Sunday, 17 January 2021

The City of Brass

In the Lady’s Ward of Sigil, there is a campus, upon which stands a ramshackle building. It is encrusted entirely with dark spires, oddly placed balconies, dramatic porticoes and massive, filthy windows.

This is the Municipal University of Sigil, founded in ages past by a group of very rich Guvners and certain planar academics, who chose to remain tastefully anonymous. 

It was once one of two great educational institutions in the city, along with the Tzunk College of Academic Arts, a flashy and garish place founded by a Prime archmage called Tzunk, who was obscenely rich and entirely tasteless,

It is often said the Cage has no universities left, despite the very obvious fact that the Municipal University still stands. Tzunk’s College was inherited by The Fated through an obscure contract clause upon his death in the Plane of Fire – while the Municipal University has suffered a fate perhaps more akin to undeath. It is a slow decay, a loss of funding, a dwindling student base, and an increasing amount of professorial positions dominated by out-of-town liches with tenure.

Entire wings have been shut and the hearths put out to conserve heat and money. The remaining students cluster in the central building to learn nonsensical courses like physics, chemistry, and literature.

For History and the Arts, one would be better served by the ancient Bardic Colleges of Arborea and Elysium. For Economics, the courses offered at the Exchange in Tradegate are unparalleled, if expensive. And all the best lawyers are trained in Dis.

This is all, of course, an utter digression.

Certain radical scholars yet gather in the dusty halls of that ancient and much maligned institution, to discuss a theory – there are only really three cities in creation.

It is such a maniacal and sweeping statement as to astound – but there is method in this madness. For all of recorded history, these three cities have been constants. All others are their imitations and their shadows. Each holds a claim to being the first city ever built, and each distorts around it the weft of history and politics. They are arranged pleasingly: one on an Outer Plane, one on an Inner Plane, and one at the very centre of everything – perspectivally speaking. They even follow the rule of three.

The cities are Sigil, Dis and The City of Brass.

And Brass is the one I want to talk about.


The City of Brass is the biggest city on the Inner Planes. It is probably the second-biggest city in all creation – Sigil is definitively more populous, but Dis eludes the conventional census. It sprawls across a massive artificial island that spikes up from the wind-swept, ashen shore of the notorious Sea of Fire.

The Sea is not magma, as many suggest, but an elemental liquid which is fire. It breaks all the rules of physics and logic, and mentioning this will paint you as a Prime quite quickly (or a crude, as the Inner Planars would put it).

Here, the Sea of Fire sweeps up against the mind-boggling expanse called the Desert of Ash, a plain of ash in every tone from grey to black that swirls, churns, shifts and burns, ever changing in size and deadliness.

The lack of water is absolute – open water in either of these locales is more likely to become a steam explosion than salvation.

What better place to build a city? It is, of course, made of Brass. Or at least, the famous parts of the old town and the docks are. The slums are baking stone, and the fortresses are steel, heated cherry red by the flames.

A powerful enchantment lies across this place, laid by the ancient founders. The heat here is almost unbearably cold for the locals – and only dangerously hot for outsiders, as opposed to instantly fatal.

From here, the founders and rulers of the city – the powerful Efreeti – base their power, conduct their trade, and proclaim their rule over the entire Plane of Fire. None of the other Genie polities are so bold.

The Efreeti are apparently a natural occurrence – like all genies, they are formed when a soul left adrift becomes saturated with elemental energy and creates a body from will and concentrated elemental power. The Efreeti are raging fire and shifting smoke.

Among themselves they are, I am told, as kind as may be expected from any folk. But the face they present to visitors to Brass is one of power, decadence, and brutality. Perhaps there are those Efreeti who wear the mask too tightly, and forget how it can be removed.

The Efreeti are ruled by their Grand Sultan, who resides within the vast and opulent Charcoal Palace, within the district known as the Furnace. The Grand Sultan, whoever they may be, has not provably left the Furnace in the last ten millennia. Efreet do not age, so perhaps the same flaming hand has guided Brass all that time? Or have a hundred scandalous successions come and gone?

Cynical foreigners wonder aloud in the cafes of The Plume: is there even a Sultan at all?

Whatever the case, the Sultan’s laws reach across the city, and far across the Sea of Fire, to the City’s distant colonies upon shores of magma and coal. The punishment for each and every infraction is common knowledge: Slavery.

Brass is built on it. Dis is built on suffering, yes, but it is the esoteric suffering of those judged sinful. Not so in the City of Brass, where the hot metal collars clamp the necks of the innocent and the accused. 

The buildings may be brass,’ goes the saying ‘but the foundations are bone.

Of the three million people reportedly living in Brass, at least a million are slaves. Nowhere – even in the lower planes – is such an unparalleled crime against liberty committed. It should not fall to me to tell you, this is unacceptable. Many in the multiverse – not least the marids and djinni who oppose the Efreeti – would see this injustice ended. But the Efreeti are powerful, and Brass is even stronger than them.

The sufferings of the enslaved are inescapable in Brass, and every interaction with the city is viewed through that lens. The markets, cafes, and boulevards are choked with slaves. For those coming from the almost ungoverned streets of Sigil, the change is unsettling.  

(If your players are anything like mine, they’ll want to topple the Efreeti and free all the slaves. Let them, if they put the work in. Make it the whole campaign, if they want.)

Some of those self-same heretical scholars whisper a story: That Brass is no mere city. That Brass is alive, that Brass has within it a mind – perhaps similar to the L__y of P__n, but of course, not too similar.

The words of ancient elementals carry strange implications. A dead god of fire, magic and metal. A screaming delve. A magmatic titan, cast to the shore in the eons when the gods were young. A foundation built not just on the bones of slaves, but also on the bones of gods.

Does that ancient voice still speak? Do the efreet hear it?

Who truly rules the City of Brass?

Monday, 11 January 2021

Scots Monsters

The mythical creatures of Ireland and England are pretty famous. Leprechauns are almost cliché at this point (use Gancanagh instead, is my advice) and any depiction of giants that aren’t Norse are usually based on old English giant myths.

I really recommend Jack the Giant Killer, it’s very OSR.

The other British mythologies don’t get as much coverage, I don’t think. Welsh, Cornish, Manx and Orcadian monsters rarely feature in media (with the possible exception of the Orcadian Nuckelavee, which is a really good monster.)

However, the one I know most about that gets ignored is Scots mythology.  And let me tell you, Scots monsters are gameable.


Beithir  - The Scots Dragon. Its name variously means ‘thunderbolt’ or ‘serpent’. In fairness, this is cheating, because it’s already in D&D as the ‘Behir’ of the Monster Manual. The ‘giant snake-dragon’ angle is played up pretty well, but one story that’s missed out is the Beithir’s ability to mind-control anyone they wind around the neck of. The mythical Beithir can disguise itself as a tunic, or perhaps a necklace or torc. Perhaps the local laird is suddenly acting cruel and erratic after a man from the hills gifted him a new cloak? 

Another quality of the Beithir is reviving itself from death unless it’s decapitated and the head burned. They can’t breathe fire or fly, but they’re physically powerful and aquatic. Supposedly the last beithir was killed in Islay, in 1900, with cannons and spikes.

Ghillie Dubh (Gilly Du) – A solitary fairy found in a birch forest by Loch a Druing. A friendly, helpful male Dryad, basically, who lives a harmless life in a forest and helps lost travellers. A wholesome social encounter for your party. The ‘real’ Ghillie Dubh was supposedly driven away forever when the local laird sent a party to hunt and capture him.

Labh-allan (Lavellan) – A wee harmless looking water-rodent, usually found dwelling in deep pools or wells. Regarded as a kind of shrew or vole, but one that was ridiculously, hilariously poisonous, to the point of killing cattle at 100 paces. Supposedly found mostly in Caithness, right up in the north.

Kelpie – A shapeshifting aquatic horse-creature, well known for two primary powers: the ability to take a human form, and the ability to make their skin adhesive. The classic story I always heard was of a young fisher or similar seeing a wild horse on the edge of a loch, trying to ride it, becoming stuck, and getting dragged screaming to their doom. A Kelpie would likely have a hell of a hoard of stolen treasures down among the slimy wrack of the loch – steal or negotiate, either works.

Selkie – Shapeshifting seals who ‘step out’ of their skin and become humans. Orcadian myths suggest their seal forms were much bigger than ordinary seals. Anyone who holds a selkie’s seal skin can control them, but they’re long-lived magical shape-shifters. This is a GLOG class waiting to happen, and, in my opinion, the replacement for playable elves in a theoretical Scottish myth campaign.

Blue Men of the Minch – Merfolk native to the Minch, the cold, squally body of water between Scotland and the Hebridean islands (where we used to go for family holidays when I was a wain.) If they catch up to your ship, their leader calls out two lines of poetry and demands you complete the verse.

Blue Chief: Man of the black cap what do you say

As your proud ship cleaves the brine?

Skipper: My speedy ship takes the shortest way

And I'll follow you line by line

Blue Chief: My men are eager, my men are ready

To drag you below the waves

Skipper: My ship is speedy, my ship is steady

If it sank, it would wreck your caves.

If you don’t, or do so badly, they sink your ship. The idea of Blue Men trying this on the modern metal-hulled CalMac car ferries is humourous.  You have my express permission to update the above to a rap battle, if you want. 

One interpretation of the Blue Men is as dolphin-folk, in effect merfolk with delphinid qualities as opposed to fishlike. They’re also called ‘storm kelpies’ on occasion.

Wulver – Shetland isn’t part of Scotland proper; they have many of their own customs and creatures (such as the Up Helly Aa fire-festival). One such creature is the Wulver, a benevolent werewolf who catches and provides fish to poor families (likely an excuse for anonymous charity in the community.) Wulvers could do a good job of faking out your player’s expectations for lycanthropes, or replacing dwarves as your cheery hirsute folk.  

Bodach and Cailleach – Old Bastard and Hag, translated roughly. Basically, the bogeyman and a witch, but also a cranky old married couple. Bodach is a foul, rude, scowling old lout, who comes down the chimney to kidnap rude children. Cailleach is from the same mythological origin as the Annis and Gwyllion, which became the D&D Hag. Cailleach specifically became the Bheur Hag. 

Special mention to the Scots Gaelic term for owl, ‘Cailleach-oidhche’, literally meaning ‘Night Hag’, and the Bodach Glas, the Dark Grey Man, who supposedly foretells death. If I was using Bodach and Cailleach, I’d play up their nimbleness and owlish qualities respectively. Probably NPCs for the party to bargain with.

Sluagh (Slooa) – Probably of similar mythological origins to the Wild Hunt or Fairy Host of Germanic myth. A bunch of souls of the unforgiven dead, who fly along the sky in a crescent shape and pick people up, carrying them miles away, or to another island. Sometimes said to rescue people from dangerous crags, but that seems the exception rather than the rule.

Glaistig – A kind of vampire, a beautiful woman with the legs of a goat. Regarded as a patron of cattle drivers, possessed of an enthralling voice. Recognisable similarities to Scandinavian huldra and Greek sirens alike.

Benandonner – When I was 11, I went on a trip to Ireland to visit the town some ancestors had lived in. The town itself was boring, but the trip was great. The highlight was the visit to the Giant’s Causeway, where I heard about the Scottish Giant Benandonner, who was tricked and made a fool of by Fionn MacCumhaill of Irish myth (Finn MacCool). As you might expect, I preferred Benandonner. 

Described as a giant among giants, ridiculously tall and incredibly gullible. To give it a D&D link, the Causeway was called ‘The Stepping Stones of the Fomorians’, apparently, so there you have how I’d interpret Benandonner. A really fucking big, dense Fomorian, with a fiery red beard thick as a tangle of ropes and a sword fifty paces long.  

Brunaidh (Brownie)Also called Grugachs, which Gygax has tricked the world into thinking means ‘Elf’. They’re basically your standard house-spirit, like the Bwbach or the Hob. They help around the house dressed in rags, when the humans are asleep, in exchange for cream or porridge. They leave if you give them clothing (Rowling got it from here) or if you try and baptise them. They definitely come across as uptight wee pricks in the myths, since half the stories are about all the specific ways you can piss them off.

Trow – Another Shetlander creature, shy, small, nocturnal and ugly creatures, usually unseen but blamed for missing items and small thefts. It was terrible luck to see a trow, but a good omen to hear one speaking. Another Scots creature that became a weird elf thanks to Gygax – I think replacing D&D Drow with Shetland Trows would be very interesting. Turns out the primary inhabitants of the Underdark are 2 and a half feet tall and look absolutely boufin.

Redcaps – Have found their way into D&D just fine. Originate from the blood-soaked wilds of the Scottish borders region, and often associated with the ‘reivers’ and ‘moss-troopers’, semi-nomadic brigands with allegiance to neither nation. The cap soaked in blood thing is translated pretty much right from the myths.

Nessie – You might have heard of Nessie. Probably the most famous Scottish monster, a water-creature (usually depicted as a plesiosaur these days) that cropped up as a cryptid in 1933. Would be hard to make work in a game, since she’s so commercialised, but I’m planning to have her in that Esoteric Enterprises game set in Glasgow I’ll never run. Another running gag I use is paranormally knowledgeable characters being regretful for some kind of undescribed incident involving Nessie. ‘Poor Nessie.’


Funnily enough: Nae Elves.

Or at least not D&D Elves. The Fair Folk are the villains in most Celtic myths. Do not fuck with the Good Gentlemen of the Hills. You can’t just play one and go running around. They’re careless, hungry, pagan godlings. Terry Pratchett’s Elves are the best example, I think. The ‘Fuath’, which I think map best to Scottish elves, are basically Deep Ones, aquatic creatures that interbreed with humans. 

King James VI regarded elves as a possible policy problem for Scotland, and most ballads (Tam Lin, the Elf-Knight, and The Queen of Elfland’s Nourice, for example) have the elves as sociopathic kidnappers. They’re a random encounter, and a bad one, not something a PC can be.

As you may notice, a hell of a lot of these creatures are associated with streams and water, and if not that, then bad weather. Which should probably say a lot about Scotland’s primary qualities.

d100 Weather, for the City of Doors.

I'm currently running a game in the Planescape setting, or at least my more early-modern, more chaotic version of it. For this game, I wanted to have a way to generate Sigil's weather. I found a great table: 

But was disappointed by the small number of entries. So I decided to expand on it, as follows. 

(All weather lasts for 2d12 Days.)

1-2 – Orcus’ Chamberpot – The ooze portals of the Hive open in the sky, vomiting thick, oozing mud from above in sheets. Everything is filthy and the stench is unbelievable.

3-4 – Hell’s Wedding – Sublime rainbows of positive and negative energy spark across the Void. Don’t look right at them.

5-6 – The Void Looms – The clouds and fog clear. You can see the entire Cage. Skeins of shimmering portal-clouds show dizzying views down the Spire. People tend to keep their peepers fixed firmly on their boots.

7-8 – Lolth’s Vile Gaze – Portals to the Abyss open in the Void, allowing reeking yellow fog that stinks of rotten meat to descend on the cage – along with Abyssal fauna, who crouch on rooftops and among spires. A few Varrangoin come to the Cage, joining their fellows in Gallenshu Rookery.

9-10 – Illusionist’s Fog – A strange, shimmering mist winds its way around the towers and alleys. It twists odd colours, and tricks the eyes and ears, producing false sounds and sights, while displacing real ones or obscuring them entirely.

11-15 – Frostfell Hail – Heavy white chunks of hail smash down from the sky, stinging the skin. Occasionally, heavier chunks fall with a splash of ice. The temperature is low, but not as low as it could be. Thick, icy clouds form above, freezing anyone that flies through them.

16-20 – Fury of Cryonax – Heavy blizzards, charged with lightning, envelop the cage. Thunder booms and lightning flashes, as snow builds to waist height or higher.

21-22 – Archfey’s Garden – This rain is thick with greenish algae. Moss springs up in places where puddles form, and the scraggy grass and dying trees of the city look a little more lively than usual. A strong stench of petrichor fills the air, and ethereal Feywild flowers bloom in drains.

23-40 – Rain (If above 30, It’s Torrential Rain. If 40, It’s Floodrains)

41-44 – Between Kord’s Thighs – Lightning and booming thunder rock the Cage. Sheets of rain fall with driving force, and howling winds sound like the distant bellows of dead champions.

45-46 – The Sound of Iron Waltzes – Flakes of rust and chips of iron scatter down from the sky, alongside fat droplets of rain and sharp, cold hail. A dull grey haze crosses the city. The smell of blood is carried on the wind, and the distant clanging of iron can be heard. The Temple of Bane begins a festival in praise of war and violence.

47-48 – Avandra’s Picnic – The city is dry, warm, clear and pleasantly breezy. Just as everyone puts on their nice clothes and gets set up outside, the Weather Changes suddenly with a flash of cornflower blue. Re-roll.

49-50 – Imix’s Braziers – The air is dry, and extremely hot. Everything is tense and ready to snap.

51-52 – Bel’s Chimneys – The air is full of a dense, hot, sulphur-stinking smog. Tiny glowing embers float along, liable to start a fire if left unwatched. The weak-lunged remain indoors while fiends roam confidently. Is this a Baatezu weapon, deployed through Sigil’s weather?

53-54 – Dust of Mithardir – Pale sandstorms blanket the city. The whitish sand of Mithardir descends from the sky, and the temperature increases slightly. The winds of the Cage are particularly puckish.  

55-56 – Tears of the Fallen – Ethereal fogs come whispering in, making everything Ethereal visible – including the city’s Xill community, who live Ethereally near the Armoury, and the many, many ghosts near the Mortuary, who form a shimmery pillar visible from across the city.

57-58 – Red Rains of Cathrys – Stinking red rain that stings the skin and sickens animals sweeps the cage. The clouds occasionally look like faces, and you could swear you can see creatures, the size of whales, swimming around up there.  

59-60 – The Judgement of The Mordai – Howling winds rock the Cage. Flocks of birds of all shapes and sizes crowd the Cage. Cagers are thankful for the free food. No rain falls, however, despite the swirling clouds above. It’s as dry as a bone.

61-62 – Levistus’ Meat Locker – Hideously cold sleet and snow begins to blanket the Cage. This miserably wet slush fills every available area, and the temperature plummets. Small creatures can be seen frozen in the ice. A few survive the journey from wherever the ice originates.

63-64 – Ogremoch’s Dust-bin – A dust-fall begins, hard little pieces of grit skittering down rooftops. Then gravel clacks down like painful hail. Then the boulders start, smashing down from above. Roaring trade in iron umbrellas starts up.

65-66 – Kostchtchie’s Fury – Howling blizzards seize the cage. Thick banks of snow build up in alleys and closes. Thick icicles form on overhangs. The poor folk of the city crowd next to makeshift fires and the Gatehouse is full to bursting. 

67-68 – Gehennan Coffee – Thick flakes of ash fall, combining with any moisture into sticky tar. Drier parts of the city are now home to ash-drifts.

69-70 – Zehir’s Howls – The winds of Pandemonium visit the cage! Unprotected objects are blasted away, curtains and drapes are ripped down, the Gatehouse ‘sings’ as the iron spires on its roof resonate madly, and verbal communication outside is impossible.

71-72 – Wizard Weather – The clouds turn some odd, chromatic colour, and heavy waves of magic begin to echo. Spells go awry, magical industry stalls, and crackling bolts of magic jump from building to building at random.

73-74 – Primus’ Workshop – The air is perfectly still, and humidity is low. The city is at perfect room temperature. The sound of distant ticking pervades the city. Slaad pace uncomfortably, while Rogue Modrons briefly become distracted as the song of the Great Machine sings to their minds.

75-76 – Astral Fog – Shimmering silver fog occupies the city. A thin silvery film forms on everything, and everyone has strange, surreal dreams – DC 15 Wis save, or no rest from a long rest.

77-78 – Demogorgon’s Dreams – Sulfuric, chemical mist shimmers up from the gutters and Undersigil, forming crackling, shimmering clouds full of ball lightning and glowing auroras. Glowing auras spark on metal. Gunpowder becomes especially volatile, making guns useless, since the increased force just rips the gun apart.

79-80 – Gruumsh’s Spit – Thick droplets of foggy rain fall with a hiss. Unprotected people are burnt, unprotected wood is eaten into. Metal rusts and stone stains. The air stinks, a strong, chemical smell, like rotten eggs and bleach.

81-82 – Bytopian Summer – The weather is hot and muggy, and a fine haze of pollen descends on the city from above, accompanied by fireflies the length of your hand, in the hundreds.  

83-84 – Fuelling the Forge – Still and smoggy, with strange haloes of orange light visible through the soup.

85-86 – The War of the Weather-Lords – The endless war of Yan-C-Bin and Chan is one of the oldest in the multiverse. And it seems to have come to the Cage, if only for a while. On the first day, the winds are utterly still. Then – they pick up. Faster and faster, until waist high tornadoes are scourging the streets and air elementals are battling among the towers and rafters. Flying roof tiles, tipped over stalls and generally hazardous conditions do nothing to stop the people of the city from going about their business – and indeed, some even choose a side and take part!  

87-88 – Nose-deep In Arcadia – The days are warm, bright, windy, and full of fine yellow pollen. Those with sensitive noses are likely to prefer rain.

89-90 – Sunnis’ Blessing – A dust-fall, but a calmer, quieter one. Eventually, small chunks of gold and gems fall from the sky, sparking fighting in the streets for the larger part of the haul.

91-92 – The Shroud of Karasuthra – Sigil is continually wrapped a cool, quiet night. Sounds are muffled, lights are dimmed, and the shadows of large animals are seen stalking the alleys.

93-94 – Fogs of Belierin – A cool fog crosses the city, and every light develops a rainbow aura as it is reflected and refracted. Small rainbow will-o-wisps float through the Cage at night.

95-96 – Gaze of the Hebdomad – Celestial choirs echo across the city from fluffy white clouds as the temperature rises. Calm, pleasant breezes and the occasional cooling drizzle. Everything is bright, and horrible. Cagers and Fiends alike snort in disgust as Upper Planars sing along enthusiastically to the choirs.

97-98 – Shimmering Radiance – Thick clouds gather over the cage, and, from within, a radiant, honey coloured glow issues forth, tinting the whole city yellow and spraying the area with warm, radiant light. It still isn’t sunlight, apparently, but does make vampires, fensir and drow uncomfortable.  

99 - The Heavens Have Opened – The Gates have opened to – The Silver Sea? Holy water pours down on Sigil. Fiendish folks run for cover while Celestials stand and enjoy the cool, sweet, rain. The city looks cleaner than it has in living memory afterwards.  

00 – Centre of the Multiverse – The weather is calm, and pleasantly warm. No clouds loom overhead – no rain or portal-weather. Cagers are suspicious and confused.



Saturday, 9 January 2021

Slush Glacier 2: The Slushening

 Slush Pile Stuff, Go:

  1. A setting that’s two mirrored version of the same timelines. Meet your counterparts in the other realm. Two realms, one pantheon. 
  2. Large, round, floofy birds that can inflict paralysis with a magical glare.
  3. Entire society of immoral immortals driving fast cars.
  4. Four Immortals wander the Land Below: Atylia, The Herald of the Sun, Lyontu, The Minstrel of the Moon, Vydene. The Scribe of the Stars, and Gargavion, The Knight of Void. They’re exiled from the Astral Realm of Firmament, far above even the World. 
  5. Following on from the above, the World is ruled by The Glimmering King, a Sun-Spirit descended from Firmament. 
  6. Blue Man of the Minch, serial killing in waterside karaoke events, killing the worst singer. Cop with the Voice of an Angel.
  7. First Colony on Mars is a Penal Colony. 
  8. A whole continent hidden behind a giant storm in a medieval fantasy world with like, trains and guns. South polar. 
  9. A flying continent riven with mines and blessed with an eternal breeze. 
  10. Hobgoblins with steampunk/magitek mini-mechs. 
  11. A fantasy world where the lost treasures of the past include like, radios, electricity and computers, alongside powerful magic. Post magi-nuking. Final Fantasy + Mad Max, in a sense. Post-apocalyptic. 
  12. The Thri-Kreen Clans of the Mantidar Desert are famed for their chronomancy. 
  13. Magic crystals/sand that form in the bodies of magical creatures, necessitating their hunting.
  14. The Outer Wilderness, where the Dog-Kings and Eyeless Men rule. 
  15. Some evil fuckin psychic egg. Sits in a temple on a wrack-covered island and directs legions of grey-cloaked thugs and magic eating serpents. 
  16. The Elves are a little pissed off because the Snailfolk have taken over the ruins of their ancient capital, and all the elegant swordselfship in the world can’t move a half-ton regenerating snailkin. 
  17. The Drow are, like all elves, blue, and descend from an Elven army that tried to colonise the Underworld 900 years ago - and succeeded. Their capital, Ytax, used to be the city of the Gods of the Underworld, but they Drow killed half of them and subjugated the rest. 
  18. An ancient, powerful ghost that’s paid in coin and magic to defend an underground entrance to a great city. 
  19. Giant Shimmering Sea Toads. Magic resistant, thick-skinned and large. 
  20. A privately owned prison created to feed a Misery-Spirit. 

Friday, 1 January 2021

Meltings of the Slush Glacier

 I really like slush piles. I love just violently scribbling ideas until they begin to form a cohesive whole. 

I always enjoy reading Throne of Salt's Slush Pile posts (The most recent of which is, PRIME HELLSITE SALVAGE) so i thought i might do my own where i just... copy segments of my slush piles into a post. 

All of these are drawn from the slush piles for Aclas, my industrial revolution setting. 



The Numina(Genius Loci) of Per Talis is a giant Sand-whale Spirit called Utuqa-Yom. He’s very contemplative and peaceful.


The Sand-whale is usually used as the national emblem of the Talisan people.


Per Talis is saturated with ambient magic for reasons unknown, but perhaps linked to an ancient magical catastrophe that brought down the Crystal Coalition, and killed Utuqa-Yom’s predecessor. They tried to make the desert green, and accidentally began a war with the spirits, causing mass casualties on both sides, and making the desert even less green, drying rivers, emptying wells and killing whole regions of grassland. This is the source of all those ancient ruins that stud Per Talis like gems.



Hell’s Palm, in Per Talis, is where the previous Numina of the desert, a sky-leviathan wind spirit called Death-by-Thirst, was killed by the magics of the Crystal Coalition. His dying curse has turned Hell’s Palm utterly impassable to all but the most determined and insane of travellers. Perfect place to hide something important!


Xhetev is well known for its lucrative goldmines. It’s often called the City of Coins. Lotus pattern tiles, huge, square arches, gold plaques above rooftops. Sun plazas, open fronted bars, silk awnings and long seaside walks. Many terraces and no towers. Sun-into-lotus pattern is as omnipresent as large pools of water with lotuses floating in them.



The prison-town of Ahnverrat in Lhokar. A ruin with an aerodrome-fortress at the middle, with access to the only water in town. Unruly prisoners get to experience true thirst in the parched desert air. There’s miles of trackless sand all around. Ahnverrat used to lie on a small river, but the river dried up because its spirit was killed. The dry riverbed still cuts through town, although the parts in the desert are long since swept away.


Sythiram Waterway, a qanat in Lhokar so vast as to count as a dungeon. The Keeper of the Waterway is a retired Lhokarian adventurer, who secured the position by his great fame and wealth. He is Bhal Thahan. He used to be a rake, airship pirate, legend and gunslinger. He’s still all of these things, but now he’s old and has a limp. He’s covered in the traditional Blue Lhokarian tattoos, and wears only black and white – aside from the holy gold serpent torc he totally didn’t steal. The position gives him Sythiram Manse, a peaceful stone house that sits on an island in the middle of the waterway. 


Adavor has never had kings or princes. They have a long history of acclaimed and elected Precepts, including Zeria the Great, famous healer and missionary. They’ve never had proper democracy, mind you. The current state of being ruled by priests somewhat chafes at the Adavoran nobility, while the local Vox Populi hate the entire system. 


The leaders of the Faceless are the Visages, a council of seven old Faceless wearing seven masks each (One on the face, some on shoulders/arms/chests). They’re all skilled rogues, although long retired. Their main asset is the Library of Faces, where the masks of every skilled and notorious Faceless are kept. Their souls can be asked questions via these masks, giving the Faceless a strong advantage of knowledge against the Market, Enterprise and Kingdom.


The Ikarine Lowlands are like the Okavango in terrain type. They only flood in late-Spring and Summer, due to snowmelt and heavy monsoons in the Igaya Mountains, which form Ikaros’ border with everywhere else. The plains dry up by the beginning of Autumn (which is still growing season as far south as Ikaros). In autumn, the alluvial plains are planted with many, many rich crops, which are then harvested before the floods come again in Spring, when the winter mountain snows have replenished the stores of water. 


The living are a nervous minority in the Revenant Empire. Some have ‘ascended’ to join the ranks of the necropolitan dead, while others are merely a source of corpses for the Revenants to inhabit.

The Empire’s Revenant population is fixed at exactly 3,456,112 souls, give or take those who immigrate, those who ascend or the few that are permanently destroyed. The population inhabit new bodies when their current ones are decayed. All are as old as the Empire itself. Some were old at the time of the curse, some were children, and have mentally grown, having barely ever known life.

The Revenant Empire pays a lot of money for fresh corpses every year. 


The following image is how the terrain outside Kadashek in Ulran looks in summer, when the dunes seasonally flood. The fauna in the Desert of Lagoons include large scarlet ibises and big, sleek otters. The spirit of the location is a red ibis-otter called Divided-in-Kind.


Sunday, 27 December 2020

Bestiary Review - Planescape Appendix I - A to C

 The Monstrous Compendium was an interesting idea, no? 

Big, modular bestiary full of stuff. Great idea. Unfortunately, a lot of it seems to have fallen into the trap of 'Giant Worm'. 'Giant Bat'. 'Red Worm'. 'Blue Worm'. etc.

i.e., endless uninspired derivatives. 

 People often deride weird niche monsters, but ill take them over the 37th variety of ghost any day. 

I feel like i saw this on someone's OSR blog. Scrap Princess, maybe? Regrettably unsure.

This blog is/was technically a Planescape blog, since that's the setting i've run pretty much all of my D&D Games in thus far, excluding a single jaunt to Ravenloft for Curse of Strahd

So I decided to look at the Planescape Appendix for the Monstrous Compendium, because i like it. 


Aasimon - ★★☆☆☆

I've always considered D&D angels uninspired, then this entry opens with a story about a diviner driven to drink by witnessing the deployment of an angelic superweapon, and that gave me pause. 

Unfortunately then it's straight back to discussing how they're paragons of utter goodness who can sense evil and shit pure marble. Not much consideration is really applied to the concept of a bunch of flying authoritarians who'll deploy a spell that leaves a 200ft. deep crater, without hesitation, on their own soil.

The Light Aasimon get three stars for being judgy clouds of shimmery rainbow energy, which is way more interesting than Winged Guy. 

Animal Lord -★★★☆☆

Animal Lords are fuckin weird. Good. Each one is basically a divine figure for all animals that fall into its category, which is kind of interesting in a setting crowded with humanoid deities. All of them have, effectively, limited precognition, and can shapeshift. 

I think their position as 'Animal Gods' is probably the most interesting part of them, the bestiary entry mostly goes on about how specifically they stab you to death, and the animals chosen - Cat, Wolf, Lizard and Hawk - aren't so inspired. 

What's the Crab Lord's deal, huh? What about the Frog Queen? The High Imperial Minister of Newts? Leech Pope? 

I actually used a version of the Peacock Lord as a patron in my most recent session of my Planescape game. 


Baatezu - ★★★☆☆

I have a soft spot for the Baatezu. 

Wait, I phrased that wrong. I have a soft spot for using them as villains, and watching the players kick the shit out these immortal, shapeshifting, soul-eating, hyperbug warlock fascists. 

The Baatezu (and their cousins the Tanar'ri) are interesting in a way none of the Celestials (or Yugoloths) ever were. Covering every individual type of Baatezu would be a fool's errand, but special mention to the Osyluth and it's hilarious art. They really made that thing scarier in the 5e Monster Manual. 

And to this piece of art for the Abishai. What's going on here? I want to know. 

Baku - ★★☆☆☆

I like seeing monsters from other mythologies in my elfgames. The world's full of beautiful ideas, and the Baku is one of them. 

The first half of the (two-page!) entry is a story about a kind old man who's actually a Baku in disguise, who has to abandon his disguise to go and slay his evil Baku brother. That's cool! 

Unfortunately, the rest of the article is just about exactly how these 'timid, peace-loving creatures' specifically kick your ass. The stats are likely for the small (and exact?) percentage of Baku that are evil. 

The bestiary leaves out the actual mythological Baku's power of eating dreams, which is a really cool concept, and it's a shame. 

The thing saving this from one star status is the fact there's a small sliver of Baku society who are explicitly neutral and apparently Baku holy figures, which I want to learn more about. 

Bariaur - ★★☆☆☆

The entry opens with: "Bariaurs, probably a hardy relative of the centaur and created by the same sylvan being eons ago". 


Give me that lore! Which shitty Aes Sidhe decided to just get wild with it and start mix-and-matching body parts? 

In an interesting departure from the themes thus far, effort is put into making the 'Good' Alignment actually seem earned, by discussing how the greatest sadness for a Bariaur is when a friend is sad, and how their society discourages rivalry and shame, which is interesting.

Unfortunately, the Bariaur are a little generic otherwise. You could replace every instance of Bariaur with Centaur, and nobody would notice. 

Bebilith - ★★★★★




Bodak - ★★★★☆

This creature's entry starts with an interesting story that is made up of remixed elements of Greek Mythology (including the imaginatively named characters Basileus, Helen and Diomed.), but ends up being a version of the Odyssey where Troy is the Abyss, and Odysseus is an undead horror so foul that the mere sight of him kills all present. 

Which is metal as fuck sign me up, hell yeah. The idea of that story alone made me add like 2 stars. 

The Bodak themselves are also interesting, being corrupted humans with formerly good intentions. I feel like you could do a lot with these dudes. 

And their art is hilarious. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

9 Anomalous Media

 Inspired by the posts over at Throne of Salt and Archons March On. Big Bandwagon Energy. 

1.  Vilnius  

Microfiche contained inside heavy briefcase found in bomb shelter in Ukraine.

Written primarily in Lithuanian, the text of the microfiche is the personal diary of an unnamed c.18th century officer in the Lithuanian Armed Forces. It chronicles, with crude illustrations, his journey across eastern Europe in pursuit of a creature he describes as ‘the mouth’.

The officer eventually tracks the mouth to outside Poltava, where he is eaten by it. The next eight pages describe his experience of the space inside the mouth. After the eighth page, seventeen are left blank. New handwriting picks up in the last few pages of the book, writing from the officer’s point of view about how different the 1950s are. The book ends with a six-page rant, with no punctuation, on the horrors of Mutually Assured Destruction before scrawling off into incomprehensibility.  


2.  Owls

Fifteen-minute-long videotape. The opening six minutes are an elderly woman calmly discussing what she likes about owls. She is sitting inside a screened porch, at night, with only a small white-light lamp. She begins with discussing their ‘cute faces’ and ‘beautiful wings’, but gradually moves into describing their ‘heaving bulk’ and ‘wise piousness’.

At six minutes and fifteen seconds, an indistinct, horse-sized object moves past the screen behind the woman’s head, making no noise.

A minute later, she finishes talking, begins to cry, stands up and exits the porch, and does not return.


3.  Bronze Age Collapse

Two clay tablets written in Babylonic Cuneiform. Each has been carbon dated to c.3000 years old. Each is a poem.

The first poem describes a way to make bronze fragile involving ‘the sea-woman’s blessing.’ The second describes a phrase that, if read aloud, will inspire homicidal rage in listeners. The final word of the second poem is the word in question.

The tablets were found in the office of the former Professor of Archaeology at the University of Manchester in 1983. He had been beaten to death by four PhD students, all of whom are still currently in prison.


4.  The Rhine Chronicle

A long, winding chronicle written in Latin, presumably around the reign of Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious. It was allegedly written by Wala of Corbie, judging by commentary from later documents found with the chronicle.

It discusses at length the appearance of a ‘white knight’ with a ‘glass face’ on the banks of the Rhine in the third year of Louis’ reign. The figure is described as being bulky, moving slowly, and carrying an unknown banner with red and white stripes and many white stars.


5.  Cats

A forum thread on AlternativeMedicineTalkspace, written by forum user ‘88Cats’, who has apparently been raised in the same household as 88 cats. Their parents are cat-breeders, although account suggest they also appear to be involved in community organising and various poorly described religious movements.

After one of the cats is killed when it is hit by a car, 88Cats comes to the forum to ask for a way to ‘help it’. Another forum user, ‘OpalCarnelian’, sends a detailed series of posts totalling around 50000 words, which describe a variety of rituals involving blood, gasoline, bones, invoking the name of various underworld gods and the disclaimer that the cat will not have the same personality when it returns.

One day later, 88Cats responds with ‘worked :)’ and closes the thread.


6.  Mona Lisa 1999

A semi-accurate forgery of the Mona Lisa, excepting the fact she is depicted with a cut throat. Collected from a large collection of paintings, some reproductions of older paintings, alongside a few original works depicting contemporaneous celebrities. All have gruesome wounds.

All living people depicted died within 3 years, usually in violent or tragic circumstance.  


7.   Neon Genesis Evangelion REDUX

A DVD supposedly produced some time around 1998. Depicts a heavily rewritten version of the cult anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion in which a number of primary characters are cannibals. The plot spirals into incoherence far earlier than in the original work, and characters often eat the large monsters felled during the episodes. The original audio appears to be in Portuguese, and the animation quality varies wildly.

The characters themselves don’t react to the internal incidences of cannibalism, and many are written as being happier or more stable than in the original series.


8.  17 Ways to Improve Your Life!

A VHS tape presumably intended as a self-help product, although produced by an amateur single-person team, as noted on the box. The primary speaker of the VHS is a woman with a south English accent. Identification is inconclusive due to the large rabbit mask she wears throughout the VHS. Each ‘episode’ covers a ‘method’ with which to improve one’s life.

They begin innocuously, as you may expect by now, with various tips about public speaking, comedic timing, and ways to make friends more easily. Episode 4 features the first instance of a monochromatic, featureless humanoid figure standing in the apartment.

As each episode passes, the speaker’s apartment becomes more dishevelled, the rabbit mask grimier and more threadbare, and the speaker herself more visibly emaciated. More and more figures begin to appear in the back of the shot, never moving or doing anything.

Around Episode 10, the host is lying prone on the couch, rabbit mask sideways on her head to look straight into the camera. She goes on a muffled rant about killing everyone who has wronged you and taking their things. Nineteen figures crowd around the couch.

Episode 11 is made up of ‘guest speakers’, that is to say, strung together clips of other self-help media.

Episode 12 appears to be filmed from a hospital bed. The host is visibly healthier, has a new rabbit mask, and a ‘co-host’, a young woman with a north English accent and a cat mask.

The remaining five episodes have a far lighter tone. No further figures appear in the woman’s apartment. The episodes move away from the self-help framing device into long, podcast-format discussions of how lying to yourself leads you down a dark path, and asking for help is crucial to improving your situation.

The final episode is filmed by both co-hosts in a new apartment. It’s mostly devoted to their new cat, Mr. Snuffles, and the positive qualities of the new apartment.


9.  Minutemen Meeting 2005

A six hour long .mov file recording a meeting in a small function hall. The file was recovered from FrontierJustice, an obscure forum that mostly contains amateur recordings of violent acts.

A flag on the wall suggests the meeting takes place somewhere in Arizona, although the primary speaker has an accent more consistent with Florida. The primary speaker remains unidentified. There are around fourteen subjects sitting in plastic chairs in the field of view, with at least six more off-screen.

The primary speaker gives a rambling, incoherent speech, mostly made up of castle doctrine ideology, anti-immigration rhetoric, racist dog whistles, nationalist quips and border patrol slogans strung together with little grammatical sense. The attendees clap enthusiastically whenever he pauses.

At 00:14:17, the primary speaker reaches behind him to a black violin case and produces an object. What the object appears to be changes on a frame by frame basis between a Smith and Wesson revolver, a flute, a matte-black crowbar and a square graphic imprinted directly onto the speaker’s hand.

At irregular intervals, never more than 5 minutes, the speaker says ‘how about a demonstration?’ and ‘shoots’ one of the subjects. The subject’s place on the screen is immediately replaced by extensive visual disruptions that render viewing the subject an impossibility.

The first six shots are accompanied by raucous applause, the last fourteen are met with silence, although the applause continues whenever the speaker pauses. At the end of the speech, the speaker walks into the visual distortions. The empty stage is all that is visible for the last hour and sixteen minutes of the video.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

GLOG Class: Verdant Monk

Bouncing around ideas for the ‘Yaalit Desert’, which is basically a cold desert in a giant crater full of lost technology. 

The Verdant Monks rule a single green hill near the city of Tlingos. They left the monastery-city due to the increasing severity of the ruling monks and the dwindling resources.

They live and teach on one verdant hill, defended by the monks. The twin cities of Tlingos and Midaq often try to conquer the place – supposedly the food and water are plentiful there. This is untrue – the monastery is constantly on the verge of collapse, and the monks only maintain it with strict and extensively planned water rationing.

The head of their order is an ancient tree, one of the last in all of Yaalit. Like all trees, it is a repository of ancient wisdom. Unlike most trees, it was taught ancient martial arts from 4000 years ago, which is why it isn’t currently part of the rafters and doors of the Twin Cities.

Verdant Monks wear dull green robes and usually carry planks.  

Plain green robe.
Bottle of pure water.
A staff made of holy wood.
A bag of seeds.
A bag of tea leaves (for drinking and divination).
A Plant Speech, Leaf-Eating-Beetle-Step
B Twig to Tree
C Dry Tree Seeking Water
D Ghost Tree Valley
Plant Speech
You can communicate with plants. Most Plants do not speak in terms of colour, light or distance, but instead in terms of water, temperature, time, seasons and weather. Only trees are capable of full conversation on a human level, and there are few trees left in Yaalit.
Following the example of the Leaf-Eating-Beetle, anything wooden will support your weight. Even the thinnest twig will hold you upright as if you weigh nothing.
Twig to Tree
You can turn a dead or lifeless piece of wood into a growing tree briefly. The size of the leafy branches which grow depends on the size of the source wood. Twigs make twigs, a roof rafter will grow a whole trunk. You cannot use this ability on living wood, or on wood created by this ability. Trees always grow straight up, when they can. Roots can crack stone. 
Dry Tree Seeking Water
You can instinctively ‘smell’ water up to a mile away. Clean and foul water smell different. Water based liquids, such as wine, beer, and poison, can only be smelled from nearby. You can tell if two liquids have been mixed – for example, water and poison.
Ghost Tree Valley  
By undertaking an hour ritual to enchant a hole in the ground, you can access the Ghost Tree Valley, an ‘echo’ of the ancient forest which once stood where Tlingos is now. Once the ritual is complete, you and your companions may crawl into the hole and appear in a cool, twilight forest, about a kilometre wide. The place is safe, and has plentiful food and water. The ancient masters of the Verdant Monks live here as spirits and will gladly offer advice. If you damage a spirit tree, or stay more than a week, you wake up in the hole you dug at the next sunrise.
Each time after the first you wish to enter the Ghost Tree Valley, you must bring an offering of seeds from a new plant.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

The Dead Fens

The Dead Fens are a vast, cold wetland along the basin of the River Vok. They lie in the distant north of a country called Wurmgar. It stands entirely in the shadow of Grave Ridge, a huge hilly region said to contain the bones of an ancient god.

The fens are known for a few things:

  1. Constant fog, apparently produced by a curse laid by a vengeful druid in eons past.
  2. Red and black flora. Thick beds of fleshy looking moss, obsidian sedges and stands of carmine reeds.
  3. Hideously dangerous fauna. Skitterjaws, catoblepas, giant poisonous dragonflies, screw-worms and ghouls, worst of all.
  4. ‘Godbone’, some kind of organic material that is usually found in huge spires or craggy boulders.

Reports that the godbone spires resemble ribs, or the boulders seem to be teeth and fingerbones fit for a titan, are likely exaggerated.

There are only three places worth visiting in the entire Fen.

Tzorovik – No local would ever admit their city is in the Fen, but the bulwarks and sluices protrude far into the region, and the whole northern side is overgrown with that abominable red moss. The Tzoroviki are in denial.

Tzorovik has been many things. It started as a mining outpost, both for copper and godbone. Both materials are present in the city’s construction, and the hills nearby are pockmarked with deep, winding mineshafts.

Next, it became a military city. Half the Wurmish army is still barracked in the vast, dilapidated Copperhill Barbican, that looms on the hills above the city. Battlements and, rusting, obsolete ballistae abound.

Finally, and most recently, it has become a cult city. Specifically, it is home to two cults: The Children of Thulgan, a ‘family’ of feral, animalistic ghouls that hunt the populace at night, and the Church of Vizkov, a shiny new messianic religion that are also ghouls, just better dressed.

Femur Camp – Built precariously upon the crux of three godbone spires, Femur Camp is home to bonedraggers, reckless fools with guns and pickaxes who are attempting to haul the godbone back to Tzorovik. The only entrance to Femur Camp is a ropeladder – it has exactly one spare room to offer to travellers, and no tavern to speak of.

Godbone is prized for durability, and can be distilled by alchemy into a number of useful products – such as fertiliser. Wurmgar relies on this fertiliser to have its meagre fields feed a growing population. As such, successful bonedraggers make a lot of money. There are not a lot of successful bonedraggers.

The leader of Femur Camp is called Malkus, a Bugbear with a missing eye. He is supposedly some kind of druid, and uses toads to spy on his subordinates. Some people say there’s a screw-worm hiding behind his eyepatch he unleashes on anyone who attacks him.

The Cave of Teeth – A limestone cave carved into a high wall above a particularly reeking segment of wetland. Some jester has placed godbone teeth in a high arch, and a low wall, making the cave resemble a giant, yawning human mouth. The Spirit of the Dead Fens, a calculating creature called Toothblood, slumbers within. She resembles a stretched ox with a horned centipede head, and hooved centipede legs.

Toothblood offers pacts and deals to those who visit, which the people of Tzorovik often avail themselves of. She can turn any liquid within a mile of the Dead Fens into poison, or cure any disease, in exchange for a life, sacrificed in the pool in her cave.

1d10 Encounters on the Dead Fens

  1. 1d6 Screw-worms - These red, spiny worms start out the size of a finger, but eventually grow to the length of a forearm. They're notorious for drilling their massive mouthparts into unsuspecting limbs as they inject a numbing agent. You don't notice the pain, and if it stays there for a whole day, your leg goes dead and it starts chewing it off. Pulling them out is incredibly painful, but they'll release their grip if exposed to fire. 
  2. A Catoblepas - A creature resembling a huge, rotten aurochs with a pendulous neck and stinking, matted fur. Its breath is supposedly fatal, or at least horribly painful, at forty paces. They dislike bright light, which is rarely a problem under the constant fog-cover of the Fens. 
  3. 1d6 Foglings - Strange little spirits that resemble grey, long-limbed, hairless children that sit waist deep in the water, playing childish games with skulls and fingerbones. If you befriend them by winning at their games, they'll follow after you in the fog - clouding your movements from your enemies, and parting it for you at an oppurtune moment. If you anger them, they'll try to drown you by pouring fog into your lungs. 
  4. 1d8 Bonedraggers - Masked and hatted people in overalls, lugging pickaxes and waving pistols. Their 'uniform' is a scrap of black cloth pinned to the shoulder. They're liable to be jumpy, suspicious and really, really excited to not be here. 50% chance they're lugging a huge chunk of cut godbone, upon which they're even more jumpy
  5. 1d12 Swamp Naiads - Translucent, aquatic insects the size of a dog. They bury themselves underwater in shallow mud, then burst out and bite round your ankle, like a chitinous landmine. They never ambush alone, if they can help it. Utterly blind and disturbingly durable.  
  6. A Deathless of Vizkov - An armoured knight, riding a struggling horse through the Fens. They're likely on some important mission. Their cape carries the hexagonal emblem of Vizkov. The horse, beneath the barding, is a zombie, and the knight, beneath the armour, is a ghast, just a well-dressed, perfumed one, with makeup and stitches. 
  7. 1d8 Children of Thulgan - These ghouls lope along on all fours, wearing ragged remnants of clothing. They've clawed away half their own faces, revealing their distended ghoulish fangs. They are liable to greet you politely, call you cousin, then try and eat your entrails. 50% chance they're accompanied by an utterly animalistic ghast they lead on a chain. 
  8. 1d4 Buzzing Things - Venomous, armoured dragonflies the length of a horse. Primary prey of the Skitterjaw, these huge things spend 10 years gestating as Swamp Naiads, before crawling to the top of a godbone spire and molting into a giant, hideous dragonfly. They only live for a year, but in that year, they cause mayhem. They fly faster than a horse, and their long, segmented tails end in a stinger that injects a hallucinogenic poison. 
  9. Toothblood's Thrall - An unfortunate elf, who made the mistake of crossing Toothblood. He wanders the fens, alone, clad in rusting mail, challenging everyone he meets to a duel. His entire head and face have been ripped open by a nesting colony of screw-worms, leaving him blind, but Toothblood's wrath keeps him staggering along. His blood is deadly poison, and the swamp water he dips his blade in before a fight is too. 
  10. A Skitterjaw