Sunday, November 3, 2019

A New New Crobuzon

Anne (of DIY & Dragons) recently issued a challenge to build a New Crobuzon following the method   Judd posted ten years ago:

So, to make your own N.C.:
1) Take your three favorite human-ish monsters out of the Monster Manual and they are minority citizens in the city. Detail how they get along, how being in the city has culturally changed them and what niches they fill in the city. How do the powers that rule the city keep them down?
2) Take three really bizarre fucking monsters and figure out how they exist in the nooks and crannies of the city and how the powers that rule the city keep these beasts from doing unacceptable amounts of damage?

The challenge has gotten a bunch of great responses. 
  • New Twain (from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque)
  • Thaw (from Archons March On)
  • If you try it, let me know and I'll add yours to the list.
Perdido Street station is one of my all time favorite fantasy novels, so I wanted to try my hand:

Three "human-ish" monsters: Tieflings, Golgari and Golems
Three "really bizarre fucking monsters":  Oozes, the Spider and a pool of Shub Niggurath

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Continuing from my previous post, laying out the first broad strokes of a pantheon for my 5e game.

This time we'll look at a couple saints of the Gothic Church.

Albert Lynch, 1903 engraving
The Lady is the most widely venerated saint of the Gothic Church. In the murky eons of the past she descended from the heavens and led the First Great Crusade and established the Gothic Church as the most powerful human institution on the planet.

Famed for her mercy, adherents of the Church now beseech  the Lady for healing, prosperity and protection. Her shrines feed the needy and her paladins defend the weak.

Critics complain that these charities are merely a covering for a ruthless police state bent on global dominance. These critics never live long.

Symbol: A four-pointed white star on a black field
Likes: Chivalry, monuments, but mostly power
Hates: Chaos, disrespect, mutants, dragons and demons of all sorts

Venerated by: Many clerics, paladins and the unwashed masses of the common folk.

Source: I imagine a slightly fascist mash-up of medieval conceptions of Our Lady with Joan of Arc. The Gothic Church takes a lot of cues from Warhammer 40k.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

DM Post-its

I've started using post-it notes to organize my DM notebook.

Often I find that the order that ideas come to me, and the order I naturally write them down makes for cluttered disorganized notes that are difficult to use in play.

By putting maps, encounter tables etc. on post-its, I can rearrange them after the fact into an arrangement that makes sense for quick reference. Also, I fold and stack the post-its to fit a lot more on a page,  then uncover pieces as I need them.

It's also easy to move reusable components into different adventures or carry them forward if they appear again.

It's been helpful so far.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

My 5e Pantheon and the Gods of the North

I made a table that suggests deities from my homebrew setting for each class that has an affiliation to a higher power. I think this will help tremendously the next time my players create characters.

I am writing a short description for each one to help players choose.

The Gods of the North:

From Jeffery Thompson, I think.
Ulric:  The Old Northern god of battle, wolves & winter storms. Hot-blooded and beloved of the commoners.  He's a heavy metal Viking badass. 

Likes: Vengeance, personal glory, comradeship
Hates: Caution, schemers, bureaucracy

Venerated by: Barbarians, fighters, paladins and the occasional bellicose cleric.

Source: From Warhammer, but bent back toward Thor. Largely inspired by James Holloway's Patron Deities podcast.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Warren's Butchery - Upper Floor

This is the fourth part of an adventure that I've been working on for awhile. It is inspired by the Warrens zone of Darkest Dungeon
  • The second post describes the exterior areas surrounding the Butchery.
  • The third post describes the first level of the Butchery proper. This is where the crawl-able dungeon-proper begins.
On reflection, my earlier posts felt a little over-wrought and were more tedious than fun to assemble. I'll try to stick to the highlights on this one.

This post continues the description of The Butchery, a two story building with a wrap-around porch. The Boss Hog and his Wretch attendants reside here. So does most of the treasure.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Original art. Brush and metallic pens on colored paper.

The layer of soil and stone which covers our world is but a thin cover, like the skin of an apple. The vast, unseen interior is stranger than we imagine.

In places, it peeks through and grants access to explorers daring enough to descend into the shrouded unknown.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Warren's Butchery - Ground Floor

Click to enlarge
This is the third part of an adventure that I've been working on for awhile. It is inspired by the Warrens zone of Darkest Dungeon and the Isle of Doctor Moreau.

The Butchery is a two story building with a wrap-around porch. The Boss Hog and his Wretch attendants reside here. So does most of the treasure.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Warren's Butchery: The Grounds

This is the second part of an adventure that I've been working on for awhile. It is inspired by the Warrens zone of Darkest Dungeon
  • The first post in this series, describes the enemies encountered.
  • This post describes the exterior areas surrounding the Butchery. 
Everyone knows:  For years, Warren has operated a hog farm supplying the surrounding villages with pork, bacon and sausage. A small still produced harsh liquor. He is a skilled veterinarian who, in desperate moments, has operated on people (the stitches were never pretty but they usually survived).

If you visit the compound at night you'll hear awful beastly screams.
Warren is a bit crazy. He talks to his animals constantly.
Warren's hogs reproduce and mature at an unnatural rate.
Warren is a sadistic freak. If you stray from the paths, his land is strewn with traps.
Warren once grafted the hand of an ape onto a man who had lost his limb in an accident.
Warren practices his veterinary skills on his herd and performs many unnecessary surgeries.
Warren is a wizard and protects his lands with magic. Sometimes he sells potions.
No one has heard from Warren in months.

Unbeknownst to his neighbors, Warren experimented on his stock. With arcane surgeries and cultic ritual, he elevated  many of them to human like sentience. This led to his downfall, when the Swine rebelled, enraged by the torments they suffered.

Now their ranks are swelling. Their hunger drives them ever further afield, in search of flesh to feed the growing horde and satisfy their enormous king.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Tier List: 5e Races

Inspired by the latest episode of GG NO RE, I've created my own tier list of 5e races:

My rankings are 100% based on how well these races fit into my vision of D&D-land. It's a place that draws more inspiration from Bas-Lag, Warhammer, Darkest Dungeon and Carcosa than vanilla Tolkien or the Forgotten Realms.

A few notes:

  • Like the GG NO RE crew, I am profoundly human-centric. I do like the Carcosan rainbow people.
  • Devil's infiltrating the world... cool! Angels... ok. (Tieflings and Aasimar)
  • Robot-golem boys (and girls) - yep
  • Short people are awful and should be portrayed as sneaky, psycho bastards (Goblins, kobolds: fine. Halflings, dwarves*, gnomes: shite)
  • My comparatively high estimation of Kenku is entirely based on Matt Finch's portrayal. 
  • Elves are boring.
It could be better: 
What do you think? Come at me!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Little Piggies Go to Market

I'm assembling a dungeon for my 5e game based on Darkest Dungeon's Warrens locale with inspiration from the Isle of Doctor Moreau.

Mostly for my own use, I'm collecting my monsters (art & stats) here:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Battle for Morden's Vale

Campaign Update: 
The party finished clearing the Moat House and dispatched Lareth the Beautiful and his bloodthirsty chaos cult. Returning to the nearby town of Morden's Vale, they defended the town against an onslaught of barbarians from the wastelands to the north.

David A. Trampier

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Moat House Ambush

I have been running a "weekly" game (effectively 2-3 times per month) with a group of six players, none of whom have played D&D before.

For the last couple sessions, they have been exploring the classic Gygax Moat House. I added this dungeon on to my map, mostly because it has a reputation for being one of the first adventures that people experienced when they picked up D&D back in the day. I took satisfaction in connecting my new players to that tradition but I didn't expect them to feel particular connection to D&D history.

Totally wrong. It surprised me, but my players LOVE knowing that they are adventuring in an original Gary dungeon (I had to explain who Gary Gygax was) written before any of them was born. When an encounter is hard, or they fall for a trap, they blame him, "Damn it, Gary!" It's super great.

The response has been really cool.

A few notes on running the Moat House:

  • I gave my players a printout of the above picture. They used the detail in the drawing to drive their strategy (i.e. sneaking along the small bit of ground along the wall and scrambling in through the broken tower). It definitely helped my novice players strategize and engage with the world.
  • I am using Daniel's excellent annotated maps to run the adventure. So helpful, I plan to replicate them for other adventures. 
  • A few of my players have stared listening to actual play podcasts (Adventure Zone, Critical Role) and when things come up that they know about from their shows (i.e. Klarg the Bugbear) they get super excited.
  • I am texting out Gifs, to show players what monsters look like. Fun for me, and they enjoy the strange crap I find. Also the pics maybe make them scarier? 
Gnolls. So gross.
Favorite Encounters: 
  • When the ground floor bandits fled, Cordelia the druid turned into a spider and crawled under the locked door they had retreated through. While itsy-bitsy, she discovered the secret staircase down into the basement.
  • Bugbears! I don't use any Tolkien-y monsters/races in my campaign but I left the bugbears in this module. They came up on a wandering monster check and successfully sneak-attacked the party rogue, dropping him instantly, leading to a tense fight. Super fun. 
    • Reading the bugbear lore, and noticing that they are sneaky made them interesting to me. Big angry brute hulks = boring. Big, silent hulks creeping up in the dark... scary. 

Also a bugbear?

Next session is Tuesday!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Tomb of the Stygian Duke

The Stygians

Far and wide, the Stygians are known as slavers and torturers.

They erect their monumental necropolises with forced labor and when they are finished they slaughter the workforce as sacrifices to their ancestors.

Resolute to never be forgotten, they brand themselves into the memory of mankind with cruelty.

The rest of humanity loathes them. Many wars have been fought, and some won, to topple their tyranny and demolish their fortress-memorials. There have been ages when generations lived while the Stygian's were hidden, persecuted and hunted; regard as bogeymen and myths.

They always return. Often leading armies of undead or legions of golems.

What few know, is that the Stygians have carved for themselves an afterlife. Unwilling to serve the gods, their mages have bent into being a place in the void where they can rule.

Leveraging principles of magic that only they understand, they use rituals and symbols to project a place, cemented by memory, reverence and terror. When they leave this life, they travel there with throngs of captives in their train.

They steal not only the lives of their victims but their afterlives.

The Stygians have not been known in these parts for many generations. There are old tales of the days when they reaved this land and tilled its people into the soil but they are not told as often as they once were and those dark times have faded into the obscuring mists of the past.

Outside the village, in a stone cleft, a misplaced stairway leads down into darkness

The Tomb 

This is a map of King Tut's tomb

The decor throughout is replete with gaudy snake motifs.

Stairway: Steep steps descend into darkness. Anyone over-encumbered risks overbalancing and falling. This is particularly dangerous for those carrying their own light and unable to use both hands for balance.

Corridor: Vivid frescoes depict a sorcerer holding aloft a serpent-staff. He leads sickle-wielding soldiers to victory, carving through enemies until their bodies cover the ground several layers deep.

The artwork might distract from the dangerous quicksand that forms the floor. Anyone trying to walk across it will sink in up to their neck. There are blades concealed under the surface that will lacerate anyone struggling to free themselves.

Antechamber: In the west wall their is a narrow door into the Annex. Also, along the west wall, large tables hold hundreds of miniature, painted metal soldiers arrayed for battle. They are exquisitely detailed. Each has a sickle and a spear. On shelves above the tables are model siege engines. Although visitors to the tomb won't know it, disturbing these figures will cause chaos and mass destruction to the Stygian Duke's army in the afterlife. He will return to defend his tomb (more information below in the Burial Chamber).

There is a door in the north wall into the Burial Chamber.

On the east wall, racks hold a dozen spears and sickle-swords.

Bronze age khopesh.
Annex: This room holds a small library.  All of the walls are lined in bookshelves.

  • On the west wall, hundreds of identical volumes each repeating one word: Khotan. 
  • Most of the remaining books detail the life of Khotan, his military victories, his fabulous wealth, incredible sorcery and his legendary sexual exploits.
  • A small number of books record the lives of Khotan's family, friends and lieutenants in similarly exuberant terms.

Burial Chamber: This room is dominated by an enormous sarcophagus of gleaming black metal. On the walls, more frescoes depicting Khotan vanquishing various foes. A door to the east leads into the treasury.

Twenty obsidian pillars surround the sarcophagus. Each is a statue depicting a person with their arms raised above their heads to hold up the arches of the vaulted ceiling. Each face looks at the sarcophagus with horror and hatred. Without magic, visitors will not know that these are Khotan's enemies turned to stone. They are still conscious, but paralyzed.

The frescoes in this chamber depict the defeat of each of these enemies.

Set into the floor are black marble flagstones, with the engraved names of 12 of Khotan's bodyguards. These might be recognizable from the accounts in the Annex library. These are not cemented down, and with some effort, they can be raised to reveal a lacquered black skeleton standing in a niche below.

Inside the sarcophagus is a gleaming metal machine-body. Khotan can return from his afterlife and possess this form to defend his tomb. When he does, the coffin opens.

You might recognize this guy. A necron would also be a good reference image.


  • Khotan will return in 10-60 minutes (He may be wrapping up an appointment on the Otherside)
  • Twelve of his bodyguards will also return and animate their skeletons in the floor niches.
  • Khotan's first priority will be to free his lieutenants. 
  • If there are tomb-robbers in the burial chamber he will pick up the headstones and hurl them at the invaders.


In this room the frescoes depict Khotan reveling in luxury and enjoying the adulation and worship of his subjects.

  • Laid out on plinths are many items of impressive jewelry. Lots of snake motifs. Lots of cameos depicting Khotan. Much of this is out-of-style and unlikely to fetch high prices.
  • A number of ornate scroll tubes contain spell formulas.
  • Some of the gems have spells stored inside.
  • An amber bust of Khotan, hung on a chain serves as a protection amulet and prevents Khotan's servants from attacking the wearer.
  • Treasure chests contain coins stamped with Khotan's likeness. 

Niches set into the walls contain glazed urns. These hold the ashes of Khotan's less important enemies (and a few of his favorite artists and lovers). There spirits are also trapped inside. Using information from the Annex library, it is possible to determine who is in each urn.

If any of the urns is broken the angry spirit will be released and will attack in a swirl of ash (like this spell effect). The urns are heavy and brittle, but conceivably the urns could be moved and the spirits released elsewhere.

Removing any of this room's contents will call Khotan (if he has not already been alerted).

Cutaway view of King Tut's tomb

The Duke

If the tomb is disturbed and Khotan is not defeated, he will begin gathering forces and install himself as a local warlord until he is satisfied that his tomb has been re-secured.

He will hunt tomb-robbers to the best of his (significant) abilities and if he isn't quickly successful, will hire assassins to hunt in his stead. 

He is a smart tactician but a brutal autocrat. Life under his rule will be extremely unpleasant and likely short. The surrounding towns and villages will be systematically plundered and depopulated.

Depending on his current standing on the Otherside, Khotan may be able to call on other Stygian allies. His is not the only such tomb in the area. If his superiors get involved, it will wake a war like none now living have known.