Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gelatinous Cubes and their Masters

Okay, let's get one thing straight.

The gelatinous cubes that you bump into down on the second level dungeon aren't really the unit that is worth talking about.

The gelatinous cube, as you know is, is just a rogue subunit of a bioweapon.  But even that simple description oversells it.  The HD 4, slow-moving, mindless gelatinous cube is just a fragment.

Gelatinous cubes were designed to operate in concert--many thousands of cubes sliding over each other simultaneously, self-assembling into much more useful shapes.

Saying that a gelatinous cube is a stupid monster is a bit like saying that the tarrasque's bellybutton is a stupid monster.  You aren't wrong locally, but you've got some bad assumptions back on the global level.

A Lesson In Self-Assembling Subunits

I'm just going to throw some Youtube videos at ya'll.  It's almost midnight and I have work tomorrow.

You don't have to watch them all--I'll write the takeaway below each video.

Fact: a bunch of very stupid sub-units can display a startling degree of emergent complexity through very simple algorithms.  Many stupids equal a smart (as long as another smart wrote the program).  Look at how ants design their nests.

Fact: most people are vastly underestimating the behaviors that an externally-rigid cube is capable of.  This robot uses three internal flywheels to generate torque, but a gelatinous cube could just swirl its guts around and then stop suddenly, which would cause the whole cube to flip.  More complex biomechanics are built from this.

Fact: cubes have some notable advantages when it comes to self-assembling swarms.  They're very easy to stack, and they're very easy to move past each other.  Gelatinous cubes would have no problem sliding down a hallway made of other gelatinous cubes (that's literally what they are made for) and they would have no problem sticking to each other.

Fact: a bunch of stupid cubes (or cubical pillars) can do some pretty cool things.  They could carry things (like ships) or position things (like armor plates).  Properly souped-up gelatinous cubes could fire cubical cannonballs via hydraulic pistons.  

And not only can the True Gelatinous Cubes hop up on their corners and spin around like kung-fu jelly (shit, that's a monster that deserves a write-up), but they can fire lasers from their cores.

Laser cubes, motherfuckers.

Fact: Big Hero 6 had a cool villain.  Self-assembling microbot swarm = yes.  Are there self-assembling gelatinous micro-cubes?  Of course!

Masters of the Cube

They're flying wizard-oozes.  They're called the Vudra.  They're all telepathic and think that communicating via human mouth-flatus is hilarious.

There's a city in the Madlands is the city of Carnosus.  They rule it from atop their wind towers (only accessible through 3" wide holes on the top floor).  The city is made of gelatinous cubes.  Sometimes the city's masters move it from place to place, mostly for magical reasons.

Vudra reproduce via fission.  The parent splits into two smaller clones that retain all of their memories.  In their eyes, all Vudra are as old as all other Vudra.  They don't remember being young, and each one is ancient.

Vudra can also fuse together, which causes them to undergo genetic and mental recombination.  This is their sex-analogue.

They don't have sex with their friends or lovers.  That would destroy the entire purpose of having a friend or a lover.  Instead, they have fuse with stronger looking Vudra when they are scared or stressed, or they fuse with enemies.  (What better way to resolve a disagreement than to fuse into a single creature, negating their personal bias, and then select the better option.)

The Vudra have created a race of artificial humans that they call the Vudra-men, who have similar mindsets and biologies.  They fuse together instead of having sex, and are capable of splitting into a number of smaller offspring (but these babies aren't the big-headed babies you'd expect; they're more like lemurs).

The vast majority of them are in the process of leaving the planet (through means undisclosed) and have promised that their most loyal vassals will be handed the keys to the city and the ioun stones of cube control.

But gelatinous cubes are really just their bread and butter.  Really, they dabble in cubic golems.  Stone, mostly, but cubes are preferred for when they want to really fuck things up.  They also control slithering trackers (capable of following the merest scraps of molecular residue) and slithering racers.

Slithering Racer

HD 4  AC leather (from speed)  Trample 2d6 acid
Move 36  Int 1  Morale 12

*Slither Over - Slithering racers don't engulf their prey, they slither over it, leaving a healthy layer of acid, then circle around for another pass.  When creeping, they creep as fast as any other ooze.  But when food is at hand, they slither twice as fast as a sprinting horse.  This great speed, coupled with poor senses, gives them -4 to hit, but they are capable of hitting anyone in the path of their great slither.

Gelatinous Cube Mounts

You'll need a snorkel, a ring of ooze command, and a ring of acid resistance.  The rest is cake.


The city of Asria could also be described as the building of Asria.  It's a castle-arcology, contructed prior to the Time of Fire and Madness and then expanded and retrofitted by the city's current rulers.

There's a lot of interesting things in Asria (jellyfish farms, canopy beds that cause stasis-sleep) but they do notably use gelatinous cubes for things like pumping water and controlling doors.  A little bit of magic stolen long ago from the Vudra, of whom they've never heard.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Dragon Hole


A dragon is carrying off our cattle.  Go kill it.

"But we're level 1!"

Just stab it when its sleeping.  Or poison it.  Here, take this huge bottle of strychnine.

Alternate Hook

There's a dragon living to the north, and not that far away.  We know this because we've been watching it steal cattle.  Let's go rob it.

"But we're level 1!"

Then it's a good thing we aren't going to be fighting it, huh?  Here, let's take these camouflage capes.

The Twist

There's not just one dragon down there.  There's six.  Siblings.

Your Travelling Companions For This Caper

Melenna, Thief 2, she is constantly smokes cigarettes, constantly putting things in her mouth to learn more about them, friendly, sarcastic, wants money, wants other people to take risks for her, wants to find her ex-husband Bonce and cut his nose off.

Melenna's interesting inventory: dogskin cloak, dagger rubbed in charcoal to make it less reflective, cigarettes, poisonous fingernail polish.

Madrigal, Fighter 2, the younger sister of Melenna, she is constantly hunting small animals and crushing them underfoot, unfriendly, paranoid, honorable, wants fame, wants to keep her sister safe, wants to graffiti her name ("Madrigal the Unmerciful") on available surfaces.

Madrigal's interesting inventory: intimidating helmet, shitty bronze cuirass vandalized with insults against someone named Pulgaro (a bear-fighter that she stole it from), tower shield with an eye motif, spear, chalk, tea, teapot, teacup, horse that is mostly used to carry her armor.

Approaching the Dragon Hole

The only features are vast stretches of yellow grass and a tall white stone that the locals call the Lonely Whore.  It's a good place to spend the night because you can climb up inside it onto a small ledge large enough for a half-dozen people.  Not ideal, since you can't see out, but it keeps you safe from the orns.

Random Encounters [d6] on the Way to the Dragon Hole

1. Dragon flies overhead, carrying a screaming cow.  (This is Garnos, whose scales are various shades of dark brown to dark red.)  If he spots the party (and he probably will), he'll circle once and then fly on.  He can't really do much with a cow in his claws.

If the party pisses him off somehow, he'll drop the cow on the nearest person (4d6 damage on a hit), do a couple flame breath strafing runs, and then perhaps try to fly off with Madrigal's horse.

2. Pack of 1d6+2 orns.  These are basically asshole chocobos.  They're a lot smarter than they pretend to be (sort of like that bird in Up).  They can be captured and domesticated quickly as long as they are fed a lot of food (they're carnivores), since they'll quickly realize that good behavior leads to steady meals, but they're also smart to pretend to be injured when they're feeling lazy.  They lack the strength and endurance of a horse, but they can easily out-sprint one and are much smarter.  They enjoy long baths and shiny things (which they swallow compulsively).

Of course, when they hunt you, they're basically just adorable raptors.

Orn:  HD 2  AC none  Talons 1d10  Move 15 (Sprint 21)  Int 6  Morale 7

3. Wagon being pulled by a pair of aimless, exhausted-looking horses.  A corpse or unconscious man is slumped over in the driver's seat.  The side of the wagon is painted with candles and suns.

The driver is Okren, a candlemaker.  He has a crossbow clutched in his arms and a whistle in his lap.  He is dead, and anyone who handles him without proper caution must also save vs. disease (ebola, 1d6 Str and 1 Con).

The horses are tired and thirsty, and will approach anyone who attempts to calm them down.

Okren was not a wizard, but he did learn how to make mandrogi (grass golems) from his parents.  Although the church condemns the practice as deviltry, it is not uncommon for merchants to use grass golems as helpers (and when the golems deteriorate, kindling).  There are currently 15 mandrogi aboard the wagon, and they have been given the command "protect the wagon from anything that I do not personally greet".  If the players touch anything other than the horses, the mandrogi will rustle around inside the wagon for a round before spilling out the back and attacking.  Each one carries a small grass-cutting knife, awl, or pair of scissors.

They look like five-pointed bundles of dried grass, tied with red string and with a 2x2 grid of the holy alphabet written on their chests.

Inside the cart is Orringale, who also caught the disease but is now mostly dying from dehydration.  She is too weak to rise from her bed.  As with Okren, anyone who handles her or her linens without the proper precautions risks contracting ebola as well.

She loves her (now dead) husband and will mourn, but she is also a very practical woman.  She can be convinced to accompany the party to their destination, but has no intention of becoming an adventurer.  She has an 8-year-old son in the nearest major city, currently visiting with her sister.  She eats her hair when she is upset or nervous, and has a remarkably sharp sense of smell.  (Like, she can tell when her husband takes his jacket off, even though he's outside the wagon driving it.)

The wagon contains 120 normal candles, 40 scented candles

Mandrogi: HD 0 (HP 1), AC none, Tiny Weapon 1d6, Move 9, Int 0, Morale 12, highly flammable.

4. 1d20 friendly pilgrims.  They believe that they are on their way to the Pillar of Fire, but it is obvious from their path that they are going in the wrong direction.  In reality, they are being controlled by brain worms, who are subtly manipulating their hosts into searching for a hidden reservoir so that they can drown the pilgrims in it, and then spread their eggs into the water supply for the entire region.

(All of the water in Asria comes from water towers, which are big buildings that look a bit like parking garages.  The sides of them are honeycombed with waterfalls, and water flows out from them.  Each one is part of the prehistoric superstructure of the region--no one knows how they work or where the water comes from, but each is controlled by a different Water Baron.)

The pilgrims are helpful, friendly, and infectious.  Don't let them prepare your food.  If you watch them closely, you can sometimes see a worm squiggle across an eyeball.  They are in control of themselves 99% of the time, but if the worms ever feel truly threatened, the pilgrims will suddenly start shouting stuff like "Wolves!  Wolves among us!"  and try to defend themselves from what they honestly believe to be wolves (the PCs).

It might even be possible to collaborate with the worms directly.  Worms are pragmatic people.

5. Four villagers bringing a deserter from the paladin order back to the city of Asria, where the ex-paladin will probably be executed.  The villagers don't want to be here, and the ex-paladin definitely doesn't want to be here.

The paladin will promise to lead the PCs to a dungeon filled with loot if they free him.  (He is referring to the Long Halls of Luroc.)  His name is Pabu, and he deserted rather than burn down a building with chaos mutants inside it, badly injuring his commander in the process.

6. Halfling bandits armed with military-grade bee species.  They wear bee hives on their backs and communicate with their swarms telephathically.  They ride a wind-wagon (basically a big wagon blown around by sails--this works great for some reason).  There are 12 of them, but only two of them are bee-masters.

In the belly of the wagon is the daughter of an extremely unpopular water baron, whom they intend to ransom.  Her name is Belsey and she now has a bee insignia tattooed on her belly.  She's not a bad sort--brave, level-headed, practical, but also proud and a bit vengeful.

Down the Dragon Hole

The dragons live at the bottom of a 210' shaft.  It's actually not as undefensible as it sounds--the ground actually gets steeper the closer you get to the Dragon Hole, so it becomes impassably steep even before you get to the vertical part.

It's covered with vines and flowers.  Hummingbirds nest and feed among these vines.  Except that they're not really hummingbirds--they're surgeonbirds that feed on the dragons the same way that mosquitoes feed on humans.  (They're worth a lot to barber-surgeons, because of the anesthetizing properties of their saliva and how efficiently they can bleed people, not to mention that they're much more fashionable than leeches.)  They'll probably be the first threat that the party faces during their climb down.

The Reservoir

If someone falls into the Dragon Hole, they'll land in deep water.  This is the reservoir that connects to the aquifers in the surrounding countryside.  If the pumps stop turning, the whole region goes dry.

It's full of fish, as well as some of the tiny psychic whales common to the Underdark (which it connects to).

There are other ways out from down here.  If anyone ever lays siege to the Dragon Hole, the dragons will use these tunnels to escape and then sneak up on their attackers.

Ways to Kill Dragons

So, this is an adventure about killing dragons written for level 1 characters.  Obviously, if a bunch of level one characters roll initiative against a dragon, they've already lost, so I need to make sure that there are lots of ways to kill dragons in this dungeon.  Give the kids a chance.

And of course, you don't have to kill a dragon to rob them.

The general model is--small things can be stolen without the dragon noticing, but taking the really valuable pieces will absolutely result in one (or more) pissed-off dragons looking for you.

Not to mention, pissing off some dragons so much that they leave the Dragon Hole to go look for you is a great way to get them to leave their hoard unguarded.

Anyway, here are some ways to kill dragons, all of which will be present in the dungeon is some form or another.

Another Dragon
The six siblings don't get along, and have many pre-existing rivalries and hatreds that smart PCs can exploit.  Alternatively, it is possible to frame a dragon.  If the party can clandestinely move an item from one dragon's hoard to another dragon's hoard, that will probably be sufficient for a deadly duel (unless Vulpernia or Green Diama can break it up in time).  This is probably the best way to go about it.

There is a large section of cavern supported by three unsteady pillars of rock.  The dragons call it "The Arcade" and use it as a meeting place.  A hit from a dragon or a small explosion would be enough to bring down the ceiling.

Dragon Hunters
Many would-be dragon slayers have tried to kill Garnos over the years.  He admires their bravery, and sometimes keeps them around, usually with a broken leg and on top of a tall (60') ledge.  They know many ways to kill a dragon, and in fact, Garnos' lair is littered with nets, harpoons, anchors, hooks, ballistae, and small explosives that dragon hunters know how to use effectively.  But more to the point, they're huge, brutal, psychotic-by-default people who have a beef with big reptiles.

Aside from the Strychnine that the party might have been given before going into the Dragon Hole, there is also a poisonous mushroom in the lair: the elephant's foot.  Dragons have a low chance of dying from poison (20%), but even on a successful save, strychnine causes 24 hours of weakness and convulsions, and elephant's foot causes hallucinations.

Green Slime
It's in there somewhere, too.  Bear in mind that dragons can scrape off green slime patches just as adventurers can, and they're never without a fire source if they want to burn it off.  Feeding them green slime is a guaranteed way to kill a dragon, but it usually involves the dragon vomiting green slime for a few rounds.  (60' cone of green slime spray. . . Jesus Fucking Christ).  And don't forget the possibility of a runaway green slime chain reaction.

One of the eggs that the Emerald Egg keeps is a rotten (but still hatchable) cockatrice egg.  It will hatch into a baby cockatrice if a non-virginal woman urinates on it.  (This method of hatching a cockatrice egg is common knowledge, but it has the feel of a useless folk tale.)

Ashrendar keeps his greatest treasure underwater, behind a heavy iron grate.  If someone closed the grate behind him and locked it, he would certainly drown.

Circle of Death
The Emerald Egg has a circle that she uses to kill creatures and raise them as undead.  It wouldn't be hard to trick another dragon into entering the circle.

Dragon Psychology

1. Dragons hoard things.  It's compulsive.  They can't not hoard things.  If prevented from hoarding things, they'll go crazy and start hoarding shadows, or they'll pry off their scales and starting sorting those into piles.

This six dragons are siblings who share a mother, and their mother has banned them from collecting any precious metals or gems, since those are the things that she collects.

Dragons are incapable of sharing their hoards.  The trick to different dragons living together in harmony is to simply collect different things.  A mated pair of dragons might decide that one of them collects gold, while the other one collects everything else.

All dragons are insanely possessive of their hoard.  Many dragons name themselves after their hoards, or certain items in their hoard.  There have been dozens of dragons that called themselves "The Golden Hoard", or variations thereof.

2. Dragons are insanely proud of being a dragon.  You would be hard-pressed to convince one that a human is better than a dragon in any respect.  They also have no compunction about killing and eating anyone.  In the mind of a dragon, everything belongs to them, and so they approach negotiations with the sullen stubbornness of a child who has to negotiate with a bully for the return of a stolen toy.

But friendly, subservient humans are happily tolerated, as long as the human isn't carrying anything that looks valuable, and the dragon isn't hungry.  (And the dragons are rarely hungry--Garnos is a great hunter.)

3. Dragons are also intensely delusional.  Each dragon suffers from a different delusion.  If you want to have a positive social interaction with a dragon, you must play along with their delusion.

For example, say you are talking to Garnos, who believes that everyone is trying to kill him.  He will probably tell you that everyone is trying to kill him, then ask you if you are here to kill him.  Any claim that you don't want to kill him will be met with skepticism and hostility, since you are challenging his personal narrative.  Not only are you a (would-be) murderer, but you are a lair as well.  Once you play into his delusion, however, you have a lot more

The Dragons [d6]

Here they are: the six siblings, presented in approximately the order that they would be encountered if the party explored the Dragon Hole in order, from the bird-infested top to the flooded bottom.

You can also roll a d12, to see if the random encounter is for the dragon or for members of their drakencult.

It's not a mega-dungeon.  I honestly want something more modest, close to 50-60 rooms, but we'll see how that goes.  Ideally, each dragon's lair would also be modular, so that a DM could pop it off and use it in isolation, as a one-shot.  So, not only would it be a dungeon full of dragons, but it would be d6 Random Dragon Lairs as well.

1. Garnos the Bestial
Hoard: Alcohol, Bones, Weapons
Drakencult: Berserkers who have drank of his blood.
Distinctive Marks: Darker scales, scarred eye.
Delusion: Everyone is trying to kill him.

Garnos doesn't talk much.  He's a draconic primitivist--he thinks that dragons shouldn't be talking in the first time.  He does all the hunting for the family, and he gets to keep all the bones.  His chambers are filled with bones: cows and horses, but a few human as well.

Garnos is the dragon who does all the hunting for his siblings.  When a dragon is sighted flying around the surrounding neighborhood, that dragon is Garnos 90% of the time.  (But people have a hard time telling the siblings apart, which is why they only think a single dragon lives in the Dragon Hole.)

He collects the dragonslayers that come after him, and usually keeps them prisoner.  He sometimes gives them false chances to escape or attack him--he is just watching them to see what tactics they use.  He is familiar with the harpoons, poisons, and hooks of dragonslayers.  Prisoners are given several opportunities to drink his blood.  Those that refuse will be killed.  Those that drink it will go mad and become his loyal berserkers.

Garnos also likes to get drunk, and keeps a few barrels of whiskey in the back.  He gets blackout drunk on about 5% of days, but doesn't otherwise drink.  The other dragons don't know about his occasional alcoholism.

He'll only bother talking to you if you can succeed in making him really, really curious.  Otherwise he'll just eat everyone he comes across.

His berserkers are a motley bunch, mostly ex-knights and other dragonslaying types.  Some wear rusty armor, others wear patches of dragonscale, and a few other berserkers have begun to sprout patches of scales themselves.  Their leader is a woman named The Third Fang of Garnos; she has cut off one of her breasts (to shoot arrows better) and tattooed a dragon's face over the scar.

The berserkers tend to the Armory, which is sort of like a museum of weapons and torture devices.  It's metal as fuck.  Like, floors made of swords, axes made from smaller axes.

If Garnos really wants to fuck you up, he'll put on his armored helmet.  The frills help protect his neck (a dragon's weakest spot), the horns help him impale other dragons, and when he clenches his mouth closed, the nozzle on the front helps him focus his fire breath (180' line instead of a 60' cone).

Garnos is secretly training his drakencult to kill all of his siblings.  However, he is worried about his mother, and doesn't have the will or the power (he believes) to kill her.  So, he hesitates.

2. Volectra the Painted Dragon
Hoard: Plays and Playwrights
Drakencult: Actors, who struggle to remember their real names and are a very distinct caste from the caged playwrights.
Distinctive Marks: Covered in jewelry, gauzy tapestries, or painted murals.
Delusion: Everyone is jealous of her beauty.

Volectra is the smartest and the most vain of the dragons.  She could be a mastermind, but her vast intellect is turned inwards, toward herself.  And she is a beautiful dragon.  Perfumed, too.  She is planning to one day travel to meet the elves, since she has heard about their many beautiful things (and the two would probably get along famously.)

Her lair is covered in mirrors.  She has the largest drakencult, actors, tailors, and jewelers.  They wear blinders and hoods when they leave her quarters so that they will not look at the other dragons (-2 to hit).

If she ever enters combat, she would probably just flee to get her siblings.  Not out of cowardice, but she just doesn't like getting blood on her.  It stinks.  All of this is forgotten, of course, if you actually piss her off.  Pissed off dragons are remarkably similar in attitude.

She keeps a clear distinction between her "uncreative" drakencult and the artists that actually write the plays and design the jewelry.  Painters and playwrights are kept in cages, while her cadre of painted and perfumed humans wander around, pursuing beauty, and responding to whatever name Volectra decides to call them.  (Most of them struggle to remember their real name.)  Sometimes they wear costumes, but more commonly they are naked with their clothing painted on: bakers, soldiers, prisoners, kings.

If the party befriends her (and she is probably the easiest dragon to befriend), she will want them to stay and produce beautiful things for her.  Unless the party has a better idea, she will want them to perform a play that one of her playwrights has written about her.  (I intend to type up a 5 page play in 3 acts, yes.)  The characters (and players) would just read their lines and try to survive the plot of the play, which involves a lovers' duel to the "death", a flurry of arrows, and escape from a burning city (which ends with Volectra burning down her own wooden set--she loves this shit).

In this play, the PCs will play the parts of competing lovers, a beloved princess, a flatulent dwarf, and her brother Garnos, who is depicted as an oaf.  (He will be pissed if he hears of you mocking him.)

If she thinks that your beauty threatens to eclipse her own, she will try to mar your beauty.  Preferably by eating you, but if that is not possible (e.g. because you have joined another dragon's drakencult, or claimed the same), she will simply deface you.

3. Vulpernia the Shepherdess
Collects: Cute Animals, Cute Birds, Nice Smells
Drakencult: Dusty women dressed like lambs, who refer to Vesperna as "The Shepherdess".
Distinctive Marks: Larger than her siblings, white scale on her neck.
Delusion: Everyone is a spy for someone else, except for cute things, which are trustworthy.

It would be a mistake to categorize Vulpernia as "the maternal dragon".  She looks after her siblings in her own way, yes, and she is largely in control of the lair.

The cave swallows are her spies. Although she doesn't command them directly, they nest in her chambers, and she has learned their language in order to interpret their chatter.  (Cave swallows can echolocate and build nests on the wall using only their spit.)

She has a petting zoo.  Her favorite is currently a baby camel.  The party may sometimes find it wandering the cave--it's pretty fearless.  The petting zoo fence made from the ribs of Samathorn.

She as Volectra are twins, hatched from the same egg, and they are thick as thieves.

Her siblings respect her because she killed Samathorn, their seventh clutch-mate, who defied their mother by hoarding gold.

4. Ashrendar the Architect
Collects: Architecture and Portraiture
Drakencult: Muscular librarians.  One has an ioun flail in a phylactery on his head.
Distinctive Marks: Thinner, missing tail-tip.
Delusion: Believes that the world is going to end, and he may be some great prophet or saint who can see patterns in history that no one else can.

Ashrendar collects architecture--pieces of buildings that he likes.  Just grabs a cupola and flies off with it, that sort of thing.  No gargoyle is too ugly, no weathervane too tacky, for his collection.

And what he cannot carry off, he reconstructs.  A long time ago, he began abducting architects and masons.  Their children and grandchildren now build reconstructions of famous buildings in his section of the lair.

The Amphitheater of Balangua, the Hundred-body Crucifix of Habellion, the Bastion of Medurak. . . all of these things are recreated in Ashrendar's chambers (although not always to 1:1 scale).  There is even a model map of the countryside, depicted with the accuracy that only flight can provide.  (An accurate map of the country is a treasure, by the way).

Her Drakencult are librarians, who have memorized large amounts of books.  Ashrendar cannot read the tiny text in books (and dragons are far-sighted anyway) and has his drakencult read to him instead.

Each member of the Drakencult lives in a miniature building, with which they share their name.  Like, one of them might live in a 1:40 scale model of the Castle Iagatro, which is only a 10x15x stone cabin in real life, and that muscular librarian's name will also be Castle Iagatro.

He is moderately interested in current events, but his true passion lies in history, and anyone who can fill in his (modest) gaps of knowledge will be a treasured mealtime companion, of course.  The experience will be a bit like a tea party, except with charred beef and stale cave-water as the only dishes.

Aside from that, Ashrendar is a bit of a shut-in.  He's the nerd of the dragons, and his conversations with other dragons leaves them feeling awkward and unsure of how to respond.

5. Scabbermoth the Phlegmatic
Collects: Cats and Broken Things
Drakencult: 15 naked old men, led by Amado the massage-goblin.
Distinctive Marks: He's a fucking droggin, so he's a scaleless albino dragon with pink skin and bad dandruff.
Delusion: That nobody likes him, and everyone says mean things about him.  (This one is actually true, though.)

Scabbermoth lives in the lowest levels, nearest The Emerald Egg.  He lives beside a pool of water, since long soaks are the only thing that soothe his many rashes.  He spends most of his time with just his eyes showing above the surface of the water, wandering in and out of dreams.

His halls are filled with collections of lost and broken things: one room full of broken chairs, another filled with unpaired shoes.  One room is entirely devoted to books that have become unreadable through mold.  Another room is filled with lengths of string that are too short to be useful, each arranged on top of tables, each broken in a different way.  Another is filled with Scabbermoth's scales, which he carefully collected when they started falling out in his youth.

His hallways are also filled with cats.  He prefers white cats, because they remind him of himself.  Quite a few of them are three-legged, because Scabbermoth saw them leaping and realized that they were not broken, and all of his possessions must be broken in some way.

And yes, there is a room that is full of severed cat paws.  Unlike human eccentricities, dragons have the time and power to follow their manias to dreadful heights.

His servants are wretched old men, cast-offs from his siblings, who cheerfully tell Scabbermoth about how much more magnificent his siblings are compared to him, even as they scrub the lice off his back and rub liniment into his aching joints.

He breathes fire rather than phlegm, and the stress of combat has a chance to make him suffer a seizure after a couple of rounds.

He is pathetic, and he knows that he is pathetic, but even a pathetic half-dragon has his pride.  If you are dealing with him, you must be careful not to insult him, but telling him about all the other insults that other people and dragons have heaped upon him will soothe him.  That matches how his model of the world lives; that matches his delusion.

Despite his low station, he is intensely loyal to his siblings, and lives vicariously through them.  He knows all of their secrets (because horrible old men love to gossip).  He knows about Garnos and Vulpernia's incestual couplings and what they produced.  He knows about The Emerald Egg's necromancy.  He even knows what happened to Mother.

6. The Emerald Egg
Collects: Eggs, Tombstones, Clocks
Drakencult: Ghouls wearing porcelain masks, heavily perfumed.
Distinctive Marks: Green eyes.
Delusion: That Mother is still alive, knows everything that transpires in the Dragon Hole, and disapproves enormously.

The Emerald Egg will tell you that she doesn't collect anything, but that's a lie.  And if you look at the things you collect (eggs, tombstones, clocks) you can sort of see a theme.  Her most precious treasure is the Emerald Egg, from which she derives her name.  It sits in a silver cup atop a feathered throne.

(Normally the siblings would be prevented from accumulating any gems or precious metals because those belong in their mother's hoard, but the Emerald Egg was allowed to keep this single emerald because it is obviously an egg in addition to being an emerald.  It is a sign that she carries Mother's favor.)

She has a lot of eggs.  I've already mentioned the cockatrice egg, which is still hatchable.  There's also one of Vulpernia's incest eggs here, with the deformed embryo inside still giving proof.  And there's also an "angel egg", really the shrunken corpse of a angel whose god has died, which is basically a black-hole grenade.  And there's also a wooden egg with a keyhole in the front and a wooden key beside it; it contains a demon who will try to trick/bargain into its release.  (The Emerald Egg uses it for consultation, but even she isn't foolish enough to open it.)

The Emerald Egg believes that she is collecting Time.  She believes that she is eating it up.  She swallows it with every breath.  And as she has grown larger, she has begun swallowing more and more Time.  How else can you explain how quickly time seems to go now, compared to her childhood.  If you confront her with this, she will destroy you.

She is completely insane, but at first interaction, she will seem to be the most rational and composed of her siblings.

She functions as the voice for her Mother, and has convinced all of her siblings to never come to the lowest level, because Mother is very sick, and very disappointed in all of them.  Only she is allowed to talk to Mother, and only she can deliver Mother's messages.

Once Garnos guessed the secret.  He declared that Mother was dead, and that the Emerald Egg was manipulating them.  But then the Emerald Egg went to fetch Mother, and their Mother did indeed appear at the bottom of the reservoir and chastise the siblings.

This was possible because the Emerald Egg is also a wizard.  She is capable of polymorphing into her siblings, and even into her mother.  She can even polymorph into humans.

Apart from her hoard of mostly rotten eggs, she keeps her necromantic chambers separate.  She has her bonepile, and a few other necromantic dabblings.  Her ghoul servants all wear masks, and are heavily perfumed.  They dress like nobles, and if her siblings have ever noticed her servants climbing on ceilings or gnawing bones, they've never brought it up.

There's a weird sort of tension among the dragons.  The Emerald Egg speaks for her mother and herself, while Vulpernia speaks for the other siblings.  (Except for Scabbermoth, who is like the kid that no one wants to have on their team.)


There's a secret here, but you can probably guess it.

A secret tunnel leads to huge cavern.  At the back of the cavern, another hole in the ground, 50' across and surrounded by gouges of missing rock.  Scattered around this room is enough gold to buy a small barony.

If the PCs just take this gold and leave with it, they'll probably get away.  Green Diama doesn't come here often, so it's an easy haul.

But shine your light over the hole, and you'll see the glimmer of more gold, deeper down.  Much more gold.  This is Mother's hoard, and it contains enough gold to buy a small kingdom (i.e. unbalance your campaign entirely).

And I do mean ludicrous, cartoonish amounts of money.  When you get down there, the biggest risk is that you'll be crushed under one of the stacks of coins when your companions decide to sled down the hill of gold riding a golden plate.  A Smaug-level hoard.

But there are dragonbones there, too, under the gold.  The PCs will find them after they start looting the place.  This is what is left of Mother, who has nearly finished being turned into a dracolich by her daughter.  So this lowest level of the dungeon is really just a gold-coated TPK.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Ungreya


This is their second time through.

A million years of dynasty, brought to a halt when their empires ran into the temporal kingdoms of the elves at the end of recorded time.  Older than the universe that cages them.

Refugees into their own history, then, a fragmented retreat that left them crippled and ignorant.  A crash landing into pre-history: spaceships cracking their spines on the teeth of mountains, burning cycads, and a decade of dust that blinded the sun.

So they say.

All of their treasures (constellations of mirrors, weaponized languages, omniscient birds, artificial suns, liquid syringe-worlds) were scattered when they hit the ground (like Judas when they cut him down).

The only treasure that they kept was the treasure that they couldn't throw away: their blood.

Sixteen billion bases of genetic foam, unassembled and unruly.  Lacking the epigenetic leashes of post-singularity medicine, the genetic gardens grew wild.  A cancer of the genome; protein-coupled cascades of maladaptive engineering.

They've tried evolving, and they've tried dying, but their genes will not allow them to do either.  

All of this knowledge has been passed on for millenia, scratched out in the dirt in the shadow of their mother's belly.  They know this, and they know that information cannot survive that long.  They know how inaccurate oral traditions are across long periods of time.  But it is their history, and it's the only one that they have.


Adulthood is bestial, and so they avoid it.

Their maturation is marked with an immense decrease in intelligence.  It is death, as far as they are concerned.  To devolve into a beast is to die--it is the cessation of Self.  As soon as one of them grows old enough to forget their name they are cast outdoors, where they live like beasts.  Beds are only fit for those who know enough to name them.

Sexual maturation is the ultimate abomination.  Copulation is disgusting, a vector for disease and pregnancy (which are not so different in their mind).

The Brutishness of Adulthood

And yet, the adults are not mindless; they are single-minded.  Memories of childhood have been subsumed in martial contemplation.  There is no need to know the names of things when you know how to destroy them.  And above all is an overriding urge to protect their children and keep them save.  

They respond to cuteness--they obey it the same way they obey gravity.  The instinct was instilled in them with all the force and subtlety of a warhammer.  Ducklings are cared for.  Bulls are torn apart with their bare hands.  They keep cats.

It is not clear whether they understand that they are actually ruled by their children, or if they know and simply don't care.

They sometimes fall into the blood-sickness, as their bloods struggle to re-assert themselves.  Along one pathway, their genes code for hypercerebral elites.  Along another pathway, their genes code for hypertrophic super-soldiers.  And without any epigenetic modulators to reign over this melee, the tide swings back and forth, but finally turns irrevocably at puberty.

They haven't forgotten much.  A full-size brain still sits behind the grossly thickened plates of their skull.  (Their skulls are the strongest part of their body.  An elephant could stand on their head and it would not crack.)

By the time they are banished into the kennels, they have long since stopped caring about their bed.

The Cruelty of Children

Pre-adolescence is a difficult time.  Each one is a genius, by our standards, but they have only a decade to learn and to act.  (The adults do nothing but fight, fuck, and pet their cats.)

At the age of one, they are speaking and arguing.  At this point, they can be taught calculus, but not grammar.

At the age of two, they have friendships and ambitions.  They've divided into cliques.  They shun the fashions of their older peers.

At the age of three, they are wrapping up their education.  They are better at chess than you are.  They attend art shows.  They sleep with stuffed animals: hippos, cats, sheep, parents.


They rule most of Yog, the city at the center of the Madlands.  (All of the races of the Madlands practice slavery, and they all have different reasons for doing so.)  

You may even spy a few as far away as Charcorra, the gateway to the Madlands.


Sometimes, everything I've said so far is enough to explain their society.  Brutish, idle adults and a desperate ruling class of children slipping to the grave of puberty.  They tend to wage war on their neighbors.

A second type of Ungreya society is this: the children have found a way to retard and manipulate their adolescence.  They never grow up.  It's a sort of twisted neoteny, where they are sexually and intellectually mature and yet continue to look like children.  (Rejoice, ye pedophiles.)  This type of Ungreyan society relies on poisons and insects, both of which hold positions of immense practical and symbolic importance in their societies.

They usually refuse all attempts at diplomacy, except those conducted by children. Likewise, visiting adults of other species are not allowed to wander around freely unless escorted by a child.

And there is even a third type of Ungreyan society: the aristocratic fetuses.

The Tyranny of the Unborn

As soon as a society decides that maturation is abominable, there can be only one logical conclusion.  Their utopia has a form, even if they haven't achieved it yet.

They call themselves the fetati, they for whom birth signals the end of their lives.  It doesn't matter how they achieved it.  They have found immortality by delaying their own births.

And so they live inside their mothers.  And when their mother ages and grows frail, they move into another.  (I'll leave the details to your imagination, except to say that the process is simple, direct, and messy.)

They see through their mother's eyes and speak through her mouth.  They experience life through her skin, a billion trembling nerves pressed against the surface of their placentas.

To be born is to die.  For those who are full citizens, birth happens only through accident or punishment.  Once they are born, it is the end of their life.  A funeral is held for the deceased.  The protestations of the newborn are ignored.  They are now a beast, a practitioner of slovenly biology: mastication, digestion, defecation, riddled with disease and suddenly mortal, an exile from amniotic Olympus.

They are all vegetarians, even the adults.


Because why not.

Ungreyan Adult

HD 3  AC leather  Sword 1d8
Int *  Move 12  Mor 12

*For things related to combat, treat their Intelligence as if it were 16.  For everything else, treat their Int as 4.

Adaptive -- After an Ungreya Adult attacks or is attacked, it gets +1 to attack, AC, and damage.  This bonus stacks up to +5 and lasts for 10 minutes.

Ungreyan Child (Creeper)

HD 2 (HP 1)  AC as armor  Dagger 1d6 + poison (1d6)
Int 14  Move 9  Mor 2

Scream -- Once every hour, an Ungreyan Child can scream.  Everyone who hears it sees a tiny black speck appear in their vision.  These specks last until the next day.  The next time they take damage, they take +1 damage for every speck in their vision, and the specks disappear.  Ungreya and their servants are immune to this effect (through years of exposure).  Outdoors, the screams carry for a mile.  Indoors, the screams carry through the entire floor of the dungeon.

One danger of exploring an Ungreyan dungeon: once they know you're there, they'll begin screaming every hour.  After the players have a few specks in their eyes, every combat becomes a lot more threatening.

Ungreyan Fetal Aristocrat (Fetati)

HD 0  AC none  Bite 1d4
Int 14  Fly 3  Mor 2

Fetal Domination -- A fetato (singular form of fetati) can see through the eyes of it's pregnant/pseudopregnant mother.  The mother automatically fails her saves against the fetato's spells.

Suffocation -- A fetato dies after 1d6+4 minutes outside of a womb.  (And remember that they travel with their placenta.  Otherwise none of this makes any sense.)

At-Will Spells: dominate person (only one domination at a time), telekinesis (duration = concentration).

Spellcasting as a wizard of whatever level you want.  Example spells: scry, invisibility, wave of mutilation (basically cone of cold that does slashing damage), wither (target loses half current HP, save for half), cure light wounds.

Note: Their psuedopregnancies aren't limited by species.  To answer your next question, a hippo can hold about eight; a horse about four (although they prefer to have more room to stretch).

Monday, August 8, 2016

Guilder, the City of Green Brass

antikythera mechanism
Out-of-work harpooners, clad in whale leather and shivering from sea-curses.  Salvage divers selling more warped brass machinery, pulled up from the Brass Coast. Inventors looking for volunteers to test their latest diving machine.  Anchovy sandwiches.  This is Guilder.

You'll find a few frustrated biologists, too, huddled over anatomical charts and cladograms.  They are trying to classify the whales.  It is a foolish task; all whales are unique.  (And all lantern oil is made from them.)

Although the harbor is a rotting nest of wood, brass, and barnacles, a great deal of money and patronage flows through it.  Whaling supplies so many of the things that the nobility desire.   Corsetmakers have a small but powerful guildhall where they attempt to secure contracts for high-quality whalebone.  There is a fortune in whalebone.  Men have been killed for a handful of piano keys.

Raggedy perfumers scheming away in odorous basements, attempting to invent a scent that will make them rich.  A corpse cooling in an alleyway, ambergris still sticky on her fingers.  Corset-makers looking to secure a supply of high-quality whalebone. 

The Sharkery makes sure that all of the whale parts are accounted for (as whale parts are always in high demand among necromancers).  They also ensure that the city's fleet of feral sharks remains numerous and well-fed.  Sharks are their first defense against those despoilers of the seaways: merfolk.

You'll see many shark fins out in the harbor, and see many shark tattoos on the sailors.  (Sharks are our wild-hearted allies, in sharp contrast to the doglike cruelty of dolphins and their merfolk masters.)

The prison floats outside the harbor.  During low tide, the prisoners can stick their heads up through the bars and take a few gulps of air.  Between the crests of waves, you can see their slick heads bobbing like seals.  During high tide, they survive with the help of bamboo snorkels (that must be purchased by their family members on their behalf).

The Tyranny of the Blind

There are no rocks, but there is a lighthouse.  

The lighthouse is not a guide, but a warning.  It is rumored that the fires of the lighthouse drive away Oolok, the Long-necked Seal.  This may be a lie used to maintain the lighthouse's privileged status.

The lighthouse is the oldest and the tallest building in Guilder.  It is made from the same brass that litters the floor of the harbor (and indeed the entire continental shelf).  The walls of the lighthouse are not vertical, but instead stacked like a steep ziggurat.  And it is is not just the lantern at the top the rotates--each floor rotates slightly faster than the floor beneath it.  You can tell what time of day it is by the facings of the exterior walls.

The lighthouse is run by the blind.  The Lighthouse Keeper is the de facto ruler of the city.  (The "king" of Guilder is kept imprisoned in the lighthouse.  When the king dies, the Lighthouse Keeper elects a new king and imprisons him in the lighthouse as well.  This is because of several old laws that once made sense.)

They have given up their sight in service of their lighthouse, and in the service of their philosophy.  They believe that light obscures more than it reveals.  For example, sight gives you misleading impressions about a person, depending on whether or not they are especially attractive or ugly.  The blind have no such weakness.

You can join them if you wish.  All it requires is for you to put your bloody eyeballs in the hands of one of their proselytizers.  You will be inducted into their ranks and given the opportunity to purchase some scrimshaw spheres to fill your empty sockets.  

Their most powerful members are blind, but are locally omniscient.  They do not have supernatural senses, and navigate the world with walking canes, or (much less commonly) with sorcery.  They employ dogs as their guides.  (Or cockatrices, when the lighthouse is under attack.)

The lighthouse does not burn anything.  Light is routed from the basement up into the prism at the top.

The basement of the lighthouse is full of light.  It becomes brighter as you go deeper down.  After a few levels it is bright enough to blind you through your eyelids.  Further down, it is bright enough that you will burn to death before you reach the next level.  (It is speculated that the blind navigate it through the use of a garment made from mirrors, or perhaps reflective mithril silks.)

There are other lenses for the lighthouse.  The smoky lens does not shed light, but instead mutes it.  When the smoky lens is inserted, all light within line of sight is muted, and the entire city is plunged into darkness.  Visible light is only possible inside well-shaded buildings, with the curtains drawn and a lantern lit. 

"long-necked seal"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Outsider Psychology

I've written about Outsiders a few times before.  I don't mean outsiders like angels and demons.  (Those things are part of the normal moral/ethereal ecology of Centerra.)

I mean proper Outsiders, from outside the narrow banks of time and space.  Things that have slipped in when no one was looking.  Things that don't make sense, or at least not any sense that we can comprehend.  They are disruptive to the setting--they spoil it.  They ruin the logic of it.  They expose inconsistencies.  If it were a TV show, they would break the fourth wall, or spoil the ending of the series for everyone.

Anyway, this post has 4 points to make.  The first two have already been established (or at least strongly alluded to) while the last couple are novel.

This is not canon.  (There is no canon.)  But the existence of Outsiders seems to imply a few things.

1. The things outside our own universe are much, much bigger in every way: time, space, and significance.

Our universe stretches from big bang to its inevitable heat death, spans a few billion years.  The time scale outside that extends for trillions or quadrillions (depending on how you count the cyclic parts).

We cannot escape the walls of our universe, because there are no walls.  It wraps back in on itself.  To escape this universe would require more energy than the universe contains.

To continue a previous analogy, we are bacteria in a Petri dish.  The greatest bacterial heroes cannot see past the walls of their home, and our greatest works will not survive the experiment.

2. Human souls have a history prior to their conception.  It is much longer and much more important than everything that happens after conception.

Before you were plugged into your mother's endometrium, you were someone else.  Someone with a full life, with triumphs, failures, friends, and enemies.  Because that life occurred on the extracosmic scale (see above) it is too large to fit in our brains, and what little we remember is too complex to be understood.

This life is a reduction of what we once were.  It's stuffing the soul of a human into an ant, or perhaps an amoeba.  What is retained?  What can an ant-brain know of its previous life?

That is why the Awakened are so furious to see us clinging to our ant-lives.  Looking at us, they can see the creatures we were, before we were reduced to simpering idiocy by the machinations of cruel sperm and scheming egg.

A trillion-year friend reduced to a simpering, traitorous idiot in only a few decades.  (Less than an eyeblink, for some.)

And while our life here is short, the universe traps our souls for far longer.  And while we are here, we are not out there, where there are much more important things to do.  It represents a neglect of duty, as if we were emperors who refuse to stop playing tea party with stuffed animals while the kingdom burns down around them.

No matter how important our troubles seem, or how important our achievements, they are utterly dwarfed by the greater multiverse.  Centerran wars leave hundreds of thousands dead in the mud.  Wars in the multiverse leave quintillions of souls banished to the coldness between the stars.

(Fractals are a theme in Centerra.  If you zoomed in on a grain of sand, you would find tiny kingdoms of dust mephits fighting and dying amid the milliseconds, vying for control of a square micron in multigenerational wars that last entire seconds.)

Anyway, there is a third business to this business, one that involves the multiverse.

jose segrelles
3. All quantum events spawn a parallel universe of the opposite result.

Or to put it another way: whenever a coin is flipped, it creates two universes: one where the coin comes up heads, and one where it comes down tails.  (Don't tell me that a coin is too big to be influenced by quantum events.  I don't want to hear it.)

A lot of coins are being flipped all the time.  A lot of coins.  Every nanosecond, a billion universes are branching off from our own.  (And our own universe isn't special.  It's just another branch like all the others.)  And another nanosecond after that, each of those billion universes spawns off another billion universes.

Whenever you roll a d6 and get a 6, you create five more universes, one for each other result.

Whenever your mother dies of the plague when you are five, somewhere there are a billion billion other mothers that lived to happy old age.

Whenever your father sits back in his chair and licks his thumb before carefully turning the page of his hymnal, there are a billion billion other fathers who are burning alive, caught in the fire that started after they dozed off and dropped the pipe on the carpet.

Everything that is possible has already happened.

This is because a great deal of unlikely things are possible all the time.  How many chances do you have every day for a once-in-a-million experience?  (A lot.)  They don't happen to most of you, but they certainly happen to at least one of you.  And that lucky one goes on to spawn their own nested set of a billion billion universes.

This is a lot of mass and energy, but its not infinite.  And of course, the parallel universes don't interact.

Unless you are an Outsider.

4. Outsiders span the parallel dimensions.  For the most part, they can't move anything between universes except knowledge.

Each Outsider is dimly aware of all of its local parallel selves--those who are separated by only a recent branch in the timeline.  It's a fuzzy, ever-changing qualification, but it works.

So when an Outsider enters combat and makes an attack roll that has a 75% chance of hitting, they can see 15 slightly different universes where the attack hit, and 5 universes where the attack missed.  One of those universes is their own, while the other 19 are their local neighbor-selves.  And each of those universes will have it's own branches (for different results of the damage die, for example).

This awareness gives them a different sense of perspective than us.  Since they spread across a billion universes, fighting a billion (non-unified) foes, they don't mind losing a few battles in order to win the war.

They don't think like we do, in terms of life and death, winning and losing.  They think in terms of percentages.  This fight is 94% victorious.  That poisoned killed 25% of me.  I devoured 99.9% of her bodies.

It is very hard to die permanently in the multiverse, since if it is at all possible for you to be alive, you will be alive somewhere.  The only cost is influence (more on that later).

In combat, an Outsider might stand perfectly still and allow you to hit it.  It is learning how hard you can hit, and how much damage you can do.  It will use this information to triumph against you in a billion other worlds.

In combat, an Outsider might flee even though it seems to be winning.  It needs to scout out another room so that all of its billion twins can use that information in their universes.  It's already pulled your brains out of your sinuses in a billion universes; it can afford to squander this one, since the other billion selves need a piece of information more than they need one more negligible victory.

In combat, an Outsider might hurl itself at you, nearly suicidal.  Again, it is not trying to defeat it, merely learn from you, so that all of its other selves can triumph in their respective universes.

And when you talk to an Outsider, be assured that each of the billion Outsiders is asking you a different question.

One will ask you what your name is.  Once you answer, they will all know.

Simultaneously, in a different universe, another Outsider will ask another you where you are from.  Once you answer, they will all know.

Simultaneously, in a different universe, another Outsider will ask another you what you are doing here.  Once you answer, they will all know.

That's three questions.  There are still 9,999,997 other Outsiders asking questions.  Is it small wonder that some of the questions they ask seem nonsensical or trivial?

So when the first thing they say to you is, "Lettuce or Cabbage?", rest assured that it is not a trivial question.  They've already asked you all the important questions in parallel universes and gotten their answers.  They're just going for completion.

Talking to an Outsider is enormously one-sided.  A billion humans ask a billion questions to a billion Outsiders, but its the same question.  A billion Outsiders ask a billion questions to a billion humans, and each one is different.  The human learns one thing.  The Outsider learns a billion (including whether you prefer lettuce or cabbage).

This is why people say that Nobodies or slaad are insane.  (Slaad are the closest thing we have to "naturalized" Outsiders.)   Humans see only the battle in their own house, and miss the war consuming the city.

It is not insane to allow themselves to be struck dead.  They will kill a billion of you with the knowledge they gain.

It is not insane to flee from a combat that they are winning.  They have already triumphed a billion times, and this will allow them to gain some small knowledge.

It is not insane to ask strange questions, like "What color was your mother's horse?"  They have already asked a billion questions.  (That's how they learned your mother rode a horse.)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

3 Locations in Synthexia

The Block Party

A city block flies through the air.  It fires confetti from its cannons, and sewage drips from it's exposed sewers.  Lasers and strobes flash through the steam that streams over its cracked streets and broken windows.  It always seems to be collapsing, and yet never quite falls apart.

Up close, you can see the people.  They dance in the streets.  Half of them are immobile mannequins.  Inside the shuttered buildings, exhausted people attempt to get some sleep.  They trade earplugs; there aren't enough.

Every so often, a hover shuttle drops off a load of supplies and some new offerings, and those offerings who have been there for a year are free to leave.

The reason for this whole charade is Cthulhu, who squats at the center of all of this chaos, trying to get drunk on mimosas and chatting up Art majors.  The floor is covered with red cups, but beneath that, human bones.

Cthulhu woke a while ago.  He knows what the score is.  This is sort of a gentlemen's agreement--to postpone the apocalypse in exchange for something more interesting than the endless void.  He's immortal; what does he care if he destroys the world now or in a few millennia?

At first Synthexia sent up entertainers.  Magicians, musicians, and philosophers.  But Cthulhu doesn't really care about the details of our meaningless mammal chirping.  He only cares about the spectacle.  And so the party decayed into its present state.  The budget dried up.

Every so often, the party will raid other settlements, just dropping out of the sky, leaving behind puerile vandalism and petty theft.

Party People
HD 1 humans.  Immune to sleep.  If six or more of them start dancing, it functions as irresistible dance cast on everyone within 100'.

Always accompanied by a Babe, who does all the direct talking to Cthulhu, while the philosophers scribble in their notebooks.  Each philosopher is a level 1 wizard.  They have spells from both wizard and warlock spell lists.  Led by Mimecris Olivine, a level 4 wizard.

Regulate the party.  Most of them are second and third generation party people.  They've never left the party, and so they know no other life.  They lack the dance ability of regular party people, and can instead challenge people like knights.  They are led by Chadwick Skybreaker, a level 7 barbarian.

Well, Cthulhu's here, so there's going to be mutants, of course.  [d6]: 1 fused with keg, 2 junky with hypodermic teeth who is looking to feed the sickness or share it, 3 one-person orgy, save vs pheromones or be subsumed into its copulating mass, 4 hollow man can turn you into a mannikin like itself, with no major effect except that you die as soon as someone tells you that you are a mannikin, 5 head is actually a small gibbering mouther, 6 drill hand.

Party Animals
Basically people in mascot costumes, except without the people.  Plush golems ordered to perform comedic pantomime.  Occasionally activated by their controller, the Comedian, who employs them towards swift and deadly ends.

Most of them are here hoping to fight Cthulhu.

by ben brown
The Filers

Black monoliths that dim the light.  The sun fades, but the reflections on their metallic sides does not.

They are giant filing cabinets.  They are AIs, created long ago to assemble all of the information in the universe.  They are slowly accomplishing this goal.  They are larger on the inside than on the outside, containing mazes of paper.

When people think about the Filers, most of them picture the bureaucratic zombies, but they have other servants, too.

Origami Golems

Beware the tigers.  Their wizards can turn you into origami.  Only by being safely unfolded (requires 3 successful Int checks, crit fails indicate tears) can they be restored to normal.  Entire cities are imprisoned inside folios.

Words Without a Matrix 

Neon letters that flow across surfaces without ever belonging to any of them.  Memetic piranhas.  Each round, increase the list of words that the players (not characters) cannot say.

Bureaucrat Zombies

These are the hands of the Filers in the world.  They are made from captured people (always alive, dead will not do at all) who are brought into the Filers and transformed via a process that is not entirely understood.

They are mindless, except for the will of the Filer that created them.  Their heads are stuffed with words--papers and orders and Form 5820 For Cerebral Requisitioning.  Their mouths are replaced with locks.  If the lock is picked, their mouth reappears, they vomit out all the papers, and return to normal.  If someone attempts to pick the lock and fails, they collapse into a loose pile of forms that, when taken together, contain all the major details of their life (e.g. marriage license, pharmacy receipts, school reports of their illicit conduct).

They are a hive mind.  They work to investigate the world at the behest of the filers.

Towards this end, they travel the nearby area--but only within 33 miles, as this is the effective range of the hive-mind.  (If removed, they are still mindless zombies loyal to the Filer, and will attempt to return to it).

What is their mission? [d6]

  1. Here is a form.  Everyone must fill out this form.  The form takes 11 hours to fill out.  Anyone who does not will be assimilated.
  2. Every surface must be touched.  Samples of every material must be taken.  Each person has a 50% chance that the bureaucrat zombies will require taking one of their items (chosen at random) back to the Filer to testing.  It will be returned in 60 business days.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  3. Everyone must move their settlement 19 miles to the northeast.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  4. Everyone must offer 77 people as tribute to the Filer.  The zombie population needs resupplying.  Failure to comply results in assimilation.
  5. All books must be confiscated.  Buildings will be searched for hidden books.  Failure to comply (finding a book in your house) will result in assimilation.
  6. Everyone must comply with a memory wipe.  The memories will be assimilated with the Filer.  They will not be allowed to keep a copy of their memories (total amnesia) but for a small fee, the Filer will sell them a summary of their memories and identity.  Failure to comply will result in assimilation.

Dragon Road and Highway Nine

There are no dragons, although you will drive through the ribs of a jormungandr at one point.

Blasted and baked, a pitted and maddened road that goes through wasteland and canyon and volcanic hill.

They reproduce through car crashes.  The larger the crash, the larger the infant.  Their leader is Columbia, named after the space shuttle that crashed into rush hour traffic in the year 29001.

Scrap Princesses
There are many scrap princesses here.  (The lowercase kind.)  There was a scrap queen once but they ate her.  Each of her daughters now wears one of her bones somewhere amid their bodies of hub caps, broken CD fragments, and torque converters.  They kludge each other from the wreckage.  Golemoid amazons.  If you are nice to them, they might kludge you something, too.

Cult of the Machine
They replace their chests with engines so that they can drink gasoline like the cars they worship.  Each one builds a car.  Each car is a temple unto themselves.  Each car is their home.  Each car will be their tomb.  They die if their car is destroyed before their flesh-body is; this is a great desecration.

20th century muscle cars possessed by the spirits of horses.  Most people think that they are living cars.  They can transform and join together.  Prized by the Machine Cult as mounts/tombs.  They will pause whatever they are doing if offered a high-stakes race across the wastelands.  They will cheat, because they are evil.

Jetboys and the Bastard Crawler
Sort of like jawas, except that each one is actually a small jet.  

The Tar Pit
This is where gasoline comes from.  Staffed by paleolithic mummies, tar snakes, and undead mammoths.  

Dust Kings
Kings of the crossroad.  Sorcerers all.  The more you know about them, the more powerless they become against you.  If you learn their name, they dissolve into dust, and all will forget that they ever existed, except for you.

by barry smith

Making Bets on Reddit

Synthexia got mentioned on reddit today and I am suddenly nostalgic for it.  That was a good burst of creativity from the DIY thinkosphere.

We should do another crowdsourced hexcrawl.


despite not having lasers or crystals, this is one the most Synthexian pics I have
by Pascal Blanche
Super Ultra Mega Men

Flying through the air.  Punching each other through walls.  Only stopping for monologues.

HD 8  Armor plate  Punch 2d6
Fly 18  Int 10  Morale 7

Super Ultra Mega Power -- Str 18.

Super Ultra Mega Laser Eyes -- 5d6 damage.  200' range.  Usable only when bloodied.  Usable once every 1d4 rounds.

Super Ultra Mega Contagious -- Anyone who is hit by a Super Ultra Mega Man's punch or laser must save or gain all the powers of a Super Ultra Mega Man.  They roll new HP immediately (8 HD) and use it in place of their own, unless that would lower their HP.  Then, they must make a second save, or become obsessed with fighting other super ultra mega men (as charm).  They lose these powers after 12 hours elapse without fighting another super ultra mega man to the death.

Discussion: Yes, you can infect yourself with super ultra mega fever and punch through walls, but be aware that everything you punch is also going to turn into a super ultra mega thing if it survives.

If a PC becomes infected with super ultra mega fever, the best bet is to either let them kill all the other super mega

Story Hook: Where did the first super ultra mega man come from?  Surely there's a magic item worth having.  Maybe a dragonball.

pascal blanche is still amazing
Prism Wizard

When you encounter the prism wizard, ask all of your players what colors their characters are wearing (if you don't already know).  Or better yet, give them some colored pencils and make them draw themselves while you go chug a beer.

HD 4  Armor none  Staff 1d8
Move 12  Int 16  Morale 5

Selectivity -- A Prism Wizard has several abilities that begin with the word 'Selective'.  He cannot choose the same color for more than one of these abilities.  No duplicates.  He can change one of these colors per turn as a free action.

Selective Invisibility -- The rainbow wizard is invisible to characters wearing a certain color.

Selective Invulnerability -- The rainbow wizard is immune to damage from a certain color.  (Usually steel grey.)

Selective Telekinesis -- The rainbow wizard can use telekinesis at will on things that are a certain color.

Spells -- prestidigitation (at-will, used to change the color of things), prismatic spray, mirror image, scorching ray, freezing ray, illusion

Wants [d6]

  1. Wants your help in defeating the carnivorous nega-rainbow of the Starry Abyss.  (HD 10, basically a reskinned beholder with darkness abilities instead of an antimagic cone.)
  2. Whats the most common color your players are wearing?  The wizard wants all items of that color. Because they (a) belong to him, (b) offend him, (c) are an illegal hue (equal chance of each).
  3. Wants you to wrestle one end of a rainbow to the ground while he runs to the other end of it in search of gold (which he will share with you).  Rainbows have the stats of giant serpents with hypnotic and blinding abilities.
  4. A crystal sword.  His prism is looking shabby.
  5. Someone to become his apprentice.  He is lonely ever since his unicorn died.
  6. To Kill Strobos von Dubstar, or at least embarrass him.

Rainbow Shaker
When shaken, it releases a wisps (or their superior replacements).  Each is HD 1, Int 10, and is completely obedient to you.  Each one has a single attack that does 1d6 damage.  Each one lasts 1 hour or until it attacks (which causes it to dissipate).  The wisps emerge from the shaker in this order.

1 - Red wisp, fire damage.
2 - Orange wisp, force damage.
3 - Yellow wisp, lightning damage.
4 - Green wisp, acid damage.
5 - Blue wisp, ice damage.
6 - Indigo wisp, psychic damage.
7 - Purple wisp, 2d6 necrotic damage to everything in 20', save for half, no one can see colors for the rest of the day.

if I ever run Synthexia, I'm giving everyone a mecha
this art is by pascal blanche
Sonic Reverberators

Slaves from the flesh vats.  Tiny heads except for their massive, conical jaw.  They eat a liquid diet, poured into their mouths by their masters, the microbasilisk handlers.  

Together, these two creatures are responsible for throwing parties for Sad Ivory.  (Parties are constant, because there are so many people who want to cheer the Sorceress queen up.)  The reverberators play the music and the microbasilisks create reflective surfaces for the laser golems to dance through.

HD 2  AC chain  Subsonics 1d6 (15' cone)
Move 9  Int 3  Morale 12

Subsonics deal 1d6 damage in a 15' cone in front of the reverberator.  Crystal objects in this area must save or shatter.  Creatures hit by two more more subsonic reverberations at the same time must save or spend the next round nauseated (can move or attack, but not both).

Microbasilisk Handlers

Sexy young people dressed in sequin underwear and little else.  They wear mirror shades (+4 to resist gaze attacks, -2 to attack unless in a brightly lit area) and fanny packs.

You won't fight them unless you are somehow getting in the way of a party that they're trying to put on for Sad Ivory.

HD 3  AC leather  Spiked Shield 1d6
Move 12  Int 10  Morale 7

Microbasilisk -- In their right hands, microbasilisk handlers hold a device that looks like a lantern.  Inside is a microbasilisk.  If the handler holds the lantern open (a standard action), the microbasilisk inside looks at the nearest object, which begins turning into crystal.  If the nearest object is a creature, they get a save to resist, but if they fail, they roll a d6 to see what body part turns into crystal.  [d6] 1 left arm, 2 right arm, 3 left leg, 4 right leg, 5 head, 6 whole body.

Crystal limbs can still move normally.  They are also temperature resistant, but sonic damage tends to shatter them.  They do not heal on their own, and require a crystalsmith to repair if they are damaged.

What's In the Fanny Pack? [d6]
  1. Party drugs.  Mostly uppers.
  2. 1d4 microbasilisk eggs.
  3. A crystal communicator.  It only calls other microbasilisk handlers, though.  One number listed as "Emergencies Only" goes straight to Sad Ivory.
  4. Sugar skulls and taffy rations.
  5. Bottle of water.
  6. Strobe light.  Battery will last 1 hour.
DM Discussion

If you want to take it easy on your players, make sure that they learn that the handlers turn your limbs into crystal and the reverberators shattter crystal BEFORE you spring combat on them that includes both opponents.  

Or don't.  I mean, they'll figure it out really quickly.

by p b