elsewhere. In addition to a diverse crew of staff (which Maridern treats as her grandchildren–for good and ill), there are a half-dozen “cudgelers,” enforcers of good behavior that are trained to use their cudgels to make a point without killing anyone. At least, not anyone who behaves after getting cudgeled once.

“The Fold” offers cheap but not watered-down drinks, simple food (leaning towards stews, meats, grains, root vegetables, and fungus), and a a rule that stealing or stabbing a fellow patron will be dealt with harshly. The second rule in the Fold is that if anything said would mean you have or were going to break the law or insult or threaten someone, you are assumed to be lying for entertainment of others. This rule is the source of many tall tales, but also allows lawmen and rogues and members of opposing factions to drink at the same table, though overlooking such statements doesn’t always last beyond the alehouse’s walls.

(The Fold Aleroom, art by IG Digital Arts)

If someone drinks until they pass out, or is knocked out, they get moved to the corner near the cudgelers, and looked after until they come to. The major pastime is betting on games of “tiles,” a dwarven dominos-like game played with square tiles with numbers on all 4 sides, and one of the 4 corners. Maridern loves teaching tiles to new players, and allows trusted players to set up coin-per-round tables, but never, ever plays or bets on the game herself.

Newcomers pay for all services in coin-in-advance, but someone clearly down on their luck, and trusted regulars, are allowed to run up a tab. Tabs in theory come due every month, but Maridern often allows token payments for those who are genuinely trying to make good. She also appears to buy debts from “The Raise,” and people not allowed into that establishment for any reason that doesn’t put them in jail are generally allowed to work off their debts (or reputation as a troublemaker) by working at “The Fold.”

Another way to wipe out a debt is to “leave your sword.” In this case something Maridern accepts as an important weapon or tool owned by the debtor is left behind, stacked up on a counter behind the cudgeler post in the Aleroom. Anyone can buy it for whatever the debtor owes (including the debtor if they come into money later), or when the ex-debtor shows up again, Maridern retains the right to give it back to them, in return for it being used to perform a service for her. Maridern has a reputation for being harsh, but not evil, and while she has given people back their swords and told them to go kill someone, in general that’s always been someone the community agreed needed killing.

The Fold is often a popular bar for mercenaries, guards, thieves, and adventurers. Maridern often directs people toward, or away, from such careers as she judges best for them, though she never insists. She also lets people coming up in the world, with money and class and manners, know that if they want, she can get them an invite into “The Raise.” Some adventuring groups have formed from tables of regular tiles players having one of their number begin visiting the Raise, then coming back with an opportunity for adventure for which they need assistance.

PATREON
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

Axes & Arcana, a Fiction Intro Snippet

I wrote this more than a decade ago. This is all there is of it– no outline, no list of names or plot points. Just the beginning of an introductory scene, likely to be incomplete forever, hanging as insecurely as the character in it.

ONE

The sound of rain splattering on the floor of the chamber was rudely interrupted by the loud clang of a three-tined metal hook bouncing through a hole in the ceiling. The hook swung on the end of a knotted rope, dancing mid-air as the rope jerked and swayed. Then the rope disappeared back up through the hole, the hook traveling with it. The hook rang like a bell as it popped back past the edge of the gap it had come through, and disappeared up into the rainy night beyond. For long moment, the chamber was again filled only with the sounds of rain falling down through the same rough opening in the stone roof, to patter against the worn tiled floor. The water pooled, then meandered like a snake in a thin, dirty stream that weaved past rusting helmets and yellowed bones strewn across the old tile floor, until it flowed with a quiet gurgle down a rock ramp corridor that exited the chamber. Even when lightning flashed its harsh brightness through the hole in the ceiling, followed seconds later by thunder, the light did nothing to illuminate the dark corridor, or show the stream’s final destination.

The metal hook banged across the rock at the top of the hole, without falling in, and was again dragged away. A muffled curse, invoking gods too dead or imaginary to be offended, echoed into the chamber and then the hook came flying into the old stone room once more. This time when the knotted rope was pulled back, a single tine of the hook caught on the lower edge of the ceiling’s hole, and the rope was tightened against it. And then, the chamber was again filled with only the gentle patter and gurgle of the rainwater.

Before long, cursing could again be distantly heard thought the ceiling’s opening. Though closer and louder than before it was no more imaginative, mostly focusing on improbably sexual positions and the dubious heritage of the architects who had chosen to build the chamber, and the complex it served as entrance to, so high in the mountains. Had the architects been around to hear such speculation they would have been filled with rage, and likely summoned demons and spectral horrors to strike down the blasphemers. But not only were they all long dead, the moldering remains of several of them actually lay in the damp room, their impotent bones scattered and once-rich garments turned to tattered rags. The architects had claimed that even in death they would defend the chamber, but their complete lack of action gave lie to the ancient pledge.

More than half an hour after the hook had first banged its way into the chamber, a second knotted rope was slowly lowered through the rain-filled air from the gap in the massive stone slab that served as the room’s ceiling, its lower end coiling neatly on the wet floor. A thin, nimble figure was silhouetted in the gap of the ceiling as lighting and thunder flashed across the sky above, and then his pale, exposed body slid down the second rope. He was breathing heavily and might have been sweating, though the rains lightly pelting him made it impossible to know for certain. He had a strip of cloth wrapped around his groin and another above his eyes, and leather straps protecting his palms and feet, but was otherwise unclad. He slipped easily down the rope, letting his feet and hands slide nimbly over the rope’s knots. While still a score of feet above the ground, he paused on the rope and spoke softly. The words were sibilant, soft, and yet seemed filled with great value, as if he was whispering something terrible and important.

Feis’ithifv.”

As the sounds — never designed for human lips — slipped away in a hush, a blue mote of light formed in the air beside the thin man. The mote drifted down below him, to bounce gently off the pooling water on the floor – though it created no ripples. The man watched it roll for a few feet, then come to a stop. It was little more than a single candle’s worth of light, and he had to peer through the rainfall still all around him, but he rushed nothing. Every inch of the corridor he examined from his perch on the rope, taking note of the water trickling out the only exit, the bones and armor, the cracked altar against one wall, and the smashed statue against another.

PATREON
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

MoviePitch: “The Cabin at Camp Sorority Lake”

#MoviePitch #CabinAtCampSororityLake

A group of very different women, who clearly have all survived horrifying and dangerous experiences, gather to deal with the evils they’re sure are lurking near the about-to-be-opened eponymous cabin.
And this time? They’re prepared.
Ideally this would be “The Expendables,” but with actresses who have survived horror and horror/action movies.
(For example, they all take out million-dollar life insurance policies, and name each other’s friends and families as beneficiaries. But not the group themselves — no one who is going to be at the Cabin is benefitting directly).

“Is that a chainsaw?”
“Yep. Top-handle 16-inch always-start Stihl, with custom grips and fuel gauge.”
“Did you get it from… yaknow?”
“Oh, heck no, he used a stupid-huge, heavy, rusty monstrosity. Bad for combat. I DID salvage some of the links from it’s chain, though.”
“Nice!”

“So, you wear full body armor?”
“When hunting, with backup? Fuck yeah. NIJ-certified Level IV. You don’t?”
“No, I prefer stealth and mobility. I have a stab-resistant undersuit. Machete-resistant, too.”
“Tested it against power drills?”
“Haven’t had the opportunity.”

“All right, precheck. Defiled indigenous holy sites or burial grounds?”
“I mean, yes. But no more than anywhere else in this country. None of the surviving original local cultures have any specific warnings for us. I asked.”
“Toxic dumps?”
“Not that the eco-groups I talked to are aware of.”
“Illegal labs?”
“Shipping and power records suggest no.”
“Previous incidents?”
“Three recorded massacres, roughly one per generation. Just rare enough for people to forget. Always on a solstice. Like the one coming up.”
“So, cult or supernatural evil.”
“Seems likely. I have silver, jade, white oak, mistletoe, holly, salt, and holy water — in Catholic, protestant, and Eastern Orthodox flavors. And some from a guy named Giles. Oh, and bullets. Lots of bullets.”
“Sounds good, let’s go.”

I specifically wanted a mashup title for this idea, but after expanding a bit I wondered if “Final Girls” would be a better choice. But, it turns out a movie by the title already exists and is just similar enough (it’s kind of Scream via Last Action Hero; an actress’s daughter and her friends get pulled into the actress’s horror movie, giving them a change to use their self-aware trope knowledge to defeat the killer) that I think it’s better not to risk confusion.

PATREON
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).