Saturday, 8 August 2020

d8 Original GLOG Spells for the Great Bear Rainforest

I'm working on combining my GLOG hack of Palace Run and my ongoing British Columbia-inspired fairy folk forest world of the Great Bear Rainforest. Here are eight new GLOG Spells I've come up with. I'm trying to avoid spells that are only useful in combat. I also am trying to avoid too many saving throws. There's also nothing I hate more than casting a cool spell, only to have the enemy Save and nothing happens. To avoid this, I try to at least make the effect automatic to begin with, and enemies Save on their turn to shake it off. 

I'm also planning on running spells like Knave or Mausritter, where a specific spell is trapped inside a specific item, which you must find as treasure or steal to acquire. To keep with the West Coast theme I'm making these items special carvings of black argillite, for which the Haida Nation is famous (they source the stone from a quarry on Graham Island in Haida Gwaii). So each of these spells would be trapped in a spell argillite carving—waiting to be uncovered by some crafty raven. 

Carving by Gary Olver.


1. Beak

R: 60’ | T: object, creature | D: instant

A sharp black beak conjures in the air and flies into the target, dealing [SUM] damage and neatly slicing whatever it hits (ropes, chains, clothing, etc).

2. Death Omen

R: self | T: self | D: instant

[DICE] impending deaths are known to the caster. Works best in calm situations. Omen probability goes a little wonky in the heat of battle; results may vary. 

3. Ignite

R: 50’ | T: object, creature | D: instant

Target creature or object takes [SUM] fire damage and catches on fire. SAVE to put out the fire. 

4. Moth Mass 

R: 50’ | T: open space | D: [DICE]x 10 minutes

You summon [DICE]x1d100 moths, which flutter violently around whatever you point at within range. The moths can devour inert soft organic material at the rate of 1 minute per pound, to a maximum of 1 pound per 10 moths. 

5. Riprap

R: 50’ | T: solid surface | D: [DICE] minutes

Summon a pile of medium-sized jagged boulders, up to [DICE]x 10 cubic feet. They fill the shape of their container (a pit, a corridor, etc.) 

6. Rotate

R: 100’ | T: object | D: permanent until dispelled

Rotate any object, even if implausible (e.g. a rooted tree). The maximum size of the object depends on how many [DICE] invested: 1=pinecone; 2=handbasket; 3=adult folk; 4=fir tree. 

7. Smoke Step

R: 100’ | T: self | D: instant

You teleport to any point within range that you can see, leaving behind a puff of wood smoke. For each [DICE] above 1 you invest, you can take another person with you. 

8. Weave

R: 50’ | T: plants or rope | D: [DICE]x 10 minutes

You weave nearby plant matter into a rope [DICE]x 20 feet long. The rope animates and you can command it to move up to [SUM]x 10 feet in any direction, including levitating in the air, tie itself into knots, pull itself taut, etc. If no plant matter is available you can animate an already existing rope, provided that it is made from natural materials. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Folk of the Great Bear Rainforest (my British Columbia-inspired fantasy fairy forest)

The Great Bear Rainforest extends north from Saltchuck City for a thousand kilometres. Hundreds of little rivers and creeks fill up from the endless cool rain and run down from the eastern mountains to the rocky coastline. Wet rotting downed trees, moss carpeting thick like fog, and sword ferns taller than your head make overland travel difficult. But some folk do journey through the temperate rainforest—to find medicine for their sick village, to chase a legend up the mountains, to trade bentwood boxes for copper sheets. 

Emily Carr. Among the Firs. 1931. 

Barred Owls
A rare folk, often in search of companionship. They are tall and speak softly. Excellent cooks and usually highly educated, Barred Owls mate for life, and cherish their marriages. A single Barred Owl is usually morose and will mope about until they feel like they're fostering a relationship. Once married, Barred Owls don't mind living amongst other folk. They will find a nice village or homestead, and set up shop as a joint business, providing scribing work, tutoring, personal chef services, or other cerebral positions. 

d10 Barred Owl Proposal Meals
  1. Roasted Shrew with Garlic
  2. Cedar Tip Cider Cake
  3. Shrew Steak with Huckleberry Compote
  4. Vole Skewers with Lobster Mushroom
  5. Fried Trout Fins
  6. Marsh Shrew Stewed with Reed Roots
  7. Brook Char Fillet Glazed with Blackberry Reduction
  8. Stuffed Shrew with Pine Nuts
  9. Vole Tartare with Quail Egg Yolk
  10. Chopped Grasshopper and Bittercrest Salad

There's nothing a beetle loves more than its ancestors. Most beetles are extremely proud of their ancestors. Any distasteful actions undertaken by a beetle ancestor are openly discussed, with lessons learned taken from these mistakes and atonements undertaken by descendant if necessary. As beetles die, their shiny exoskeletons are used for crafting, usually done by members of the same generation if possible. Spearheads, knife handles, decorative jewellery, wall hangings. 

d6 Beetle Carapace Craftworks
  1. Two matching spearheads from a cousin's carapace
  2. Well-worn knife handle from a brother's carapace
  3. Cut-circles sewn into a chain shirt from a sister's carapace
  4. Hollow legs strung into a kilt from an uncle's carapace
  5. Beads strung into a dangly necklace from a great-grandparent's carapace
  6. Antennae hung loosely from a dogwood bough as a wall tapestry from an entire family's carapaces, tragically killed by a flock of Rose-breasted grosbeaks

Merchants, academics, naturalists, lovers, poets. A culturally assiduous folk. Herons congregate in cozy, bustling townsites, making wooden homes from scavenged slats and local lumber. These townsites are plunked half on land and half floating on ponds or lakes. Herons walk as comfortably in shallow water as they do on land. Herons love to learn and have no problem sitting still for hours at a time, engrossed in a book or fishing for frogs. 

d4 Heron Merchants and their Secret Intellectual Pursuit
    1. Ardea the dried trout monger — loves archaic romantic poetry
    2. Fletch the bowyer — devours tomes regarding mollusc biology
    3. Robert the parchment maker — delights in obscure mathematic equations
    4. Wickersludge the banker — collects weather implements

    Community-minded sojourners. Racoons often make families in the lands of other folk, placing themselves into marginal positions and peripheral niches: garbage-pickers, border-guards, game-hunters, and nightwatchmen. Racoons view themselves as sibling to all folk—they will befriend and besmirch all equally, basing their opinions on people's actions and not their background. They care about the community, but mostly love setting out on individual actions to better the lives of their neighbours. Hunting for a mystical buck deer, searching for a medicinal spring, or carrying a love letter from a fallen friends. They also love treasure and trinkets, particularly if received as a gift for doing someone a favour. 

    d8 Treasured Trinkets
    1. Polished silver coin carved with a friend's name
    2. A perfect acorn, lacquered for preservation
    3. Rough crystal, wrapped on copper wire
    4. Jade figurine of the racoon's favourite flower
    5. Seashell collected from a distant beach
    6. Driftwood in the shape of a heart
    7. Sea glass worn smooth
    8. Living moss inside a sealed glass bead

    Schemers and servants; subordinate yet subjugatory. A rat elected to office can be guaranteed to use subterfuge and face-to-face confident conversation to fight for her electoral promises—and unspoken secret goals of her own. Yet a rat hired as a butler will bow and scrape like no other. A rat cannot abide middling status; they all lay low at the bottom of the barrel until the time comes to raise straight to the top. Rats enjoy mingling with other folk and can be found all throughout the Rainforest. They are difficult to pin down—making friends with a rat usually means poking your way through a labyrinth of strange social code. 

    d8 Rat Social Contradictions
    1. Insults you to your face yet praises you behind your back
    2. Loyal customer to a certain shop yet complains about the service
    3. Disobeys all orders from their superior yet gushes about their decision-making abilities
    4. Refuses to follow beaten paths yet doesn't leave town anyways
    5. Never asks permission before fishing the lake yet only uses legal bait
    6. Always silent when with friends yet won't shut up with folk they've just met
    7. Treats underlings like trusted siblings yet shrieks at superiors with vitriol
    8. Eschews safety while working at log camps yet cares deeply for road safety design

    Magicians, tricksters, perpetrators of unknown rituals. Ravens are mysterious folk; they generally stick to themselves, and when they do mingle with others, the conversation never seems to make its way into the personal details of the raven's life. Ravens have a cultural affinity for magic, and are often turned to in times of need for spells and ensorcellements. They also make their homes high in the treetops, which other folk sometimes find difficult to climb up towards. 

    d6 Raven Magician Spells
    1. Sun Steal — darkens completely whatever space the caster is in
    2. Beak — a black beak conjures in the air and glides into a target, dealing damage
    3. Death Omen — one impending death is known to the caster
    4. Rotate — rotates some object, even those of large size or implausibility (e.g. a rooted tree)
    5. Black Wing — the caster sprouts oversized black wings and can fly for one hour
    6. Disembodied Claws — two thin black clawed feet appear nearby; they mimic the movements of the caster's hands

    Proud and loud. Found mostly by the coast, these folk will talk themselves silly (usually praising themselves and their kin) till the sun rises in the east, then eat an entire family's worth of food to themselves, slurping and gulping, before falling asleep in the sand. 

    d10 Seagull Braggings
    1. I cracked the biggest clamshell you ever did see
    2. Once I ate a hundred crabs
    3. My brother fought an orca once
    4. Me and my sister once flew from here to Saltchuck and back again
    5. My feet are bigger than any gull's
    6. My chicks have grown faster than anyone else's this year
    7. I made more money last year selling barrels than I had in the past decade
    8. I once caught a salmon with my beak and sold it to a fisherman for double its worth
    9. My cousin ate an entire wedding feast's food once
    10. One time I pecked down a hemlock tree

    Non-binary, gallant, driven. Young adults wear bark armour and align themselves to mythic quests which they know will never be realized—the quests are repeated over and over by young slugs, each striving to add their piece to the endless questing. When two slugs meet on the field they may elect to duel to see who becomes impregnated. Upon defeat they doff their armour and travel to a slug work camp where they will give birth and communally raise the children alongside other slugs who also got impregnated, and trade off shifts harvesting bark, making armour, growing food, caring for younglings, etc. 

    d6 Mythic Slug Quests
      1. World Peace
      2. Justice for All
      3. Poverty Eradication
      4. Universal Suffrage
      5. End to Child Hunger
      6. Access to Clean Drinking Water

      Smooth and slow, effectively immortal, gleaning esoteric knowledge from the muddy banks of the river estuaries. Sturgeon continue growing throughout their lives, slowing over time, but still reaching large proportions. Before a hundred years of age, they are usually small enough to climb up from the river deltas and travel on foot through the forest. As long as they stick near the coast, its usually damp enough for their fishy flesh. Once they get too large, they must return to the water where they remain for the rest of their days, becoming more distant from other folk as their minds and bodies become too large to fathom. The elder sturgeon, who lives on the banks of the Salt River near Saltchuck city is over one thousand years old. She will very rarely see petitioners seeking knowledge and advice—those who have spoken to her speak of a tree's length of flesh and milky white eyes larger than a pond, full of deep knowledge. 

      d6 Sturgeon Secrets
      1. The route to the old abandoned gold mines in the Salt River Canyon
      2. How to catch salmon with your bare hands
      3. The language of the river stones
      4. How to make a marriage last
      5. Which riparian plant treats stomachaches best
      6. Where to find the Great Bear

      Saturday, 1 August 2020

      RPGaDAY2020 - Dungeon Map Key

        For RPGaDAY2020—my first foray into this challenge—I am keeping it simple and just keying this beautiful dungeon map using each prompt as my prompt for the room. I will simply keep editing this post with new entries throughout the month. 

        For keying dungeons, I like to use this little table which I stole from the Two Week Megadungeon post over on 

        1-10: Empty
        11-13: Creatures
        14-16: Creatures with Treasure
        17: Trap
        18: Trap with Treasure
        19: Something Weird
        20: Unguarded Treasure

        "Empty" doesn't mean empty of course—it means steal something from Courtney Campbell's On Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design which is worth ten times what I paid for the PDF. 

        Dungeon Key

        1. Beginning. A twenty-foot wide wattle portcullis made from living woven maple saplings. Damaging the saplings causes them to sprout new rapidly-growing branches to fill the gaps, squirting thick sap from the wounds. 
        2. Change. Wide corridor with a kink in the middle. Walls are covered in flowering vines: smelling different coloured flowers causes skin to change to the colour of the flower, plus increase a random ability by 2, and decrease a random ability by 2. This lasts for one hour; only one flower effect can be active at a time. Once the random abilities are rolled for a certain colour, all subsequent sniffs produce the same pair. At the far end is a thick curtain of hanging flowering vines, hiding a stuck wooden door
        3. Thread. Vestibule with large spools of ancient thread fixed to the West wall. East wall has some collapsed rubble: one spool of green thread leads from a spool into the collapsed rubble (probably someone was marking their trail with it and the passage collapsed behind them). Open archway to the South. 
        4. Vision. Octagonal room with mirrored doors to the East and West. They will only open if no living thing is reflected within them, and no living thing observes the reflection. 
        5. Tribute. The ceiling is supported by two black stone pillars in the centre of the room. In the south there is a black stone altar, depicting a two-headed god (Cow & Bull) with its hands carved into the shape of an alms bowl. To the West there is an iron door locked with a rusty keyhole. 
        6. Forest. This natural cavern holds a dozen full-grown big-leaf maple trees. Despite the darkness, they are thriving and appear to be in full leaf as if it were mid-summer. A rough-hewn passageway leads to the North. 
        7. Couple. Two large maple logs have been buried in narrow pits so the logs stick straight up like telegraph poles—each log has a face carved into. The faces are kissing at each other. 
        8. Shade. This room has been enchanted with magical Darkness. It smells like oil and there are faint jingling sounds from the ceiling. The doorway to the East is rimmed with razor wire, so that people feeling their way along will get cut. There are delicate copper chains hanging from the ceiling—worth about 100gp total if removed. 
        9. Light
        10. Want
        11. Stack
        12. Message
        13. Rest
        14. Banner
        15. Frame
        16. Dramatic
        17. Comfort   
        18. Meet
        19. Tower
        20. Investigate    
        21. Push    
        22. Rare
        23. Edge
        24. Humour
        25. Lever
        26. Strange
        27. Favour
        28. Close
        29. Ride
        30. Portal
        31. Experience

                                                                    Hacking GLOG magic into The Benign Brown Beast's Palace Run

                                                                    Ian over at the Benign Brown Beast made an excellent game entry for 2019's 200 Word RPG Challenge called Palace Run. He also has a blog post with all his different versions so you can see how the game moved through iterations with feedback from play testing. 

                                                                    I love this game. It is brilliant. The only thing missing is GLOG-style magic. Here is my attempt to hack it into the game. I didn't bother trying to stay below 200 words. 

                                                                    Art by Oscar Perez

                                                                    Friday, 31 July 2020

                                                                    Crafting Your Own Gravesite During Downtime

                                                                    I love the Meta Prompt Generator that Lexi wrote over at A Blasted, Cratered Land. It is brilliant and evocative. I have used it before to write a d20 table about What Weird Thing Happens in the City at This Time of Day? I used it again and got another great prompt: 

                                                                    death, downtime, and crafting

                                                                    Obviously this means that I wrote some rules for a new downtime activity: crafting your own gravesite.

                                                                    Crafting Your Own Gravesite During Downtime

                                                                    When you have spare time on your hands, you may use it to craft components of your own gravesite. This can be geographically linked to a burial site, or be composed of extraneous articles which you carry with you. Crafting a proper gravesite, to the specifics of your personal tastes and the trappings of your religion or culture, can help ease your passage into the overworld, or allow the prevention or promotion of your undeath. 
                                                                    As you prepare for death, you can choose in your heart of hearts a goal for your passage. Upon death, and subsequent interment of your body, you make an Interment Roll, against a target number (TN) based on the goal you chose. To make an Interment Roll, roll 1d6 and add any bonuses from Gravesite Construction Activities. Equaling or surpassing the TN allows the success of your goal. 

                                                                    The goals and TNs are:
                                                                    1. to seek a secured place in a certain overworld (your god's version of heaven, reincarnation, blessed darkness for eternity, etc.) — TN 6
                                                                    2. to prevent your corpse's return as a creature of undeath — TN 8
                                                                    3. to expedite your corpse's return as a creature of undeath—with autonomous control over yourself, rather than being enslaved to some necromancer or dark priestess — TN 10

                                                                    Gravesite Construction Activities

                                                                    For each week of downtime spent constructing gravesite accoutrement, you can accomplish one of these tasks. Each completed task provides a +1 bonus on your Interment Roll. You must detail the process by which you construct these things, plus how they appear when finished. You always succeed in the construction of the aspect, as long as you spend the full week of downtime. 

                                                                    Sourcing and Securing a Grave Site

                                                                    • A grave site must be physically located in a place. This can be your hometown, a place significant to you during life, or any random place you desire. To do work on this grave site, you must be physically present, or send an agent in your stead to be present themselves.
                                                                    • Securing a burial plot usually costs between 100 and 1000gp. The cost is usually on the higher end in urban areas with high land values. In more rural areas the cost is on the lower end. 
                                                                    • A shelf in a columbaria (resting place for cremation urns) may cost up to 50% less than a burial site. Creating a full Tomb or Mausoleum building can cost 200–300% more than a regular burial site. 

                                                                    Planning Funerary Proceedings

                                                                    • This is often dictated by local custom and religion. Some call for mass gatherings of mourners, with extended family travelling long distances to pay their respects. Other ask for only close family and friends to gather, tell stories and jokes, and feast on the deceased's favourite foods. 
                                                                    • You must prepare a general description of the proceedings. 

                                                                    Magical Wards, Ensorcellements, and Rituals

                                                                    • The specifics of these are dictated by your goal. 
                                                                    • Seeking a secured place in your chosen overworld usually requires an ensorcellment on your corpse. This means you must arrange for this to be done after your time of death. Maybe your friend can do it, or maybe you need to pay a deposit (100-500sp) for a skilled priest or magician. 
                                                                    • A magical ward cast over your gravesite can prevent your body's unwanted rise into undeath. This can be done before you have been interred, and usually wards will last for a long time (100-500sp). 
                                                                    • A ritual must be performed to help ensure your rise from death to undeath as an intelligent undead. This ritual must be performed as you are interred, so it must also be prepared in advanced, and paid for, of course (100-500sp). 

                                                                    Creation of a Headstone, Memorial, Pyre, Cairn, Sarcophagus, etc.

                                                                    • A grave site requires a marker. These are traditionally made from stone, and carved by a professional. You may choose the specifics to your pleasure, and will usually need to pay around 100sp to have it prepared. It will then need to be stored until such time of your death, at the cost of 1sp per month. Might be smart to pre-pay for a few years. 

                                                                    Writing an Epitaph

                                                                    • An epitaph is a snippet of writing—sometimes a catchphrase, quote, or piece of scripture—which is written at the gravesite of a deceased person. 
                                                                    • You as a player need to physically write down an epitaph. Your other party members can vote on your drafts with their approval and disapproval. An epitaph needs to pass with unanimous support to be considered complete. The writing still takes one week of in-game time regardless of your number of drafts. 

                                                                    Saturday, 25 July 2020

                                                                    High Lethality as Game Balance

                                                                    Lethality and Game Balance are two concepts in RPG design and deliberation which have been covered again and again. Jeff from the eponymous Jeff's Gameblog has written about how low level and high lethality play is more fun for him as a referee, and his players. The Principia Apocrypha (written by Ben Milton, Steven Lumpkin, and David Perry) contains advice about how high lethality injects real tension into the game, because players who know that their characters really might die will tread carefully through the dungeon. Many other writers have discussed lethality and threat of character death as adding fun to their games. I usually agree with these people. 

                                                                    There are—of course—other types of games where character death can be frustrating. If you want to play a campaign where you're taking your beloved character from level 1 to level 20, learning and growing over time, power to you. 

                                                                    In terms of Game Balance, I find that people online often discuss this concept in regards to 5e D&D. Homebrew classes need to be balanced—Unearthed Arcana material needs to be balanced—encounters need to be balanced—magic items need to be balanced. Things might "break the game." Things need to be "fair." These are always subjective things, or if they're objective, they've been reduced down to such simple mechanical math-based attributes as to suck all the fun out of playing pretend. 

                                                                    In OSR play we often ignore balance. Or rather, we have more important things to focus on—cool new monsters we invented, the interesting decisions the players make, interpreting the die rolls we made on a litany of random tables. We know that combat is avoidable, and that if a deadly encounter is 'unbalanced,' the players can 'balance' it by simply avoiding the situation, or fictionally gathering enough resources (allies, big weapons, ancient spells) to make it balanced. Again, the Principia Apocrypha has a lot to say about this which I won't bother repeating any more than I already have. 

                                                                    Something I don't hear very often, however, is how high lethality can provide many of the so-called 'benefits' of game balance without having to worry about fiddly math and endless play testing. 

                                                                    Ability Score Generation Methods

                                                                    Many OSR-leaning gamers enjoy the random nature of generation methods, and love the stories that emerge when somebody with 6 STR ends up surviving longer than someone with 17 STR. Others criticize this random generation, saying it penalizes those players who roll low stats, taking away their enjoyment, for no reason. However, I find that most people laying that criticism make a character with the expectation that they will play them over and over in many sessions, over the entire campaign. When you expect your characters to die often, rolling bad stats doesn't become an overarching grey cloud over the entire campaign—it is simply one of the characters you roll. Maybe your player skill allows a low stat character to survive, or maybe the survival of the fittest kicks in, and any low stat character you roll dies quickly, until you roll a high stat one and they survive. Either way, high lethality flattens the overall distribution of ability score rolls over the lifetime of the entire campaign

                                                                    Class Balance

                                                                    In the GLOG, nobody cares about class balance. Where's the fun in that? Plus, with 477+ classes, who has time to peruse all these listings to compare and contrast for balance? Why even bother, since nobody will ever double-check your work? Much better to just create a class by focusing on awesome ideas, and diegetic abilities which cannot truly be balanced anyways. This results in another interlink between high lethality and game balance—in a campaign with high lethality, over time, characters with levels in 'weak' classes will die. And if they don't, their shortcomings become clear and it is an awesome story to behold this character survive time and time again despite their shortcomings. Characters with levels in 'strong' classes will survive, or it becomes clear that it actually doesn't matter very much. Either way is a win-win. 

                                                                    Encounter Design

                                                                    Many OSR referees agree that properly telegraphing danger is a key concept when players are facing monsters and traps. Giving players information before they make a decision that might get their character killed is an important part of play. When your dungeon is stocked with encounters of varying difficulties, and you telegraph danger beforehand, and the players are aware that the dungeon is unbalanced, they will self-select encounters for combat, and encounters for trickery, stealth, parley, and other tactics. There is no need to balance encounters for character level when the risk of lethality is real—players understand the risk and won't push themselves too far. They know that they will die if they do so. Taking away that risk of lethality just makes unbalanced encounters nonsensical. How can something be too powerful if it never actually kills you?


                                                                    I wrote this whole thing in kind of a rambly method over the past couple days after having the idea rattling around in my brain for a few months. Apologies for any writing which is indecipherable. 

                                                                    My general point is that beyond the traditional reasons we all profess for loving high lethality-play, it also provides an overarching balance to the game over long periods of time, releasing referees from the work of balancing their encounters, homebrew classes, and ability score generation. The meatgrinder balances it all for you.