Mar 30, 2013

Your Body is a Temple to the Black Vermin Gods Pt. 2

Part 1 is here.

More ways to alter your body:

Cutting Pieces Of Yourself Off


Amputated limbs may be turned into familiars by the person they were once part of. All that is required is either the Pet spell (from RQ6) or the Call Spirit spell (from OQ). For the duration of the spell, the limb will be animated and may be commanded to perform any task the caster requires. The body part will continue to decay, but so long as it remains intact, it may reanimated repeatedly.

Amputated hands and feet are also preferred containers for charms, magic point stores, etc. and may be turned into such using the normal rules for their creation.


Ritual removal of the eyes can grant Witchsight / Second Sight as per the appropriate spell (depending on whether one is using RQ6 Folk Magic or OQ Battle Magic). The ritual requires the surgeon to have the appropriate spell and achieve a critical success on a Healing test. The ritual can be performed on someone whose eyes have already been removed - it is the elaborate pattern of scars and modifications that carry the spell.

Members of the thaumaturge caste in Dwer Tor often ritually blind themselves as part of an ascetic withdrawal from the concerns of the polis. This is most commonly done late in life, as a form of retirement. Murder gnomes in the Orthocracy usually blind one family member to help them find souls to consume.


Ritual removal of the testes will transform them into Magic Point Stores (as per the spell) capable of holding a number of Magic Points equal to 1/3rd of the donor's POW at the time of removal. The donor's POW score is not affected. The ovaries can be used in the same way, but the greater danger and difficulty of extracting them makes this less common. The ritual requires the surgeon to test both Sorcery and Healing successfully, and one of the two tests must be a critical success.

Removal of the testes is a reasonably common, though not ubiquitous, condition of admission to schools of sorcery in the Orthocracy of Kaddish. It is fairly uncommon for anyone else, though the Kadiz and Hill People do castrate some war captives as a form of non-magical ritual humiliation.


Priests who are circumcised may spend 8 hours meditating to regain a single spell they have cast, once per day. Circumcising someone is a Healing test and can be done by anyone.

Ritual circumcision is not practiced in the contemporary Dawnlands, but was extremely common among the priests of the Children of Night, who retain this power in undeath.


Grafting is the process whereby a limb or organ from one being is attached or implanted magically on or into a second being. There are two main reasons to graft a body part onto someone: To recover from a Major Wound that damaged or removed a body party; or to replace a body part with one that grants powers or attribute increases.

If you are using the normal Openquest Battle Magic rules: A Heal spell at Magnitude 6 can be used to graft on a body part on. The body part being grafted on must replace a missing or damaged body part (it must have either taken a Major Wound or have been surgically removed).

Using my house rules (which include using RQ 6 Folk Magic): The grafter must know both the Heal Folk Magic spell and have the Healing skill. They must cast the Heal spell using the Healing skill and score a critical success on the Healing test to successfully graft the part on. The location must either have taken a major wound or the body part must have been surgically removed.

Surgical removal of limbs requires a Healing skill test. On a failure, the patient loses half their current HP (enough to cause a Major Wound). If they are not at full HP, this may kill them. On a successful test, they lose 1/4 (one quarter) of their current HP. Either way, the limb is removed.

Grafting body parts on has two effects. If the location was suffering a major wound, the character recovers from the Major Wound, replacing any lost attributes, skills, etc. once they have healed to full HP.

The second effect is that the person gains some feature of the new body part. Determine what the body part was and apply the following rules:

Limbs: Take 1/4 of the STR, DEX and SIZ scores of the recipient and the body part's donor and compare the their respective attributes. If 1/4 of any of the donor's score is higher than 1/4 of the recipient's respective score, then increase the appropriate attribute by the difference. If 1/4 of any the recipient's score is higher than 1/4 of the donor's  respective score, then decrease the appropriate attribute by the difference.

If the donor had a special touch-based power, or a claw attack, these may be gained by the recipient.

Organs: A character can modify any one attribute by grafting on an appropriate organ. 1/4 of the recipient's attribute is compared to 1/4 of the donor's respective attribute. If the recipient's attribute is higher, then reduce it by the difference between the two quartered scores. If it's lower, then increase it by the same amount. Only one attribute may be changed at a time by organ replacement.

If the creature had an organ associated with a special attack or power associated with a body part (e.g. a Medusa's gaze attack; a cockatrice's beak), then replacing the recipient's organ with the appropriate donor organ grants that power.

Grafts are a relatively common way of dealing with severed limbs. The Kaddish use organ grafting more than other cultures do.

Mar 28, 2013

Your Body is a Temple to the Black Vermin Gods Pt 1.

A couple of players in the Dawnlands game have remarked that there's a cyberpunk or transhumanist feel to it because of the relentless modification of the PCs' bodies. Two died and came back as undead last session, one with silver wiring for the nerves that were smashed in by a stone altar hurled by a golden golem, and the other with mercury blood that replaced the blood he'd lost when the altar shattered and lacerated him. I don't know why I like body modification as a theme in my rpgs (I have no piercings or tattoos in real life), but here are some of the kinds of modifications PCs can have:

Body Markings

There are four kinds of permanent marks on the body that can be made to have supernatural effects: Tattoos, Moko, Weals and Brands. PCs may pierce any body part they so please. This is a common way to hold charms and magic point stores, but is not itself magical.

General rules

All body markings require an artist with Craft (Skin Artist) to make a test. Receiving a body marking is a painful, often dangerous, process in the Dawnlands, and the recipient of one takes an amount of damage equal to the relevant factor when it is applied. The factor will be described in each entry. This damage cannot be blocked by armour or magic, and must be healed naturally. On a failed test, only the damage is inflicted, and no benefit is gained. This damage can cause major wounds. All body markings require the recipient to invest a number of improvement rolls equal to half the factor.

Tattoos (Factor: Spell Magnitude)

Spell tattoos may be used to hold folk / common / battle magic spells, with each tattoo of at least hand size holding one (and only one) spell. Spell tattoos may be of any magnitude. The artist creating the tattoo must know the spell at the correct magnitude. The spell counts as permanently active, and has the recipient as the target for any effect. If for some reason the spell effect would end due to a condition, it is suppressed so long as the condition holds then reactivates as soon as the condition is gone. Spell tattoos require the recipient to invest a number of Magic Points equal to the spell's magnitude which are not recovered unless the spell tattoo is removed.

Spell tattoos are common to all cultures in the Dawnlands. In Dwer Tor they are mainly used to control slaves and shunned by the upper classes.

Moko (Factor: Converted MP)

Moko are tattooed scars done by chiseling grooves into the skin and filling them with pigment. They convert maximum Magic Points into maximum Hit Points permanently at a ratio of 1 to 1. Any number of Magic Points may be converted, though a person with 0 MP still falls unconscious. The recipient does not automatically receive HP and must recover them by resting. 

Weykulni and Forest People are the most common users of moko, especially their warriors.

Weals (Factor: Converted HP)

Weals are bulging scars, often caused by the insertion of foreign material (including pigmented particulate) into open wounds. Weals convert maximum Hit Points into maximum Magic Points permanently at a ratio of 1 to 1, as the inverse of moko. A person may have a higher maximum Magic Point total than their POW using this method. 

The Kaddish use weals more than anyone else does.

Brands (Factor: Spirit Armour Points)

Brands here refer to scar designs caused by burning. Magical brands grant armour points in spirit combat (only). A person may have up to 6 points of armour against such attacks. Branding deals twice the normal damage receiving a body marking does.

Part 2 is here.

Mar 20, 2013

Ten Adventure and Dungeon Ideas for Necrocarcerus

I posted these as one-liners on G+ the other day, but here they are fleshed out as concepts / pitches. I'm actually working on Damnation Engines right now because who doesn't love trains? I'll list the influences underneath each one

Intestinal Vaults of the Irrelevant God 

Heretics from the 4th century of the Cannigan Empire have projected into Necrocarcerus as part of a religious schism caused by the death of Vra-Kokorn, He Who Consumes the Works of Man, one of the nastier Irrelevant Gods of the living worlds. They have built a temple-complex on the navel of his shackled titan-body, dug down into it, and are packing him with explosives while extracting the many rare works of art and magic found there. The plan is to detonate him and destroy the afterlife to attain immortality. The Guardians want this stopped.

(City of the Tarrasque; Fantastic Voyage; On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic and the Collection; Shadow of the Colossus)

Damnation Engines, or Tourists of the Hellscape

The engine on the no. 44 Line (Fa Hua - Hill of Avian-Induced Suffering - Fields of Creative Punishment - Rancerburg) transports the Nepenthe produced by the Guardians of Fa Hua to a fortified storehouse in the remote Edgehells. The Rogue Lyth wishes the train to be hijacked, and then driven through hundreds of kilometres of hellscape on a long-forgotten rail line to his fortress, where he will use it to pay his heretical citizen-soldiers in their aeon-long war against the Guardians.

(The Great Train Robbery; Money Train; the Inferno; Surface Detail; Final Fantasy VI; Captain Blood)

Funnel-Webs of the Perfected Spiders

One of the vast glowing funnel-webs of the Perfected Spiders has fallen from the Ceiling unexpectedly. The impact has shattered the four Hive-Towers of Grolanth, destroyed thousands of citizens, and drawn a swarm of fortune seekers. Reports are that the web fell because it was laden with Perfected Spider eggs. Anyone who can overcome the desperate citizens, undead monstrosities, unscrupulous egg-seekers, and hungry hatchlings to retrieve one of the eggs before the Perfected Spiders retrieve them will be able to name his price.

(Mordheim; the Invisibles; Charlotte's Web; the Truman Show)

The Halls of Unanticipated Murder

The Halls protect perhaps the most valuable thing in Necrocarcerus, a traversable permanent passage back to the living worlds (the other end is believed to be a prison in the 278th year of the reign of Iomon the Wicked). Unable to destroy it, the Guardians have settled for merely surrounding it with deadly and cunning traps, ferocious beasts, implacable constructs, horrendous curses, insidious fields of magical death, and then burying the whole thing under a perilous mountain that must be scaled to enter. Not that this stops anyone from trying.

(Numenhalla; Skyrim; Dark Souls; Wraith the Oblivion; Ultima Underworld)

The Tavern of Dessicated Drunks

A casino and hotel bizarrely placed in a parched wasteland, the Tavern has obols beyond reckoning, fabulous lost magical treasures, and the best collection of booze in Necrocarcerus. However, it is cursed so that one can only leave bearing one's own obol, or by being destroyed. The cabal of Rogues who own it employ thieves, cardsharps and skilled tablemen to strip visitors of their wealth, while issuing back only the obols of those registered as long destroyed in winnings. There is a vault, however, deep underneath the casino, where the obols of residents are stored...

(Ocean's 11; Star Trek; the Sting; the Devils/Possessed; Blood Meridian; the Music of Chance)

Torture Temple of the Theosadists

The Theosadistic Guardians have begun construction of a new incarnation temple in the Furylands, and have been enslaving the local citizens for use as labour and construction materials. The completed pyramid will require half a million souls for its walls, and the strain in collecting so many citizens has caused them to ally with malign flying oozes who wiped out their human creators in the 12th century of the Braemonian Hegemony and who have pursued their creators' souls to the afterlife to torment them further. Neither the construction nor the alliance are welcome, and both can be dealt with summarily by seizing or destroying the dream-orb the Theosadists and oozes are using.

(Lovecraft; Perdido Street Station; Forgotten Realms; 120 Days of Sodom; Hellbound: the Blood War; the Gulag Archipelago; Darkness at Noon)

The Ineffable Nomoplex of the Creator

The oldest library in Necrocarcerus, filled with maps, designs, diagrams, charts and instructions which are constantly being dispatched to, and returned from, each of the Guardian factions in control of the various sections of Necrocarcerus. As a section is exhausted, the staff open the next vault, penetrating through the outer circles until now only the innermost remains before the final seal is opened. A Rogue wizard opposed to the Necrocarcerus Program has taken over part of the abandoned outer rings, and sends undead infiltrators into the active stacks to misfile and misplace documents, intercept the messengers bearing instructions, and harry the Guardians, hoping to slow down or even prevent the end of the Necrocarcerus Program.

(Borges; the Name of the Rose; Book of the New Sun; Gormenghast; Alpha Ralpha Boulevard)

The Place That Was Once A Swamp

If Necrocarcerus is flat, then the obverse side must logically have the same area as the inhabited portion. Some speculate that there is a second Necrocarcerus there, or under construction, and the end of the world will merely be the flipping of a coin that hurls the current population off into the black void below. The Place That Was Once a Swamp is now the deepest hole in Necrocarcerus, pushing into the soil at least a hundred kilometres in a gradually narrowing funnel just shallow enough to walk carefully. A cadre of citizens calling themselves the Underlords wish to see if this is true and will reward exploration handsomely. For reasons unknown, the entire place is overrun with undead.

(House of Leaves; the Descent; Cliffhanger; Journey to the Centre of the Earth) 

Scourge of the Teetering Tower

The bottom half of a gigantic worm end has been petrified and embedded in the ground. The worm is peaceable, intelligent, and wise, but cannot free itself. Its lower, stony half has been bored through by undead creatures who dug their way up to slowly feast on its delicious flesh. The worm pleads with those passing by to brave the warrens of its lower half, slay the undead, and discover by what means they keep it petrified and imprisoned.

(Planescape; James and the Giant Peach; The Genocides; Against the Day)

Mar 16, 2013

Additional Necrocarcerus House Rules

Here are some additional house rules for Necrocarcerus

Skills, Spells & Weapon Feats

We will be using Skills: The Middle Road with a few alterations. Skill categories will remain the same as in Dark Dungeons. Each skill point a PC receives can be spent to upgrade one skill one level. Thieves' skills are special abilities are unaffected.

Weapon feats are learnt and spent as normal, except as noted below.

PCs may pay double the normal cost to reduce the training time for weapon feats and skills. This cost is to hire a surgeon who will implant a portion of the brain of someone who already has the skill or weapon feat at this level into the PC's skull. The cost is quadrupled if the PC cannot supply the brain themselves. Having, the procedure, recovering from it and integrating the new knowledge takes one month total.

Magic-Users use the rules from the Crimson Pandect for learning new spells and doing spell research.

All spells (for both clerics and magic-users) from the Red Tide campaign setting and the Crimson Pandect are available in Necrocarcerus. All spells from the Arcane Abecediary are available in Necrocarcerus. All spells from the Tales of the Dungeonesque and Grotesque Compendiums [ I, II] are available. Spells that are normally restricted to a specialist magic-user or type are available for regular magic-users, and all spells normally restricted to specialist cleric types are available for regular clerics.

Amnesia, Nepenthe, and Remembering Your Life
All citizens have their memories of life (imperfectly) removed prior to incarnation. The Guardians turn the memories into the drug Nepenthe, which they store in large warehouses and dole out to compliant citizens in payment for services. Nepenthe is a hallucinogenic intoxicant. The user experiences the memories of whoever the Nepenthe was created from. Characters can benefit from Nepenthe once per level.

Each time someone drinks one or more pints or more of Nepenthe, roll a d6 and then roll on the appropriate table in the Tales of the Dungeonesque and Grotesque Compendium. They are also helpless for 1d12 hours as they live out the dreams and memories of others.

1 - A Screaming Comes Across the Sky - Roll on the Madness Table.You now have that madness.
2 - Altered States - Roll on the Random Magical Radiation Mutations Table. Your body mutates over the next 2d6 days.
3 - Dirty Hands - Roll on the Dark Secret table. You now have that dark secret.
4 - A Strange Case - Next time your character has downtime, roll on the What Happened While You Were Gone table..
5 - The Inner Light - Roll on the Character Background Table. Gain any bonuses indicated. You do not gain equipment.
6 - By Will Alone - Gain an extra spell, skill point or weapon feat of your choice. You may spend the skill point or weapon feat immediately without additional cost or downtime.

If you drink Nepenthe containing your own memories, your immediately gain a level and remember your life. You may only benefit from this once.

Mar 15, 2013

Return of Necrocarcerus

I'm in the mood to redo and revitalise a number of my failed attempts at things. I'm running a campaign with Microlite Iron Heartbreakers, and it's going pretty well. I thought I would take the time to redo Necrocarcerus to use for some one-shots I might be running later this year, and possibly for a Flailsnails game.

Recap: The Concept Visual Inspirations Some Setting Description Crap A Session Round Up

And of course: The problems that caused me to abort it in the first place.

The core conceptual (as opposed to interpersonal or operational) problem it had was that it was too alien and weird, and that common sense wasn't a very useful guide to figure out what one should be doing. To understand the setting required too much exposition, which got in the way of actually playing. Players tended to follow or pursue the few elements they thought they understood, and avoided everything else. I thought I could avoid this by dropping players into the setting in such a way that they didn't have to know anything, but this pushed them into a passive state they had trouble breaking out of.

The core operational problem was that the Necrocarcerus material was patchy and sporadic, rather than preplanned. I don't think I ever introduced a proper house rule document or conversion guide. House rules are a simple and effective way to convey setting elements that I consistently underused when running Necrocarcerus. In future, I will be running Necrocarcerus using Dark Dungeons.

To rectify the operational problem and to convey setting information, I present the following preliminary house rules & conversion guide:


All human classes are referred to as "Citizens", and are otherwise mechanically identical to their counterparts in Dark Dungeons. All Citizens are dead, which is why they are allowed in Necrocarcerus. Magic-users do not have spellbooks. Instead, their spells are tattooed on their skin. No matter which Irrelevant God they worshipped in life, all clerics receive their powers from the Creator of Necrocarcerus per its inscrutable whims.

Elves are "Projectors", living humans "projected" into the afterlife by powerful magical forces. They are otherwise mechanically identical to Elves. Because Projectors are not part of the Necrocarcerus Program, they are inherently Chaotic in alignment. Projectors have heat vision and "elfsight" because they can see through the hollowness of Necrocarcerus more easily than the dead can.

Dwarves are "Guardians" and appear near-human. Guardians are organised into factions, and are responsible for executing the Necrocarcerus Program. They may only be Lawful or Chaotic, and Chaotic Guardians are rogues who will be attacked on sight by Lawful Guardians. Guardians have heat vision and stonelore because they are responsible for maintaining Necrocarcerus and are wise to many of its secrets. Guardians are colour-coded into seven types, with no mechanical difference between them.

Halflings are dead human children and adolescents, and are therefore also referred to as "Citizens".

Edit: I swapped Dwarves and Elves around.

Being Dead

Citizens, Guardians and Projectors in Necrocarcerus still breathe, sleep, and eat. No one is sure why. Citizens do not age.


Alignment simply refers to one's attitude towards the Necrocarcerus Program. Lawful individuals seek to aid its operation, neutral individuals are indifferent to it, and chaotic individuals are opposed to it. While the ultimate purpose of the Necrocarcerus Program is unknown, the Guardians enforce the following:

The Guardians know best what is to be done, and Citizens must obey them.

The Undead, Projectors and agents of the Irrelevant Gods do not belong in Necrocarcerus and must be banished, destroyed or neutralised.

Destroying other Citizens or Guardians except at the order of the Guardians is wrong.

Escaping Necrocarcerus is wrong. Destroying Necrocarcerus before the completion of the Necrocarcerus Program is wrong.


Gold is valueless except as decoration in Necrocarcerus. The standard unit of value is the obol coin. An obol is worth 1gp when converting prices. Obols are hacked into pieces when smaller denominations are needed. All newly incarnated citizens produce an obol which the Guardians harvest and distribute. The face of the person whose incarnation created the obol is on one side. Owning your own obol grants a +1 to all saving throws.

All equipment in the corebook is available.

Drinking the blood of living things restores 1d8 points of HP. Living things contain one "dose" of blood per hit die.

Experience Points

PCs gain XP for defeating monsters & enemies only if they spend 1 turn (10 minutes) absorbing the pneuma released by the slain foe.

All other methods of gaining XP remain unchanged.

Mar 10, 2013

Roles and Tasks for PC Groups

I've been playing in Courtney Campbell's Numenhalla game as Mad Bill Danger, which has been good because it's been a long time since I've been a PC in an old school game. I drive old school gaming in my groups, which means I run the games. Offline, I've mainly been playing WFRP 2e for the past year and a half  as we run through / playtest modules designed by the Liber Fanatica crew.

I'm going to be running a one-shot at some point this year for a bunch of people who are starting up a semi-regular board game night. Some of them have played before, but we'll have a bunch of folks who never have, so I'm once again considering the challenges and concerns of structuring play to make it comprehensible for new players. This is a perennial concern for me, and I want to adapt some of the things I learnt running Emern to this game. In the Emern game, I was experimenting with all sorts of different ways of modifying play, basically throwing everything I could out and seeing what worked and what didn't. Emern was also an extended campaign that had time and space for structures to be introduced gradually, and with different sections with distinct feels that allowed for changes in play to be slotted in without feeling like the entire campaign had to continue on with those rules. A one-shot imposes very different limitations.

One way I'm planning to structure play is by giving players roles and tasks to do in managing sub-systems that would otherwise be time consuming. I've mentioned doing this before, though I think most of the writing on this blog has been fairly abstract about it, and I'm going to go into specifics here.

Role: Caller

The caller is responsible for announcing all activity to the referee that the party as a whole takes. Individual PCs who want to take actions can still call out their actions, but they are assumed to be doing so separately unless they caller says the rest of the party is doing so as well.

When group initiative is used, the caller is responsible for rolling it, and for determining the specific order the PCs act in each round.

The caller determines and records the party's marching order.

Role: Mapper

The mapper is responsible for creating, updating and labeling the party's map. The mapper is responsible for answering questions about the map they have created from other PCs.

Role: Quartermaster

The quartermaster keeps the master record of what each PC has or does not have, and what their current and maximum encumbrances are (as well of any pack animals or hirelings). PCs may keep their own copies, but they are responsible for ensuring that the quartermaster's records are accurate. If it is not on the quartermaster's sheet, they do not have it.

The quartermaster may appoint an assistant responsible for some subset of the party.

Role: Timekeeper

The timekeeper is responsible for keeping track of how much time has passed, and the rate of use of consumables such as torches, food & water, etc. They are responsible for notifying players when 50% of any resource has been expended, and when a resource has been exhausted or is nearing exhaustion. PCs are responsible for notifying the timekeeper when they replenish or expend resources, but the timekeeper's record is the authoritative one, and consumables not noted on it are disregarded.

At any point, timekeepers may ask how much time has passed in-game since the last time they asked, and receive an answer.

Role: Rules Coordinator

The rules coordinator is responsible for answering any rules queries from other PCs that require referencing the rule book to answer. The rules coordinator's answers are subordinate to the referee's.

The rules coordinator is responsible for recording any special, spot, house rules or rulings being used as they come up. If the rules coordinator does not write a previous rule or ruling down, they cannot be cited as precedent in similar occurrences except by the referee.