Monday, April 17, 2017

On Story Games, or: I'm Still Alive, Okay

More of the hexcrawl is coming. I am going to throw in a few Totally Sweet Drawings with the hex descriptions so that is taking some time.

I got a chance to look through the rules for DUNGEON WORLD today, so this is sort of a response to that. Despite the tone of this post I'd still play DUNGEON WORLD if asked, you know you only live once you got to try things blar blar blar.

The Tragedy of Herogar and Comfort Eating

One of the things that I hate to read in forum posts is that old chestnut, "I want to play a hero!" Because my response is, okay then, do it. I find the notion bizarre that a particular GM or a particular game could hold you back from roleplaying a heroic character. You don't need Fate Tokens or Hero Points or storytime interludes where you and the GM hold hands and share your dreams together. You want to be a hero, be heroic. "But without Plot Coupons (tm) that'll probably get me killed!" you say. Well, yes. Heroes don't tend to die comfortably in bed. C'est la guerre. "But so many deaths are just lame and pathetic! And anyway my idea of fun isn't playing a rat catcher who dies of sepsis in a gutter."


Okay, I'll go this far---I don't think you should be forced to play someone INCOMPETENT (which is what's implied by 'rat catcher,' nevermind actual rat catchers would have a ton of immediately useful skills for most dungeoncrawls but whatever) and you shouldn't be forced to play someone FEEBLE or PATHETIC. The assumption going into most D&D games is that even level 1 PCs are a cut above the common fabric---level 1 fighters are veterans, level 1 rogues are the toughest, wiliest guy on their corner, etc.--and that suits me fine. I think that should be the standard, with the most 'hardcore' method of 3d6-in-order-don't-name-the-guy-til-level-2 being the option, but it's kind of like do you say tomayto or tomahto, whatever.


Let's say you roll up a lvl 1 Paladin named Herogar. He's a studly stoical dude with a cool beard and a big ole greatsword. You proudly present a single-spaced page of handwritten backstory detailing his journey from dreamy farmboy to knight-errant, sprinkling the tale with lost love, a bitter rivalry and paths not taken. A taut, unpretentious piece, a springboard for greater things. You have high hopes for Herogar.


Your first dungeon. The Rogue is methodically prodding an iron door with a 10-ft pole while the party takes five. The jackass Bard plays inspire competence on his keytar. The DM rolls for a wandering encounter. Dire rats! six--no, eight, no--ten of them! There is a round of boos at the table. The DM weathers a sharp plastic pyramid to the face. Undaunted, he calls for initiatives. Herogar gets a 1. The rats charge, yellow diseased slaver foaming from their jaws. The rogue says something about being a ranged build and legs it, as does the bard. Once again, the skill monkies have made a mess and the tanks get the bill. No point in running in scale mail anyway--Herogar and Fallguy the fighter barely have time to brace before a carpet of shrieking, spitting mangy fur swamps them. The combat is over fast--Herogar is face down in his own blood, his flesh sheared off in chunks by the scythe-like teeth of the maddened rats. A gruesome end. His scattered bones will never be borne back to the farm.


Wasn't quite what you had in mind for poor Herogar. You have a few options at this point. You can conclude this DM and this campaign aren't for you, get up and leave. I can't say that's invalid. There'll be a place for you at RPGnet. After all it hurts to see potential wadded up and thrown away due to a mix of bad luck and letting someone play a Bard. It would have been one thing if Herogar went out on YOUR terms--say, if he squared up to the oncoming horde and cried "go, I'll hold them off!" that'd be how a Paladin ought to go out. But you didn't even get that. A few rolls and an anonymous death.


Or, you roll up Dave the Paladin. Dave is very similar to Herogar--they even have similarly heroic facial hair. You could almost say he's an echo of his fallen, unknown predecessor. There's a key difference though--Dave has opted for a one-handed weapon and heavy shield, prioritizing AC over offensive power. He also carries a bandolier of jars of lamp oil, each a potential flaming grenade. Not only will these deal fiery punishment to a target, if struck on the ground the molotovs can provide short but vital area denial---long enough to keep an adventurer from getting swarmed perhaps, and provide that vital window of time to run.


From a STORY perspective, there's no connection between Herogar and Dave. But taken from the perspective that you are playing a game--one with a learning curve and tricks to master--Herogar's death has meaning. He died so that Dave might be spared his mistakes. And perhaps Dave WILL get that heroic moment of sacrifice, a moment to be fondly recalled as an awesome moment of roleplaying in years to come. And it will come about not because some interlocking system of safety nets predestined it but because YOU EARNED IT. You earned that moment, and Dave will have earned his spot in Memorable Character Valhalla (or who knows, maybe he'll get to retire to a grand stronghold at the end of a storied career). Long after you forget whatever it was you called your PC's rival in their backstory, you'll remember the verdict of the dice, the careful planning, the anticipation.


Or maybe not. Maybe there's more of the dramatist than the gambler in your genes. D&D is a lot of things to a lot of people. All I know is ice cream earned tastes better than ice cream NOW, ice cream eaten for comfort food (to be honest, I don't actually like ice cream). Me, I love to gamble, and I lose a lot. Many a character of mine has bled out on the floor ignominiously, slain by the failure of my crappy chessex d20 (I keep forgetting to throw away the blue one). Even my characters who survived to become storied heroes have had downright humiliating failures, a stain forever on my character's psychic image of heroic prowess. The thing about games though, is to me they're only fun when they remain unpredictable. A game wherein you negotiate for the outcome you want ("I deal the dragon its death wound but lose my ancestral sword in its scaly hide as the beast tumbles into the crevasse") sounds less like a game to me and more like an acting exercise. I don't want to be given my success after a round of bargaining, I want to WREST it from an earnestly fought opposition through the right mix of planning and luck. That's the sweet spot for me, and I don't mind sacrificing a few made-up people (always more where they came from) to get there.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hexcorl

I got bored yesterday and started making a new hexcrawl.  The first thing you have to do when creating a new hex map is figure out how big you want your hexes to be.  Initially I was thinking large--say each hex would represent two days of travel for an unencumbered person walking presuming no obstacles whatsoever.  But that was a little crazy.  I decided to make them six miles on a side and twelve across, or essentially one day's travel for an unencumbered person walking at an easy pace and facing no obstacles.

Next,  I created d6 terrain types, each marked by a symbol.  Then I thought of d8 things to be in hexes and marked each with a certain color.  Then, to determine the path of rivers and roads, I made a chart of d8 directions.   I recorded the three columns on a notecard as shown here:

To spare you the effort of peering at my crimped handwriting, here's what the columns say -

Terrain
1. Temp. Plain (T in a circle)
2. Temp. Marsh/Swamp (T over three squiggly lines)
3. Temp Forest (T between two trees)
4. Temp. Hills (T under a curving line)
5. Temp. Mountains (T under a cone)
6.  Cold Mountains (C under a cone.  Presumably a cold mountains hex represents a massif or table-land which is sufficiently high above the surrounding environs to have its own climate). 

Directions:
1 - N; 2 - NW; 3 - W; 4 - SW; 5 - S; 6 - SE; 7 - E; 8 - NE;

In This Hex
1. Town/Community (fuchsia)
2. Ruin (green)
3. Superpredator (yellow. I define a superpredator as a creature of CR 7 or above which could well dominate at least one hex area.)
4. Magical Wonder (pink)
5. Warzone (red)
6. Fortress (blue)

I began from the lower left hand corner of my paper and worked rightwards by row, eventually filling out 51 hexes (three rows) in this way.  Once this first bunch of rows was completed, I first tried using a "die drop" method employing a d4 to draw in paths/roads, as suggested at excellent blog, The Retired Adventurer.  This didn't go too well because the hexes made by my printer turned out to be much too small so after producing some truly ugly and bizarre pathways I settled on rolling a d8 for singular direction for roads and then streams.  Essentially once I had a next direction I just drew the river flowing into the next hex over in a way that looked, I dunno, good.  Where the rivers doubled back, I filled in the space with a lake.

So here's what the thing looks like -



Obviously, The Thing In The Hex is not literally where I marked it with a dot.  However the lakes and rivers will hew to those shapes. 

What you might notice right away, beginning from the left, is there are a LOT of mountain hexes interspersed with bunches of marsh hexes.  So we have here a very stark landscape with chains of stony vaults, in the rifts of which are reaches of spongy lowland (perhaps brackish lagoons) fed by mighty but rambling rivers. 

Looking back at this horizontal strip of land we see a profusion of Magical Wonders.  My thought with this is there's a thing in the hex that does something weird, like maybe a statue that polymorphs you for 1d6 days or a flock of birds that can foretell the future---off-the-wall, potentially gamechanging stuff you're not going to find in the Core Rulebook's list of magic items.  Apparently this country has a lot of such things. 

Notice, interestingly, the triad of connected communities to the south and east (hexes 12, 13 and 14); two occupy hilly country and the eastmost a plain.  Immediately eastwards of them you have a similar chain of ruins (hexes 15, 16, 17) semicircling some local oddity against the lake (hex 33).    In fact, if you look at where the settlements are they seem to predominate in the eastwards third--hexes 15, 16, 17, 30, 48 and 32 are longitudinally close and hold communities of some form.  To the west, however, we see a dense cloud of active fortifications:  hexes 25, 8, 6, 41, 39, 38, 20, and 35.  Whereas in this western longitude only 18, 2, 5 and 37 contain non-militarized(?) settlements.  A community will probably have some defensive measures and many fortifications may well have a smaller attached community, but the colors show where the emphasis is.

Finally we notice that where we see a ruin, they are always part of some contiguous grouping: hexes 3 and 4; 26, 27, 28, 44 and 45; 15, 16 and 17.  Of course they may be part of some linked chain of ruins or not.  It is interesting how the largest grouping of ruins occupies the center of this latitudinal strip of land. 

So we have a region, starkly divided between mountains and lowlands, festooned with unique and probably dangerous magical oddities, with a cluster of sagging ruins at its center, lots of fortified/militarized little communities with some marginal areas of peaceful settlement and dotted with a few hot spots of currently active warfare.   And three, count 'em three, giant monsters everybody tries to stay clear of.  Honestly it's cray cray how well this worked out.

Time to Brainstorm
So the rote part of our hexmap is done and now it's time to pick my own brain and come up with some stuff. Each of my categories needs a broad list of things I can roll for randomly to see which of those is in the hex.

 1d10 Superpredators (must be CR 7+)
1. Really Tough-Ass Manticore
2. Wyvern
3. Nymph (I'm kind of borrowing Goblin Punch's neat idea of Nymphs as a kind of local menace just through sucking everything in around them with their beauty)
4. Chymera
5. Dire Bear
6. Really Tough Old-Ass Owlbear (I should probably share my headcanon on the lifecycle of owlbears sometime)
7. Androsphinx
8. Dragonne
9. Athach
10. Medusa (I don't remember if I got this idea from Goblin Punch also but in my D&D headcanon Medusas are basically Nymphs That Went Bad)

1d12 Who Rules This Fort?
1. Elflord level 8+1d4. Is (1d3) 1) Fighter-Wizard crossclass type; 2) A cavalier; 3) A Sorcerer with some weird-ass monster ancestry. Rules a small village of hot elves, has a cadre of Extremely Badass Sword-Dancers or Magic-Archers or whatever. Probably under the protection of Giant Eagles. Expect lots of feasting, dancing and snooty remarks.

2. Death Knight, cavalier level 7+1d3. Castle guarded by skellingtons, rules over a dilapidated hamlet of terrorized peasants. Undoubtedly has a tragic backstory.

3. Vampire, cavalier level 7+1d3. As Death Knight but it's way sexier. Probably has a pack of werwolf thugs collecting his taxes.

4. High Priest, Cleric lvl 9+1d4. This dude is undoubtedly only in his fort long enough to gear up for his next crusade and he's probably looking for donations.

5. Courteous Baron. Fighter level 9+1d4. Totally a straight-up dude.

6. Robber Baron. Fighter level 9+1d4. Will shake travelers down for all they've got, generous with handing out stints in the oubliette.

7. Paladin. Level 8+1d6. Undoubtedly just on his way to go take care of something in some other hex. If PCs are susceptible to moral guilt they will probably end up as his new followers.

8. Ranger (or maybe Inquisitor) cadre. This fort is the headquarters of some kind of specialized monster-hunter society and they're looking for MEN OF TALENT to go scout out some other hex for them.

9. Cadre of Thieves. This castle has been bought or leased by the Thieves' Guild and is being used as an innocuous base of operations (because who would think the Thieves would operate IN PLAIN SIGHT???) Leadership is a committee 1d4+2 Rogues of level 4+1d3; at least one will be a fighter crossclass. They are undoubtedly plotting a raid on some castle or town nearby, able to scope their target just fine from their TOTALLY LEGITIMATE fortress that they LEGIT BOUGHT and DON'T LOOK IN THE PANTRY THERE'S NOTHING THERE I DON'T KNOW WHO THAT DEAD GUY IS

10. Archmage. This castle is the domicile of an archmage (Wizard lvl 10+1d6). He does not want to be disturbed and his robot guards will be showing you the way out. Alternatively (1d3) 1. Sorcerer; 2. Summoner; 3. Alchemist.

11. Tax Farmer. The guy who lives in this castle and collects rent from the little hamlet around it is not a military dude. He has like 7+1d3 levels in Aristocrat or Expert and some decent political connections.

12. Brigand Lord. Not that different from a Robber Baron except this guy doesn't have the support of the Count/King/Whatever. Technically he is fair game to get steamrolled by the first people to roll up to his door but he has enough men/local support/is a huge enough hardass to make it a tough undertaking. Probably a fighter or cavalier lvl 8+1d6.

1d8 Magical Wonders Brainstormery Prompts
1. Magical statue
2. Giant crystalline formation
3. Magic well
4. Magical creature(s)
5. Peaceful/blessed cemetary
6. Magical plant(s)
7. Hallowed ancient battlefield
8. Disused/ruined magical device (like an arcanotech steampump or something)

You'll notice none of the ruins are anything inimically hostile like ACCURSED CEMETERY THAT SPAWNS INFINITE GHOULS or something LotFP-y like that. If you've read enough by me, by now you know that's not the vibe I go for.

1d12 Ruin Origins
1. Giant/Cyclopean
2. Elven (type based on terrain)
3. Dwarf
4. Destroyed human fortress
5. Destroyed human temple
6. Raided Wizard's Seclusium
7. Fey Ruins
8. Druidical Ruins
9. Snakemen Ruins
10. Ruined purpose-built arcane complex (like a transplanar airport or something)
11. Ruined Evil Humanoid temple
12. Ruined Horde of Tiamat Spawning-Palace

1d10 Town/Community Races
This place is inhabited by...
1. Mens
2. Elfs (type by terrain) (Plains, Hills = High; Forest = Forest; Marsh = Wild; Mountains = Grey)
3. Dorfs (type by terrain) (Forest, Plains, Marsh = Reroll race; Hills = Hill; Mountains = Mountain
4. Catmans (1d2: 1. Elder Scrolls style; 2. Thundercats style)
5. Crowmans
6. Illumians
7. Gnomes (type by terrain) (Plains, Marsh = Reroll; Mountains, Hills = Rock, Forest = Forest)
8. Hobbits (never bought into the halfling subraces)
9. Dragonmans
10. Monstermen (Marsh or adj. body of water = Locathah; Mountains = Aaracokra; Plains = Centaurs; Forest = Nycter)
-NOTE: Roll a d100 for each community.  If you got 50 or under it's just humans. 

With this list of items for fleshing out each hex, there remains the final thing of course: DUNGEONS. I will go with a 25% chance each hex may hold a dungeon.

NEXT -  We flesh this out, beginning with hex 1 (but definitely not ending with hex 51)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

So I watched Coraline last night

Really good movie.  Sweet and creative.  I don't watch a lot of kids' movies (being an adult with serious grown up tastes, obviously) so IDK how typical it is to show a somewhat less than perfect family but I liked that her parents weren't saints.  The Belle Dame is an amazing monster design (notice she goes through three distinct "looks" as the story goes on, her true form a delayed reveal like in the best horror movies).  It played like a single really excellent encounter or adventure built around one fairly complex monster.

The movie was an excellent fairy or "fair folk" story which hit on a lot of the themes those types of tales do, without being rote about it.  Of course I guess technically it was a ghost story but the line between ghosts and the fair folk is fairly blurred when you really look at the "canon" I guess.  Dullehan is a good example---the headless rider is usually connected to the Fair Folk but seems to be a classic example of undead (same I guess with Jack 'O the Lantern or Will-o-the-Wisps).  That's something I want to push in my Pathfinder game (since I've gone so far as to create monsters of my own and received no complaints I've felt free to make the monsters and their taxonomy my own for a while).  The Fairies and the Undead aren't the same thing anymore than a Leprechaun is a Ghoul but there's a connection there---both are warded away by sacred ground or sacred objects, for instance.

Of course the real question is, if Coraline was a Pathfinder player character what class would she be?  The question is deceptively tricky because Coraline herself is just a kid---a fairly well written one, in that (apologies to my juvenile readers) she's not really a fully-formed person yet.  Who knows what she'd grow up into.  Her character traits (curious/adventurous, willful/demanding, even dare we say BOSSY) could be (or should be, for my money) common to any adventurous type.

What we Know

She likes the outdoors, has no problem getting dirty.  Has something of a green thumb.  Knows the trick of dousing rods.  Druid could work (earth domain obviously, be sure to give her mud ball for her first domain spell).  Her proclivity for crawling and climbing and general agility suggests Rogue.  Appetite and temperament (common to all tween girls, I can say so having grown up with one) suggests Barbarian.  On the other hand seeing as magic is a theme throughout the story Sorcerer or Witch could do her justice.

Buuut I think my first instinct is the best here.

Character Inspired by Coraline - CN Adolescent Human Druid; Med. Humanoid; HD: 1d8+1 (9 hp); Spd: 30 ft; AC: 16 (+2 Dex +3 hide shirt +1 Dodge)Touch 13, FF 13; BaB: +0; CMB: -1; CMD: 11; Atks: Dagger -1 melee/+2 thrown 10 ft (1d4-1 19-20/x2 pierce) or javelin +2 thrown 30 ft (1d6-1 x2 pierce); S/R: 5/5 ft; SA: Acid Dart (sp) +2 ranged touch 30 ft (1d6+1 acid); SQ: Awareness (+1 Svs, Conc. chk), Heart of the Mountains (+2 climb, acrobatics), Fvrd Class: Druid (+1 skill pt), Nature Sense, Wild Empathy, Bond: Earth Domain; Svs: Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +5; Ablts: Str 09 Dex 15 Con 13 Int 13 Wis 15 Cha 10
Feats: Dodge
Skills (1/5) Acrobatics (cc) +4*, Climb +4*, Knowledge (Nature) +7, Perception +6, Survival +8
*-1 chk. pen.
CL: 1st | Conc. Chk: +4 | Spells/Day: 0risons - 3 | lvl 1 - 2+1
Equipment: Dagger, javelins x6, hide shirt, wet weather cloak/boots, waterproof pack, waterskin, GIANT SPOOL OF YARN, pitons, caltrops, misc. camping gear (Med. Load)
Spells Prep'd
0risons - Resistance, Enhanced Diplomacy, Mending
lvl 1 - Mudball, Monkey-Fish, Magic Stone [Domain]

"Well I'm no Picasso, but..."





Thursday, March 16, 2017

1d24 encounters and some subordinate rumors for Temperate Plains (aka noob safety zone)

Boring navelgazy ruminations part - skip this

Ah, the humble temperate plain. Rolling grassland dotted by the occasional small wood, grassy gnoll or dramatic bluff, picturesque lonely tower or ruin and the winding furrows of a hilltop thorpe. And of course, a well-maintained highway so your players know where to go! Which, all too often they aren't charged for the pleasure of using.... but anyway. What is the charm of this sort of Middle Lattitudes, Middle Time Period, Middle-of-the-road fantasy land? Why do we keep coming back to it? Admittedly one reason is pure practicality--it's simpler to place a quest in temperate climes than someplace the Players will have to guard against sunstroke or freezing to death. As well, we've all seen posters advertising the French countryside so we can picture easily what sort of place we should be imagining, have a basic understanding/set of core assumptions as to what's there (e.g., every village has its tavern, every farming community answers to some feudal overlord who probably lives in a keep, life moves to the rhythm of the seasons, etc.). But is that it?

For me there's somethng intangibly compelling about ordinariness. That is in stark contrast to a lot of the DIY-D&D blogs which I read for inspiration and so linked here. Setting writeups should pass over the familiar and get to the "good stuff" (i.e, what you're reading for), goes one chain of reasoning. After all, if a place is ordinary and familiar then you shouldn't need any help creating it, right? (wrong. I don't listen to a lot of D&D podcasts but when I do, almost always the worst part is the DM totally dropping the ball on the simple stuff--giving a voice to the tavernkeeper or mayor, making the ordinary human town feel like a place that's actually lived in by people going about their lives, etc.--but more on that later, maybe).

By contrast I'm a little obsessed with mundanities like holidays, false folklore, scribal quibbling over minor points of history, what's on the table in this or that season. I'm obviously trying to achieve something here or I wouldn't keep coming back to it. I mean partly to me as a writer it's a challenge--can you make Generic D&Dsville feel so vital, so lived-in and living, your players won't even care that they've seen this movie before? But moving beyond whether or not your rolling green countryside DESERVES a writeup I think my intrigue is with that sense of hominess some writers instill in their fantasyscape. Like, in Narnia, things are strange but nothing's really weird. Turns out when beavers can talk they talk just like ordinary salt-of-the-earth Midlands types and live in cozy cottages with coatracks and hearth. Instead of feeling decadent and dangerous, things feel a little playful like in Alice's Adventures (have I ever mentioned how much grimdark takes on Wonderland annoy me? They annoy me so much. Wonderland should be fun). Does this kind of thing have a name? (other than Epic Pooh, I guess). Like, "Cozy Fantasy," maybe?

REQUIREMENTS OF THE COZY FANTASY
-Strong authorial voice like your grandpa is reading you a story. Do this as DM, remark frequently if a house is nice or dirty, if a guard is sleeping on duty call him a waister or scrub, offer an opinion on the behavior of your NPCs (preferably from a stuffy and slightly priggish perspective 'cuz that's funny).
-Spotlight totally ordinary shit. What kind of lunch did your players pack on their journey? What's the tavern's fare and how is it prepared (WITH NINE HERBS AND SPICES!?) Is the market dusty, redolent of cow poop but also perfume? Remark how sleeping on a threadbare bedroll on the hard ground pains but the forest smells sweet; the mountain spring carries a tang of copper; the squire always holds court from the saddle because he's embarrassed about that limp he's had since a horse kicked him years ago.  Be judgy, have a voice--the narrator is what makes Cozy Fantasy.
-The human is present even in the inhuman. H.P. Lovecraft did not give a shit if any of his fucked-up mutant villagers had a crush on the local taverngirl or how they felt about eating fish all the time but this stuff is important in Cozy Fantasy. In Cozy Fantasy the orc guards will bitch to each other about how they're underpaid and sick of salt beef.
-Most characters are good, or good-hearted if rough around the edges, or just mischievous/greedy or at least too weird to be malevolent. Actual maliciousness is rare, mainly the property of the story's villain.
-There can be scary freaky shit (the Barrow Downs, The Doldrums, that fucked up trash lady in Labyrinth) but it's not as powerful as forces that are at least benign (the King pardons the Queen of Hearts' prisoners, Tom Bombadil shows up at the last minute, Aslan)---not that those forces will always rescue you (that'd be a shitty game) but they're there.
-Things happen for a reason. There can't just be a freaky ghost haunting the moors, he needs a backstory and a cause for his haunting (he can be an asshole though).
-Situations are often funny, maybe a little lame. Like, a giant bandit who just wants horses (good eatin'), a sphinx who's riddles are pathetically easy, a knight who told his varlet to fetch his enchanted sword of giant's bane and is brought a large greatsword he can't use ("I thought sire wanted the giant-sword?"). The absurd is never overlooked even in the midst of the uncanny.

None of this is getting to the heart of the matter but ah well, you probably know what I'm talking about anyway. So, Cozy Fantasy is definitely a thing. But what's the appeal? Most players don't want to feel like they're in a children's adventure, they want to impale an orc, hear his death squeal, scoop the loot and back home to wenches for another kind of impaling. Everybody wants to be Conan (or Cugel?) only weirdos would want to play Frodo*. I dunno, this post was supposed to just be an encounter/rumors table before I ruined it with this bloviating (I hope you took my advice and skipped this part but if not it's not too late!) about whatever.

*Yes there is a character class called The Alice and it is exactly that and it owns, and yes I'm setting up a strawman shut up.

My ideal idea is to have an area that's basically got this tone and make it the starting, central area of the campaign. So your tour bus STARTS in familiar, slightly cozy Medievalalia And Folktale Land, and then you level up a bit and go over the hill and there's the Quivering Flesh Pits of Xor. Unlike scripted fiction, which damn well better know its tone and stick to it, RPGs can and will cycle from Mallory-esque chivalrous adventure to gritty war movie to Cosmic Horror to slapstick comedy and back again and that's a feature, not a bug (one of the things I dislike about Dungeonworld-style story games is it militantly enforces one genre, one set of expectations, unless everybody can agree on a set of appropriate story-tropes the whole thing falls apart). I love the idea of reflecting that FANTASY KITCHEN SINK approach in one world very literally--like one country's all Dragonlance High Fantasy and the next one over's built for Ravenloft Gothic Romance while Game of Thrones' political soap opera is going on up north and there's some Lovecraftian nihilist interdimensional horror sniffing at the corners if you go looking for it and there's a samurai country where the combat rules are literally different and then there's that Gonzo Island with all the random tables nobody likes to think about because It's Too Silly...*  Some will argue this is what Paizo goes for with Golarion and it's why Golarion is such an inchoate, tone-deaf mess of a setting, but I'd argue a bigger reason is most of Paizo's writers Aren't Very Good (sorry guys). 

* This goes without saying but if your players don't want to play along with the "local genre," like say they just bring a mercenary army to Dracula's castle and lay siege, do it their way. This is no longer Gothic Horror, it's a war movie featuring Dracula. Dig it. 

-------END NAVELGAZING, PLEASE READ FROM HERE----

So right. Here's essentially a temperate Midlands-esque feudal starting area for your players to begin their adventure. How does one roll 1d24? Utilize Random.org or some other number generator if you like.

NOTES: Probably start rolling for encounters when PCs have left the starting town at least six miles out, more probably 10 to 12. I like a base 15% chance of random encounter per hour traveled in an average 8-hour traveling day and every four hours while the party is stationary/resting. If you roll a stationary encounter (like the knight holding a pas d'armes) while the party is stationary, place the encounter further down the road or think of something like the knight's page rides up to the PCs' camp bearing his challenge.

Page references are 3.5.  Leveled NPCs are Pathfinder.   DEAL WITH IT. 

1.) Hound Archon (MM pp.16)  Came to the Material Plane to answer a widow's prayer.  On his way to a dungeon to retrieve a fallen Paladin's remains.  Will invite good characters to join him, sniffs and snarls at evil characters but doesn't start a fight.

2.) Spectral Rider (MMV, pp. 160)  Bound to remain in a blasted heath with a great dead oak tree at its center.  Appears by night, challenges any warriors by blasting his hunting horn.  Charges worthy foes who enter the heath, ignores knaves.  His bones and battered armor (with a little repair, functional half-plate) are buried beneath the tree.

3.)  Pack of 1d3+1 ghouls (MM pp.119)  Haunt a desecrated, abandoned [word for moderately-sized stone house of worship suitable for your setting].  The roof  of the place is just visible from the road behind a copse.  By night the ghouls gnaw on the old bones in the overgrown cemetery.  Those who pass the building by day feel a strange, sinister urge to enter.  Beneath the vaulted apse inside is a +1 mace with a treasure map to a distant dungeon wrapped around it.

4.) Grove of 1d4+3 dryads (MM pp. 90), being harassed by a satyr (MM pp. 219) and 1d6+2 faun friends.  The satyr's jaunty piping can be heard from well away.  The Dryads will ask the PCs to remove these cads.  By way of reward they may warn of 1d2 other encounters on this list, or offer a kiss, but they have nothing else.

5.)  Glaistig (MMIII pp. 60) sitting atop a grassy hillock by the road.  Her skirt conceals her bestial legs so long as she moves carefully and doesn't run.  She plays a flute beautifully.  It's been a while since she fed but she's not fool enough to attack an armed band.  She will try to lure one of the PCs away to her lair, a clear pool in the center of a copse of trees.  If her entreaties don't succeed she will let the party pass, then tail them up to one day away from her lair and try to pick one off if given a chance.

6.)   A tinker and peddler, riding an old nag with a second horse carrying his goods (pickles and jams, pots and pans, pieces of cloth, tools).  Wants conversation, may joint PCs for a while if they're willing to chat (even if going opposite way; he's not in a hurry).  He knows 1d6 rumors and knows this country like the back of his hand--he can tell of 1d3+2 other encounters on this list.

7.)  A pompous knight (LE human cockatrice order cavalier 3), his longsuffering squire (TN sword-bearer squire fighter 1), and two grooms/servants are encamped beside the road.  The knight is holding a pas d'armes, an open challenge against any who cross his place on the path.  He will challenge the strongest-looking warrior of the PCs to best of three tilts of the lance or (if the PCs have no combat-ready mounts) a melee to three blows.  If the knight wins he will expect 150 gp or all the defeated character's war-gear.   If the knight is bested, he will give a purse of 300 gp.

8.)  Large Grass-Spider (hunter type, MM pp 288, +8 stealth in grassy fields, speed 40'). From a distance its thorax resembles a tussock of grass or mossy boulder. Once prey comes within 40' it springs up and attacks.

9.) Boggle of 1d3 Dire Weasels (MM pp.65), known locally as Bloodsuckers, now occupying a large burrow beneath a treestump close to the road. Will not waste effort on mounted prey, understand that characters not clad in metal are better targets than those that are. Will attempt to snatch a person and kill them quickly with blood drain, then drag the body back to their burrow.  Will retreat if wounded. The burrow once belonged to a family of brownies and still has bookshelves built into the wall (almost all the books now shredded), a ruined writing desk (strongbox in drawer holds small repair tools, gems worth 12, 20 and 30 gp) and a shredded bed.

10.) Terror of 1d2+2 bloodhawks (FF pp. 23)  pecking chunks out of a dead mule.   Bloodhawks are unnatural, ultra-aggressive animals that attack and kill far more than they need to eat.  They will attack if the PCs approach within 120'.   Their morale is fierce.

The humble bloodhawk.  CR 1/3 but these things are ASSHOLES.


The dead mule belonged to a merchant and has a pack saddle with two bags.  In one, a strongbox holds 1d100 x10 sp, 1d100 gp, four 5-yard bolts of fine silk, jasper worth 20 gp and 2 onyx worth 12 gp, and a bottle of rare wine worth 35 gp.  The other saddlebag holds oats/hay.

11.) Drove of 1d8+2 almirajes, known locally as Hornhares or just Horns.  The small group is spread across the road sunning themselves on the pavement or munching on grass by the road's embankment.  They will not be aggressive except for the drove's bull, who will attack if the PCs approach to 30 feet.  If the party doesn't want a hard fight, they will have to go around!  The horns are worth 50 gp on the market (meaning 25 gp goes to you).

12.) Herd animals: 1. Horses; 2. Elk; 3. Sheep; 4. Cattle.  Sheep and cattle herds have a 50% chance of belonging to some nearby hamlet.  With all wild herds there is a 10% chance the bull/herd leader is a dire animal (Dire Horse and Dire Elk MMII pp 75; Dire Ram; for a Dire Bull I suggest stat as Dire Elk with a 2d8 gore on charge). 

13.) Robber Knight (hum Warr 4 mounted on light warhorse) and three routiers (human Warr 1s, leather & crossbow). They will demand PCs drop weapons & turn over any goods, start shooting at 160' as knight charges. Their camp is in a nearby wood, occupied by two more crossbowmen (not in armor at that moment) and a groom (halfling commoner 1). In the knight's tent is a chest holding 2d100x10 sp, 1d100 gp, three suits of fine clothes worth 35 gp e., 75 gp in jewelry, silvered oxhorn chased with cameos of dead minstrels worth 30 gp, and a silver dagger with gold-plated handle worth 122 gp). Additionally there is a fine velvet-covered riding saddle worth 24 gp and a case of four bottles good wine (10 gp e.) In the camp also are extra weapons, camping gear and a month's food supply.

Sitting on such a big haul is making the callow knight nervous. He knocked over a merchant wagon last month and got lucky beyond his wildest dreams, but people tend to notice that scale of robbery.  He has tried to get in touch with the Thieves' Guild to pawn off the treasure but they have made no move, feeling the goods are too hot just now. He is considering burying the treasure and letting it sit but doesn't trust five men and a halfling to hold their tongues long enough.

14.) Wandering sage (half-elf exp 3), a grammar/history tutor currently looking for patronage. Will answer any impromptu questions for standard fee, traveling on foot. Will brag that he knows this region as well as any historian, may be tricked into giving away important dungeon lore if ego played on. He has a whole pigskin to hold water and a wineskin; in his pack besides travel gear/rations is a fine schoolman's robe, a book on elvish grammar (+2 linguistics elvish/draconic), a chronicle of the realm (+4 kn. history/nobility this region only), and a bestiary (+2 kn. nature/dungeoneering identify monsters; book is full of misinformation like Beholders are a kind of living fungus ball, Behirs live in wells, beaver lodges hold treasure hoards, etc.)

15.) Caravan - three wagons: one supply and two hold merchandise (wool, silk, wine). Merchant (Exp 5) and teamster driving lead wagon, his wife & teamster driving second, his son and teamster driving third. Four grooms/porters walk beside with two mules carrying staves of water. Eight guards: two mounted lancers (Warr 4, on unarmored light warhorse) and six crossbowmen (Warr 2).

Merchant will hail PCs, ask for news/rumor down the road and ostentatiously toss a 20 gp ruby in payment if PCs give anything useful (the wife glares disapprovingly). If made friendly, the merchant knows 1d2 useful rumors and can warn of 1d3 other encounters on this list.  He will mention that his caravan lost a mule earlier and ask if the PCs have seen it (but he will not mention what it carried).

16.) NPC adventuring party, all lvl 1d4. Probably accompanied by 1d4 linkboys/porters/grooms with 1d2 pack-beasts. 1d3 the party is 1) good 2) neutral 3) evil. They are on their way to a dungeon and will be secretive about this. They may offer to swap news but whatever the PCs tell them, they know nothing useful (like so many adventurers they are totally uninterested in the country round them!)

Roll 1d100 4x - 1-40: fighter | 41-50: halfling rogue | 51-60: human rogue | 61-70: elf magus | 71-80: dwarf gunslinger | 81-90: wizard | 91-100: cleric. Good/neutral clerics may be willing to give small assistance thru their orisons such as purifying spoiled rations or a quick healing spell.

17.) Band of 2d20 pilgrims led by a lvl 3 blind oracle. They tramp along singing hymns wearily. One man bears a wooden pole topped with a little religious diorama inside a houselike box. 1/5 of the pilgrims will be warriors (lvl 1d3), the rest common people, with pack beasts & gear as appropriate for a group their size. 50% chance they will know 1d3 rumors / warn of 1d3 encounters if PCs inquire. Their destination is 1) the abandoned house of worship, 2) the dryad grove, 3) someplace else (dungeon perhaps). If the PCs do more than merely give a hello to the pilgrimage, they will be invited to join. The oracle will say a dream told him to gather the pilgrimage and go to the destination. If the PCs succeed a DC 18 diplo check he will admit he does not know what will happen when they arrive.

If the PCs come back this way, they may hear of the pilgrimage's fate: 1) if they went to the abandoned [house of worship] they were attacked by ghouls and only 1d10 escaped (the oracle met his end there and arose as a ghast, now leading the pack). 2) if the grove, the pilgrims joined the dryads in their happy games and enjoyed a span of peace and meditation. They happily dispersed but the Oracle stayed behind, now joined to one of the Dryads as husband.

18.) Abrogar, TN lvl 1 human Magus. He is a mercenary on his way to seek employment in the Baron's castle, but he will be open if the PCs make an offer (standard fee for a lvl 1 henchman, but Abrogar is already equipped---travel supplies, mailshirt, scimitar and shortbow, and a concealed CLW potion he will withhold for himself). Abrogar knows 1d6 other encounters in the area and 1d4 rumors, but unless hired he will only trade information tit for tat.
Able to fight, identify magic items and provide arcane learning, Abrogar would be a useful addition to any party.


19.) A band of elves numbering 2d6, 1/4 of them warriors lvl 1d3. The rest are musicians. Their leader is a lvl 5 Bard named Nyfaél. The elves have light horses but are walking along, singing and playing lutes, mandolins, a theorbo and (this is the warriors) shakers and tambours. If the party has at least one attractive member with charisma over 12 the elves will invite them to a shady copse for wine and dancing. If the PCs are game and make pleasant companions (that means armor OFF) the most attractive will find Nyfaél an amorous free spirit.   Following a tryst Nyfaél will give the PC a silver dragon cameo on a chain (worth 75 gp) to remember her by. She is not going to alter her travel plans for the PC's sake but will be friendly if their paths ever cross again (unless her token was sold off!) The elves know many rumors but, more interestingly, know of many far-flung places (perhaps up to three dungeon hooks provided, or this could be a way to introduce some exotic corner of your larger setting).
Nyfael


20.) A large flying predator has espied the party (1d4): 1. Dire Hawk (MMII pp. 76). 2. Manticore (MM pp. 179) 3. Wyvern (MM pp. 259) 4. Chimera (MM pp 34). The monster has only just moved into this territory and was scouting the nearby hills for a suitable roost. The dire hawk will attempt to scoop up and drop an unarmored humanoid target; the rest will target a pack animal or mount if one is available, a random person otherwise.

Dire hawks look so damn cool


21.) A hippogriff (MM pp. 152) in a decorated leather saddle and bit and bridle paces around listlessly on the grass by the highway. It is skittish but will allow anyone with Wild Empathy to approach and calmly allow itself to be ridden with a successful Handle Animal (DC 10). A few hundred yards away, if the PCs search, they will find in a bush the mangled body of a dwarf in (now damaged) splint armor with long warhammer (reach weapon) and pack of supplies. His stumpy legs could not save him from his steed's wild turns. Yes, the party's Ranger might get a flying mount at level 1. Should make the game interesting.

22.) Bracer and Burner. As they travel the PCs come to a place where a river cuts across the highway (if that is not appropriate, perhaps a stone-lined irrigation ditch siphoning water from an underground reservoir to a nearby field). A quaint little raised bridge of paved stone (ramps for animals) crosses over this obstacle. Flanking the entrance to the wagon's-width bridge are a Force Golem (MMV pp 68) and Magmacore Golem (MMV pp 70), named Bracer and Burner respectively.

Force Golem


Bracer and Burner hail the PCs in booming, upbeat voices. They sound a bit like that giant commie-hating robot from Fallout III or like they're always saying "Danger, Will Robinson!" They perform Power Rangers-esque posing and hand-flipping as they posture. If the PCs are noticeably armed, Bracer and Burner will challenge them to "a friendly battle." If the PCs repeatedly refuse, Bracer and Burner will try to prod them into agreeing with light force pushes and annoying heatwaves ("SURELY PROUD WARRIORS CANNOT IGNORE A CHALLENGE"). They are essentially children who want to play, but they don't fully appreciate how fragile flesh and bone are yet. Nonetheless if battle is joined, Bracer will keep his force blasts down to nonlethal damage only and Burner will limit his pyrotechnics to cutting off retreat/forcing the PCs to bunch up where Bracer can hit them all.

If struck enough times that Burner risks entering his meltdown mode they will respectfully submit and let the PCs pass. If the PCs try earnestly killing them the golem brothers will be shocked and a little hurt ("GO AND SPOIL A NICE BATTLE WITH MURDER, WILL YOU?").  If they batter the PCs to the point where one falls unconscious they will call a halt and declare themselves the winners, saying encouraging things like "GOOD JOB! YOU MADE A VALIANT EFFORT!" "IMPRESSIVE--FEW HAVE TAKEN SUCH PUNISHMENT!"


Bracer and Burner are the "children" of a powerful golem-maker who lives in a tower six miles away from the bridge, where they like to wait and challenge tough-looking passerby. Locals know if you just ignore them they'll leave you alone. They love their maker but also want to roam in the wide world. It is just possible (Diplo DC 24) the PCs might get sway them to come along on a dungeon delve in search of adventure (DC 15 if they beat B&B in a sporting fight), but they would be unpredictable companions to say the least.

23). A mounted inquisitor (lvl 5, LN) and retinue with covered wagon (1d4+2 lvl 1d4 warriors + 2 clerks with record/caselaw books, chaplain, teamster and 2 porters). If the PCs don't look suitably pious, the Inquisitor will be suspicious and unfriendly. He has heard rumors of a suspected heretic with alleged powers of prophecy leading a stray flock of the faithful somewhere in the area (this is the Oracle and his pilgrimage). He is not hunting the pilgrimage leader per se (actually he is on his way to the nearest mid-sized town to to hold assize) but will follow any leads the players provide (he will demand they tell him what they know, if they have seen the alleged heretic). He is not looking for a fight but he will not put up with disrespect to himself or the faith. He dislikes Paladins.

24) As the PCs travel down the road they hear an enormous snoring from within a shady copse of trees. The remains of two hooped barrels, completely smashed, are strewn across the road. Riding up parallel to an opening in the copse, the PCs behold a 14-foot tall Hill Giant (MM pp 123) lying on his side, smacking lips in drunken sleep, formidable treetrunk-club tucked under an arm. Pinned beneath one of the giant's massive hands is a struggling halfling in blacked leather armor. He has been trying to wriggle silently out from under the giant's left hand, on which is a massive golden ring. The instant he sees the PCs the Halfling tries to wave them over to (hopefully in silence) lift the heavy fingers off him.

The Halfling is a lvl 1 NE Rogue.  The Hill Giant is currently in possession of a magical ring (ring of glammer maybe?) The Halfling heard rumors of a Giant waylaying travelers for their horseflesh and shiny objects on this road, and that the Giant wore an ornately scrolled golden ring on his finger. He set out with two barrels of ale as an offering to the Giant and made friends, intending to snatch the ring while the brute was laid out in drunken stupor. The plan almost worked, but then the Giant had to go and affectionately rest a hand on his "new friend" as he settled down. If the PCs successfully aid the Halfling, he will make a "shh" gesture and then try to slip the ring off the giant's finger without waking him--and because he's level 1, he'll probably fail. If the PCs awaken the Giant trying to free the Halfling, the Giant will reflexively close his fingers on the Halfling and toss him further back into the copse, probably killing him.

If the Giant awakens, he will still be drunk: -4 Dex, -2 atk/skills, and likely to stumble if he tries to run, this lasts 2d10 rounds. He will attack wildly. The Halfling will take any fracas as the time to run, whether he has the ring or no. If the PCs manage to bring the Giant near to death he will beg for mercy and say he has much treasure ("I been taking Mans horses for food and all shiny things, I dont know why knights never come make me stop"), the kind he knows Mans like, back in his cave in the neaby hills. If the PCs agree to let him take them to his cave he will try ambushing them again there. In his cave is d1000x3 cp, d100x3 sp, 1d10x100 gp, 2d10 gems worth 3d4 to 2d4 x10 gp, a battered suit of half-plate and several steel weapons, plus numerous belt buckles, spurs, plates, candlesticks, a few hand mirrors--any metal object that can shine if polished. He understands that's what humans trade in and piled up all this stuff as insurance.

If both the Halfling and the ring are still there when the Giant is dealt with, the Halfling will make the case that it's mostly thanks to him the ring was obtained by anyone so really he should have it. He has nothing of value to offer (just armor, a dagger, and a half-eaten sandwich now smooshed in its parcel). If the PCs refuse to give him the ring or demand he turn it over, he will not try to overcome them by main force but may trail them and wait for an opportunity to steal it back. It is possible the PCs could convince him to become a henchman if they talk of some great treasure they hope to find, but The Halfling is of bad character and will shirk danger and steal from the group given half a chance.

Credit (and thanks!) to Stahlherzog, the author of this encounter which I here adapted.

ADVENTURE HOOKS/RUMORS/ETC. FOR TEMP. PLAINS NEWBIE SCRUB ZONE

See also this list of adventure ideas I wrote, some of which are pretty good (esp. no. 5. Do no. 5).

Rumors Related to These Encounters1.  Everybody in town is nervous.  Word is that a Lord Inquisitor is on his way to hold assize over the community.  Everybody agrees that Inquisitors are necessary, of course, but they do have a way of turning neighbor against neighbor.  Just getting called into one's court, even if all charges are cleared, can ruin your life.

2.  Have you ever heard this one?  "The Ballad of Ceryse and Blaise?"  It's not a well-known canción, but it's locally famous and really good, ask the next jongleur you see about it.   It's about a famous murder that happened near here, 70 years ago.  Back then there was this knight, see, Blaise, and he loved this girl Ceryse, but she was the daughter of the Mayor [of our town] and betrothed to the son of this Baron... so Blaise challenged her betrothed to a fight to the death in the [Religious Structure] of St. Ancibel---there used to be a little sheep town there but it dried up and became waste.  Nobody knows quite where the old [Religious Structure] is now.... right, so, Blaise won the duel but because he spilled blood on holy ground he was cursed... he wasted away from some illness and died, and on the order of the Baron he was buried somewhere in the wilderness.... but his hate lived on, and sometimes at night you can hear him blasting his horn in challenge!  They say he won't rest until the son of his persecutor--I think that means our Baron now--comes and faces him.  [If at any point the PCs lose interest in this story, have the teller lose track and leave off with "oh well, it's just a local legend..."]

2a.  There's a desecrated and abandoned [House of Worship] somewhere in the wilderness, and the village around it was cleared and turned into a wood.

2b.  On the road you might hear something like a horn at night.  That's just the local ghost, never mind him!

3.  The Baron has been trying to hire more warriors and put out a call all over the country.  I've seen some odd characters walking along the roads and even flying in the skies!  No really, a knight on a winged horse!   It did look a little odd.... it was either a very big horse or a very small rider...

4.  I wonder if the Baron is gearing up to finally do something about Old Lloyd.... he's a famous wizard who built a tower a few leagues from here, you can see it on clear days.  Old Lloyd doesn't do anything, he just builds fancy contraptions and sells them all over the world, but he's richer than the Baron I bet... and the Baron hates that he won't even pay the land tax...

5.  You're going on the road?  Be careful!  The Mayor wouldn't like my saying so but the trade road's been really dangerous lately.  They say a giant's lurking in a wood near the route!  Yeah, like two ogres on top of each other an actual giant!   What does a giant even do with peoples' gold?  He usually lets people go and just eats their animals at least.... I don't know, why do we even have a Baron?  Everybody keeps asking when those good-for-nothing knights of his are going to do something!  Pfah I'm a citizen of the town, I can say what I like...

6.  If you listen to these locals they'll have you thinking the woods teem with beautiful fairy women... haha, wishful thinking if you ask me.  My cousin for instance's a herdsman and he swears you can hear "fairy pipes" in the forest, and I tell him.... you're out there for ten hours a day, sometimes overnight on a bald hill... It'd be crazy if you DIDN'T hear things, right?  Makes you wonder though... why are fairy men always these short little goblin-faced characters and then fairy women are these tall beautiful types?  Maybe that's why they're always trying to seduce mortal-folks hey, haha.  

~Not related to Encounters Necessarily~

7. You know those little roadside shrines they always put up every six miles or so?  The ones with little bowls or slots you can put in donations and get a blessing, yeah?  Some rekless knave has been stealing out of 'em!  I know!   It's a total outrage against religion!  I knew our local bandits were bad but not this bad...

7a)  Actually, you want to know what I think?  I think it's a scam.  How would you even get into one of those shrines without breaking it up?  The coins are deposited in wooden strong boxes through a slot and only the [Dean/Rector/Monsignor] has the key!  So I think it's a scam.... like, defrauding itself?   Only you didn't hear it from me.
7b)  It's probably the Baron.  You know he hates [the Bishop/Dean/Monsignor].  Funny that they're cousins, but I bet the Churchman always felt like he got the worse end of that deal...

8. You know what it all is.  It's politics, politics.  The routiers---highwaymen you know---actually answer to the Baron.  They're his little "extra tax" he uses to put the squeeze on our town's trade when he feels we haven't been properly... enthusiastic about paying duties and tithes, yeah?  And then we've got the Thieves' Guild.... Thieves' Guild that's a laugh!  They answer to the Mayor and the [Bishop/Dean/Whatever] in our town right, and they're our little counter-insurance policy.  No really, what do you think a Thieves' Guild does primarily?  They get goods in and out through the city gates on the sly, of course.  Duty-Free!  And who profits from that?   Well no, not short term, but let me explain, if you made all trading untaxed....... [launch into appropriately medievalized conception of laissez faire economics until players revolt] 

9)  Did you know some people who want to see the future get themselves bit by a cockatrice on purpose?  It's true!  They just hold out their hand and let the nasty little blighter peck it, and there they are with a sign around their neck saying "wake me up in 100 years..."  wishful thinking, hah. 

10) [old Scottish groundskeeper] People get confused and call everything fairies, but that's just a gloss on what they don't know.  You know you've got your spirits of the woodlands right, like Dryads and Satyrs---well, they're sort of like, spirits of the land personified, right?  But then you've got your nasty ones, which are properly called fough which just means "hateful bastard" and they're not from around here get it---someplace deep underground I think...

~Adventures in the Newb Zone~

1.  Ogres have taken over a two-story brewery a couple miles from town!  Besiege/storm the place, save the much-valued brewmaster and make the louts pay for ruining the Mayday batch!  Cue highly strategic brawl with 1d4 staggering-drunk, barrel-throwing ogres prone to vomiting when hit.
-----> Twist: This definitely needs no twist.

2.  A lone Dire Wolf has been terrorizing the flocks.  Stalk the elusive bastard to his lair or, less stupidly, lay a trap for him in a barn or something.  Burning down one hay-barn should be a small price to pay to end this threat.
-----> Twist:  None, except that the wolf is old, tough and not as easy to lure into an obvious trap as you might hope. 

3.  Giant ants have been seen near the edge of the farmers' fields.  You know what giant ants mean, right?  Somewhere nearby there's probably a large reservoir of underground water!  Here's a dowsing rod, go, go, go!  No you don't have to wipe out the hive, the Baron's men will do that, we just need you to find water.  Should be totally safe.
 ----->  Twist: The giant ant colony is near a dungeon entrance, obv.

4.  A false peddler has been traveling the land selling supposed magic potions, claiming to be licensed by the Wizards' Guild [if there is no Wizards' Guild or equivalent body in your setting, this is just part of the ruse!]  For the most part the fake potions have been harmless, but a few people have fallen ill.   Unfortunately he seems to be skilled in disguise [or there's... multiple false peddlers?]  Sniff the bastard out (perhaps pose as a band of foolish adventurers looking for potions on the cheap...) and bring him in to the authorities (alternatively he can die while fleeing arrest and you'll save the authorities some trouble).
-----------> Twist: There are multiple false peddlers and most of them are well-meaning dupes.  Their magic potions are supplied from "a magic spring" guarded by "an actual wizard" (maybe a doppelganger? a wererat? one of these guys?) and the spring is, of course, in the nearest dungeon the players wanted to go to anyway.   It really is enchanted (that's how the dupes are convinced), but if bottled the magic leaves the water in 1d4 hours.  The fake wizard's been allowing the would-be sellers to make a profit while charging them for his bottled magic water in a classic ponzi scheme.  If you want, messing with the water could also lead to an invasion of enraged thirsty giant ants. 


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Three Wells

I had stuff to do today but I decided to play with Konsumterra's awesome Strange Wells table instead. I'm thinking of putting these three holes in the wilderness near the entrance of a dungeon (so amusingly you could have an entire dungeon placed right before the original dungeon). Here's what I got:

Three Wells

1. Shaft type: (1)A hole in the earth, hidden to most by rocks or grass. Muddy and narrow. Fittings: (1)None, bare and primitive. BYO rope/bucket/etc. Water: (7)Muddy puddle, but regular water that can be filtered. What's Below: (10) Complete dungeon complex. Quick Contents: (7) Haunted. Well Features (roll three): (94) long-forgotten laboratory, preserved brains & organs in jars; (74) Druid cult meets here, gods demand intruders be sacrificed; (7) hermit lives here in solitude to meditate.

----> The well shaft is haunted by the spirits of four adventurers who were sacrificed by the wicked Druids that live under the earth. They will try to warn any newcomers, though since they can only scream in madness and pain it's difficult. The Druids mistakenly believe what was once an ancient necromancer's laboratory to be a burial chamber filled with canopic jars. They are "the Brotherhood of Flesh and Blood" who believe that internal organs hold the secret power of the universe, which can be harvested from body parts preserved beyond death: thus they are tomb robbers with a holy purpose. They are seeking a sarcophagus in this "tomb" that doesn't exist. They are totally unaware that they have come in via the back way to a much larger dungeon complex, the only other living inhabitant of which is an elven philosopher who slipped in 100 years ago to write his masterpiece on Arcane Epistemology ("I cast, therefore I am") in perfect solitude.

2. Shaft type: (3)Sinkhole entering into possible cave complex/ancient remains. Fittings: (6)Wooden hut with rope winch and bucket. Water: (8) Swirling pool of churning, foaming water. What's Below: (3)Series of caves with 4 chambers. Quick Contents: (5) Humanoids & Demihumans. Well Features (roll three): (80) Tribal shaman with guardian & ancestral spirits lairs here, since his clan was destroyed long ago; (37) serial killers live here with collections of human skin and bones; (24) a secret cult shrine is here, possibly still in use, often cursed. May hold treasure.

-------> There was a complete dungeon complex here, once. It's caved in now, leaving only a small cave complex and a few caverns. A Wild Elf shaman is all that remains of the elves who once lived in these caves: since the destruction of his tribe he has meditated in solitude, save for the restless ghosts around him. He is indifferent to the small gang of Orcish skinwalkers (a depraved cult that captures men to make suits out of their hides, despised even by other orcs) lairing in the next cavern over, and they are afraid to approach him and the shrine he resides in. Even the Elf isn't totally sure as to the shrine's history, he senses deep evil from it.

3. Shaft type: (7)A shaft of neatly carved stone blocks, fitted with great precision. Fittings: (7) Crude stone shelter, with rope and bucket. Water: (3) An underground river. What's below: Series of caves with 3 chambers. Quick Contents: (8) Magic. Well Features (roll six): (3) Remains of animal bones and human sacrifices. (32) Hideout for thief gang, depositing loot & hiding members who are "hot." (98) A dragon that has slept since the Dawn Times; (71) Sorcerer's lair, also a drug den. Stoned followers seek thrills & enlightenment; (76) Summoner's lair. Animal cages lie about and mystical circles are carved into the stone floor. (96) A healing magical spring, hidden from the main water source;

---------> The sorcerer is the leader of the thief gang, a dozen underprivileged city youths who treat his cave as a place to crash and get high. The secret ingredient for the drugs (which the gang sells for the sorcerer as well as using themselves) is the saliva of the Dreaming Dragon. This translucently pale, wingless creature is archaic and more resembles an amphysbaena than a dragon. The summoner pays rent to the sorcerer, is secretly trying to awaken the Dragon following a legend it will sing the song that ends the world (he was unlucky in a relationship recently). There once was a cult that worshipped the dragon and performed sacrifices in its chamber, but the sorcerer chased them out (they lurk in the desert outside now--waiting their chance to kidnap one of the sorcerer's precious thief kids). The dragon's chamber is still piled with old bones of men and animals. None of these people have ever realized there is a healing spring in the back of the dragon's chamber (not bold enough to go that far back). Ambient magic about the place is so strong all casters are treated as +1 CL, all healing spells get an additional +1 result even if cast at max level.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Religions for Eastwylde pt 2 - The Companions of Beatrix

The Companions of Beatrix are the brave men and women, mostly human, who joined the heroic wizardess in her quest to reseal the Giants 500 years ago. In their lifetime my campaign setting approximately mirrored the 11th Century (it currently resembles the mid-16th). Unless I am miscounting they are fourteen in number. My initial idea was to have a patron saint for every major Pathfinder class (Core Rulebook + Advanced Player's Guide + Complete Magic) and one for each core character race (Man, Ulf, Dorf, Numm, Hawbet, Orkykind). However, I forgot to include a saint for Witches, Oracles or Halflings---oh well. Let's assume the Cult of the Saints' official stance is Halflings are just small Men not truly a race apart, and don't require their own saint. And, for obvious reasons nobody likes Oracles or Witches. I also exclude Gunslingers (Ultimate Combat), Inquisitors (APG) and Monks as those classes didn't exist (at least not in the West) in Beatrix's day. I don't want to make an unweldy monster post (ha ha ha) so I'll start with the first four.

Q: Are the Companions the most important Saints?

A: Beatrix is certainly the most important saint, believed to have merged with the whole cosmos and become omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. St. Justin is approximate to St. George--his name is a byword for martial aspiration and courage and he's depicted all over in art and legend.  From there, it gets complicated.  There are countless saints, some so obscure they are no more than names buried in a musty register.  Many are unknown outside of a certain locality, some are associated with a certain profession or a certain event, perhaps even a specific gate, bridge, mountain, etc.  All of the companions have at least middling prominence due to their association with Beatrix but some have fallen out of favor or are no longer believed even to have existed.

Q: How old is the Cult of Saints anyway? What was it like before Beatrix?

A: The Cult began with the idea that all gods are no more than aspects of a deeper Truth---that this divine spark resides in every person, every blade of grass, and fills all the known Planes of Existence. Saints however, are beings in whom this power shows greatly, who do great and wonderful things as an expression of its divine love. For the first few centuries of its existence it was a highly intellectual movement largely limited to the support of sages and scholars of the esoteric. In the waning age of the great Empire that once ruled over the West, the conversion of a certain Emperor led to the adoption of the Cult of Saints as the Empire's official creed. The many cults throughout the Empire's provinces (particularly the Druids, still strong across the North) were not interfered with, nor did official adoption cause a single hierarchy within the Cult to develop, for reasons that are complex and boring. The Cult instead continued to revolve around a decentralized conclave of urban Primarchs, in whose Temples the precious remains of Saints are kept. Older divinities, ancestors, genii loci etc. were occasionally assimilated as Saints, but until Beatrix the Cult never achieved fidelity from more than a third of the former Empire's peoples.

The Companions

St. Beatrix Paraclete, Queen of Heaven (NG female human wizardess) - About Beatrix much has been said but scarcely enough can be written. As mentioned previously, depictions of Beatrix before her ascension as an embodiment of heavenly virtue and font of wisdom are less popular than humanizing portrayals which portray her as a vulnerable young woman who finds the courage to save the world. Of course, following her death-ascension Beatrix became more perfect than is possible to imagine.

St. Justin Giantslayer (LG male human ranger? paladin?) - Of Beatrix's companions St. Justin is nearly as famous as the Savior herself. He is considered both a patron and role-model by Rangers and Paladins, who fiercely contest which profession he belonged to. The history of the Rangers is tied up in the Return of the Giants, with their long watch ending in bitter defeat only for the Order to reconstitute itself in many places as a bulwark against many threats (hence why Rangers are "especially trained" against so many divers monsters and enemy kinds). For this reason, St. Justin is most often portrayed as a survivor of the shattered Rangers in dramatical retellings of the Return. A chance encounter with the lovely ingenue Beatrix restores his fighting spirit, etc. However it is the Paladins who have taken as a byname "The Order of St. Justin." Rangers, when they want to sound fancy, must content themselves with the much more specific St. Daffydd, patron of Those Who Fight With Two Swords (alternatively, St. Mark, the specific and less flashy patron saint of accurate shooting).

Hard facts about St. Justin are few--several cities and towns claim to be the place of his birth and a few noble families claim him in their extended lineage. There are fabulous tales such as him being raised a Ranger by the Elves, or that Northern Barbarians slew his family and he was raised in a Cult abbey. Fragments of his shivered sword, pieces of wood and nails from his shield, spurs from simple iron to ornate gold, a horse's skull, are all alleged for his relics. It is said his heart lies beneath Holger's pass but no Temple stands to attest it.

St. Justin is virtually always portrayed as a handsome but battle-scarred young man [when I showed my players a drawing of him they immediately called him Anakin Skywalker]. If appearing as a Paladin, he has a distinctive blue/orange diagonal stripe scheme on his long surcoat and massive kite shield (historical but technically anachronistic touches) wearing a suit of mail and wielding a knight's sword. If a Ranger, he wears humbler footman's steel and leather under a cloak of green or white (the Rangers originated in the frozen North after all) and carries sword and bow or two swords as the artist fancies. Justin fell in battle with Angrybors the Giant King of Storms, and their dramatic final duel is such a common art tableau that you can buy many depictions of it in just about any marketplace.

St. Justin's domains are War, Nobility and Animal. He is associated with the aforementioned Orders and those who fight monsters generally, plus woodsmen, war-horses, robins, and recovery from blunt trauma (many hospitals bear his name). His Feast Day is September 29, which is the day called Michaelmas. Paladin and Ranger associations often celebrate with processions and feasts.

St. Casval the Ready (LG human fighter) - While warriors of all stripes can and do pray to St. Justin, St. Casval represents the humble foot soldier more specifically. He is called "The Ready" because it is said he was a wise veteran who always watched the backs of the more impetuous Sts. Justin and Lionel the Lancer, always ready to strike out opportunistically with his long spear. In fact, as something of a running gag down generations of artists Casval is portrayed with a wild variety of anachronistic, often outlandish polearms such as the reverse-forked ranseur or the Oriental "tree of swords." Some don't even exist, such as the Double Ox-Tongued Mancatching Crow's Beak. He is usually portrayed as an older man with a distinguishing mustache.

Casval is one of the better-attested companions, as he actually survived the Battle of Holger's Pass. He retired with honor to the City of Fons, where he served as "Captain of the People" (essentially a militia commander) until his death some 40 years after Beatrix's ascension. He was declared a saint in his own lifetime. His tomb in the Great Plaza at Fons has been a pilgrimage hot spot for five centuries. Bizarrely(?) he left no memoir or personal account of the Queen of Heaven, at least none known. His home and effects are in the care of a chapter of Poor Sisters. His ash spear is on display in a glass case. Touching the glass will grant a +1 bonus on Attacks of Opportunity and Trip attempts for 24 hours.

St. Casval's domains are Earth, Community and Strength. He is associated with serjeants and militia bands, city walls, badgers, and the game of chess--it's said he painted a pawn on his shield, and his blessing goes to those who can elevate a pawn by moving it to an opponent's back row.

St. Odion the Learned (LG human cleric) - It may seem odd for the Cleric class to have its own particular patron saint. Nevertheless St. Odion is such and his life is well-attested: he survived Holger's pass, founded a monastic order and lived to be 100. No one did more to promulgate Beatrix's legend, or to make her the new "face" of the Cult of Saints. He wrote the very first hagiography of Beatrix, titled A History of Beatrix Our Savior, the Wars on Our Earth and Beneath and in Heaven (a laborious read, mostly circulated in abridged form).

In all accounts, St. Odion is Beatrix's confessor and spiritual guide. Some writers trying to reconcile sacred history with more sacriligious accounts of Our Sweet Savior present Beatrix as an amoral Wizardess who indeed learned a terrible ritual at the frozen feet of the Ice Father, until the wisdom of Odion put her on a more righteous path. In his History however, Odion wrote Beatrix was, "the embodiment of all that is sweet and well-meaning in Man's heart," and "so near to perfect she was fragrant of heaven." So don't look for nuance from him. Incidentally, bawdies and burlesques of the Companions portray him as an old letch always trying get a peek up Beatrix's skirt ("Father shall I kneel to pray?"/"Heavens child I'll not bar your way." "But Father I say the floor is cold."/"Come here child, a cloak I hold.")

In many ways Odion was a great reformer of the Cult. He did not give it a central hierarchy or disavow its pantheistic teachings but he did elevate the monastery from houses of prayer dependent on powerful patronage to powerful landowning "religious corporations" (or less ominously, "communities.") His Rule (the Odine Monks or "Grey Fathers") established the baseline for subsequent Rules and Orders to follow. Odion reified and encouraged many nascent traditions, such as mass public confessions and penances on Witsuntide and Michaelmas (whole communities expose their sins and perform acts of contrition together in the Cult). Odion came as close as anyone in the Cult ever has to calling other faiths wrong and dumb (such as his tract, On Trees which could well be titled "Stupid Druids, Trees Aren't God"). You can buy little figurines of Odion most anywhere (+1 CL to Magic Circle Against Evil with one as your divine focus). They always show him wagging his finger.

Odion is portrayed as a bent old man with twin flames of grey hair rising behind his bald pate, wearing a grey habit and carrying a gnarled staff. He is associated with monks (duh), parchment and vellum making, pigeons, students and schoolmasters. His bones/effects are scattered protecting many places, including his native city of Stellamont, the Royal Library of Pellegrine, his first monastery of Oxmort, and his tibia are in a chest somewhere at the bottom of the Trader's Sea (oops). Aside from the usual wound and disease curing miracles, praying in some place with his remains gives you a +2 to research rolls and for 48 hours, intimidation checks.

Our Lady of Songs (CG elf? half elf? bard) - The Lady is one of Beatrix's most mysterious and least well-attested companions, yet next to Beatrix herself perhaps the most commonly represented and evoked in word and image. She came from the Elven Lands yet beyond that, not even her name is known, or if she was fully or half Elven. St. Odion never mentioned her in his History (then again, he left out a lot--he was a man of narrow interests), nor is she mentioned in any firsthand accounts of the Return of the Giants. In modern times many of skeptical mind say she was invented by the Cult as a way to give the notoriously rambunctious Order of Bards a place in the Cult, and as an outreach to Elven converts (there are few, if any). Yet if she is only a fable, it seems to have sprung up quickly after Holger's pass---the first trouvere's song of the "Lady With the Lyre/Fall's Fire in Her Hair," who "made beasts weep and dragons bow," is attested only a few decades after. The various songs don't agree on her fate--some say at Holger's Pass she was "horribly crush't," others "return'd she to Elven Land/Where Time runs not and all is glad." Perhaps no other saint's relics sell so well: particularly locks of red hair, quite well preserved 500 years on, often hung from a lute's pegbox or twisted around an artist's brush.

Her devotees portray The Lady as an Elven woman with bright red hair holding a harp, lyre or psalter. If it is official cult art she is garbed in appropriately saintly gown and stola, but popular depictions clothe her to accent her loveliness, sometimes only in a shower of leaves. Wolves, lions or monsters are always tamely lying all around her. Often the device of a psalter and red maple leaf or rose serves as her representation. The Lady's domains are Charm, Liberation and Travel. In addition to Bards, Elves, elms and roses she is patroness of minstrels and the makers of instruments, crossroads, of many hills and woods, and young lovers.







Monday, February 27, 2017

What's in the Eastwylde pt 2 - In which I Torque About Orcs

Prepare to pork on orc.  So much orc, you will hork.  Uncork these orcs!

All About Orcs
So literally the first question everyone has when considering orcs in Your Dungeonmaster's Precious Setting is, "is it morally justified to massacre a bunch of infant orcs?"

The answer is, of course, no, never, not even then, what are you retarded it's wrong to kill babies.  It's also true that in my setting orcs were created by a primal act of murder, they literally have the evil of that deed stamped on their souls and they are twisted, despicable beings made of hate and bottomless anger.  It's still wrong to murder babies, you goons.  In fact, orcs are everything I just described and also ensouled beings with freedom of will (their creator hates them, he certainly doesn't care what they do).  The universe is complicated and not about to make itself easy for your moral convenience.  Except with dragons, I guess.

Here's the fucked thing with Orcs.  If you were talking hypothetically with one, and you said "if I slaughtered your whole tribe and then came upon a bunch of your helpless infants, would it be acceptable within the bounds of war for me to slaughter them?"  The orc would be like, "keep them alive so they stay fresh if you need rations, lol."

Yeah, orcs eat babies, mostly their own.  Just like hogs.  Actually cannibalism is quite common among them but for obvious reasons, in extremis the newborn are eaten first.   Note that orcs don't eat each other for any spiritual reason (they do not have a mystical bent or care much for symbolism), but when food is scarce.  Orcs are quite large (5' 8" to 6' 3" in a world where the average man is 5' 6"-5' 7") and have big muscles, obviously, so they need a protein-rich diet and they need a lot of it.  They are omnivorous, of course and can get a little nutrition from just about anything, just like hogs. But still, meat is the thing.

 Why are orcs green pig people?  Because they sprang from the blood of the slain god Freyr, who was called The Boar King, you see.  Incidentally, Freyr's wife Gerd was a Giantess and Storm Giants and Forest Giants (the tallest giant kindreds) are green so I don't know, possible connection there?  Anyway.  Freyr created the Elves, and so the Elves and Orcs are related in this way---the Elves call the Orcs their shadow, or distorted reflection, but then again Elves are vain.   Gruumsh, the brother god of Freyr and his murderer, considers himself the "Father" of the orcs.  The orcs believe they are ugly because Gruumsh was ugly and Gruumsh made them with his hate.  Gruumsh hates his children: the Orcs believe that the moon is his watchful eye (the full moon being the time for worthy deeds), and the stars are the all the dead orcs. Gruumsh pinned them up in the sky and lit them on fire, because he hates them.  Because they're ugly, like Gruumsh is  ugly, and they remind him he could only create ugly things.  Yes, Orcs consider themselves ugly and the Elves beautiful (in a sense they are the same race): braids of the Elves' lovely golden hair are quite a trophy if you can get it.

see what I mean?  the Storm Giant's the green one

This is a Forest Giantess.  I've been in love with this drawing for thirteen years, lol.

What are orcs like? Orcs are often likened to boars or pigs and this is accurate, in the same way people are basically chimps with more complicated rituals. Orcs have jaw and cheekbone structure reminiscent of suidae, which gives them very wide mouths and big square chins; orcmen have tusks turning upwards and orcwives usually none but when they do the tusks turn outwards; both have fangs but otherwise normal teeth, though some have "outer teeth" pointed outwards from the gums like a pig's. Many orcs look very frightening and bestial, with their jaws filthy and open like the boars they venerate, but some are handsome in a Ron Perlman As The Beast kind of way.

You see how thick that jawbone is and also how the teeth project forward?  Yeah baby, yeah.
As I was writing, orcs are likened to pigs and this is accurate: they are totally ruthless and have a very based outlook. An orcwife will eat her children to survive and barely feel guilty. They shrink from doing almost nothing to stay alive and are frank about it. Their cooperation is almost wholly calculated, by nature they are loners and survivors. Sometimes rage overcomes ruthlessness, for all orcs are born with a well of bottomless hate and rage in their hearts. They learn to control it or it eventually consumes them. They actually have the same beauty standards as Men, and they find themselves ugly and hateful (as they are, and so they should). This is why all orc cultures venerate ritual scarification and flencing of skin (important orcs often have the whole skin of their chin or cheeks scraped away or peeled back with plugs or staples embedded): they are ugly and hateful (full of hate and fit to be hated) and find both release in pain (their pain tolerance is like a boar's) and enjoy making themselves ever more frightful. Sarcasm is a high sport among the pig people.

Speaking of sports, orcs play many martial and athletic games among themselves. They are quite obsessed with games, as is common in hunter-warrior societies where for long stretches of time there is not much to do. These include javelin, shotput, darts, archery, climbing, and complicated hypothetical arguments (an aspect of "bulling" as it's called) such as "how would you hunt a pack of worgs," or "how would you ambush a heavily armored force of Men" [sidebar, orcish has problems with plurality so the singular "Man" is often ignored and the plural Men always used, as in 'you are a Men, talk to this other Men for me."] Orcs have long memories (like pigs) and to catch your opponent in an argument up by bringing up some point from long before is considered a masterful stroke. You may notice hurled weapons are popular with them: it is a myth that orcs prefer to "best use" their natural strength by wading into melee with a pair of battle-axes. Thrown weapons, recurved bows and long spears are more prized, as orcs love the ambush and to deliver the decisive stroke from surprise. "Fighting fair," goes their oldest saying, "is for suckers (oink oink)." The glorification of single combat is characteristic of cultures that possess heavy personal armor and most orc societies through the centuries have lacked this.


Here is a drawing of one of my orc NPCs (never did finish it)  The lamella are woodbark and the upper armor is cured hide. A weasel pelt acts as an overbelt.  Various pieces of metal form a kind of scapular which along with possession of a metal sword and dagger marks this orcwife as an important warrior.

Most orcs wear carefully prepared skin or clothing of bark. The time consuming manufacture of these is of course the domain of orcwives: but if an orcman can best survive by excelling at womens' work and if an orcwife wants to kill (who doesn't?) then it's a whatever. All orcs, however, love to decorate. Again, this is a culture of hunters who often have long stretches with nothing to do, so in addition to cutting on themselves in artistic ways they fashion braids and decorations of bone, horn, fur and feather---think Leatherstocking Goes Hellraiser and you get the idea. Orcs are very good at grinding bone and shell together and then making it a paste they can mold into plates or pipeclay for ever more elaborate and creative decoration. These decorations are another reason close combat is largely scorned by them.

If I am making orcs sound too cute or domestic remember these are people who will throw a knife at your head because their sliced-up skin is really irritating them that day, or murder and eat a close friend with the sang-freud of a pig. All orcs have the rage and the ruthlessness, like two devils pulling them in opposite directions. A lot of what I have said may be overreaching: orcs (and pigs!) can and do know love and loyalty but it is not praised among them. But, as to their skin: it is true orcs don't sweat and wallow in mud to keep cool and ease their irritation, and why they do poorly in meridian climes. A kind of backhanded blessing from their creator Gruumsh is that where many orcs live for a while, deep pits of mud will "bloom." Men call these corruptures and note accurately that orcs ruin the land wherever they settle (like pigs!). This is also why orcs encountered in the dungeon have pit traps around them, that's actually a weaponized bathing area (if they were expecting you). The sunlight does indeed burn orcs' skin and sting their eyes and the mud and darkness are their refuge (hence they settle in dense wood and caves, rarely staying in open country). Orcs go about with exposed skin totally covered in mud (save for where it's flensed, probably) giving them a yellow, reddish, brown or white cast depending on local clay (their natural skin colors are green, ash-grey and rarely bruise purple or white). This also improves their smell, and they frequently mix fragrant herbs, pine needles etc. into their skin ointments to smell better (they don't actually like stank anymore than humans do though some unwisely take it as a competition to see who can stink up a cave the most).

Another orc NPC's portrait.  Note the mix of leather, wood and bone and how armor and weapons blend into decoration


A common saying of men is, "boars and bats are the allies of orcs," and while not totally true (animals are not magically smart in my setting), they are the most frequently chosen companions of orc rangers, hunters and druids. Boars accompany orcs to war and hunt just as dogs accompany Men but, of course, they are not so selflessly loyal. Bats of course frequently carry disease through no fault of their own (interestingly in real life they had a heraldic association with physicians/medicine, at least in Islamic Spain) and orcs who live near (many cultivate) batcaves will pick up these diseases and so become even more hideous and threatening to Player Character intruders. Guano bombs and fungal alchemy provide traps for orc lairs.

As I mentioned, orcs, Men and Elves all have basically the same standard of beauty within a broad range (because Orcs are just a twisted version of Elves, of course): although orcs are usually extravagantly hideous and proud of it, some are attractive enough you might want to settle down and make a baby with them. Half-Orcs are often born from violence but also sometimes because mixed communities of wild men and seminomadic orcs form, especially up north (where the orcs are called "tamed" and now have many apparatuses of civilization). Because of the orcs' gloomy and violent outlook on basically everything (they like to say the stars are the souls of the departed burning in agony, they will always find a reason why what you're doing is pointless and dumb and you're doing it wrong anyway, schadenfreude and sarcasm is their cultural heritage etc.) such unions can be difficult unless the Men becomes Orclike or the Orc becomes Menlike (both are possible--orcs are ensouled beings with free will and capable of change, probably). The way of this generally is to encourage Bulling, which is the Orc art of conversation and includes complex hypotheticals, anecdotes and lore. Bulling is definitely the most positive social behavior Orcs engage in and you could with time probably make an orc upbeat (dare we say pleasant?) by encouraging her or him to Bull more. Some Orcs and Half-Orcs are born among humans and are almost totally human in personality, just a person with bad skin and a bad temper. The reverse is probably also true, orcs will (out of indifference/laziness) accept anyone into their band who is self-reliant and can Bull (and understands that cannibalism is nothing personal).

More about Bulling: an interesting fact about Orcs is that they do not use chairs save for the very human-influenced tribes.  Thus Orcs have perfected the squat from earliest youth and can spend hours squatting on their haunches without straining a muscle.   Orcs on guard duty or waiting nearby a trap will squat and bull in that position for hours, or attend to some craft such as carving a bat from a wood block or making a new wristband.  Despite their violent tempers they can display an incredible patience at this, sometimes lurking by their trap and sitting and muttering for a day or more.  Thus it is orcs encountered at random in some dungeon chamber could have been there for many days with nothing more to amuse themselves than decoration or deep thoughts ("is eating until you burst the best way to die?")

Tolkien already gave us a perfectly good naming scheme for Orcs so I go with something that's heavy on the snapping and buzzing sounds (Gazarak, Rakku, etc.) or I go with Akkadian with the ending vowel replaced with a Black Speech-y noise (like take the word Inannu and make it Enank) or something from Mesopotamian mythology (like the monster Humbaba, which made the name Hun-Ba-Kil). Or, if it's hard to remember a bunch of made up noises, I translate the name (ex. of Orc NPCs in my game: Rotten-Axe, Topknot, Tall Pole, Prettygirl, Big'un, Bad Shot, Milk).


If this all sounds too ordinary and dull and close to real human cultures (although it isn't and I can't think of any like this), consider orcs as basically prime henchman material (the idea of them losing their infravision is dumb, btw--they totally keep the predator vision but they have to be immersed in total darkness for it to work). Your Chaotic fighter can totally get a bunch of orcs to follow him but consider my orcs A) are not dumb axe-wielding guys in fur diapers named Zog, B) are laconic but also argument-loving petty assholes C) are often fuckable if you can see past the whole mutilated green beastgirl thing, and they're probably much more fun to have around. My players have like three orc henchmen now and they love the terse gloomy motherfuckers.