Category Archives: Microsetting

A Supers World Begins

I’ve had fun recently working towards an original (though obviously heavily-inspired) superhero team, the Mighty Justicier League. Originally just one of the thigns I let my mind churn up when I need to write as relaxation, therapy, or to break writer’s block, working with Jacob Blackmon on a couple of character designs (he did all the art on this page, and more) has pushed this towards actually becoming a “thing” (And he and I are working out what that will come together as.)

There’ll be more to this, but I thought it’d be nice to have everything I have now in one place. So, this is a rundown of what I have said about these heroes, and the 80 years of comics I’m pretending they have behind them.

HUNTSMAN

As a child, Huntsman’s billionaire family explored a “lost” hidden culture. Their inept trespassing got them killed from bites of local huntsman spiders. Huntsman was saved local doctor saved him with an experimental antivenin, giving him spider powers.

Huntsman dedicated his life to making up for the damage his parents had done, and turned over 99% of his fortune to charitable foundations. He trained through childhood to become a well-equipped costumed hero, to tackle threats beyond the reach of the law.

Some of Huntsman’s major villains (sometimes called “Huntsman’s Nemesis League”) include:
Grimaldi Goblin: Fell-into-acid-vat sadist genius with “Grimaldi’s Grin” gas bombs and a jetpack.
Manhunt: A clone of Manhunter, wants to destroy him, regain his fortune, and live in luxury at any cost.
Also: Aunt Asylum, The Black Bat, Clayman, Crimespree, Doc Croc, Doctor Zodiac, Gecko, Doctor Hugo Fate, Lady Passerine, Pallas Cat, Riddle Master, Spider Wasp, Swordfish, The Toadie, Tarantula Hawk, Tomb-Face, Two-Step, Weaver, The Web of Spies, Autarch, Doctor Syn, Feathertop, Harpy Eagle, Hodmedod, Jimmy Da Ooze, Mega-Fauna, Obtshak Council, The Parafoiler, The Punster, Rokkaku, River Monitor, Saint Assassin, Shock Jock, Skunk Ape, Queen Gale, and the Ultra-Nationalist.

That said the “Classic” Awful Eight group that are comprised of Huntsman’s Nemesis League is Clayman, Doc Croc, Green Ghoul, Grimaldi Goblin, Manhunt, Pallas Cat, Spider Wasp, and Tarantula Hawk (Lady Passerine has been a member, but she’s better when she’s running her own group.)

I still love the classic Huntsman storylines.
The Hunt: Year One
The Awful Eight
How Green My Ghoul
Siege at Sedgefield Sanatorium
Huntsman — Hunted!
Duty of the Family
Arachnarok
Cat, Spider, Wasp
SpyWeb Wars

STORMHAMMER

And, lo, then did come Ragnarök, but Thor and Sif defied the wyrds that declared all Aisir would die, and placed their son Vænn in a ship made of wood of Yggdrasil, and sailed him to Midgard, though a babe, that he might survive Asgard’s destruction. In Midgard’s he came to the farmer family Morven, who raised him honorable and true. Powerful beyond mortals, he became the hero Stormhammer, the rune Úr on his chest to mark his name, Vænn, meaning Hope. Only shards of shattered Mjolnir weaken him.

My favorite classic #Stormhammer villains are:
Trillionaire genius Dexter Duncan
Berzerko, the Antihero of Ragnarok
Járngreipnoid the Iron Warrior (powered by a sliver of Mjolnir)
Lord Sunstorm of the Elder Gods
Helalok, the Last Vanir
Seidhriac the Machine Shaman (who wishes to absorb all Norse magic)
Ms. Ratatoskr, denizen of the Wyrd Dimension,
Nidhogg the Magic-Eater
Ægishjálmur, the Giant Emperor

I’m NOT a fan of The Eschatologist, and it was B.S. to create a new villain for the “Death of Stormhammer” storyline.

But I *love* the “Storm On A Farm!” story where we discover Tanngrisnir came on Vænn’s ship as a cute kid, moved into the Morven farm, and no one knew he was Asgardian for 20 years because no one ever shot lasers at a small Wisconsin farm! The “Goat of Thunder!” stories rocked!

I still love these classic #Stormhammer storylines:
Last Son of Asgard
Mjolnirite Nevermore
Will of Iron
Storm on a Farm
Only Human
The Saga of the Stellar Seven
The Herokiller
Valhalla Comes

Also, “Gardenbound World of Álfheim,” where we discover a tiny acorn of Yggdrasill survived, and when Stormhammer saves it, it turns out to be growing into a new World oak, but it’s currently tiny, and it has a single one of the old Nine Realms in it, but currently also super-tiny.

And, especially, the classic Rainbow Bridge saga, when Stormhammer had to confront his own death and rebirth in order to understand that the loss of his powers was due to his fear of what mortality and resurrection meant. (h/t to Jim Milligan)

WORLD”S MIGHTIEST HEROES

And, of COURSE, the first #Stormhammer and #Huntsman teamup, “World’s Mightiest Heroes,” which is often seen as a prequel to the formation of the #MightyJusticierLeague

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#MoviePitch: The Vampire (A Universal Monster Shared Universe Concept)

How do you get a Universal Pictures Monsters shared universe off the ground? By focusing on making one awesome story that stands on its own, but does so in a way that picks up threats from the most popular such movies in recent memory, is inclusive and modernized, and hints at a larger world without taking time away from the things important to your first film. Here’s my pitch:

It is 1950. In communist Romania, Alex O’Connell (early30s white, British, he/him) manages to gain permission for an archaeological team to catalog and record items being removed from an ancient abbey in the Carpathian Mountains prior to its demolition as part of a plan to build a massive road to access the Transylvanian Plain. The Romanian official warns Alex he is only doing this as a favor to Alex’s parents, who were allies during the War and in the troubled years afterward.

Alex brings the good news to Jonsey Johnson (early 30s, black, French/American dual citizen with links to Paris and Harlem), the head of expedition security, and Doctor Mary Jessica Van Helsing (early 30s, white, Dutch, she/her), the expedition’s leader. The three talk about the archaeological value of such a mission, as well as the political and regional dangers, and all three hint their parents raised them to be… cautious. Alex has a cat. Jonsey has a German shepherd. Mary has a fancy white rat. The three animals get along surprisingly well.

Meanwhile at the abbey, looters are holding local workers at gunpoint, forcing them to use their digging tools to break through the back of the abbey’s basement wall. The looters have an old map that claims the “Eyes of the Dragon” have been locked away in a secret chamber. The looters think these are gems.

But the Eyes of the Dragon actually refers to Dracula, who leaks out of a tomb under the Abby in a mist form when the wall is cracked, and one by one turns the looters and workers into his ghoul minions. Only one manages to flee out of the abbey, into the sunlight.

Alex, Jonsey, and Mary (and their expedition) reach the base camp at one end of the Carpathian pass, but find it abandoned. Both become very suspicious, and eventually find the survivor, who explains what he saw. Alex asks if there were hieroglyphics, or Chinese or Aztec symbols. Confused, the worker says no. Jonsey asks if there were vials, chemical agents, or signs of drugmaking. More confused, the worker says no. Mary asks if there were signs of dragons and inverted crosses. The survivor says there were… maybe. He wasn’t paying much attention.

The expedition decides to send the laborer back to the big city with half the expedition’s Romanian guards, to report the attack to the government. Alex, Joney, and Mary all three slip him letters to send to their respective parents, each without the others knowing.

That night, the base camp is attacked by ghouls. The main character’s pets all send up warnings, allowing Alex, Jonsey, and Mary to gear up with their respective monster hunting equipment. (Alex’s are in the false bottom of a steamer trunk. Jonsey’s are stashed in muscial instrument cases. Mary’s are secreted away in a hidden drawer of her traveling work desk.) During the fight, they run into each other, and realize they all have anti-monster experience.

Mary: “You’ve fought vampires before?”

Alex: “Vampires? Those are real?! No, mummies. Mostly, And one dragon.”

Jonsey: “Mummies are real? I’ve fought vampires and a dragons, yeah. Never a mummy.”

Mary: “Dragons? Like, fire-breathing flying lizards? Those are real?!”

Curious as to how his ghoul’s attack was repulsed, Dracula visits the camp the next day. He asks one of their team-members if he can enter the camp, and is told yes, causing Dracula to give a big smile. He goes up to Alex, Jonsey, and Mary, and asks if they were the ones to treat his pets so harshly the night before. Alex begins to draw down on Dracula, but Jonsey stops him, asking the vampire if he was invited into the camp. He affirms he was, and Jonsey rolls her eyes. Mary then tells Alex a vampire can’t attack them while he is their guest, and if he is attacked they’ll be cursed.

Alex notes he thought vampires couldn’t move about in daylight. Dracula asks where he got that idea, and Mary confirms it’s true for some vampires, but not Carpathians. Jonseynotes it doesn;t apply to a lot of Non-western bloodsuckers.

Dracula says he is unsurprised they were able to send his servants fleeing, because Alex reminds him of his most beloved servant and general. Almost as if the spirit of Dracula’s dear friend was reincarnated in Alex.

Mary asks Alex if he could be a reincarnation of Dracula’s beloved friend. Alex shrugs, and says it runs in the family. Jonsey, meanwhile, tells Mary she quits, and walks away. Alex is flustered Jonsey would quit NOW, but Jonsey points out her name is on the papers the Romainian government signed too, so she can set up her own camp if she wants to. Mary tells him not to worry, she trusts Jonsey.

Dracula suggests Alex leave the expedition and join him. Jonsey is seen getting people to take down her tent, and draws a line in the dirt, loudly telling Alex and Mary that anything on her side of the line is now HER camp, and screw them. Dracula seems amused, and begins to talk about how hard help is to get these days, when Mary distracts him by noting Dracula still has some scars from where he was injured last century, and wonders how long it took him to heal from that near-death. He is angered and suspicious, and asks her how she knows about his last conflict. She tells him her family name, and he looses some of his cool and nearly attacks her.

In the background, Jonsey has gotten all the expedition members to set her tent BACK up. Alex asks if she is leaving, or not, and she tells him if he has a question for her, he can come over where she is and ask her. Alex has his father’s confused-and-annoyed expression, but Mary grabs his arm and hauls him across the line Jonsey drew in the dirt. All the remaining expedition workers are around Jonsey’s tent. Dracula goes to follow, but stops up short at the line, as if hitting a barrier.

Jonsey says she didn’t invite him into HER camp. Alex grins, and he and Jonsey and Mary unload at Dracula, who is taken by surprise and flees.

The plot can proceed from there along pretty typical adventure/horror lines — Alex, Jonsey, and Mary decide Dracula is growing stronger by the day, and they can’t wait to stop him, so they go after him in the tomb complex. The three have different and complimentary skills, and make a good team. They hunt down Dracula and seem to destroy him, but when he “dies,” a gem that looks like a snake eye falls to the ground. Mary realizes this is one of the two legendary Eyes of the Dragon, relic of the Order of Dracul, and it’s how Dracula survived her grandfather’s assault in the late 1800s. Alex smashes it, and asks how many such gems there are. Mary says two, and three agree they need to find and destroy the other one.

Searching through in notes found in the camp of the Looters who released Dracula, they find that there were two places the Looters thought the Eyes of the Dragon might be. One was here. The other was Castle Frankenstein, and there is a map to a Lost Lab of Frankenstein’s, which might hold the secret location of his original Castle.

End movie.

Castle Frankenstein then becomes the next movie. In that story, Alex, Jonsey, and Mary seek to find Castle Frankenstein, but find they are competing with a man who can become invisible, who apparently is part of an evil occult organization…. and a little mad. During the source of that movie, it’s revealed some of Doctor Frankenstein’s reagents for creating life came from a lost Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein had sent Igor on an expedition there to gather more materials just days before the villagers stormed his castle, which is why Igor wasn’t around when that happened. There’s no note saying if Igor ever came back…

As the Shared Universe expands, I can get Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera, and even the Hunchback into this if the first few are successful. The original characters from The Mummy (1999) as occasional support characters. Like, if the Invisible Man’s formula turns out to need blood of an ifrit of the djinn, who are naturally invisible, one of the movies can include a backup appearance by Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay. And, of course, we can bring in elements from Mary and (rightholders willing) Jonsey’s families as well.

Both heroes and villains expand their plans, form allies, and build toward the end of the first story arc, a final showdown with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Woflman. But even that is only the FIRST story arc…

(Art by WavebreakmediaMicro)

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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.

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

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The Diary of Ardra Maias

“Of course, Doctor Frankenstein did not begin his work with human corpses. Not for ethical reasons, you understand, but simply because they were difficult to acquire, and until his work progressed to a stage where human trials were needed, there was no point.

“His earliest experiments on revivification were on marmots, easily bought from trappers near his family’s Swiss home. There were far more failures than successes, of course, and were it my preview I would condemn the man to perdition on the basis of what he did to those alone.

“Even so, in time he brought a marmot to life, indeed my current companion Vivo is that first, fully-revived marmot, though in Vivo’s case no surgery had been needed. The Doctor had killed him under exacting conditions, and revivified him moments later.

“I have often marveled at Vivo, for while he has all the robustness and vitality of all we mortiborn, unlike the majority of us he is a peaceful, caring creature. Well capable of defeating a predator ten times his mass, Vivo would prefer affection to affrontation. Bless him.

“But from there, the hubristic doctor did decide he must move to primates, if not yet humans, to perfect his procedure. No large primates being common in Italy or Switzerland, he had to order them bespoke. But hunting expeditions to Borneo were common enough, and he was rich.

“Indeed, I am unsure how many evils would never have been visited upon this world had the Frankenstein family not been one of vast resource and reputation. In the century-and-on of my existence, I have found more evils traced to rich, well-respected men than any other beast.

“So, vile Frankenstein had no difficulty having Indonesian and Malaysian orangutans captured and brought to him. It was thought perhaps he wanted a menagerie, such as at London’s Exeter Exchange. Many were sick and died after arrival, but that too suited his needs.

“I am uncertain how many of my distant cousins, living or dead, he constructed me from. Close examination of my form and logic dictates no less than seven, but without taking my internal organs apart — an act I have always objected to — an exact accounting is impossible.

“I have been told, repeatedly, by anatomists that my brain, at least, must be human, rather than native to my orangutan skull. This is argued that because I can talk, and reason, I cannot be a mere ape. Of my speech, I will grant, the doctor most likely used some human parts.

“But my reason? No, I am not convinced my reason is any less orangutan than my limbs. For, did his homo sapiens subjects not show vast, cold intellect beyond that of their flesh-donors? Is it so hard to believe that the gap from apes’ reason to mans’ is at best a short distance?

“I would propose the question cannot be truly settled until men show the ability to see themselves as something other than the divinely-appointed lords of all matter in the world, animal, mineral, gas, fluid, and plant alike, to use and despoil as they see fit.

“I remember nothing of my time before mortibirth, though instincts still exist from my firstflesh lives, and some smells and sounds strike me as familiar in the extreme. But having gone to Borneo once, I can safely say I am no native of it. I am no native of any land.

“I remember my first weeks. I thought the doctor wise and kind, something between a father and a god. He taught me to walk, talk, eat–ensured that I was fine in form and function. Then he drowned me in an arsenic solution of his own devising, and took notes as I screamed.

“I do presume he believed my consciousness fully destroyed. I think this not out of some trust in his character, but from the fact when I stopped moving, he stopped taking notes and never consulted my glass sarcophagus again. I sat, silent and unmoving, and thought. For years.

“Should I not have been found in the investigation that ensued after the publication of an account of Doctor Frankenstein’s insensate experiments, I believe I would be trapped, paralyzed, and thinking still, looking through the arsenic water and glass at some stone wall.

“But found I was and, in time, released. As I could speak, and was witness to the foul knowledge and process the doctor had created, I was not destroyed. In time, decades, truly, I earned my freedom by turning the lie of a human origin for my brain back on the government.

“So, here exists I. Corpses pretending to be one flesh. Abyssal chemical reactions pretending to be life. An ape’s mind pretending to be human.

“But I am also cunning, robust, and potent in the way of all my kind, and though I carry no love for Monsieur Dupin, he taught me well.

“By the aegis of his brusque acceptance of me, I am established. I have legal papers that sometimes grant me rights, and monies that do so more often.

“How did I come to know Dupin? What is my vocation now? Those shall be future articles, for which I’ll receive a nickel a word.”

–From the Diary of Ardra Maias, the Empire Coast Journal, Jan 17th, 1934.

#DiaryofArdraMaias

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Shakk (Species for Starfinder)

The shakk are an amphibious species who evolved as aquatic solo alpha predators on their home world. Their own legends claimed they choose to evolve the ability to move on land, however awkwardly, to ensure there was no part of their planet they could not dominate. However, shakk evolved into sentience and sapience hundreds of thousands of years ago, and their planet was ravaged by numerous world wars fought with terrible weapons of mass destruction. Their entire pre-technological history is long lost, with counterfeits and propaganda from 103 known previous worldwide cultures further cluttering what is known about previous ages.

Shakk claim to now be in their “104th Society,” and it is this culture which became starfarers thousands of years ago. Thier current parent culture never moved past a form of technological feudalism that closely resembles the structure of organized crime in other societies, and many shakk are socialized to see might-makes-right mobster and corporate organizations as the “true” and “most real” types of government. A classically-educated shakk learns about negotiation, game-theory, and leverage as children, the lessons being thought much more important than “good behavior,” “making friends.” or “sharing.”

The 104th Shak Society sees the need to have a firm hierarchy the only way to prevent more destructive wars that could finally wipe them out as a species. As a result, shakk are often accused of being a species of mobsters, though of course they are no more genetically attuned to being mobsters than dwarves are crafters or humans are renegades. But the fact many shakk have managed to be extremely successful as overbosses of illegal and semi-legal operations keeps the stereotype alive.

There is some anthropological and genetic evidence to suggest shakk are distantly related to (or were perhaps engineered by) the alghollthus. Shakk themselves tend to see this claim as weak-at-best, and even if there is some relationship, fine it more likely that alghollthus are a genetically-engineered offshoot of shakk, perhaps a lost colony of a previous society that used genetic engineering to alter themselves to survive harsh environments.

(Art by Jacob Blackmon)

Shakk
+2 Con, +2 Int, -2 Dex
Hit Points: 2
Large aberration
Swim speed: 40 feet
Slow but Steady: Shakk have a land speed of 20 feet, which is never modified when they are encumbered or wearing heavy armor. They also gain a +2 racial bonus to saving throws against poisons, spells, and spell-like abilities, and when standing on the ground they gain a +4 racial bonus to their KAC against bull rush and trip combat maneuvers.
Hefty: Shakk are treated as huge creatures when determining if they can be affected by maneuvers and special abilities. They can use weapons designed for Medium, Large, or Huge creatures without penalty.
Lungful: A shakk can hold its breath for a number of hours equal to it Con score.
Darkvision: Shakk can see up to 60 feet in the dark.
Sly: Shakk gain a +2 species bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive checks. (This represents a classic shakk education. Shakk raised in different environments can learn different lessons, and a GM may grant them a +2 species bonus on four different related skills.)
Strong Mind: Shakk gain a +4 racial bonus to Will saves vs compulsion effects, and the DC to Intimidate them is 4 higher than normal. If a shakk succeeds at its save against a compulsion effect, it has no effect on the shakk (even if there is normally a partial effect on a successful save).

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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!
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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).