A Ghost-Haunted Ruin Test Drive

I take my rough-draft drop table for a ghost-haunted ruin out for a test drive. The red die’s location determines the creature(s) encountered.

First Drop: A barabashka, which is a type of poltergeist. This ghost is lost in grief when encountered.

Second Drop: Two ghouls out hunting for a meal.

Third Drop: A wight, which is communing with evil.

Fourth Drop: A lunatic, drive mad by voices from beyond, who is motivated by an urge to share some mad insight.

Fifth Drop: Six skeletons and two zombies.

During the test drive, I noticed a typo. Have to fix that. I also want the skeletons and zombies space to be bigger. That should be easy enough with some creative formatting. All in all, I think I like this table.

The next challenge is adapting it for use with Fate Dice. Since Fate Dice yield only -1, 0, or +1, that’s going to take some tweaking, but it should be doable. Then, of course, I need to come up with stats for the monsters for game systems where those stats don’t already exist. That mainly applies to Fate Accelerated Edition.

For other systems, such as Swords & Wizardry, I’d like to come up with some “Referee’s Options” for monsters, such as ghouls that can change shape like doppelgangers, an example of which appears at the end of this post.

Long story short: The next free Buyan-oriented PDF I release requires a bit more work. Busy, busy, but at least I’m staying out of trouble.

Dvyonik

Dvyoniks are pack-hunting undead corpse eaters. They are immune, like most undead, to charms and sleep spells. Perhaps the most dangerous feature of these horrid, cunning creatures is their paralyzing touch. Any hit from a dvyonik requires a saving throw or the victim becomes paralyzed for 3d6 turns.

What’s more, a dvyonik can change its form to resemble the physical appearance (including clothing and gear) of any person. Dvyoniks are considered magic resistant for purposes such as breaking through wizard locks and similar spells. They have a very good saving throw against magic of all kinds.

HD 3; AC 6 [13]; Atk 2 claws (1d6), 1 bite (1d4); Move 9; Save 14 (5 vs. magic); AL C; CL/XP 5/240; Special: immunities, mimics shape, paralyzing touch, undead

July 31st, 2015  in Product Development No Comments »

Tsar Dadon the Glorious

What follows is a retelling of The Tale of the Golden Cockerel by Alexander Pushkin. The illustration is by Ivan Bilibin, originally published in 1906.

Buyan sits in the sea more than 2,000 miles away from Ismailli, now in ruins but once a powerful city ruled by Tsar Dadon the Glorius. A strange tale of brutal ambition and cruel revenge links the Vanishing Island to that ghost-haunted place.

In his youth Tsar Dadon waged war against his neighbors, taking their lands and wealth for his own and subjugating their people, reducing thousands to a level barely on par with serfdom. For decades, Tsar Dadon ruled Ismailli and the surrounding, conquered realms. In his twilight years, after the death of his queen, the tsar set aside his war-like ways, believing Ismailli secure and feeling confident that his son, Prince Dadon, would rule one day.

But, as Tsar Dadon relaxed his iron grip, unrest spread through the conquered realms. The people nurtured deep-seated resentments against Tsar Dadon, and soon rebel armies formed. Surrounded on every side by determined enemies, Tsar Dadon grew frightened, for he never knew from which direction the next threat would come. Rumors to the west resulted in Prince Dadon leading Ismailli’s armies toward the setting sun, but then rebels struck from the east. If the armies marched to the north, rebels attacked Ismailli from the south.

“How can I defend my beloved Ismailli,” cried Tsar Dadon, “if I cannot meet the enemy on the field of battle?”

A stranger stepped from the crowd in the tsar’s court. He wore the ornate robes of an astrologer and wizard.

“O, Tsar Dadon the Glorious! Please heed my words,” the strange said, bowing low. “I am Nikto, and I alone possess the means to protect your beloved Ismailli.”

Tsar Dadon commanded Nikto to explain himself, and the wizard pulled a sack from his sleeve, and the pulled a fantastic golden cockerel from the sack. Its feathers gleamed in the sunlight spilling through the high windows in the court.

“Place the Golden Cockerel atop the highest spire in the center of Ismailli,” said Nikto. “When any enemy army approaches to within eight days march of Ismailli, the Golden Cockerel shall face their direction and cry out an alarum. Thus, O Glorious Tsar, you will be able to meet the enemy on the field of battle.”

Tsar Dadon said, “If what you say is true, return to my court in one year’s time, and I shall grant you any wish to just short of half my kingdom.”

“I accept your terms, O Glorious One, but be warned: Forget your promise, and doom shall be your reward.”

With that, the wizard vanished, leaving behind the Golden Cockerel. Tsar Dadon ordered the fabulous bird be placed atop the highest tower in the center of Ismailli.

A few days later, the Golden Cockerel faced to the south and cried out loudly, “Enemies approach from the south! In eight days, they reach Ismailli’s walls!”

The watchmen brought word of the alarum to Tsar Dadon, and he sent Prince Dadon out at the head of an army. They met the enemy on the field of battle four days away from Ismailli, and Prince Dadon returned victorious to be covered in glory. During the next several months, the Golden Cockerel performed just as Nikto had promised. Each time, Ismailli’s army commanded by Prince Dadon met the enemy on the field of battle and emerged victorious. Nearly a year passed, and the Golden Cockerel sounded another alarum. Prince Dadon rode away at the head of the army toward Shamakhi, Ismailli’s fiercest and oldest enemy.

More than a week later, Prince Dadon had not returned. Tsar Dadon, frantic with worry, commanded his armor and sword be brought to him, and he himself sallied forth at the head of an army for the first time in years. Near the western border of Shamakhi, the tsar looked down into a valley and the great slaughter that had taken place there. In the middle of the field of battle stood a lonely pavilion flying Shamakhi’s ancient flag.

Tsar Dadon rode to the pavilion and stumbled from his horse when he saw Prince Dadon sprawled dead on the matted grass in front of the pavilion. As he gathered his dead son into his arms, a beautiful princess of Shamakhi exited the pavilion.

“Welcome, O Tsar Dadon the Glorious,” the princess said. “Please enter my pavilion so that I may ease your grief.”

The tsar entered the pavilion. The princess washed his hands, feet, and brow, and bade him sit at a kingly table. She fed him fine foods and filled his flagon with excellent wine. Tsar Dadon ate and drank his fill. The princess bade him sleep on a kingly bed, and throughout the night she tended his grief-haunted sleep.

The tsar woke in the morning and said to the princess, “You shall return to Ismailli as my bride. You shall be mother to my new heir.”

The princess lowered her head and smiled. Tsar Dadon and the princess rode back to Ismailli. The people there lamented the loss of Prince Dadon, but they rejoiced that their tsar had a new bride of such exceptional beauty and grace.

“O, Tsar Dadon the Glorious! Please heed my words,” said Nikto as he appeared in the tsar’s court. “One year has passed, and I’ve come to claim my reward.”

“Welcome, Nikto,” said the tsar. “The reward is yours. Claim anything just short of half my kingdom.”

The wizard leered. “I claim the princess of Shamakhi.”

“Never!” Tsar Dadon said. “She you may not have!”

From a high window, the Golden Cockerel flew like a bolt from a crossbow. It landed on the tsar’s shoulder and pecked him once on the forehead. Tsar Dadon the Glorious staggered from his throne, fell to the floor, and died. The princess of Shamakhi walked to Nikto, and, when she placed her hand in his, both she and the wizard vanished. Shortly thereafter, Ismailli’s enemies triumphed, laying Tsar Dadon’s beloved city to waste.

Today, the Golden Cockerel sits atop the highest spire in the center of Retra, one of the two cities on Buyan. Nikto and the princess of Shamakhi live there as well, and neither one seems to have aged.

July 27th, 2015  in Product Development, RPG No Comments »

Koschei the Deathless

In my last post, I introduced Buyan, a magical island found in Slavic and Russian folktales and myths. Today, we meet Koschei the Deathless. If you’d like to read a tale featuring this villain, here’s a link to a PDF of “The Death of Koschei the Deathless” taken from The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.

So tall he towers over the tallest men, emaciated yet vigorous, unkempt hair and beard grown into ragged and long strands, completely naked. Koschei the Deathless, sorceror and kidnapper, lives in a decaying fortress lost within a rugged highland forest. From this lair, Koschei rides out mounted on his remarkable steed, one of Baba Yaga’s magical horses given to Koschei by that monstrous witch. Koschei abducts women, especially the wives of aristocrats. He locks them up in his fortress’s dungeons, guarded by frost giants and winter wolves, often for no reason other than to enjoy slaughtering those who come to rescue the ladies.

Only Koschei’s deathlessness overshadows his legendary wrath and cruelty. In ages past, Koschei took his soul and hid it within a needle. He put the needle inside an egg. A duck carries this egg in its body, and, in turn, a white-furred hare holds within its body the duck. Koschei locked the hare inside a sturdy chest constructed from iron, crystal, and gold. He buried the chest beneath the roots of an oak tree that grows in Buyan’s forested wilderness. As long as Koschei’s soul remains protected, Koschei cannot die. No force mundane or magical can kill him.

Anyone fortunate enough to locate the oak tree, dig up the chest, and open the container must still contend with the hare, which then races away, seeking to evade capture. If pursuers catch and kill the hare, the duck bursts forth and flies away. Should the duck be caught and killed, the hunter can extract the egg and use it to control Koschei, who sickens and loses his great strength and his sorcerous powers. Cracking the egg open to get the needle breaks this control and restores Koschei’s might, but breaking the needle instantly slays the villain.

Koschei’s steed, which he addresses only with various insults such as “jade” and “nag”, has magical powers. It gallops faster than any mortal horse, and it speaks several languages. It tracks victims for Koschei with its remarkable sense of smell, and no one has ever thrown the horse off their trail. Koschei also possesses at least one amazing magic item, a normal-seeming handkerchief which, when waved three times, transforms into a strong bridge long enough to span any river or chasm. Once Koschei crosses the bridge, it reverts to a handkerchief.

This link takes you to a PDF containing game stats for Koschei the Deathless, making this miscreant usable for Dungeon World, Fate Accelerated Edition, Mini Six Bare Bones Edition, and Swords & Wizardy. Koschei’s stats for Barbarians of Lemuria appear below. Huzzah.

Koschei the Deathless
Attributes: Strength 4, Agility 0, Mind 3, Appeal 0; Brawl 2, Melee 3, Missile 2, Defence 0
Careers: Gaoler 2, Hunter 1, Scholar 1, Sorcerer 3
Lifeblood: 12
Protection: 0 (no armor)
Weapons: Scimitar d6+6
Special: Koschei is deathless as long as his needle is intact. He ignores all damage to Lifeblood.

Koschei’s Horse
Attributes: Strength 3, Agility 1, Mind 2
Offence: Attack with hooves +2; d6 damage
Defence: 2
Protection: d3-1 (tough hide)
Lifeblood: 20
Special: Koschei’s horse speaks several languages. Its swiftness is legendary. It can accurately track a target via scent.

July 26th, 2015  in Product Development, RPG 2 Comments »

Getting More Serious and Buyan

I’m trying to get more serious about my writing, which includes posts here, game material to sell or give away, my school blog, and some fiction. To help, I found the nearby illustration by Ivan Bilibin, an early 20th-century Russian artist who died during the Siege of Leningrad in 1941.

The adjacent picture shows Buyan Island as imagined by Bilibin. Contemporary Russian author Alexey Trekhlebov writes that Buyan sits near the Baltic Sea’s southern shore. Island denizens call two towns, Retra and Arkona, home. Retra houses the temple of Radgostu, the god of war and hospitality, while Sventovit, the god of war and fertility, presides as chief deity in Arkona.

Storytellers set many myths in Buyan. Some of the myths claim that all the weather in the world originates from Buyan, created there by Perun, god of thunder and lightning, and then sent out to the rest of the world. Owing to its magical properties, this amazing island disappears and reappears, perhaps at random, perhaps in accordance with Perun’s will, perhaps both.

Fabulous tales of Buyan’s wonders and wealth attract adventurers from all over the world. They brave hardship and danger, crossing monster-filled wilderness and hostile barbarian lands. Those that survive reach the sea’s shore maybe at the right time to see Buyan in the distance.

In the next several posts, I want to further explore Buyan, writing posts about some of its more exceptional people, places, and things. At least to a small degree, I’ll try to base my posts on both Bilibin’s art, much of which is in the public domain and available on the Internet, and on Russian and Slavic folklore and myth. To whet your appetite, my next post will feature Koschei the Deathless, who hides his soul on Buyan.

July 23rd, 2015  in RPG No Comments »

The Spiders from Mars

The desolate plains of an alien world named for ancient culture’s war god appear lifeless from a bird’s eye view, but appearances deceive. Strange formations crisscross that alien world’s desolate plains, and entities monstrous and malevolent live within those formations.

Martian spiders, or zlopavouk in their own bizarre language, are intelligent, communal creatures who build elaborate networks of tunnels and tubes out of soil, rock, and adhesive secretions, creating a composite material every bit as strong as granite. Divided into rigid castes, most Martian spiders are workers, who occupy the lowest tier in zlopavouk society. The workers have little in the way of genuine will, but instead live content, controlled by a combination of pheromones and telepathic commands produced by the higher castes, the fierce warriors and the terrifying nobles.

Like a terrestrial spider, a Martian spider’s body consists of two parts: a cephalothorax and an abdomen. It has nine legs, six growing from the cephalothorax, three per side. The other three legs, noticeably larger, grow from the abdomen, spaced more or less equally. A Martian spider scuttles rapidly on all nine legs, but it can also rise up on its rear legs, moving in a semi-rotating gait so that it can bring its forelimbs to bear. These forelimbs end in three-fingered hands. Martian spiders of all castes have three pedipalps near their three fanged mouths. The bite of a Martian spider is highly toxic. They also have three compound eyes spaced to the front and sides of the cephalothorax, giving Martian spiders a field of vision nearly 360 degrees in breadth.

Workers are smallish, being about three to four feet long. They do not have spinnerets like terrestrial spiders, but instead have structures evolved to scoop soil, move rocks, and then shape and fuse them with adhesive secretions. Warriors are larger, reaching seven feet in length. Their three-fingered hands end in hooked claws, and their fangs are exceptionally large. Noble Martian spiders are larger than workers but smaller than warriors. An observers may readily identify a noble Martian spider by the clusters of bright red nodules growing around its eyes. These nodules contain highly specialized psychic organs.

Martian Spider Workers
Agile Fingers & Venomous Fangs
Skilled (+2) at: Following Orders
Bad (-2) at: Thinking Outside the Box
Stress: [] [] [] (6 workers)

Martian Spider Warrior
Aspects: Driven to Conquer, Fierce Member of the Warrior Caste
Skilled (+2) at: Attacking with Speed and Precision, Commanding Workers
Bad (-2) at: Anything Not Related to Fighting and Killing
Stress: [] []

Martian Spider Noble
High Concept: Psychic Ruler of Martian Spider Society
Trouble: “Obey Me!”
Other Aspects: Hyper-Intelligent Alien Overlord, My Intricate Plans Cannot Fail, Your Mind is My Mind

Approaches: Careful Good (+3), Clever Great (+4), Flashy Mediocre (+0), Forceful Mediocre (+0), Quick Fair (+2), Sneaky Fair (+2)

Stunts
Telepathic Powers: Because I have telepathic powers, I gain a +2 to Cleverly create an advantage or overcome an obstacle by directly influencing the mind of another.

Refresh: 3

July 12th, 2015  in RPG No Comments »