Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Space Patrol - now in Print!

Uphold the Law! Fight interstellar crime! Hunt pirates!

The Space Patrol now available in Hardcover format!

Print-on-Demand from DriveThruRPG!

Order HERE!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

ACKS adventure idea: The Rot Beneath

I had an interesting idea for a short, self-contained adventure module (for 3-6 characters of levels 1-3) for the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS). It should have an "integrated design", that is that the above-ground "town" area will directly correspond to the dungeon levels beneath it and interact with them.

Centuries ago, St. Marcus of the Hammer smote down an Abomination of Desolation - an idol of the dread Chthonic plague goddess Kassogtha. Knowing that such edifice of Chaos can never be fully cleansed, St. Marcus erected a monastery ("Fortified Church" in ACKS terms) over the old Chthonic manse to guard against its corrupting influence. When neared death, he willed that his hammer be interred in a crypt deep beneath the monastery's chapel and that his skull be coated with gold and placed in a reliquary inside the chapel itself in an eternal vigil against Chaos. When his companions - a studious mage, a repentant thief, and a mighty fighter - died, the monks buried them alongside St. Marcus in his underground crypt.

Years passed. The Empire St. Marcus knew prospered and expanded and then declined and receded. What was once an important monastery declined as well, led by lesser men. Then, in the days of Imperial collapse, the Plague arrived. First came the fever, then the pus-filled blisters. For three out of four victims, death then followed. The survivors often emerged hideously disfigured. The monks of St. Markus prayed to Sol Invictus and invoked their Saint, but no help came. Even their abbot, a devout but simple man, lacked the divine grace necessary to cure disease. Instead of the Unconquered Sun, another voice answered them, whispering in their darkest nightmares. The whispers promised a respite from the Plague, as well as a road of immortality paved by embracing pestilence rather than suffering from it.

At first, the monks resisted and called upon their god to protect their souls from such creeping vileness. However, the temptation of eternal life, of an end to their suffering, blackened the hearts of weak-willed monks. The particularly charismatic, if cowardly, Brother Pavel became their leader. Under the nose of the old and unsuspecting Abbot, they dug under the monastery's cellars and broke the seals to the ancient Chthonic manse. There they found the statue of the "Lady Beneath" - Kassogtha. Enthralled by their lust for immortality, they repaired the abominable idol. At first, they sacrificed animals to it, but no answer came. Then they murdered their fellow monk, Brother Clarence, and rededicated the idol with his blood.

A blessing they received indeed - the dark kiss of undeath. In that horrible ritual, Brother Pavel became a Ghast - though he retained his Clerical abilities and insane mind. His followers became ghouls. Brother Pavel could not ascend to the surface again, lest his rotten nature be exposed. His ghoulish followers, however, could easily pass their hideous nature as a particularly dire result of surviving the Plague.

A year passed and the Plague was long gone, leaving behind disfigured survivors and the lucky few who were immune to the disease to begin with. New people moved in to replace the dead. The rotten cult, however, festered in the darkness beneath the Monastery of St. Marcus. There they used an underground stream to bring in wanton wenches from the nearby Village of St. Marcus to participate in debauched celebrations, a few yards of earth below their unsuspecting former Brothers who still kept faith in Sol Invictus.

The cult's goal is to have this underground blister of Chaotic puss burst and corrupt the entire monastery and village in an orgy of carnage to honor their goddess. However, three things stand in their way. The first is the chapel, where St. Marcus' skull resides, ever watchful against such Chaos; into this hallowed ground the ghouls cannot enter, as the fear of god drives them away. Second is Abbot Kasimir, an old but faithful man whose very presence is a thorn in Kassogtha's side. Third is The Hammer of St. Marcus, buried with his bones in the deep crypts, instilling fear in the ghoulish cult.

Thus they have formulated a plan. First, they will invite the prostitutes one final time into their warrens - this time to butcher them as part of a dark ritual. This ceremony will cause a minor tremor underneath the chapel which will shatter the gilded skull and break the chapel's sanctity. Second, they will kidnap the Abbot and murder him as an offering to their vile goddess, turning the small Shadowed Sinkhole of Chaos at the chthonic manse into a Blighted Sinkhole of Chaos encompassing the entire monastery and slowly extending towards the village. Finally, with their dark influence spreading throughout the catacombs, Brother Pavel will be able to enter the Crypt of St. Marcus and corrupt his hammer into a Chaotic artifact.

The player characters will arrive two days before the first stage of this plan. Their hook could be an urgent letter from the Abbot to the (player's) Cleric's superiors requesting urgent help as he senses a great evil shadowing his monastery. It could also be rumors of a great treasure buried in catacombs underneath this monastery. The PCs might even be local youths from the Village of St. Marcus drawn into the event when a friend or younger sibling of one of them goes missing (is sacrificed to Kassogtha by the cult).

The adventure has a timeline which will happen unless PCs disrupt the cult's activity:

Day 1 - PCs arrive.
Night 1 - PCs sleeping in the abbey will hear dire chanting come from beneath the ground.
Night 2 - the prostitutes arrive at the manse, invited for another orgy; instead, the cultists imprison them in preparation for sacrifice.
Night 3 - the cult sacrifices the three prostitutes; a tremor knocks down the gilded skull and breaks the chapel's painted glass windows. The chapel loses its sanctity.
Night 4 - Abbot Kasimir is kidnapped and imprisoned by the cult.
Night 5 - the cult sacrifices Abbot Kasimir and all hell breaks loose #ZombieApocalypse

Ignoring such clues and taking an over-cautious approach might bring bad outcomes.

The dungeon itself consists of the following:

Level 0 (above-ground): The Monastery of St. Marcus with all its facilities. "Friendly and Safe Area", at least until Night 3.
Level 1: Monastery cellars; chapel undercroft.
Level 2: Catacombs; crypts; underground waterway (the monastery's well ends here); cult quarters.
Level 3: St. Marcus' Crypt and the Manse of Kassogtha, seemingly unconnected on this level (though there is a secret tunnel connecting them).

Monsters:

Rats - no level 1 adventure in a cellar is complete without them; possibly some other vermin as well
Skeletons and zombies - animated by the cult
"Half-Ghouls" - juniour cultists in the early stages of their transformation
Ghouls - cultists
Ghasts - cultist priests
Brother Pavel - cult leader: Ghast + level 3 clerical abilities

Friday, May 12, 2017

ACKS - Clerics and Sorcery!

I was thinking about this as of late and... I came to the conclusion that the Evil Sorcerer sword & sorcery archetype, in ACKS terms, is a Chaotic Cleric.

The archetypal Evil Sorcerer wants power, he wants a lot of it, and he wants it NOW. He has no patience for study or for solemn prayer. He will pay any price he needs to pay to get power.

Mages don't have easy access to power. They must dedicate their lives to hard, patient study. This is reflected by their steep XP requirements and neglect of any other character aspect other than Arcane Magic. This is not what a Sorcerer wants.

Chaotic Clerics, on the other hand, advance quickly. They can fight almost as well as Fighters do. They get their spells automatically without having to look for a spellbook or performing research. They get all the spells and do not have to learn new ones. No restrictive repertoire to deal with. They even get necromancy better than Mages - they have Animate Dead as the reverse of Smite Undead as a level 4 spell while Mages only get it as a level 5 spell, and they also get to control (charm) undead, which no Mage can do.

So Evil Sorcerers are Chaotic Clerics!

Friday, April 28, 2017

FREE from Stellagama Publishing - A Primer to These Stars Are Ours!

Have you wanted to see what These Stars Are Ours! is all about? Now you can try it before you buy it!

These Stars Are Ours is Stellagama Publishing's space-opera setting for the Cepheus Engine Core Rules and other 2D6 OGL SciFi games. Set in 2260 AD - two years after the Terrans took Keid and forced the Reticulan Empire to capitulate the book it introduces the player characters to the immediate aftermath of the Terran victory in the Terran Liberation War against the mighty Reticulan Empire and its many thralls. For their part, the upstart Terrans, bolstered by their victory against their old masters, now move to become a power to be reckoned with in interstellar affairs. Against this background of espionage, maneuvering, and saber-rattling, and on the new interstellar frontiers, the player characters can forge a destiny of heroes or villains of the new United Terran Republic. The book provides all the astrography and background necessary to set a sci-fi campaign in the exciting times of the 23rd century.

A Primer to These Stars Are Ours! provides the prospective customer with a taste of the core These Stars Are Ours! book. The Primer contains an overview of this setting, its human and alien empires, the Terran Borderlands, Reticulan (Grey) aliens, a sample world, a sample Patron, and a news dispatch from February 2260 AD.

Note that this publication includes information and a character generation table for Reticulans - Grey Aliens from Zeta 2 Reticuli! Also included are small-craft Flying Saucer stats. See the These Stars Are Ours! core book, available from Stellagama Publishing, for much, much more for the Greys, from abductor saucers to Noble careers.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Towards my upcoming Curse of Strahd campaign

I intend to start DMing Curse of Strahd (an official D&D 5E campaign) for my group in a month or two. Thus, I have ample time to prep.

The first thing I wanted to figure out was how to get them together and bring them to the Death House.

They will start in a normal D&D world. Possibly the Forgotten Realms. They all happen to be passengers on a riverboat traveling an infrequently traveled river. The boat has other passengers as well - possibly even a higher level Wizard and his bodyguard.

On the second day of their voyage, the weather turns uncharacteristically bad - cold, wet, and foggy. The next morning, they find themselves floating in thick fog. The navigator says that her compass went crazy, but they should still be moving down the river and the weather should get better soon.

That night, ghouls attack the boat out of the shallow river water - led by two ghasts. The PCs sleep in the common area, which is the aft of the boat which is covered by a canvas canopy against rain. They will have to fight a gang of ghouls and one ghast who attack their area. Other passengers in their area (civilian NPCs) will get slaughtered before the PCs could respond.

When they start getting the upper hand in the battle, they will hear and see an explosion from the forward part of the boat - the cabin where the crew and the better-paying passengers stay. Apparently, the wizard panicked and tried to get rid of ghouls who cornered him - and miscalculated the effects of his fireball. The boat catches fire and the players have to finish off a few charred ghouls who escaped the blaze.

Soon after the PCs win the fight, heavy rain begins to pour, soon developing into a storm. This puts out the fire, but not before it causes the canvas, as well as the cabin's roof, to collapse. The ship is leaking badly from battle damage and will soon sink to the river bottom. It offers little shelter from the rainstorm.

If the PCs search the boat, they can gather some supplies, possibly a few minor magic items and potions once possessed by the now-dead wizard. They might also pick up a few NPC survivors - all non-combatant civilians.

Now they have to find a shelter from the rain - which means going ashore and into the surrounding woods. However, the trees offer little refuge from the storm.

Eventually, they wander and reach a lone house in the fog - the Death House. In my version of the adventure, the PCs will not encounter the "children" outside but rather enter the House in search of shelter and get trapped; then they will meet the "children" and the adventure will commence...

Saturday, April 8, 2017

These Stars Are Ours! now available in Print-on-Demand!

I am thrilled to announce that Stellagama Publishing's sci-fi setting book for the Cepheus Engine/2D6 OGL SciFi, These Stars Are Ours! is now available in Print-on-Demand. Currently, we offer a hardcover option, but soon - hopefully within a week - we will also have a softcover option available.

Order it HERE!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Who's who in the Isenvale March

Here are the high-level NPCs and monsters I have in mind for the Isenvale March campaign. Note that these are faction leaders; some are dungeon level-bosses. Most creatures in this mini-setting are much lower in level and power.

Humans of Oathbridge
Castellan Edmund of Oathbridge, the local ruler, is a level 4 Fighter. He is a capable warrior, but he 22 years old and a mere five years on the throne and is not a good ruler, even though he does try to manage his manor fairly. The matters of state do not come as easy to this young man as warfare does. He prefers to spend his time hunting or sparring rather than deal with the boring and difficult burden of managing his domain. Instead, he lets Gregory, his manipulative majordomo, and court wizard, run things. Lawful.

Gregory of Zabreba, the Castellan's majordomo, and court wizard, is a level 4 Mage. Older and far more experienced than Castellan Edmund, he Oathbridge's actual ruler. This manipulative politician used his keen knowledge of the archaic and often contradictory law of the dying Empire to install Edmund on the manor's throne instead of his older, smarter sister Rowena, when their father died. This way he could get the power into his hands and also insert his fingers into the manor's coffers. He acts as a tyrant in any way he can get away with without coming into conflict with Edmund. He is Neutral, but the Aboleth is now working on further corrupting this corrupt courtier and turning him Chaotic.

Armand the Quick, Oathbridge's chief criminal, is a level 4 Thief, leading a gang of 16 thieves, himself included. His income includes all sorts of petty village crime, burglary in this valley and the surrounding areas, some gambling at the Snoring Dwarf tavern, and other mischief - and also waylaying travelers on the road, in collaboration with the Bandit Queen. He is not an evil man; he is in for the gold. The Bandit Queen is powerful and working with her pays off, so Armand works with her for the time being. He knows very well, though, that if he will be uncareful, he will hang once she takes the throne. Neutral.

Father Frederick, Priest of the Invincible Sun and Oathbridge's religious authority, is a level 3 Cleric. He is a very old, very devout man who has served in his holy post for the past fifty years. He has the villagers' respect but is well-known for being very careful and reserved with magical aid; he does not use his spells lightly and will reject such offer and the accompanying tithe if he suspects that this will serve a questionable purpose. Lawful.

The Bandit Queen is a legendary figure of peasant folklore. Stories about her surfaced a mere few years ago, but now she is a central figure in tall tales and rumor-mongering. She fights, or so the peasant story goes, to overthrow the tyranny of Edmund and Zabreba and institute justice in Oathbridge. "Justice" usually means, in such stories, a major reduction of the extortion taxes levied by Gregory, as well as hanging this rascal and his bully of a Sherriff, Boris. Some even say that she will give serfs their freedom and turn everyone into freeholders. In reality, she is Rowena, Castellan Edmund's older sister. This woman, at the age of 31, is a level 5 Explorer. She is smart, and she also believes that the end always justifies the means and can be quite ruthless. Enraged that her young and inept brother Edmund got the throne, she is determined to take what is hers by the force of arms. For this, she is gathering an army of bandits and rebels to eventually assault Oathbridge, takes its fort, and overthrow her brother. Once enthroned, she will rule with an even hand, but also with an iron fist. Lawful.

Humans of Spirngmound
Abbess Ingrid of Springmound, a level 5 Cleric of Sol Invictus, is the de-facto ruler of the Springmound domain. When she was a young nun, Castellan Ivar of Springmound died on a battlefield of the earlier Imperial troubles with his two sons, leaving no issue. His widow, Lady Castellan Irina of Springmound, ruled for another decade. When Lady Irina died two dozen years ago with no clear heir, the manor fell into disuse, its men-at-arms and servants scattering to find better jobs in other places. The newly-appointed Abbess Ingrid was the only person of authority and power to whom the Springmound villagers could turn in time of need. She is also an ambitious ruler with a desire to become Isenvale's Rectoress - and even rise further in the Church hierarchy. Lawful.

Templar Inessa of Springmound, Abbess Ingrid's mailed fist, is a level 4 Fighter. This seemingly non-impressive woman of short stature is as lethal as a serpent with her spear and legend said that she once stared down a raging bear. Her formal task is to protect the Abbey. Her actual role is enforcing the Law in Springmound - which she does in merciless strictness and a unit of disciplined men-at-arms. The Abbess, a skilled ruler who maintains a much more merciful image, keeps the Templar on a short leash but makes it clear that she will unleash Inessa on any criminal, Chaotic heretic, or threat to the Abbes' power. Lawful.

Humans of Swornwell
Tribune Richard of Isenvale, the March's ruler, is a level 7 Fighter. He is a good but weary man well past his prime. An excellent horseman in his youth, he is now occupied by the affairs of state. The latter are grim. His superiors in the Imperial interior demand ever-greater taxes and military forces for their internecine wars. Thus, he has to balance between his loyalty to the dying Empire and the needs of his own domain. Locally, the Blooded Maw Orcs continually threaten Isenvale and are too powerful for the Tribune's forces to defeat; instead, Richard tries to contain this threat and hold it at bay. Bandits and less-organized monsters are also a constant concern.

Rector Sigmund of Isenvale, a level 6 Cleric, is the March's spiritual authority. This once-ambitious young man was an adventuring Cleric, until he got shot in his leg by an Orcish archer and he settled down to replace Isenvale's old Rector who died of old age. While a more senior cleric healed his shattered knee with a powerful spell, such powerful magic was not without a cost. A connoisseur of fine wine to begin with, this brush with mortality hurled the Rector into the depth of a wine glass. His divine authority is great, but so is his tendency for drunkenness. Abbess Ingrid knows of this habit of her superior and plans to utilize it to have him ousted from his position - so that she could become a Rectoress by herself. Rector Sigmund is strictly Lawful but usually drunk.

Nicolai the Serpent, a level 6 Assassin, is head of Swornwell's criminal syndicate. This born and bred conspirator murdered his way up the old thieves' guild hierarchy to place himself on its head. A sadistic man, he does not only kill to further his end but also for the pleasure of taking a human life. Recently, the Deep God's emissaries began grooming this master criminal into their ally in Swornwell, with the intention of eventually assassinating the Tribune and installing their own puppet in his place. Chaotic.

Humans of the Wilderness
Mother Larissa. Art by Hannah "Gecko" Saunders
Mother Larissa, the Forest Witch, is a level 5 Cleric of the ancient nature-goddess Marzanna. Peasants whisper dark stories about Mother Larissa, such as that she can turn insolent people into toads (which is correct - she has such a spell in her repertoire), or that she performs blood-rites deep in the woods. There is a certain streak of malice in this old woman, especially when angered, but she is not a villain. Despite her ominous reputation, villagers often consult with her, as she sells effective potions and salves. She also casts magic on behalf of any who pays her with little questions asked, unlike the clergymen of Sol Invictus. Even the Swamp Lizardmen respect her, as they know her power very well; they occasionally trade with her as well. She has an enormous number of toads and frogs in and around her garden and has domesticated a giant toad as a guard animal. Neutral.

Swamp Lizardmen
Bleeding Talon, the Lizard Chief, is at 6+2 HD. He is a huge, fat lizardman who rules the Swamp like his ancestors did from time immemorial. He occasionally leads his warriors to raid human settlements or ambush caravans, but for the most part, he is content to stay in his village, eat fish, and mate with as many females as possible. Primitive and savage, but not evil or sadistic. Wants to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Neutral.

Burning Eye, the Lizard Shaman, is at 4+1 HD with level 3 Clerical abilities. He is as savage as his king, but wiser. He leads the lizardman religious activity - worship of totems and idols in the swamp. He knows the value of magical items and will hoard any such item he can get his claws on. Harbors burning hatred for the Lizard Cult. Neutral.

The Deep God
The most powerful creature is the nameless Aboleth itself - an 8+2 HD monstrosity, bigger and nastier than the average Aboleth, and also capable of dark sorcery as a 7th level Mage. Also capable of magical research, potion creation, and magical item creation - perfect for rewarding underlings and enticing other people to serve this fish-god. It is, of course, Chaotic and very intelligent. Its goal is to spread its dark influence across the land, gain power, and control as many minions as possible.

Lizard Cult
The Lizard Pontifex, who has long abandoned his lizardman name, is at 5+3 HD with level 5 Mage abilities. Rapidly evolved by Aboleth alchemical methods, he is a genius in lizardman terms (around INT 12). He built the Lizard Cult into a force to be reckoned with, equipped with advanced equipment looted from humans and organized into an effective military unit. He sacrifices captives to his God by throwing them down the well (which goes down into the Aboleth's lake). He is currently at war with the Goblins and Swamp Lizardmen. Communes with his God telepathically and receives gifts through his Emissaries (the Skum). Chaotic

"Tyrannus" is a monster - a 6+1 HD giant lizardman alchemically manipulated by the Aboleth. He is the cult's champion; as dumb as a rock but as tough as a mountain. Easily controlled by the much smarter Pontifex. His bite is venomous, and he wields a massive warhammer looted from the Dwarven ruins; the Dwarves built this weapon for two-handed use, but such a huge reptiloid can hold both it and a massive iron shield. Chaotic.

Orcs
Orgun the Orc Chief is at 5+1 HD, a massive old orc scarred by years of fighting for dominance against a wide variety of rivals, orcs and otherwise. He has been leading the Blooded Maw Orcs for over a decade. In that time, he built them from a regional nuisance into a dire threat to Isenvale. His greatest ambition is to take Swornwell itself. For this, he has been breeding and training his nine warbands and building weapons. The recent rise in power of the Orc Sorcerer Raznak only bolsters his plans. The orc threat is the number one reason why Tribune Richard of Isenvale cannot spare much of his soldiers to provide aid to his vassals, as this force stands guard against the Orcs. Ogrun is Chaotic.

Raznak the Orc Sorcerer, at 1+1 HD was once a petty witch doctor. However, messengers from the mysterious Deep God have taught him much in the Arcane and he has the abilities of a level 4 Mage. He secretly plots to depose the Orc Chief Orgun and turn the Blooded Maw Orcs into an instrument of his dread god. He is smarter than most orcs and even exceeds his Chief in wickedness, and has also acquired several minor magical items from the Aboleth. Chaotic.

Goblins
The Goblin King Burguk is at 4 HD - stronger than most goblin chieftains. He used to terrorize the countryside with his goblin warbands, but now the Lizard Cult has inflicted a painful toll on the goblins - only two Warbands remain. Wants to stuff his face and belly with cakes and humanoid flesh all day, as all goblin kings do, but first he has to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.

The Goblin Shaman Nazal is at 1+1 HD, but has level 3 Clerical abilities. He wishes to sacrifice captives to the dark goblin spirits, but before that, he wants to rid the goblin tribe of the Lizard Cult threat. He will begrudgingly agree to parlay even with non-Chaotic characters if that furthers the end of combatting the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.

The Goblin Witch Urinn is at 1 HD, but has Mage abilities at level 5. She is smarter and meaner than other goblins - and even literate - and has interest in magical research. She will torture captured spellcasters to learn Arcane secrets, but will also trade in magical items and lore with strong characters she knows she could not subdue. Chaotic.