Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Worldcube (A Magic Item for Labyrinth Lord)

The worldcube activated

The worldcube is a cube comprised of six square mirrors, 8' on a side, held together by a steel frame. Studying the reflections of these mirrors will show rippling images which will appear for short intervals before disappearing. These images depict alien worlds unlike anything known. Strangely, each mirror depicts a different world in these brief flashes.

Touching the worldcube reveals that the mirrors are only semi-solid and constant pressure from a fingertip can penetrate their surface. Should a person or object pass through the surface of the cube it begins to flash rapidly with a bright white light, revealing an empty chamber within. If someone enters the cube, they can see clearly through the mirrors they just passed through, and can exit just as easily. The worldcube will continue to flash for one turn before disappearing entirely.

Inactive worldcube

Anyone or anything within the worldcube when it disappears will experience a nauseous sensation as the cube tumbles downward through empty space. As it turns, any people or objects within will find that the walls have become very solid (although still transparent), and they will take 1d6 damage as they are tossed wildly about. Outside, what appears to be a raging storm of iridescent energy pushes them to and fro. Experienced dimensional travelers will note that this is one of the more chaotic areas of the Overworld, known to be extremely hazardous to all life.

After 15-30 seconds of falling the worldcube will land on a foreign world completely unlike their own. However, as far as anyone is aware, the worldcube never visits the same place twice. Although there are no constants to these places, they are commonly extremely alien, full of hostile life and rich with incredible magical and technological treasures. This combination ensures that adventurers are frequently attracted to the cube, as it offers high risks but high rewards to the bold.

The worldcube in transit

Once the worldcube has landed it will be completely inert for four hours, responding in no way to outside stimuli (although it will allow objects within to step out). At the end of this period, the worldcube will once again flash rapidly for one full turn. At the end of this turn it will disappear once more, returning to the spot where it was originally activated.

Inspection of the cube after its return will indicate that one of the alien worlds depicted (the one which was recently visited) has disappeared. In 1-4 weeks time a new world will appear on the surface.

Note: LLs which use the worldcube are encouraged to design six small locations / dungeons on alien worlds which are extremely deadly but have truly wild treasures within. When the party enters the cube, roll 1d6 to determine which they end up in.

Veteran worldcube delvers.

Site Redesign and New Header

Thanks to the amazing design chops of David Johnson, concept artist and graphics guy, we've got an awesome new header and layout.

What do you think?

P.S. Check out more of Dave's stuff here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Murderous Menagerie: X-Ray Men

Face of an X-Ray Man

There was something oddly wrong with his features, a queer cast upon them that made him seem akin to the purple-clad courtier hovering at Jirel's elbow, to the grinning jester who peered across the chair-back. With a little twist of the heart she saw what it was. There was no physical likeness between master and men in any feature, but the shadow of deformity lay upon all three faces, though only the hunchback wore it honestly. Looking at those faces, one would have sworn that each one of the trio went limping through life under the burden of a crooked spine. Perhaps, Jirel thought involuntarily, with a small shudder, the master and the courtier as well as the fool did indeed carry a burden, and if they did she thought she would prefer the jester's to their. His at least was honest and of the flesh. But their must be of the spirit, for surely, she thought again, God in His wisdom does not for nothing mark a whole and healthy man with a cripple's face. It was a deformity of the soul that looked out of the eyes meeting hers.

 -- “Hellsgarde”, Catherine Lucille Moore

When the people of Krül dream at night shapes conjured from their subconscious leave a permanent mark upon the Overworld, creating a shadow self which is somehow less than human. These sinister doppelgangers, born of man's deepest desires and queerest lusts, are unbridled by human empathy or social convention. They live only for their pleasures, writ large in the night lands of imagination.

Those who cross too often in the Underworld (where the barrier between dimensions has grown thin) can inadvertently attract these shades. Once bound to the dreamer which imagined them, the double (known as an 'X-Ray Man') will dwell within the shadow of the unknowing adventurer, awaiting an opportunity to come into our world and realize fantasies long denied.

After the X-Ray Man has inhabited the shadow, it will watch and wait for an opportunity to escape into this world. Each time the dreamer passes between worlds (whether Underworld or Overworld) they must Save vs Spells. Failure to save indicates that the dreamer's shadow detaches and slips off into darkness. Over the course of the next 1-3 days the shadow will slowly gain substance, appearing as a distorted, hollow copy of the dreamer, devoid of color.  While in this form they cannot pass as their double, being obviously inhuman. Moreover, while the X-Ray Man has manifested in this dimension neither it nor the dreamer will cast a shadow, which can alert the perceptive to the danger they face. 

With this foothold in the waking world, the X-Ray Man immediately begins to plot the death of their opposite, for it is only by this method that they can become fully 'real'. Once the victim perishes, their form gains a final solidity, becoming a perfect replica of their victim. Meanwhile, the dreamer's corpse quickly begins to fade into non-existence, merging into the shadow of the X-Ray Man. This is said to be a particularly horrifying fate, as the dreamer persists after death in a sort of half-life, trapped in the dreams of the X-Ray Man.

Where victims of the X-Ray Men dwell

If the X-Ray Man manages to destroy the dreamer, they will quickly adopt the life of the one they replaced, although their destructive tendencies quickly lead most to ruin. Those which survive the realization of their fantasies usually become quite secretive, breaking many of their former ties. Instead, the X-Ray Men seem to work towards some sort of unguessable agenda, often holding covert meetings and spending much of their time tinkering in their homes. What ultimate goal they strive towards none know for certain, but some whisper they work for nothing less than the total collapse of the wall of sleep.

X-Ray Men

No. Enc.: 1 (1d4x10)
Alignment: Chaotic
Morale: 6
XP: By HD (see below)

1 HD: 45 + 1 XP per HP
2 HD: 65 + 2 XP per HP
3 HD: 90 + 3 XP per HP
4 HD: 125 + 4 XP per HP
5 HD: 165 + 5 XP per HP
6 HD: 225 + 6 XP per HP
7 HD: 400 + 8 XP per HP
8 HD: 650 + 10 XP per HP
9 HD: 1000 + 12 XP per HP
10 HD: 1500 + 14 XP per HP
11-12 HD: 2150 + 16 XP per HP

All other statistics are exactly the same as the dreamer.
An obvious inspiration.

The vision of the X-Ray Man is strangely distorted, giving them the ability to see in the dark up to 120', although they cannot perceive color. Until the dreamer is dead the X-Ray Man may Blink (as per the AEC spell) for a number of rounds equal to their HD, melting into and out of nearby shadows. Moreover, once per day they may make a touch attack against a single foe (except for the dreamer) who, if hit, is required to make a Save vs Spells. If this save is failed, they will phase into an immaterial state as they are dragged halfway into the Overworld but unable to interact with either plane except by magical means. This effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to the X-Ray Man's HD.

After murdering their victims X-Ray Men are near-perfect duplicates except that there is a certain unsettling viciousness which unnerves many, giving them a -1 to all reaction rolls. When found “in their lair” (which is often a secret meeting place in the Underworld), they should be treated as Brigands, with one fighter of 2nd level per 20 X-Ray Men, and one magic-user of 4th level per 40 X-Ray Men. Amongst themselves, X-Ray Men can communicate telepathically at a range of 60'.

Should a PC die at the hands of their double, they are allowed once per moth to Save vs Spells in an attempt to wrest control of the body, leading to a psychic duel between the two. If the PC succeeds at this duel, they live once again but will constantly struggle with their shadow (who has similar chances of usurping command of the body).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Murderous Menagerie: Sea Mummy

The following is inspired by a bull session during the most recent Hill Cantons game.

Sea Mummies

When the Annihilation Event occurred, it had a catastrophic effect on the biosphere of Krül, but none suffered so much as the sea life of the dying planet. As the oceans slowly dried up, leaving only billowing deserts in their wake, the vast majority of the oceanographic ecosystems perished. Some few, however, managed to cling to life. One such organism was the thumbnail-sized swarming scavengers known as Brill, a pest much-feared by seafarers and pirates.

A Brill specimen

While the Brill are corpse-feeders, they are not simply content to await fresh prey. Instead, they use the recently deceased as a form of locomotion, using their fine claws to pluck at nerve fibers, causing the corpse to move jerkily. Generally, these corpses will simply wander in search of the newly-dead, but Brill have been known to aggressively attack when endangered or hungry, often dragging sailors from the deck into the depths below.

Once the oceans died, the Brill proved to be remarkably resilient. Nesting inside of corpses, they entered a state of suspended animation while the body slowly dried into a dessicated husk. Millions of Brill still lie in a half-living state buried between the dunes, waiting for precious moisture to bring them to life once again.

Host to thousands of Brill
No. Enc.: 1-6
 Alignment: Neutral
Hoard Class: None
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d8, swarm vomit (see below)
Save: F5
Morale: 10
XP: 135

While still in a dried, 'husk' state the Sea Mummy is completely inactive and unable to move or attack. The mummy is extremely dry and brittle at this point and is easily set aflame. If the mummy should be exposed to water, however, it will quickly come to life and the Brill inside will be ravenously hungry, attacking wildly (hence the high Morale).

When attacking, the Sea Mummy will lunge forward with a bite attack. If successful, the corpse vomits forth hundreds of Brill into the injury, requiring an immediate savings throw vs. Poison or Death or take an additional 1d6 damage per turn as they burrow into the character's flesh unless steps are taken to remove them. Should a character die from a Brill swarm, they will rise as a Sea Mummy 1d4 hours after death.

As the Sea Mummy is little more than a suit of clothes for the swarm of Brill beneath, when the creature takes 1/2 total HP in damage it begins to break apart, releasing a 2 HD Insect Swarm (see Labyrinth Lord for details). Upon death, an identical swarm will also emerge from the destroyed corpse. This second swarm will merge with the first if it still survives.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Gamma World's Appendix N (Part 1 of 2)

Hiero's Journey and Hothouse
What They Indicate About the Implied Gamma World

Unlike AD&D, Gamma World's Appendix N is woefully short, comprised of Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, Starman's Son by Andre Norton, Hiero's Journey by Sterling Lanier, and Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. What we can learn from these sources, however, indicates a unique post-apocalyptic vision encoded within the core book but, sadly, often misrepresented in the later supplements. Today we're going to examine two books on this list: Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey and Brian Aldiss' Hothouse.

It's a Jungle out there: In Hothouse, civilization has long since passed and the world has become overrun with creatures they reign much higher than man on the food chain. Those who survive must hide in the shadows of species which have supplanted our own, for they fight battles of survival and propagation beyond our limited scope. Instead, man has become scavengers which must eke out a meager existence. This is not Twilight 2000, where humanity is slowly retaking the world. It is a game pockets of humanity totally isolated from one another, surrounded by a wilderness that can (and will) easily destroy them.

Conspiracies everywhere: Hiero's Journey depicts the struggle between the Metz Republic, a small bastion of humanity, and a creeping wilderness which slowly destroys outlying farmsteads, cuts off trade routes, and murders any explorers who look beyond the boundaries of their homes. Over the course of the novel, however, we learn that these seemingly random attacks come from a conspiracy known as the Unclean, which organizes and coordinates attacks by the monsters of the wildlands. There are two parallel organizations in early TSR publications, one obvious and another less so. The first is the Red Death, and more generally the cryptic alliances of Gamma World in general. In the case of the Red Death (and their inspiration, the Unclean), these organizations are dedicated to destroying the last remnants of human civilization and work through proxies and spies, most notably through monsters which they have bred or subverted to their will.

The second group which fits this description are the priests which pull the strings behind the Caves of Chaos in Keep on the Borderlands. Although not much is revealed about their goals or methods, one can infer certain things. First, they are dedicated to destroying human civilization. Second, they employ monstrous humanoids as their primary agents, and often set these pawns at odds with one another in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy. Third, they stay hidden, preferring to let their attacks to be aggression by savages and monsters. This all perfectly fits the Unclean, and invokes a world where seemingly random violence is in actuality coolly calculated by beings who wish for nothing less than to strike the final blow against mankind.

Beasts are not Men: In both Hiero's Journey and (to a lesser extent) Hothouse we observe a variety of mutated species which have developed from different animals, often with strange and unusual powers. Unlike what may seem implicit in Gamma World's character generation, however, these are not one-of-a-kind critters each with their own unique powers. Instead, they are small tribal groups, usually living within a small territory, which are slowly developing their own cultures. Each have their own understanding of the world around them, and many have radically different viewpoints. Predatory catfolk, dolphin slavers, secretive bear-men, and so forth, each bearing a unique outlook.

This method actually allows for a tremendous amount of setting design by the player during character creation, as the critters they roll up indicate an entirely new species, and the character traits the PCs display indicate species-wide cultural norms. Encourage players to define their people in play, and leave blank spaces on your map for PC species to inhabit.

Gamma World "End Game": Looking at Hothouse and Hiero's Journey, one can see why the setting was so appealing to Ward and "Jaquet", inasmuch as they perfectly emulate the D&D arc of play. Hothouse is a picaresque in the purest sense, where the characters wander from one place to another, in constant peril while fooling (and being fooled by) an absurd cast of strange characters. Hiero's Journey, on the other hand, represents a later stage of play, one of clearing the wilderness and building a new civilization atop the ruins of the old, the "domain game" that Chris Kutalik so perfectly described.

Perhaps what makes Gamma World's domain management unique is that it centers largely around a "gold rush" for technology. The goal is not just to dig up ray guns from the dungeon, but rather to learn how to recreate these resources. As indicated in Hiero's Journey, such a process is slow and painful, although the stakes are extremely high. Such technology is fiercely fought over by the various conspiracies and city-states and must be carefully hidden so as not to attract spies and thieves. If the PCs are to take and hold territory, the secrets of the Ancients must be unlocked.

Part 2 will analyze Ralph Bakshi's Wizards as well as Andre Norton's Starman's Son, just as soon as I've consumed them.
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