Friday, 27 May 2016

The Infinite City on the Water

The Infinite City on the Water is one of the levels of the crocodile's mind in Behind Gently Smiling Jaws. In the crocodile's youth, before it moved upriver and ensconsed itself in the lake in which it now dwells, it traveled the oceans - and saw a city on the coast, a kind of ancient Venice, which is now not even the dust of a ruin. That place still looms large in its imagination: a nest of bipedal creatures which in its mind are now something like birds - their colourful clothes, which the crocodile did not understand, it interpreted as akin to feathers; the shouts and calls of the sailors blended in its mind with the cries of the gulls; their fishermen reminded it of seabirds stealing fish from beneath the waves.

The buildings were a mystery to it and what it comprehends of architecture, it thinks of as a sort of endless jumble of hive-like mounds endlessly repeating, a fractal structure that a human would recognise as a never-ending repetition of canals, domes, quaysides, towers, apartments...a city with no end, but a city with no rhyme or reason. A chaotic mess crawling with half-birds burrowing in and out of its labyrinthine and meaningless doorways, windows, hallways and alleys. A bewildering pseudo-settlement, an Escherian nightmare, which looks as thought it has all the things a city has and has none of them... yet also oddly and almost hideously beautiful, because if a crocodile is capable of feeling awe, it felt it studying that ancient city from afar.

[Art by Ken Brown, Unknown, Gurmukh Bhasin, Unknown, Gurmukh Bhasin again, James Gurney]

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Distant Memories of Dimly Perceived Homo Erectus on a Riverbank

The crocodile saw the infancy of human life out of the corner of its eye, paying as much attention as a man does to the hopes, concerns, lives and deaths of deer: occasional subjects of disinterested study; occasional meals.

It remembers them chiefly as bipedal, hairless creatures - something like a beast of the land, but also smooth and sleek like a fish or snake. Forever making strange chattering noises, like a bird; the crocodile does not understand the concept of speech, and if it thought about the behaviour of early humans at all, it surmised that they were somehow able to understand each other through pheromones. It thinks of them as cowards, who were extremely skittish around water and terrified of confrontation unless they were armed and in large numbers, though sometimes, at night, it perceived the warm glow of the fires they were somehow able to create, apparently from the dust itself. It saw their villages too: nests, it thought, like those of some social insect like a bee or wasp. It has no understanding of their hierarchies or sexes: it never paid enough attention, nor is perhaps capable of comprehending such a thing as a "family" or a "chief".

Distant Memories of Homo Erectus

Appears as a bipedal humanoid, with shaggy hair around the head, furtive dark eyes, and skin that is brown but scaled - squamous like a serpent. Alone or in small numbers they are cowards who avoid confrontation; in numbers of four or more they attack if having the advantage of surprise; in numbers of eight or more they attack remorselessly. They communicate through smell or perhaps some minor psionic ability, and make a constant confused and babbling chatter which distracts magic-users from completing spells on a roll of '1'. With a handful of dust they can produce fire, which they can then throw at a distance of 6', causing d3 damage.

No Appearing: 2d6 (3d20 in lair), HD 1+1, AC 14, AB+2

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Port Keizerin Elisabeth - Hireling Table

Port Keizerin Elisabeth sits like washed up detritus at the mouth of the Sunset River: a jumbled collection of huts linked together by mud paths, with ramshackle jetties poked tentatively into the water as if in trepidation of being swept away. Its namesake, the Empress, has never seen it and never will; its founder, the Ulsterman explorer Robert Carson, named it in the hope of gaining a title. He never did. This is the main port of the Paradijs Kolonie. The entrance to the jungle.

There is no quayside at the Port. The town was founded only 20 years ago and ships still have to moor in the large bay outside. The waters in between are crisscrossed by a miniature flotilla of small boats and skiffs, mostly crewed by native oarsmen with suspicious eyes and tribal scars cut into their cheeks like tears. On land, men looking white and pale and out of place gather together hoping for offers of labour in lumber mills or spice plantations. In the meantime they drink, gamble, and sometimes fight; the bodies, if there are any, are tossed out to sea for the gulls, fish, turtles and crocodiles. 

Now and then, however, men (and occasionally women) of a different type gather at Port Keizerin Elisabeth: armed, armoured, here to sell their strength and toughness and aptitude for violence. They come from all over the territories of the Company and far beyond, in search of wealth, adventure, or sometimes the simple thrill of murder. This is the chief source of hired assistance for a group of PCs heading upriver.

There will be d6+3 potential candidates in Port Keizerin Elisabeth each month. They are 1st level fighters and will join the party for half a share of treasure gained. 

No armour (AC 12), staff (d4+1)
Has a large and hideous goitre (-2 to reaction rolls for the party)
No armour (AC 12), spear (d6+1)
Walks with a limp (2/3 speed)
Leather armour (AC 14), spear (d6+1)
Exceptionally strong (+1 damage)
Leather armour (AC 14), rapier (d8+1)
Stinks (enemies surprised only on a roll of 1)
Leather armour (AC 14), polearm (d8+1)
Can only say “yes”
Leather armour (AC 14), cutlass (d8+1)
Is accompanied by a war dog
Leather armour (AC 14), short bow (d6)
Is accompanied by a trained parrot
Leather armour (AC 14), knife (d4+1)
Prone to aggression (attacks encountered monsters on a roll of 1 irrespective of orders)
Leather armour (AC 14), axe (d8+1)
Coward (flees if loses half remaining hp in a round of combat)
Leather armour (AC 14), mancatcher
Has a “past” (is being pursued by a magical assassin)
Leather armour + shield (AC 15/16), spear (d6+1)
Psychopath (will stop to dismember corpses of slain enemies)
Leather armour + shield (AC 15/16), whip (d3+1)
Religious (only attempts to subdue rather than kill)
Leather armour + shield (AC 15/16), cutlass (d8+1)
Religious (must stop to pray for d6 rounds, five times a day)
Leather armour + shield (AC 15/16), axe (d8+1)
Religious (must spend d6 rounds ritually cleansing hands after battle)
Leather armour + shield (AC 15/16), sabre (d8+1)
Stubborn (10% magic resistance)
Leather armour + shield (AC 15/16), sabre (d8+1)
Handsome/beautiful (gives +2 bonus to reaction rolls for the party)
Chain armour (AC 16), polearm (d8+1)
Sharp hearing (only surprised on a roll of 1)
Chain armour (AC 16), short bow (d6)
Sneak (always attempts to attack from behind in combat)
Chain armour (AC 16), zweihander (d10+1)
Berzerk (always charges into battle as soon as able)
Chain armour (AC 16), cutlass (d8+1)
Has a “good nose” (has a 1 in 6 chance of tracking or gives +1 if helping another party member track)
Paradise native
Chain armour (AC 16), arquebus (d10)
Good carpenter (doubles repair rate for boats)
Paradise native
Chain armour + shield (AC 17/18), sabre (d8+1)
Stupid (will wander off on a roll of 1-2 if assigned an unsupervised task)
Paradise native
Chain armour + shield (AC 17/18), spear (d6+1)
Missing tongue (cannot speak)
Chain armour + shield (AC 17/18), axe (d8+1)
Educated (is from a wealthy family and understands 1 – botany; 2 – chemistry; 3 – arcana; 4 – astronomy)
Chain armour + shield (AC 17/18), whip (d3+1)
Risk taker (always volunteers for dangerous tasks)
Plate armour (AC 18), arquebus (d10)
Fake (is untrained; -2 to attack rolls)
Plate armour (AC 18), polearm (d8+1)
Has a telescope
Plate armour (AC 18), zweihander (d10+1)
Has “the bard’s tongue” (occasionally chimes in with useful advice)
Plate armour + shield (AC 19/20), sabre (d8+1)
Is on the run from the authorities
Plate armour + shield (AC 19/20), axe (d8+1)
Roll twice

[I am dialing the pseudo-17th century real world flavour of LotFP to 11 for the basic set-up for Behind Gently Smiling Jaws. This includes lots of pidgin Dutch and German-sounding words.]

Monday, 23 May 2016

[Actual Play] 5th edition in Pre-Medieval Japan: Sessions 6 & 7 - Death of a Hero

The last two Sundays the regular 'Three Mysterious Weirdos' campaign continued. The cast of characters is:

  • Goro, a 2nd level Japanese warlock (or onmyoji)
  • Terasu, a 2nd level Japanese cleric (or kannushi)
  • Monomi, a 2nd level Chinese monk
  • Pasekur, a 1st level Emishi ranger/his sister Toitoi, a 1st level Emishi druid

The PCs had established that Lord Mishiri's concubine (who was a demon in disguise) was trying to harm his wife and daughter, and that the daughter had been having strange dreams - of skull-headed seals and an old man's face covered with moss. They had decided that Goro would attempt to meet the concubine alone to discuss the matter with her (Goro having already established a kind of rapport with the young woman); it was also decided that, as this meeting would take place, Monomi would lurk stealthily in the background in order to provide support if things went wrong. 

Goro met the concubine on a walk in the evening around the village of Okoppe (where the retinue of Lord Mishiri had remained), with Monomi following - the concubine gave no indication whether she knew he was there. It quickly became apparent that the concubine saw no reason to keep her 'task' secret - she was 'bound' by somebody (whose identity she could not reveal) to ensure that Lord Mishiri had no heirs. She had decided to try to achieve this by eliminating his wife and daughter - the wife with some form of sickness, and the daughter by manipulating the girl's dreams so that she would wander off into the forest alone and be killed. Sensing that Goro was a man in search of supernatural power, she made him an offer: if he could arrange for Lord Mishiri's daughter to die, she would grant him a boon. She also, at this point, revealed that she knew Monomi had been following, and left Goro to discuss the matter with his "friend".

The PCs gathered together and discussed what to do next. They narrowed things down to a number of options. First, they needed to find out who had 'bound' the concubine to her task. Second, they had to think of a way to get her to reveal herself. And third, they thought it would be a good idea to try to get to the bottom of the daughter's dream visions.

Terasu was assigned the job of talking to Lord Mishiri's household wizard Takeyama, who he found to be approachable and easygoing. The wizard told him about his personal pet theory, which was that the "lichen men" who the Emishi of these lands spoke of were the remnants of a people who had one lived throughout all of the archipelago and who had retreated into the mountains long ago. He suggested that they might be there still - living in caves below the surface of the earth. Terasu asked him whether Lord Mishiri had any other heirs, or rivals - trying to steer the conversation to discover if there was anybody who might stand to inherit the Uesugi clan's leadership if Mishiri died heirless. It seemed that Lord Mishiri was an only child, and the person who was next in line was a cousin, of the Date clan, a cadet branch.

Concluding they were none the wiser from this, the PCs struck North to a place where Pasekur knew there was a landscape of mossy ravines where once had flowed a river. They thought this might tell them something about this moss man vision. On several occasions while travelling they realised they were being followed by five cranes, who would fly overhead; on each occasion the PCs would hide under the trees out of sight and wait for the creatures to pass by.

Eventually they reached a steep ravine, some 12-18 feet high, covered in moss on both sides, and followed it West. As night began to fall they came across a place where the ravine branched off, and this lead them to a skeletal corpse, with a bow and arrows next to it, clutching a small bear idol made from stag horn. The corpse was sat with its back to the wall of the ravine, with its legs curled up to its chest. They surmised it had been dead for some months. 

They now realised they had to choose whether to push on through the night or head out of the ravine. They decided to continue, carrying lights with them. This lead them a mile or two further West, until they came to another place where the ravine branched. Here they decided to spend the night. Monomi's watch passed without incident, but during Pasekur's shift he heard a voice behind him whispering questions - demanding to know who he was, and why he had brought "foreigners" here. Pasekur explained that they were investigating the strange dreams afflicting a young girl, which they thought were caused by a Southron demon. The voice confirmed this, saying that some power had come from the South and brought a dangerous magic with it; the voice said that this power could manipulate thoughts and dreams, and would bring ruin to the North if it was not stopped. The voice said that a short distance away was a place where people had made offerings to it in the past, and that Pasekur and his comrades were welcome to make use of those offerings if they would help defeat this intruder. It also told Pasekur that the skeleton belonged to a hunter who had come to these ravines, become terrified, and starved.

Pasekur immediately woke everybody else up and managed to communicate that they should follow him. He then led them to a place a short distance further West where there was a small totem with a few trinkets placed around it - stone idols (of a bear, wolf, owl and stag), an obsidian necklace, and twelve arrowheads. The PCs took these and waited for dawn, to then set off back to Okoppe to find the translator, Toitoi; Pasekur was unable to explain his conversation with the "moss voice", because he could not speak Japanese. On the way, Monomi picked up the skeleton that the party had discovered and carried it with him in order to return it to the family of whoever had owned it.

But on the way back, disaster struck. In mid-morning the five cranes which had been following the PCs descended from the sky. On touching ground they transformed into wild-looking, naked men, with gingery red hair, and skin covered with either red or yellow blotches. These men yelled something in a foreign tongue, and then attacked, picking up rocks from the river and wielding them as crude weapons. A tough fight ensued; it seemed that the men with red skin blotches were difficult to wound, and that the yellow ones were immensely strong. They could also use some rudimentary magic that allowed them to blast their enemies with invisible force. The party ultimately prevailed, but at a terrible cost: Monomi was brought to the very brink of death [DM's note: he failed and then succeeded at two death saves, meaning that for his final death save roll there was literally a 50/50 chance of stabilising or dying], and Pasekur was killed, his skull cracked open. Three of these "crane men" were killed, but the other two transformed back into cranes and fled.


The next session found our PCs in a predicament - nursing wounds but also with their key ally, Pasekur, dead. They decided that they would carry the corpses of Pasekur and one of the dead crane-men back with them, along with the skeleton they had found. While building a litter to do this they almost came to blows with a herd of wild boar foraging in the trees, but Terasu managed to scare the boar away by using his thaumaturgy to create the sound of a bear.

Eventually they made their way back to Kawa-no-kuchi and informed Lord Mishiri that his favourite, Pasekur, was dead. They also inspected the dead "crane man" with the household wizard, Takeyama-no-mahotsukai. Takeyama surmised that the red blotches on the man's skin might be lichen, and this could be one of the famous "lichen men" they had all heard about. It was at this point that it dawned on Monomi, Terasu and Goro that they had, not long ago, raided a lichen-man tomb to steal the last breath of a lichen-man sorcerer (in order to provide Umoshmatek with the material to create a spell to bind the river mussel goddess). These crane spirit/lichen men may very well be guardians or something similar. 

[DM's note: At this point it also dawned on the players themselves that since the moss voice had only spoken to Pasekur, and Pasekur had not been able to convey to the others the what the moss voice had told him; neither Monomi, Goro nor Terasu actually knew, then, what had happened the previous night, and now with Pasekur dead there was no way they would ever know. They decided they would have to see if Umoshmatek had some way to communicate with the dead and, after resting for the night, headed to Okoppe the next day, bearing Pasekur's corpse with them.]

On the way to Okoppe the PCs ran into Toitoi, who had been sent by Umoshmatek North after having foreboding dreams about her son. After emotional scenes Toitoi decided to accompany the PCs in his stead. 

Back in Okoppe, after the funeral and delivering the awful news to Pasekur's parents, Menkakush and Umoshmatek, the PCs asked whether Umoshmatek had some way to communicate with her son to retrieve the message of the moss spirit. Sure enough, it turned out there was a way of doing this, which involved a sweat-lodge ritual and hallucinogenic fungus and so forth. This allowed the PCs to each enter the realms of the dead to search for Pasekur's ghost. While there, each of them had a vision from their past of a person they had been close to who once died. [DM's note: I let them each make up this encounter.] Monomi came across the spirit of an old friend who he had watched fall to his death as they fled from some guards in a long-ago heist. This friend cursed him - though in such a way that he will not know how the curse takes effect until the moment it does. Goro came across the spirits of the inhabitants of the village where he grew up, all of whom had died in an earthquake. He vowed to take vengeance against the god who cause this disaster. And Terasu came across his father, who revealed that the sickness he had died from was caused by a rival. Then we came to Toitoi, who found Pasekur. Pasekur revealed the message of the moss voice, and on waking, Toitoi conveyed it to the others.

Toitoi was also able to examine the trinkets the PCs had found in the moss ravines; the necklace would protect against poisons, the arrowheads could be used against intruders from the realm of the dead, and the small idols of the bear, wolf, owl and stag could be thrown to the ground to summon a beast for aid (but could only be used once). 

A lengthy discussion now took place as the PCs tried to decide what to do next. Try to force the concubine to reveal herself somehow, by attacking her physically in public? Offer to help her and fake the death of Lord Mishiri's daughter? Confide in somebody else at Lord Mishiri's court? Finally, they decided that Monomi would try to gain her confidence and offer to carry out a task to prove his worth. After having gained her trust, he and the others would find some way to subvert her plans.

The next night, Monomi crept to her quarters and offered his aid. She assigned him a task: to travel to a distant glade in the forest where there grew a poisonous tree. He was then to return with sap from the tree and find some way to ensure that the daughter drank it. Monomi agreed to this, and then met up with the others; they decided they would go to the tree and then find some way to either replace the poison, ensure that the daughter didn't drink it, or some other cunning scheme... 

Saturday, 21 May 2016

All stoute and well armed and always chosen by the governor by reason of their valor for to go on perilous and dangerous exploits

I am fascinated by real world adventurers. Whether it is Bandeirantes in the AmazonCossacks exploring Siberiafur traders in the American WestIcelanders sailing ever Westward, or ancient Chinese noblemen sailing to iron age Japan, I find the theme of men compelled by desperation or desire (probably both - presumably always both, for one reason or another?) to strike out into the unknown, or the dangerous and known, the most interesting phenomenon of human history.

What is probably the most interesting thing about it is that it is so morally complex: it is simultaneously typically both romantic and horrifying, necessary and wasteful, noble and criminal. How admirable it was of Pizarro or Cortes to do what they did - the astonishing combination of courage and leadership - and how utterly criminal and awful. They are the biggest-scale examples of the contradiction. But on the small-scale, too: the Icelanders weren't responsible for cultural vandalism or acts of genocide when they discovered Newfoundland, but they certainly made no bones about killing the 'Skraelings' they found there, and those Skraelings had homes and families; yet at the same time these Icelanders can be cast as paragons of universally recognised virtues - escapees from grinding poverty refusing to accept their lot; expanders of horizons; rebels against overweening authority; defenders of family. Individual Amazonian explorers were on the one-hand brutal disease-vectors and the forefront of what would ultimately be exploitation and destruction of natural resources on a vast scale; but on the other hand they were startlingly brave and resourceful, larger than life characters who you cannot (or at least I cannot) help but envy - who wouldn't want to explore the Amazon given the chance? Think of the original climbers of Mt Everest; little did they know that in a matter of decades their actions would inadvertently result in a sacred mountain being transformed into a rubbish tip/sewer, yet at the same time nobody sane could possibly suggest the original conquest of the mountain isn't a thrilling and inspirational tale.

I have recently been reading about Japanese mercenaries in the Dutch East India Company under the leadership of Jan Coen. Coen was apparently a great advocate of the use of Japanese mercenaries to solve manpower problems in the Company's burgeoning Asian empire. He ultimately shipped about 300 of them out to serve in various far-flung locations, and typically put them to use in the most dangerous and difficult situations - because they were such good fighters, so aggressive, and apparently willing to risk their lives where Europeans might not. What this ultimately seems to have meant is that these Japanese mercenaries were for a time at the forefront of Dutch imperialism in Indonesia, with perhaps the most notorious event being the massacre of the population of the Banda Islands in 1621. (The Spanish had similarly made use of Japanese mercenaries in the conquest of various locations in the Philippines.) This period did not last long, as the Japanese proved ultimately too aggressive to lead and eventually the Shogun issued edicts preventing anyone from journeying outside the islands, but it is interesting to see the contradictions played out there once more: this is simultaneously a tale that appalls and enthralls. An illustration of imperial brutality par excellence, and yet the idea of impoverished Japanese samurai seizing their chance to travel to distant lands in order to make something of themselves is also a story of human optimism.

No, don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into one big parallel for D&D adventuring, which is after all just a game, except to say that I think D&D encapsulates the interesting contradictions at the heart of adventure very nicely. D&D PCs tend to do appalling things. But the game itself is an embodiment of optimism: be bold and be somebody. There is no reason why this should have any impact on how the game is played, but it is interesting to reflect on.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What does an impossibly ancient crocodile's memory look like?

At some point memory becomes mixed together with imagination. There is a vast literature on witness evidence in criminal trials and how unreliable it is: this seems to be because, as soon as something becomes a memory it both divorces itself from what actually happened and also becomes more deeply entrenched. The more frequently you "remember" it, the more it crystallises in your mind, but what is crystallising is generally not the truth. Moreover, memory is in a sense recursive: you don't remember everything that happened in your life in chronological order - it is all jumbled up into segments which sort of loop on themselves (so that you replay certain vivid memories over and over and over again, but completely forget other things). 

There is no reason to suppose that an impossibly ancient crocodile's memory is not the same: a vast and disorganised jumble of things which are probably more than half-imagined, and in which patterns can be discerned within the chaos - recurrent themes which emerge from time to time, which are never the same but sometimes alike.

Of course, there is an eon of memory in there, which means that "what is in the crocodile's memories" is near infinite: the product has to therefore contain some large tables of random inspiration as well as encouragement for a DM to be as free and creative as he wants to be. The whole thing also doesn't have to specifically be a dungeon - there could be huge hex-map wilderness areas in the crocodile's memory as well (which perhaps themselves contain dungeons....which in turn contain huge hex-map wilderness areas...which in turn themselves contain dungeons.... and so forth unto infinity). But here are some ideas for recurrent themes, anyway:

Primordial ocean: storm-wracked seas, broiling heat, strange proto-monstrous lifeforms from obscure and long-dead lineages thronging the water, archipelagos of islands poking through the surface (filled with the speculative imaginings of a crocodilian about what could be beyond the beaches and riparian landscapes; speculative imaginings made real by false memory....) 

Floating cityscapes: coastal communities from long-dead civilizations glimpsed by the crocodile as it traveled the seas, and formulated in its mind into what ever on earth a crocodile would imagine a city to be like: presumably infinite? Presumably beyond the coast such cities could go on forever and ever as far as the crocodile knows? 

Ice: the crocodile has lived through not just one ice age but others - it has seen huge expanses of glacial blue extending from one horizon to another, and seen icebergs the size of islands floating, crewed by God knows what beasts lived in those places in those days....and those beasts are not as they were but as the crocodile falsely remembers and imagines them.

Desert landscapes: when the crocodile traveled up rivers at the time of mankind's birth it found proto-human clans scratching a living from the sub-blasted landscape, and it remembers those people, but not as they were - rather as they have become entrenched in the corridors of its mind through repeated recursive imaginings.

Does this make sense to anybody? I hope it does. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Expressionless Faces of Birds

A few people commented on yesterday's post via G+ to the effect that birds make good bases for monsters. It was also suggested I am destined to make a game in which everything is birds. I think this means I must post about bird-related monsters a lot. 

I like birds. I do a lot of hiking and I like to get out and about, and the idea of ornithology sort of appeals to the 8 year old inside me, whose chief career aspiration was to be a zoologist (I had a romantic image of myself being David Attenborough, essentially - travelling around the world studying exotic wildlife and making TV programmes about it; I'm still not convinced that this is beyond the realms of possibility).

What is most interesting about birds (this is also true of non-mammals in general, really, but birds are intelligent with it) is that their facial expressions don't change. They don't smile, they don't have whiskers or ears that they can move about, they don't move facial muscles. They have a fixed expression which is typically somehow both curious and disdainful. 

This is also true of their behaviour. Birds are always on the alert, always moving, always looking for something, always ready to pounce. If you watch them closely there is something almost robotic about their actions - as if they are not really alive but are rather supremely detailed and exquisitely crafted clockwork automatons.

This is why avian-based monsters are chilling: their lack of expression gives them a kind of blank, totally cold, utterly remorseless gaze which, if fixed on you as prey, would strike you with the deepest sense of your own worthlessness. This is an animal that will kill you and eat you, and you will mean nothing to it. There is no animosity there, but nor is there any impression of feeling; while a tiger would kill you just as dead, at least it would convey to you a sense of aggression and ferocity in doing so. With a bird there would simply be that still, stony look - exactly the same look that it has when it is preening its feathers, taking a dust bath, or having a shit. You are simply nothing: a thing to be eaten and then instantly forgotten. 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Bird of Paradise Men

In the lowland forests of Sepik there are many tribes of bird of paradise men, of colours and shapes as multifarious as the flowers of the jungle. They are intelligent, powerful, and brimming with an avian ferocity which is only outdone by their vanity. Their aggressive territoriality and absolute arrogance prevents them cooperating beyond groups around 100 strong.

When creating a tribe of bird of paradise men, generate their type and abilities as follows:


Roll: 1-2 - Small (1 HD); 3-5 - Medium (1+3 HD); 6 - Large (2+1 HD)


Roll d6 times for colours for males of the tribe, once for females:

1 - Red (resists fire)
2 - Yellow (can Blink 1/day)
3 - Royal blue (can Command 1/day)
4 - Turquoise (can Detect Invisibility 1/day)
5 - Sea green (1 in 6 magic resistance)
6 - Tree green (can Pass Without Trace 1/day)
7 - White (cannot be charmed or slept)
8 - Black (can cast Shillelagh 1/day)
9 - Purple (can cast Audible Glamer 1/day)
10 - Pink (can cast Mirror Image 1/day)


Roll once for tail length or other ornamentation for males of the tribe (females have ordinary tails):

1 - Short tail (tribesmen are renowned for being aggressive fighters; +2 to 'to hit' and 'damage' rolls)
2 - Long (weak fighters; -1 to 'to hit' and 'damage' rolls, but all individuals act as 2nd level druids for spell-casting purposes)
3 - Extremely long (very weak fighters; -2 to 'to hit' and 'damage' rolls, but opponents must save vs. magic in order to attack, or else be stricken with awe and fail to act)
4 - Spray (use spray of feathers to befuddle attackers, giving natural +4 to AC)
5 - Springy/twisted (tribesmen compensate for their lack of glamour with vigorous energy; all individuals have maximum HP)
6 - Long "eyebrows", wingtips, or other ornaments (the tribe is considered dangerous and eccentric even by other bird of paradise men tribes: all individuals are mildly psionic)

General Rules

All bird of paradise men can fly (180) and have a natural +2 bonus to AC. They typically arm themselves with blow pipes and clubs, and wear hide armour.

In a village, there will be around 6d10 warriors, 6d10 females, and 6d10 children. They will be lead by a Big Man with an extra HD who is married to half of the females; the other females are married to individual warriors, with the leftover warriors being bachelors.

One in ten females is a shamaness (druid or cleric) with d3+1 levels.

Friday, 13 May 2016

[Actual Play] 5th edition in Pre-Medieval Japan: Session 5 - It all gets a bit Pendragon...

Session 5 of the "Three Mysterious Weirdos" campaign took place last Sunday. With all the excitement of releasing The Peridot I forgot to do a write-up. Previous session reports can be found here.

PCs present:

  • Monomi the Chinese monk
  • Goro the Japanese warlock
  • Pasekur the Emishi ranger
  • Terasu the Japanese cleric (run as an NPC for this session)

The session began with the group having cast an ancient lichen-man enchantment on the river mussel goddess to trap her in her river mussel form, and then having fled off swimming downstream from her servants. They decided the next port of call had to be Kawa-no-Kuchi, where they could deliver the river mussel spirit to Lord Uesugi-no-Mishiri and then have her placed in the river. This went well: while Lord Mishiri's household wizard, Takeyama-no-Onmyoji, advocated using the river mussel as a source of power, Lord Mishiri kept his word and the goddess was placed in the river nearby. She could now feed off the nutrients put into the river by the town, and thus produce mussels for the townsfolk to eat.

The PCs were lauded for their efforts and invited to a banquet. Everybody was going to be there, so it was to be a major event. While there was some discussion about other options (visiting the inland Emishi village of Bihoro, which they had heard about, or perhaps investigating what was making the Emishi of another nearby village, Kikonai, so aggressive), they decided they would go to the banquet and investigate the problems afflicting Lord Mishiri's daughter. They had encountered the daughter wandering the forest a fortnight or so previously, apparently under the sway of some strange magical influence. They suspected that Lord Mishiri's beautiful new concubine was somehow involved in this, and the banquet would be a good chance to get to the bottom of things.

The banquet was also a good opportunity to interact with, and get noticed by, the great and good of the Uesugi clan. Pasekur, being a hairy Northern barbarian, was particularly popular. Once everybody was well and truly drunk, the Emishi was invited to do a barbarian dance. Failing spectacularly in a sort of Ewok-inspired xylophone routine, Monomi interceded and suggested that Pasekur would be better off demonstrating his skill with animals or hunting. Lord Mishiri then invited the barbarian to attempt to break one of his stallions, the Red Horse, who would not let anybody ride him. With the aid of Goro, who summoned and unseen servant to placate the beast, Pasekur was able to tame it. The display so impressed Lord Mishiri that he gave the Emishi his fan as a token of everlasting friendship with the Uesugi clan.

Back in the banquet hall Monomi and Goro got talking to the wife and daughter of Lord Mishiri. It quickly became clear to the ever-perceptive Goro that the daughter was under some strange charm, and also that the wife was looking profoundly unwell, as if perhaps cursed. Monomi began talking to the pair. The daughter explained that she was having horrible dreams and was sleeping only fitfully, while the wife complained of feeling constantly tired and drained. While this was going on it became clear to Goro, seeing a glimpse of the arcane around the beautiful young concubine of Lord Mishiri, came to the conclusion that she was a demon. It was also apparent that the concubine was watching all of this unfold very intently, almost as if she could hear everything despite being on the opposite side of the hall.

The PCs had a conference - doing the equivalent of whatever going out for a cigarette is in pre-medieval Japan. They decided that they had to try to invite the wife and daughter to Pasekur's village Okoppe, to see Umoshmatek the shamaness. She might know something about these awful dreams. But they also thought that there was a good chance that the concubine, whatever she was, was "on to them" and would try to get to Lord Mishiri's wife and daughter before they could be taken to see Umoshmatek.

The PCs hatched a plan. Pasekur would distract Lord Mishiri by challenging him to a drinking contest. This would definitely tempt Lord Mishiri, who they knew to be impulsive and brimming with proto-samurai machismo. Pasekur would attempt to drink him into unconsciousness, whereupon the wife and daughter would have to take him away to take care of him. This would separate them from the concubine for the night. While this was going on, Goro would talk to the concubine and prevent her causing any trouble. The next day, they would invite Lord Mishiri and his whole family to the village of Okoppe to meet Pasekur's parents and cement the bond between the Uesugi clan and the Emishi of Okoppe - figuring that it was unlikely they could get the wife and daughter away on their own.

The plan worked brilliantly. Pasekur strode forward to challenge Lord Mishiri, with Monomi as a kind of interlocutor. [DM's note: It is perhaps worth explaining at this point that Pasekur cannot speak Japanese. I decided that on their travels the PCs had taught him 5 words. The players decided they had taught him Yes, No, Shit (because everybody teaches foreigners swear words first), Emptiness (because Monomi was teaching him the concept of Zen) and Run. However, Goro has the capacity to communicate with him telepathically, although this is only ever a one-way thing. Communication difficulties dogged the PCs at every turn this session, which really added something.] Lord Mishiri was already hammered, and agreed to the drinking challenge wholeheartedly. On around the second or third drink, the head of the Uesugi clan promptly projectile vomited, staggered dramatically about for a minute or two, and then collapsed insensate. His wife and daughter then ushered him away to bed (carried by servants of course). 

While this was going on, Goro began a kind of dance-like conversation with the new concubine of Lord Mishiri. While she did not admit to anything, she revealed that she knew that Goro was a magician of some kind. They arranged to meet the next evening at a cape a mile or two up the coast, where the incoming waves squirted through a crack in the rocks like a fountain.

With their task - making sure the concubine could not do anything to harm Lord Mishiri's wife and daughter that night - complete, the PCs retired to bed. The next morning, they visited the badly hungover and irritable Lord Mishiri and suggested the trip to Okoppe. Lord Mishiri's household wizard and general both agreed that the visit would be a good idea, as it would expand the power of the clan in the barbaric North and perhaps lead to significant trade links.

A mini-procession headed off to Okoppe: Lord Mishiri, his general, his wife, daughter and concubine, a dozen or so warriors, a further dozen or so courtiers, and Pasekur, Goro and Terasu. (Monomi had gone on ahead to explain everything to Pasekur's relatives.) In Okoppe Lord Mishiri and his family were formally introduced to Pasekur's parents Menkakush, the chief, and Umoshmatek, the shamaness. After an exchange of gifts, it was agreed that the men would go off hunting while the women would "get to know each other". This was the opportunity for Umoshmatek to see if she could find out anything about the enchantments cast on Lord Mishiri's wife and daughter (with Pasekur's sister Toitoi translating).

Out hunting Pasekur was able to kill a big male wild boar and further ingratiate himself with Lord Mishiri, who offered the Emishi the chance to join his household as his personal hunter if ever he wished it. There was then another large feast, though Emishi style this time: plenty of salmon, boar meat, salmon roe, and smoked fish. Here, the PCs managed to take Umoshmatek and Lord Mishiri's wife and daughter to one side. The Emishi shamaness explained that she could not know for certain, but there was definitely magic afflicting both women, although it was of a 'Southron' sort that she did not understand. The daughter revealed that her dreams featured strange seal creatures, which had the body of a seal but a fleshless, skull heads. These creatures would call to her to come to them, travelling North up the coast; she knew that they meant her ill, but her resolve not to go to them was becoming weaker. She also said she had visions of the face of an old man, covered in a kind of mossy growth.

On that note, the session ended.

[I really enjoyed this session. I've enjoyed all of them, but it feels like the campaign hit its stride this week. All the players have agreed that there is a real Princess Mononoke feel about things. I haven't intended this at all, but it has definitely developed in that direction. Which is fine by me.]