Monday, 15 October 2018

War Cults of the Southron Reaches Preview - The Bloodied Brotherhood

Another preview of War Cults, this time a full Cult! Ares is a fairly typical God of War, but the real fun comes from dealing with the fallout from having his Cult in your town...

Ares is the God of War, Bloodshed and Violence. A Chaotic being of great mirth and deep, sullen depressions, He represents the chaos of the battlefield and the subjugation of enemies. His worship is somewhat limited – his Chaotic aspects don’t tend to attract much respect outside of wartime.

His followers are a violent lot – more interested in strength of arms and the rush of battle than anything else, even their own safety. The rites and rituals of the cult are often linked with bacchanalian drinking sprees, bloodsports and animal baiting. Those cities which host full-time Ares Cultists accept their presence with a grimace – while they are known for their excesses and property damage, they are also fantastic when the city requires defence, or to create a sense of security during times of unrest.

The warriors recruited by Ares’ Cult are normally at peak physical strength – able to use weapons as tall as they are with ease, and take blows that would outright kill lesser men. In some of the City-States of the Southron Reaches, children as young as three are chosen from suitable parents and inducted into the Cult to be trained as warriors. They undergo intense physical training and religious indoctrination to make them the perfect servants of the Bloodied God.

Many warlike humanoids (mainly orcs and hobgoblins) will create altars to Ares after encountering his Cultists, and humanoid priests of the Bloodied God are not uncommon. And indeed, any blood shed in his name grants some measure of power – while rare, there are a few full-blown Clerics of Ares amongst the Orcish tribes of the Firgian Wastes.

Ares calls for his followers to be ready for battle at all times, and his Rites reflect that. He has no set days of worship, nor times dedicated to him – the chaos of battle can strike at any moment.

Bloodsports – the Bloodied Brotherhood takes part in ritualised fights to first blood between members. These fights can have a number of stipulations, ranging from specialised weapons (cestuses, short swords and clubs are popular options), styles (pankration, blind-fighting and with certain limbs bound) and specific win conditions (first to hit the floor, first to make a sound, last man standing), between anywhere from two to a dozen combatants. Casualties and deaths are frequent, but healing magic goes a long way to making sure they are able to continue to serve the Cult. These bloodsports are also used as a form of trial and execution for crimes against the Cult – fighting to the death. If the accused survives, they are allowed back into the fold, their crimes forgiven – Ares clearly holds them in high regard.

Bloodletting – for those members of the Cult who are considered extreme even by the low standards of the Bloodied Brotherhood, the Cult allows them to release some of their rage via controlled bloodletting. While in mad, drug-induced frenzies, the Cultist is tied to a sacrificial altar, made of dark polished stone with channels designed to collect any spilled blood. Symbols of Ares, conquered foes and other esoteric symbols are carved into the flesh of the Cultist, letting out their hot rage and excess blood. This blood is collected, to be painted onto the faces, bodies and weapons of other Cultists before battle to grant them the rage of their fellows.

Baiting – while the Cult used to perform animal sacrifices to Ares, they noticed He seemed more likely to grant them his favour when the animals were given a chance to fight back. Much like the bloodsports, these battles are either between a Cultist and a beast, or between beasts themselves. While some of these beasts are locally sourced (wolves bears, owlbears and giant vermin being favourites), the High Priests will occasionally pay for some more exotic fare for the Beast Pits.

Dramatis Personae

Xephos, Head Priest of Ares
Xephos is a giant of a man, standing seven feet tall, broad as a bear and muscled like a bull. Dark black ringlets run down to his shoulders, framing a face that looks like it might have been chisled from granite. Like many Southrons, he is frequently found nude – however, he is known for wearing the pelts of beasts he has slaughtered in the arena as headdresses and cloaks. He also maintains his nudeness even when socially unacceptable, such as during official events or political meetings. Of course, no-one calls him out on this, as his station means he could get away with slaying just about anyone with no repercussions.

Despite the scarred nature of his fellows, Xephos does not bear a single scar on his body. While some claim he uses magical healing to maintain this appearance, most assume it is from his prowess in battle.

Much like his God, he is a man of titanic mood swings – one moment in a deep melancholy for having no equal to battle, the next a crimson rage so deep as to terrify even his closest clergy, to being the happiest man in the room. He is truly unpredictable, and a truly terrifying enemy.

Deathdealer Mercenaries
The Bloodied Brotherhood are also famous for selling their services as mercenaries, to raise funds for the Cult and find new and creative ways to murder people for their God. Mostly, they are hired by the Southron City-States during skirmishes or as a defending force from external invasions, but some will sell their services to other kingdoms, even travelling far across the world to spread the word of Ares and earn both money and renown for themselves and their God. While these travelling mercenaries will wear leather armour to keep with local traditions, they will revel in any opportunity to remain nude as they would back home. Of course, this can make them somewhat notorious in some areas.

Plot Hooks
The weekly Beast Fights have gotten out of hand, and a creature has escaped to wreak havoc within the city!

The Pitmaster is looking for a new beast for the Beast Pits, and is offering top dollar for something interesting. While out drinking, you hear tales of a particularly mean old Owlbear nesting somewhere nearby…

Two recently-joined Acolytes of the Bloodied God have been causing trouble, throwing their weight around. A few concerned citizens have asked you to deal with them quietly and respectfully (no-one wants retribution from the Bloodied Brotherhood).

Recent attacks by humanoid tribes are being led by Orcish Clerics of Ares. Might the Cult be able to use their standing to begin parlay with the invaders, or even bring them on side?

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

War as Religion

So, during my hiatus from the blog, I have collected together a few ideas for future publishing projects. One is going by the working title "War Cults", and will detail a few sample religions based around conflict and war, as well as a micro-setting based on Ancient Greece by way of D&D. Here's a quick sample...

It’s a historical truism that religion reflects what a culture maintains as important, and vice-versa. Cultures which respect academia tend to have mystery cults, those who live closer to nature worship entities with intimate ties to the elements and the land, and those with expansionist tendencies tend to worship Gods who will help them conquer and expand. A common theme amongst such cultures were “Hero Gods” – regular men who, through their skill at arms or achievements in battle, became god-like figures in their own right, or mortals granted abilities through divine heritage. This brings human motivations, including nationalism, into the realm of Godly pursuits, further driving the idea of conquest into their culture.

Many polytheistic cultures held Gods and Goddesses of Strength, War and Battle in high esteem – soldiers directly worshiped them, while those who never saw battle still sent prayers during both times of war and during peacetime. They held many different domains – from those specific to Bloodshed and Battle, to Tactics, to defending the homestead. However, the sheer act of deifying these aspects shows the ways they can be used in a day-to-day context – asking for strength, quick-wittedness or bravery in many contexts.

But, during times of war, these Gods take the centre stage. One can even see these wars as the worldly representation of battles in Heaven – God versus God, pushing to weaken the other through defilement of places of worship and subjugation of worshipers. Many of these cultures would outlaw the religions of conquered cultures, solidifying the idea that “their Gods won”, while others incorporate them into the conqueror’s mythos, creating a larger pantheon from which to draw upon.
Even in monotheistic faiths, there are often aspects of the main deity which impart similar strengths – from patron saints of soldiers, to direct divine intervention during times of war. Religion becomes not only a support for war, but quite often a catalyst.

In fantasy, this tendency becomes even more pronounced – rather than true polytheism, servants of Gods choose one to worship above all, and those who choose Gods of War tend towards a more militant stance, making them excellent characters with strong motivations.

Of course, one might also note that in many fantasy settings, gods with warfare-based domains also double as the gods of non-human races (Orc Gods are often saddled with this dual nature). This tends to push them towards expansionist tendencies, violent actions, and generally puts them straight into the antagonist camp.

(The morality of human expansionism being something to strive for, and non-human expansionism being outright Evil, is best left as an exercise for the reader).

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

We Be Goblins! Remix Edition

So, I got a hankering to run We Be Goblins as a fun way to get the ball rolling again with my old group. However, reading through it and the three followup/prequel modules, I wasn't as massively taken with them as I remember.

For a module series focused on a fun, anarchic experience, the Pathfinder rules are a terrible fit. Too chunky, not enough leeway, more concerned with simulationism than fun.

Even the non-mechanical assumptions are pretty jarring - there's a whole tribe of goblins looking to score some fireworks, but only 4 of them get to do anything? You're a rag-tag group of the lowest rung of the humanoid ladder, but you're organised into a perfect Fighter-Thief-Cleric-Alchemist combo? You get to compete for magic items the tribe just has laying around?

There's a lot of small things that feel a little off with the modules, so here's the way I want to try it:
  • Goblins are the lowest of the low. They roll their stats with 3d6, and have all the usual Goblin traits. Goblins don't get the usual Pathfinder Feats or Traits, and have no Class. 
    • (It's a stolen joke, but it's a classic)
  • They start with 1d4 HP, modded by Constitution.
  • Each player also gets two pre-gen backup Goblins, cause this is gonna be a deadly one.
  • Goblins are a chaotic, ramshackle lot - each Goblin has to roll for a Name, Trinket, Lucky Frog and Trait on the following tables:
Lucky Frog
A single, half-soggy firework
A bag of salted slugs
Fat Frog
Hand-sized spider in a cage (named Stankrush)
Jar of pickled halfling toes just about ready for eating
Halfling-sized toasting fork
20 feet of rope with dead moles sewn into it
Small silver hand mirror, in surprisingly good condition
Froggy McFrogface
Jar of Dwarven perfume (half drunk)
Rusty meat hook (1d4 dmg)
Flint and tinder
Human-sized bridal veil
Halfling ladies’ corset (AC+1)
3 metal skewers (1d3 dmg, throwable)
Stuffed raven
Really Fat Frog
Bottle of brine-soaked alligator eyes
Child’s doll with the eyes taken out
Lord Frogington
Grappling hook
Actually a Toad
3 tindertwigs
Cowbell (worn)
Homemade Thieves' Tools
Squashed dried toad (his previous lucky pet toad)
Jar of pickled fish heads
6 Goblintallow torches
Almost empty salt shaker
Pig’s tail jerky
Wooden flute (too splintery to play without injury)
Mad Dug
Gourd of pickled leeches just about ready to eat
Skull face mask (+1 AC, fragile)
Juicy slug in a small pot
Metal codpiece, anatomically correct (+1AC)
Heavily-soiled Human-sized Jester’s hat
Pumpkin-head lantern
Black eyepatch (with hole cut in it to see)
Hard leather boot (used as belt pouch)
Bag of incredibly weevil-infested flour
Ancestral dogslicer, stolen (1d6 dmg)
A very thick piece of charcoal
A stick. It's very sharp. (1d4 dmg)
Looky Lou
A bag of spotted blue mushrooms (DC11 Fort save or 1d6 Int dmg and hallucinations)
Lucky charm necklace made of Halfling ears
Large wooden spoon (1d3 dmg)
Stone skinning knife (1d4 dmg, fragile)
3 dead rats
Metal brazier torch (1d4 dmg plus fire)
Brass trumpet (well out of tune)
Rattleshirt of small animal bones (+1 AC)
RICHES (1gp)
Jar of goblin urine, well aged (causes sickness)
Halfling-sized powdered wig
Human-sized wand (1d3 charges of a random 1st level spell)

Dog-Sniff-Hate - you gain Scent, but only for dogs and dog-like creatures.
Balloon-Headed - your head is way too big. +1 to Perception
DOG PUNCHER - +1 to hit and +2 damage vs dogs
Pustular - you got the Pox. Advantage on Fort saves vs Sickening/Nausea
Goblin Stupidity - gain +1 to hit when fighting foes larger than you.
Goblin Bravery - first to run, last to die. +2 to Initiative
Bouncy - your bones are rubbery. Falls count as 10' shorter.
Ankle Biter - your teeth are sharp. Gain a bite attack (1d4 dmg)
Ugly - you are hideously scarred. +2 to Intimidate
Pyromaniac - you're used to getting set on fire. It is not your friend. Gain Fire Resistance 2.
Rager - you were born with a tiny, green fury in your heart. Gain Rage as a 1st-lvl Barbarian, but you can't tell friend from foe.
BURN BURN BURN - you love fire. Fire is your only friend. You do 1d4 extra damage with fire.
Easy Rider - you know just the right chokeholds to stay on a mount. +2 to Ride
Coward - you know just how to get out of fights. +4 to initiative, but you must pass a DC13 Will Save to get into combat in the first place.
Oversized - you're a biggun! +2 Str, Medium size
Headcase - you're insane, even by Goblin standards. Gain +2 vs mental effects
Shaman's Apprentice - you studied under the Tribe's magic-user. You learn 3 0-lvl Adept spells, castable 3/day each
Smartarse - you have more brainpower than the average Goblin. +2 Int
Sarge - you were born to lead. +2 Cha
Tough - as old leather boots! +2 Con
Sweaty - you constantly ooze. +2 to Escape Artist
Tinkerer - you're always fiddling with something. +2 Craft (any)
Runt - you were the smallest of the litter. -2 Str, +2 Dex
Colour Thief - your skin is oddly chameleonic. +2 to Stealth.
Backstabber - if you manage to sneak up on someone, you score double damage on all attacks they don’t expect.

Once you've made your Goblins, it's time to face the horrors...

Next time, I'll show my mashup of the best bits of the modules into one big chaotic mess - just right for Goblins!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

D&D's New Direction: Is It A Good Idea?

So, a recent speech (and series of tweets) have told us one of the new focuses that Wizards of the Coast is taking with 5e is to focus on Actual Play, rather than Adventure Paths and League Play (though both of those will still be major factors).

So why focus on watching how people play? Well, it provides something that APs and organized play simply don't - the actual experience of playing with friends.

If you've played an Adventure Path, you know how different running through one can be to just playing - while there's often a strong theme and a tightly woven story to follow, you kinda have to follow it - a lot of player agency and choice is either removed or subsumed into the existing plot. There's a pre-written story, and if you don't follow it, it's kinda pointless buying it, right? Don't get me wrong - there's some great materials in these adventures, and the fact that they are linked means you can get some really awesome set-pieces built off the actions that led to them, and allows new or busy DMs the chance to give players an immersive experience, with long-lasting consequences and tightly-woven plots. But it means leading players towards certain outcomes, whether through Batman Gambit levels of planning to get them to do what you want, or brutal railroading.

Organised play leagues suffer the same limitations - by ensuring that everyone who takes part gets the exact same experience, it ensures that GMs are constrained in their creativity, and players don't get the full spectrum of play that RPGs can provide. When you have ostensibly limited options masked by unlimited possibilities, you can't experience "true" freedom to play.

But now, WotC is apparently focusing on Actual Play - sharing and broadcasting live gaming, giving more focus to creativity and an open attitude towards not necessarily "pushing the brand". Sure, most of these are ostensibly using the latest D&D Adventure Path (Storm King's Thunder actually looks... pretty fun!), but their previous use of Zak S and the RPG Pundit during 5e's development, followed by Zak openly discussing how he hacks 5e apart for his game, by sponsoring podcasts with more adult humour (watch the Rooster Teeth games for an idea), and by the recent opening up of the DM's Guild for user-created content, you can see a move towards being more open and willing to see how the games are played, rather than trying to tell you how to play.

Is it a good idea? I don't know. I can see how it could be a great asset for them, and how it might allow the small team they currently have to get a better idea as to what players want, but I can also see it souring some of the types who use Adventure Paths exclusively, or who want a more organised experience.

Only time will tell how this turns out, but I'm optimistic!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Let's Read: The Book of Erotic Fantasy: Chapter 2: Rules, Skills and Feats Part 1

Welcome back, friends, for a further investigation into what a mathematician's sex life must look like.

Chapter 2 (this is really taking a while) focuses on the mechanical aspects of sex in D&D. As if reading my mind, the first header here is "Rules? For Sex?" - apparently, you should only roll dice for sex when it's important to find out how good it was. It doesn't say why the quality of the sex might be important to a game, but it at least tells us sometimes you can just fuck and not roll dice.

We're introduced to the Appearance stat - a seventh 4d6-drop-lowest roll that determines how attractive your character is. A few skills become partially Appearance-based - Bluff, Gather Information and Intimidate can be used with either Charisma or Appearance.

Do you have to flash your pecs and perfect treasure-trail to intimidate some Orcs with your App?

Are you willing to deal with the fan backlash from breaking this guy's nose?
Weirdly, Disguise is now exclusively an Appearance skill. Surely being more attractive would make disguising yourself more difficult? Looks bring scrutiny, after all, especially when you're an 18 App demigod and everyone else is either a Half-Orc Barbarian with yet another dump stat or a shit-covered peasant!

There's a table which tells us that the average dragon is more attractive than the average Dwarf, which seems weird. And that the Will-O-Wisp, a featureless ball of light, has an App score of 20.

It's literally more attractive than any normal human. A fucking ball of light.
Censored for the prudish.
It seems to be low-hanging fruit to mention that the table for aging penalties to Appearance includes Juveniles getting a +2 bonus for being "cute". With the content of this book, that seems more than a bit inappropriate.

And everyone gets a -2 penalty to Appearance checks outside of their species - except Elves, because Mary Sue.

Sidebar: Appearance and Sexual Organs isn't about having an ugly dick, but says that due to personal preferences, being well-endowed doesn't give you a bonus to Appearance checks, and doesn't assure any skill in bed. No, that comes down to Perform (Sexual Techniques), a skill we still haven't got to. 

Then we get another list of creature types and notes about their average Appearance. It has an interesting bit where Constructs require specific DCs to make them attractive (e.g. DC 30+ to give a score of 16-17), and that rotting Undead are App 1 or 2 ("Which of these corpses would you rather fuck?") and that Vampires are generally "sexy". There's a lot of vampire love going on here, and this was well before Twilight, so we can assume that Lestat had an influence here.

Then we get Size and Sex, which features some interesting quotes - "A Halfling can use fellatio to pleasure an Ogre (or vice versa)"...
Just gonna leave this here.
But if you're trying anything with something a size category away from you, that's a -4 penalty to your relevant checks - which implies there's more to fucking than just Perform (Sexual Technique) rolls. And that makes me sad.

Next time, it'll be the real meat and potatoes - How To Sustain Sex, bedroom uses for existing skills, and of course, the STD table.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Big Update!

So, regular followers will know that I've done a lot of Microlite20 content - it's my preferred no-prep system, and I use it with any new group to gauge what kind of game they might be interested in.

Well apparently, that work didn't go unnoticed - Seth Drebitko decided to take me on as a partner, so now I'll be sharing my time between here and working on the next generation of M20 content!

We have a few really cool things in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled for new content coming from us!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Let's Read: The Book of Erotic Fantasy: Chapter 1, Part Three: Sex and Species

Our first chapter still has a lot of info to get through, so I'll get stuck straight into the next section – Sex and The Species, looking at (as one might guess) how the various species in a fantasy world might view sexuality.

It goes into detail regarding the “standard” sexuality for each of the Core races, with added details about pregnancy for these races. There’s nothing too exciting here, but there’s a lot to unpack. I’ll briefly summarise anything interesting:

Dwarves are so mired in tradition, there are “Dwarven Sex Manuals”, to show young (40 year old) Dwarves the accepted positions and techniques to use. (Now there's some good loot if ever I saw it...)

Elves are almost all bisexual.

Gnomes are apparently sex-toy maniacs, and see sex as way more fun than any other race.

Half-Elves are either too mature for Elves or slower to mature for humans, making puberty super awkward.

The half-orc entry makes some really unfortunate mentions of gay half-orcs sexually dominating their tribe-mates being the closest thing they get to acceptance.

And halflings are all polyamorous!

Humans are, as always, the most varied, blah blah blah.

This section also covers centaurs, doppelgangers (and their bizarre snake-like mating rituals), dryads (and their tragic single-target sexuality), giants, gnolls (with an amazing lack of mention of female pseudopenises), Goblinoids, Kobolds, Lizardfolk, merfolk, minotaurs, nymphs, orges, satyrs (total shaggers) and sprites.


The book also makes mention of a few races (giantborn, felids, serpentines) who aren't common OGL creatures. I'd assumed these are races from other products by the same company (the way Green Ronin offers advice for adding their base classes into their other settings), but as it turns out this is Valar Project's only book.

Not that surprising.

It also gives a brief overview of the other creature types, like Aberrations, Elementals etc - which implies some things about druids (even though they said they wouldn't cover bestiality), introduces the idea of intellective necrophilia (i.e. banging a sentient undead like a Vampire), and gives a rather worrying foreshadowing in the Construct section:

"However, there is one type of construct, the pleasure golem, that is designed specifically for engaging in sex. See Chapter 6: Gods and Monsters for more information"

Well - I'm not sure if the idea of a Pleasure Golem or the fact there's a whole section dedicated to sex-monsters is worse. Let's cut our losses and say both. Both are worse.

Now I tend to avoid using the artwork from the book, but I couldn't resist sharing this piece of wonder:
1000 hours in MSPaint to keep things under control
Intelligence & Sex – your min-maxed Half-Orc Barbarian with an Int less than 6? Not considered eligible in most societies for sex, apparently. It gives another tip to the idea that 10 times your intelligence score gives you a rough idea of IQ.

House of a Thousand Pleasures - describes a brothel with doppelganger prostitutes.

Next up, the section we can all use - Rules, Skills and Feats.