Monday, December 24, 2012

The Forbidden Palace of the Golden Emperor

It is said that since the Dawn of Man, a Golden Emperor has dwelled in the Forbidden Palace.   While obviously an exaggeration, it is true that parts of the palace complex date back to the first emperor to unify Cathay - perhaps even earlier.  Even through countless rebellions and the creation of a myriad of dynasties, for if anything true of Cathay it is that it seeks to break apart when it is whole and seeks to be whole when it is apart, an emperor has always lived there.  Even when the capital was moved during the previous dynasty, they took apart the empire palace and moved it plank by plan, stone by stone, golden throne by golden throne, to its new home in Winding Three Rivers.  

It is also said that each emperor that has lived their has gone mad, though some have been more mad than others.  His Celestial Majesty, the Golden Emperor of the World, Ruler of the Moon and the Sky, is madder than most.  Originally a rebel and a general, he grew aloof from politics after making himself emperor in the Red Blade Rebellion.  It is said that he murmured to himself while walking through halls at strange ours of the morning and began wearing a mask and gloves in order to avoid contact with contagions that he was sure surrounded him.

About ten years ago, he banished his entire court, including his concubines, wives, and children - indeed, everyone but his little lap dogs - from the palace.  Since then he has lived his life in a single room of the tallest tower of the outer wall.  His courtiers gather around the palace's moat each day carrying scrolls relating the issues facing the Kingdom That is the World.  He gazes at these with the aid of a spy glass and lowers his instructions down in a small basket.

The reason for the emperor's madness is the subject of much debate in the teashops and brothels of the capital.  Tradition holds that the ghosts of each emperor stay within the palace in order to advise their successors, though being mad themselves this advice is always poisonous to the mind. Others say that the various secret societies which truly run the empire have corrupted the emperor either with strange alchemy or foul magic.

In the years that have past since he banished his courtiers, the majority of the palace complex has gone into ruin almost preternaturally fast.  Knowing that even the guards have been banished, many rogues, thugs, and lowlifes have stolen into the ruins to abscond with the goods the treasures said to lie within.  Few have returned, and those that have have spoken of horrible creatures, rooms and corridors with unnatural dimensions, and fiendish traps that no previous record concerning the palace mentions.  


The Forbidden Palace is meant to be the "campaign dungeon" of Cathay if I ever run it.  Quite a bit of the dungeon will be the upper works, but the complex stretches a good way below ground as well.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What Noppin is Like

Precis: Hammer Horror Japan. 

Conspectus: An imbecilic half-catfish demon emperor who spends his days being entertained by sycophantic courtiers; the Forest of Suicides; monks of the Law attempting to turn themselves into living mummies and crawl into little boxes; ruined castles haunted by cannibalistic ghost-women; spider witches; despotic warlords with no regard for human life; horrible mountain goblins with long noses; hunchbacked, mad swordsmiths; ancient tombs that seem to predate the empire; horrible tetsubo wielding ogres with misshapen, horned heads

Taste; Sound; Image: Barbecued Eel; the music of Throne of Blood; Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Cathay is Like

Precis: Grotty China.  "ChinaHammer" meets A Chinese Ghost Story

Conspectus: His Celestial Majesty, Lord of the Stars and Moon and Golden Emperor of the Land of 1,283 Idols; hungry ghosts; wandering, bloodthirsty outlaws with a misplaced sense of nobility; mogwai; haunted temples on misty, worn mountain tops; sinister cults masquerading as criminal gangs and vice versa; an impersonal, uncaring bureaucracy that would make even Zenopolis seem efficient;  the Great Dragon's Kingdom Under the Sea - the Home of the Drowned Dead; Sagacious tutors and mad hermits attempting to teach rulers the ways of law; yetis!; thick bamboo forests stalked by natural and supernatural predators; alchemists making pacts with demons to ensure eternal life; tribes of horrid monkey-people and pig-men; martial arts schools that actually train men to be thieves and brigands; "The Voyage of Parco Molo"; A lot of hells

Taste; Sound; Image:  Chinese takeout; Tan Dun's "Through the Bamboo Forest," Li Cheng's Buddhist Temple in Mountain

What the Desert Lands are Like

Precis: A desert realm of Sword & Sorcery with a satanic twist.  Doom metal Stygia.

Conspectus: Doomed Zenopolis with it's glittering domes and ruined temples; its sprawling catacombs and hidden undercity; leprous mutants on sky-boats dragged through the firmament by byakhee, war-shantaks, and other chained demons; the Black Ziggurat; ghost cities squatting in the dessicated remnants of riverbeds; the Temple-Tomb of Moloch of the Fuel-Less Fire; the undead army of the Black Pharoah crawling across the dunes; sand worms!; sand storms and accompanying sand demons; the Meeting Place of the Demons; Sinbad-style islands ruled by Zothique-style necromancers; desert shrines served only by masked ghoul-priests; hideous ghorii; the mummies of ancient kings who died before the Law came to the World; the Blood-Red Sea; ruined castles of the Sword Brothers

Taste, Sound, Image: Lamb kabob; Zoraster's the Old World, Diablo II Act II

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Grand Tour of the First City of Men: Houses of Ill Repute

Many of the neighborhoods in the Lower City and the Docks contain small alehouses meant to service slaves and freemen in the employ of the various noble houses.  These are typically stocked by the house that has the most power in that respective neighborhood, and since this is the case they usually have only beer or mead and other cheap intoxicants that are easily made in the farmland around Uz.  They are typically open-air affairs that are adjacent to a small building which stores the beer.  Carousing rolls made at one of these establishments are made on a d4.

The Wine House of Barahm-Sin is a famous haunt of drunkards and adventurers.  It is where each session of the game is assumed to start unless I am told otherwise.  It is owned by a Getherite who believes himself to be a living god and is one of the only places where men can debauch that is not owned by one of the noble houses.  Barahm-Sin typically serves the strange turquoise wine of Ilion but can provide other, more exotic intoxicants should the need arise.  Carousing rolls made here are made on a d6.

The Temple of She of the Silken Thighs possesses perhaps the most infamous brothel in all of Uz.  It is a temple celebrating an obscure aspect of Li-Lit of the Night, though some argue that it might actually be a cohort of that goddess or possibly even a deified priestess of the goddess from a long forgotten age.  Like all brothels, the Temple of She of the Silken Thighs also trades in a number of intoxicants not available elsewhere - including, it is said - strange rays that provide the user with infinite pleasure.  Carousing rolls made here are on a d8.

Some of the newer noble houses that build their squat palaces on the Acropolis posses marble bathhouses and pleasure domes designed to display the wealth of the owners as well as provide them with a place to engage in their deranged fantasies. They can provide the carouser with all manner of foreign and otherworldly pleasures.  Access to these is restricted to the nobility, and thus any adventurers wishing to join in the debauchery must either be very close associates with one of the houses - preferably the one whose pleasure dome they wish to access - or become nobility themselves through deeds performed in the underworld or abroad.  Carousing rolls made at one of these establishments are made on a d10.

The Pleasure Palace of Mari-Adab outshines all others in opulence and the turpitudes available to its clients are utterly unmentionable.  Carousing rolls made here are made on a d12.

Right now, each of these use the standard mishaps chart, but once I've done more work on the adventure sites I hope to be able to give each one its own particular set of perils.

In the next part of the tour, I'll discuss notable homes whose owners the PCs might wish to befriend or rob, including the manses of some notable sorcerers.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Uz Session 3 Highlight Reel

Another Uz game happened...
  • No slaves were taken this time.
  • Much of the session included trying to trick Ubara the Man-god's new hirelings into doing things for the party.
  • The party spent most of the time exploring a set of doors that lead off a massive hallway leading to tomb of Uz of Uz. They eventually figured out that these were his concubines and wives.  The key difference seemed to be the garb and grave goods accompanying the different women, as well as the fate of their children - which was depicted on the walls of their tomb.  His "wives" seemed to produce strange beings resembling martians while the concubines' children were cast into the Fuel-Less Fire.
  • The party constructed "the Fire Lance of the Ancient Hyperzepherians," which was just two spears tied together with a torch at the end.  They used this to kill a number of corpse worms they had previously found in this part of the dungeon.
  • In the room beyond they found a necklace that depicted some "beetle-men" as one of the players called them, as well as a number of artifacts that seemed to be designed by someone who had seen technological items but didn't exactly know how they work.  All the sarcophagi they've found so far in this dungeon - with the notable exception of the one belonging to Uz of Uz - seem to be modeled on "Hypersleep Pods."
  • Messing around with one of the sarcophagi belonging to the concubines caused a strange beam to scan over the party - putting the priest Waw and one of the hirelings to sleep.  It then started an alarm which summoned a whole bunch of monsters - presumably dessicated corpses covered in strange, glowing runes the party had previously encountered.  Luckily, Waw had cast hold portal on the entrance to the hall before falling asleep, and they were able to break the alarm before the creatures were able to break in.
  • The tombs contained depictions of Uz involved in various sexual acts with his wives and concubines.  The party made rubbings of these in hopes of selling them later to some perverse collector.
  • No one in the party - including the hirelings - died.  Good for them.
Next week I'll be running A Very Nightwick Christmas instead of Uz, and I'm not sure if we'll pick back up with Uz after that or go back to Nightwick Abbey.  Only time will tell.

How Many Notes Do You Need?

The answer to the question posed in the title is, obviously, "however many works for you;" however, a recent post by Ian Burns on G+ has me wonder how many notes I need.  Ian posted a "confession" that he had spent three days making the entirety of his infamous Vats of Mazarin dungeon.  In total, he spent about 12 hours on the thing - which is more than I've spent on the first level of Nightwick Abbey at any one time, but the fact that he has multiple levels with roughly the same number of rooms has me wishing to improve my stocking efficiency.

When I first started running Nightwick Abbey  I used a hyper-minimalist map key.  I had even sparser notes than James used for his Dwimmermount game.  I typically only marked rooms that had monsters, traps or specials, and all the others didn't even have numbers placed on them.  I might write a sentence or two to explain a "special," but monsters and traps rarely got more than the number there were, the amount of HP they had, and how much damage they dealt.  I winged most of the other details on the fly, which usually worked out but eventually I would start to contradict myself.  In fact, part of the reason Nightwick Abbey might be sentient is that I wanted to explain why shit I had previously described was different.

I ended up changing my note-taking method when I started to run my version of Castle Greyhawk.  Since there were about 150 rooms on the first level, I needed to try harder to make them seem different from one another.  I also needed to be reminded more often of what those differences are, and so my keys started to get much longer and every room got its own entry.

When I started running Nightwick Abbey on G+, I adopted the same method I had used to note rooms in Castle Greyhawk.  I keep the key on a google doc and update the room descriptions every time the party changes something - assuming I remember to do so.  I also used this method when I stocked my Uz dungeons.  Here is an example of what it looks like:

A.2 Shrine of Manugal of the Setting Sun

1. Antechamber: This room is made of plain mud brick in the typical Uzite style and is not decorated in any way.  Along the north and south walls are several cages that once held human sacrifices.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

2. Outer Hall: The walls and columns of this chamber depict scenes of everyday life.  The city depicted, while Uzite, is actually Old Jerah.  The southernmost column depicts people being born while the northernmost depicts people being slaughtered.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

3. Inner Hall: Unlike the last chambers, this one is painted completely black, and it strangely appears to even dim light sources brought inside.  The columns and walls are completely smooth.  The only carved decoration is the massive statue of Manugal, made from a polished black stone of unknown origin.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

4. Sacrificial Chamber: Like area 3, this room is painted with a strange, black paint that seems to dim light.  Pillars are lined with strange, pale green stones.  If anyone is slain in this chamber the stones will light up.  Bones and dessicated corpses litter the floor.
Monster: 5 Vortlups (HP 7, 6, 8, 8, 10)
Treasure: 40gp, 4 pale-green gems (200gp each)

The problem with this method is that it takes me way too long to stock something. This is why I've become interested in Ian's Mazarin key. It seems to be a good middle ground between the two extremes that I've tried. It has just enough to allow me to remember what's supposed to be in there without having to design so much in advance that it takes me a month to work on a level.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas in the Dark Country

Like this but with more snow

Every Duodecember - a month which only occurs on the Church's Lunar calender* - the people of the Dark Country place presents under trees and hang their stockings high.  However, unlike our world they do not do this in anticipation of a day of gift giving, but rather as a ward against a semiannual evil: the Pestilence Man.

Sometimes depicted as a horseman, sometimes as the driver of a sleigh, the Pestilence Man does precisely what his name implies.  He is attended by a host of strange, gnomish servants with patchy beards and bulbous noses.  They are said to distribute disease-bearing toys to children and hide filthy shoes around houses.  All footwear and playthings are placed high in the house so that when one is found on the floor it can be immediately identified for what it is and burned.

Father Winter observed by beings from the Future/Past

In the past, the people of the Dark Country avoided the potential for a grim, plague-filled year by treating with an Old God known to them as Father Winter.  They would leave presents and baked goods for him among the trees of the Fog-Bound Forest in hopes that he would descend from the Nameless Mountains to drive away the Pestilence Man and his terrible gnomes; however, Father Winter was capricious even by the standards of Old Gods.  It was a rare for the Old Man of the Snowy Peaks to banish the plague-bearers without freezing all of the crops and slaying those found outside after dark.  In this way they were able to choose the manner in which they died, but not the fact that they would.

Most peasants still leave presents for this wicked god, for they fear the plague more than they fear famine - which is common enough even without Father Winter's icy breath.  The Church frowns upon this practice.  They believe that the powers of the clerics of Law will be able to protect the villagers from creatures such as the Pestilence Man and his gnomes.  Those clerics living in the Dark Country even claim that the Pestilence Man was banished long ago by a figure they call Saint Santa Claus.  Neither the peasants of the Dark Country nor the clergy of the East nor even the clergy of the West believes this, and none but the Bishop of Lychgate and his stooges even believe in the existence of this man.

Despite its continued practice, the presents under the trees have not summoned Father Winter in almost a hundred years.  Some believe that the Sword Brothers somehow slew or imprisoned the Old God during their crusade.  Whether they did this out of Lawful piety or in diabolic reverence to the Pestilence Man's satanic masters is a mystery to all.

*The lunar calendar of the Church is extremely screwed up due to the fact that the World of Nightwick has a 1 in 6 chance of a full moon each night.  This is my stupid explanation for why the Christmas stuff is happening in the campaign world when it would technically be the middle of July.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Grand Tour of the First City of Men: Part One

Uz, the First City of Men, is roughly divided into four parts.  The first part is the Acropolis that looms high over the rest of the city.  It is here that one may find the large, marble temples to the deities of the Uzites with their golden domes and their squat columns.  While the inner workings of these temples are secret to all those except for Priests of the 7th Circle, they still provide quite a few services for lesser priests and laymen.  The service that is likely to be of most interest to adventurers are the libraries of cylindrical texts that each temple maintains.  These texts typically concern the nature and history of their deity and related entities, though it is assumed by most secular scholars and wizards that the most accurate texts are hidden away from the public and reserved only for priests of the highest circles.

The Acropolis is also home to many of the palaces of the cities noble houses.  Most of the population of Uz belongs to a noble house in one way or another - with foreigners and the small minority of freemen that make up the adventuring classes being the only exceptions.  It is only with the cooperation of these houses that King Dagazar is able to maintain any order in his realm, and it is they who are responsible for the complex system of conflict resolution that serves as the "law" in Uz.  Their palaces are typically multi-building compounds bustling with slaves and free craftsmen that serve as clients to the larger house.

While there are at least a few free neighborhoods on the Acropolis, most of the free people and even many of the slaves actually live in its shadow.  The Lower City is the second part of Uz and it is the largest part of the city-proper.  It contains most of the cities markets, wine houses, hostels, and houses.  Many of the neighborhoods within the Lower City are associated with the noble houses of the Acropolis; however, one neighborhood is under a completely separate jurisdiction.  The Street of Sins is actually divided up among a large number of Getherite Slave Lords that use its market to sell their goods.

The Docs lie outside the walls of the city and are poorer even than the worst sections of the Lower City.  There are few markets here, and most of the people who live here are slaves who unload cargo for their noble masters; however, this is also a common place for foreigners to remain when not attending to their business within the city.  In fact, until the capture of Uz by the Phutians - many kings ago - those not of Uzite lineage were confined to this quarter unless they were in the service of one of the great houses.

Finally there is the large suburban area that surrounds the First City of Men.  This is where the copious farms are located that provide the grain and meat animals eaten with in the city.  Most of these farms are worked by slaves in the service of one of the noble houses - which usually have an accompanying villa to manage the nearby farms.  These suburbs spread for a days ride along the arable land near the river, which is about 20 miles at its widest and about 10 miles at its most narrow.

In the next post, I will discuss places where the PCs can debauch as well as the homes of several notable "wizards" that live within the city.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Uz Acropolis Session 2 Highlight Real

Uz of Uz as Depicted in the Complex Most Recently Explored by the Party

So I ran Uz again on Friday...
  • Once again the party went on two expeditions, the first of which involved capturing slaves.  This time the slaves were three humans who apparently had fairly high HD (between 2 and 4) and were operating in the dungeon without torches.  They fetched a fair price.
  • During the next outing, the party encountered a fearsome nekelmu, though it seemed as scared of they party as they were of it so they both backed off.
  • They explored another structure made of that same strange, red rock.  It turned out this was a catacomb filled with strange skeletons.  Many belonged to children that had their skulls forcibly elongated, but there were also three tombs that contained crystaline-looking plastic skeletons of figures roughly 5'5" in height with completely smooth, elongated craniums.
  • One of the PCs was killed by "ghourii" - the mindless ghouls of the undercity - in one of the few deaths that I've felt bad about in a while.  She tried to take out this mechanism that was controlling it's mind that she thought would make it more friendly, but it actually just allowed the creature to leave the room.
  • After seeing several of the paintings that decorated the catacomb, the players are pretty sure that Uz of Uz was both John Carter of Mars and a space marine.
That's it for now.  I also just ran the face to face group through the dungeon, and they seemed to like it a lot. I'll likely be running both groups for it for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


I haven't made a monster in a while, so here's one:

No. Appearing: 1d6 (1d6x10)
Armor Class: 14
Hit Dice: 6
Movement: 120'
Attacks: 2 Gore (1d8)
Morale: 9
Alignment: Chaotic

Mooncows are mooncalfs that have been enlarged by necromantic or diabolic energies - either from a diabolist or from an evil place.  They appear as cow-sized creatures made of horribly pale, hairless flesh.  Their eyes are either white and rudimentary or completely undeveloped, and their hooves are fleshy and underformed.  Strangely, their teeth and horns are always full developed, if strangely colored.  Their low is a sickening, almost human sound that reminds the hearer of a dying babe.

Viewing a mooncow is hazardous for the mind.  When a human or demihuman character sees a mooncow, they must make a saving throw or roll on the following table.
  1. The character is gripped by a strange, religious mania and must bow down and worship the cow(s).
  2. The character is possessed by a strange, homicidal frenzy and must attack the nearest human/demihuman.
  3. The character enters a crying (1-3) or laughing (4-6) fit in which they can take no other action.
  4. The character collapses onto the ground with strange visions of the Demon Moon swirling in his/her head.
This saving throw is made each round, but once a successful save is made no further saves are required. 

It is said that on the Demon Moon that drifts through the spheres well above the World of Nightwick that Mooncows are hearded by strange, pallid men who do so in the service of beings best left unmentioned. Where they get the mooncalfs is a mystery even to the West's most learned alchemists and scholars.  Mooncows are usually created in the World because their milk is a fairly common ingredient in potions, poisons, and ritual magic.

It is said that the moon also has Moonbulls, which are as mooncows with maximum HP and incur a -2 penalty to the Save vs. Magic.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Uz Returns! Session Highlights

Map courtesy of Mike D

Friday I ran Uz again for the first time in several months.  I've decided to run a minicampaign in which the PCs explore the undercity beneath Uz's acropolis.  For this session, I had only one "point completed," and I let them know that upfront.  Luckily, they didn't find any of the level's exits so it was a non-issue.  Anyway, here are the good bits from the session:
  • There were two expeditions: one really short one and then one longer one.
  • The first expedition saw the party capture a large number of slaves - forcing me to reevaluate how I'll be giving xp for treasure in the future.  One of the characters that had participated in the previous Uz sessions managed to level up.
  • The short one ended when the PCs were trying to get their captives to the surface.  They were accosted by a small party of men and decided to just climb up the rope rather than deal with them.  One of the PCs threw a hireling down the shaft to buy them some time.  They then heard a his, a strangely electrical noise, and then the shriek of the hireling.
  • Nundar tried to silence the captives by breaking their jaw so that they couldn't defend themselves in court.  This resulted in several of the slaves' deaths.  These were thrown down the shaft.
  • Many of the PCs spent the lucre they gained from the sale of the captives on carousing.  Those that lost money did so due to gambling debts.  Must've been a wild night at the Wine House of Barahm-Sin.
  • The second expedition saw the party enter with quite a few more hirelings including Antiochus the peltast and "Dave" the slinger.
  • When they returned to the dungeon, they didn't find any of the captives' corpses, but they did find their old hireling - entirely skinned!
  • After exploring around what seemed to be a strangely well preserved city street, they bumped into a nest of Maggot Men!  This continues my habit of trying to kill people with monsters they told me about (or drew, in this case).
  • One of the PCs tried to light the maggot men on fire but only succeeded in lighting up his boots.  He was then killed when Nundar misaimed a rock and hit him in the back of the head.  Alas, poor Balzac, we hardly knew you.
  • The party then started exploring an area which Eshimur quickly realized was the Temple-Tomb of Uz of Uz himself!  The whole thing was made of a strange, red rock unfamiliar to all present.
  • They saw pictures of pickup trucks, martians, and glyphs telling them to CONSUME and OBEY.
  • The last encounter came when they were investigating a lesser tomb that branched off the inner hall of the Temple-Tomb.  This was filled with dead bodies, and the bodies they soon found were filled with corpse worms.  They ended up fleeing from these rather than fighting them.
Anyway, I had fun and I hope the players did too.  This session has made me rethink some (fairly minor) things about my presentation of Uz, and I think that's a good thing.  Hopefully I'll be running another session next Friday.