Friday, November 27, 2020

Ecological vs. Mythological

some monsters are ecological. they eat, they sleep, they shit and get eaten. goblins are ecological. kobolds, usually. giant spiders.

some monsters are mythological. their existence is a contrivance, artificial. they exist to serve a purpose, and do nothing outside of that. the necromancer raises skeletons to guard their floating fortress. the sirens sit upon their island to kill adventurers. the sphinx.

making mythological monsters ecological is possible and cool, but it's not very natural, and takes a lot of good thought. what do skeletons eat?

making ecological monsters mythological is actually pretty easy, and usually just involves invoking a "story" aesthetic. (goblins out of fairy tales, shelob from LotR, plague of rats, etc.)

some monsters you have to choose. dragons. most big baddies actually. faeries. ghosts and spirits. not choosing puts them in sort of a weird pseudo-real spot. is the dragon attacking the town because it is hungry? or because the townsfolk haven't paid enough tribute? do spirits naturally arise under certain circumstances? or are they here because this castle is haunted?

deciding if the monster is ecological or mythological will answer these sorts of questions.

this doesn't have much in-game bearing. i've just been thinking about it recently.

Monday, November 23, 2020


    i think skeletons are great, wonderful enemies. spooky undead without the gore and grossness of zombies. love that stuff.

    i love it when people take "regular" enemies and treat them as significant and scary! a lot of people do a lot of good work on that front. Im gonna try and do the same!

    I don't think skeletons should be normal enemies.


    normal enemies is like bandits. it's like, goblins and kobolds, (ecological ones, not mythological ones. see this post.) people know they exist. they make regular incursions into ordinary life. goblins raid caravans, attack the fringes of civilization. they are natural.

    skeletons are UNDEAD. a reanimated human, subject to dark magic. unless you have a necromancy friendly society, but if that's true, then you already have your own strong opinions on skeletons. a walking representation of our animal fear of death! SUPERNATURAL PHENOMENON. i think they would be (to the people of a game world) SCARIER than goblins or beasts or even something completely alien like an ooze. again, this is just low level stuff we're talking about here. of course that howling writhing flesh ooze the Thing monstrosity is scarier than a skeleton.

  • ordinary folk are deathly afraid of skeletons. they just run, screaming. this includes hirelings who are ordinary folk (the one the pcs hired to take care of their horses, or that farmer who took them to where the dungeon is)
  • hirelings who have a little more backbone should save vs. fear, morale check, save or run screaming, whatever your system uses. torch bearers. loot holders. crossbow reloaders. those kinds of folk.
  • pcs and hirelings who fight don't need to save. it's still a low level enemy, even if it's a scary one.

    i don't think you need to particularly try to describe them in a scary way. they're scary in the world, but i don't think they should be to the players. easy to figure out, easy to deal with once figured out. 


skeletons take 1 damage from any slashing, cutting sort of attack. straight up tell your players this.

"I hit the skeleton with my sword. Oh nice, i hit. rolling damage."

"Naw, you don't need to roll. you do one damage."

"Wait, what?"

"yeah, your sword smacks into the skeleton and like, it bonk against it but it doesn't cut anything. What would there be to cut?"
    skeletons take no damage from arrows. ofc if your pcs have special bludgeoning arrows or guns or something then that's a different story.

    adjudicate piercing damage according to common sense. dagger? no dice. war pick? probably will work, just not as effectively as it would be against fleshy targets.

    bludgeoning weapons do damage as normal.


    skeletons don't have ligaments or shit like that. their bones are held together by DARK MAGICS. if the pcs get cheeky and knock an arm off or something just have the skeleton reattach it. describe how they can see the magical energy pulling the bones back together. maybe even some magical rune/sigil/spell goodness carved into the bones.

    don't forget to inject a little goofiness in there. always gotta balance spooky with goofy. describe the clattering noise they make as they walk around. describe how the pc bops a head off and it goes bouncing away. just the bottom half, ineffectually walking around.

    if you want them not to reassemble you better start crushing shit.    knocking their head off is a good tactic only because skulls are more likely to shatter than other bones.


     the defining trait for skeletons, in my eyes, should be "hard to kill" same category as oozes. they don't do much damage. they're not very fast. they're either there for flavor or as a frontline while something more annoying harasses the players. they don't have special abilites like oozes though! unless:

some weirder skeletons:

  • animal skeletons. use animal skeletons. use monster skeletons. i'm begging you they're cool.
  • ranged skeletons. put them somewhere hard to reach if you want to be nasty. archers who can't be shot is very funny.
  • magical skeletons. don't have skeletons cast magic. have skeletons be the locus for magical effects. give your skeleton a magic necklace that dehydrates things in a radius. stuff like that that doesn't affect skeletons. locusts or something. localized sandstorms.
  • skeletons that combine into a bigger skeleton. After the players dispatch the skeletons have the bones recombine into a huge skelemonster. same rules, more hit die, more damage. 3+ arms for sure.
  • skeletons that have been put together funny. 4 arms means twice the attacks. works great with monster skeletons.
  • crystalized skeleton. does more damage. takes more damage. anti-magic, absorbs spells thrown at it to heal
  • fire skeleton. we love ghost rider.
  • explodo skeleton. bones explode when broken. bone shard shrapnel. describe how they move "jerkily, shuddering, like they're under a lot of pressure."


    put your skeletons in:

  • coffins. the classic
  • in water. the PCs are riding a boat over said water.
  • cages/hanging from chains. they look like normal skeletons at first...
  • on wheels. also a classic.
  • in the dirt.
  • in bone piles. "the bones start to shuffle around..."
  • in oozes. destroy the ooze and out pops the skeleton
  • just walking out and about. nothing wrong with that.

    skeletons shouldn't say things unless they're like, super scary liches or something especially dark and especially magical like that. but if you want your skeletons to Skeletor "NYEEEEH" then by all means. love that shit.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

hostile architecture

    making dungeons really work against the players, down to the bones. this isn't about traps that do things to the players. alone, these things shouldn't pose a challenge (i.e. without any pressure, this wouldn't require a roll), which is why you throw enemies at the players while they're navigating it.

the classics:

  • rickety rope bridge over chasm
    • shooty enemies pop up when you're halfway across. i'm not a huge fan of "uh oh that monster is sawing through the ropes!"
    • maybe even just a chasm, no bridge. something tasty is on the other side. the players can figure it out.
  • various traps to divide the players:
    • from matt colville: chute trap sends a few of them sliding away from the party. they are now Somewhere Else. the party must reunite. send enemies at one group.
    • also from matt colville: portcullis slams down and divides the party. send enemies at both groups. portcullis because players can see eachother and reach through the bars.
    • "press both pressure plates to activate the door." send enemies at both groups.
    •  if you can't decide which group of players to send monsters at, the answer is always the squishier one.
  • tall, tall ceiling, can't see what's up there!
    • i like catwalks. enemies can harass the party (especially if they fly) but the players can get up there too.

    then there's stuff for locations that weren't quite built for people to use. the pyramids are an example. no one is going to be using the space after its built, so the architecture can get weird without breaking verisimilitude. "what do you mean how were people supposed to get around in this place? they weren't." strange alien spaces that reject humanity.

  • verticality. forget slopes. forget stairs. any time you would have a slope or a staircase, have the higher and lower passages connect with a vertical shaft. i'll draw a picture cuz it's hard to explain with words.
    • doing it for every slope might be too much!
    • don't forget to throw enemies at the party while they're trying to get up or down. have them knock down the players' ladder, or cut their rope.
    • can go even further. vertical shafts. nothing to climb. big pit. something nice at the bottom.
    • or maybe don't forget slopes. steep smooth slopes are fun. slide into something dangerous?
like this.
  • small passages. you gotta crawl through it. can range from hands and knees to on your stomach.
    • some PCs might not even fit! there's gotta be a different path though.
    • don't forget to throw small crawly enemies at the party while they're trying to go through.
    • for extra fun, make the heavily armored character have to take off their armor to fit.
  • thin walkways. no guardrails of course.
    • shooty enemies. or ones that can drag/push the PCs.
  • protrusions from the walls or ceiling. chest height, make weapons harder to use.
    • probably pair with something that doesn't attack using arms.
    • not from the floor, that's just called cover.

    weirder stuff. problem with these is that it feels mostly like "i, the dm, put these here as a challenge for you, the players." and not "yeah someone built this." maybe you can execute these in a way that works better.

  • playgrounds are great for physicality. seesaws, jungle gyms. great for less serious adventures just gotta spice em up and give them that dungeon flavor.
  • spikes on the ground. not a problem to walk through, the spikes are short and widely spaced enough. combine with enemies who are trying to knock you over, and don't suffer from being knocked over themselves, like skeletons.
  • strange materials, pitch black stone, invisible walls, ice, gel, etc. haven't figured out a great way to use these yet, but there's potential.

Thursday, October 29, 2020


read the odyssesy for class. sirens!

No one has ever sailed
his black ship past here
Without listening to the honeyed
sound from our lips.
He journeys on delighted
and knows more than before.
For we know everything
that the Greeks and Trojans
Suffered in wide Troy
by the will of the gods.
We know all that happens
on the teeming earth.

-the odyssey, stanley lombardo tl.

and who loves knowledge more than our players?


    the sirens--always two or three--are perched in a Hard to Reach Spot. a small rocky island in the middle of the sea. a narrow outcropping on an unforgiving cliff. at the bottom of a deep pit with smooth walls. hard to reach, but close enough that anyone who passes by can hear the singing. they are surrounded by bodies, mostly untouched, rotting.¹ the heads are cracked open, emptied of brain-matter. anyone charmed takes the most direct path to them, no matter the harm they'll suffer in doing so. the players will have to find another way.

    they are easy to avoid, with the proper precautions. as circe warned odyssesus of the trials ahead of him, the players have been forewarned of the sirens' presence. it is tradition. there's no save to resist their singing. if a player hears it, they're charmed. they were warned.

    the choice lies with the players. do they ignore the sirens? or is the risk worth the potential reward?


    the players will need to capture a siren. they are never alone. they are hard to reach. they cannot be starved. they can fly.

    then comes the hard part.

  • sirens cannot read or write.
  • they will need to ask their question.
  • they will need to hear the answer.
  • if a player can hear the siren it will immediately attempt to charm them.

    if the siren is tortured it begins to cry. if the siren is kept trapped for too long, it begins to cry. the players must ask their questions, then kill it, or let it go.

    the cry of a siren is the opposite of its singing. it is a repulsive, unearthly, wretched sound. imagine the cries of a newborn child and the death screams of a horse and a gurgling, hissing, howling, and a hundred times worse than these. have the players save vs. fear. hirelings and minions fail automatically. the sound carries, much farther than its singing.

    the cry of a siren attracts more sirens, as well as any monsters horrible enough to find the sound pleasant.²

artist is me.

    who could blame the players for ignoring the siren? it is a difficult thing, obtaining its knowledge.


    what could be worth this trouble?

    sirens know everything.


    they are born with the totality of knowledge in their heads. what they don't have are the experiences to contextualize it, the associations born from gaining knowledge the normal way. the siren knows what socks you wore three and a half months ago in the same way a kitten knows how to unsheath its claws, in the same way man knows what food is rotted by smell and taste. everything is known--nothing is understood.

    they eat brains to harvest this understanding, this context. the more brains a siren as eaten, the more effectively it can charm a listener.

    the players find this out through research--it is well known, but not widely known. or the sirens tell them, in their song: "we can tell you anything you wanna know, just come here real quick we won't eat your brain promise." 

    they can ask who the local baron's secret masters are, or where the great hoard of the dreadpirate lies--anything that could be known about the world! just not stuff about the future.



1. in the Odyssey, it's noted that the bodies around them are "shriveled and moldering," suggesting they don't acutally eat the bodies. harpies are mythological creatures (see this post), perils rather than actual organisms. if you want something you can fit in an ecology, use harpies for birdiness and mermaids for charminess.

2. a friend on a discord server helped me figure this one out. wanted to discourage torture cuz i strongly dislike torture in rpgs. change it if you want, but you have to limit the players ability to question the siren in some way or the game trivializes. @GoldRasputin on twitter. thanks a million dude!

Saturday, October 24, 2020


 this is not a rigorously researched historical thing. it's an idea to steal for your game.

"Koreans spend half the year going to the funerals of tiger victims, and the other half hunting tigers"

 -apparently an ancient korean saying¹

    tigers are powerful symbols, guardians against evil spirits. but this was born from the everpresent fear of the thing. it's difficult to overstate the omnipresence of the tiger on the korean peninsula. nowadays that presence is entirely cultural, a mascot. in more ancient times, that presence was very physical.


i did the drawings for this!

    can you imagine being a woodcutter, traveling over the forested hills at night? travel was done during the day at all cost, and only dire circumstances could have forced you to make this journey. can you imagine how dark, how utterly pitch black the forest to either side is? the path is illuminated by the moon and stars overhead. the forest is not.

    nervously, you light a torch. you know this is a bad idea. everything around can see you now, and the torch can only light the very first row of trees before the light is swallowed up. but it feels better than being in the dark with it.

    the tiger's eyes are much clearer than those of men. it is here.

    you are being hunted! the deep part of your brain that still remembers being a small and scampering creature knows this. you can't know which way it is coming from. you swing your torch from side to side, hoping to catch a glint of light on some, huge, unblinking eye.

    the tiger is all around you now, enveloping you in its sheer presence.

    every stray sound *could be made by the lurking thing--so every sound *is. every shifting bush *could be concealing it--so every bush *is.

    it wouldn't matter whether you were in a tiny room or an open field. you are CORNERED.


    my parents were talking recently, about a picture my mom had seen--a young tiger and a young dog at some zoo, just sitting next to one another. this type of story is pretty common! they're friends! :D but that wasn't what they were talking about. she was commenting on the difference in paw size between the two--just how much bigger the tiger's paw was than the dogs.

    "i can see why people were so afraid of them," she says. "you get hit once by those things and you'd be dead."

    and yet people hunted tigers! especially after the introduction of guns to the korean peninsula, but even old, old folktales are rife with comic examples of tigers being tricked, being outwitted and punished for their arrogance.

    part of that is because tigers were sometimes a symbol for the aristocracy.

    part of that is because tricking them is how you hunted tigers.

    you trick the thing into showing itself, and you do it so that it cannot get to you.

    you trap the thing in a single location, or force it where you want to go.

    it is not a chase. it is not a sneaking, a tracking. you cannot *find* tigers.

    you COLLAPSE the zone of possibility until finally, the tiger materializes.


    how do we use this in a game?

    certain monsters are tigers. smart monsters. stealthy monsters. monsters that hunt and feed. maybe even an actual tiger. let the players know they are dealing with a tiger. the locals probably know all about it. they warn the players! that it can't be tracked. that it can't be confronted. that it can only be staved off, by the trickiest kinds of folk.

    and of course, that the players should never travel through the area at night.

    if the players heed the warnings, they never meet the tiger.

    if the players ignore the warnings, the game is afoot. this covers both traveling at night and actively going after the tiger.

    until the tiger is cornered, it does not exist. merely suggestions of it. describe the rustling bushes, the cracking of twigs, the dark impenetrable shadows. if the players check these they will find nothing. the tiger is too smart for that.

    how does the tiger win? it eats. if it can catch out a single character, a single hireling or goon and kill them, it disappears. its hunger is sated. give that lone character a chance for their friends to reach them, but the tiger is monstrously strong on the attack.

    how do the players win? they materialize it. on the offense, the tiger is strong. on the defense, the tiger is weak. classic tiger hunting tricks:

  •     set out bait and hide somewhere, usually up a tree.
  •     set traps to restrain the tiger--if the trap is sufficiently strong and well thought out, the tiger *will* fall for it.
  •     dogs. it must be many dogs-lone dogs just die. dogs find and latch onto the tiger, bark at it, make it extant. it will try to retreat.

the tiger will probably work best as an addition to a local area where there are other things to do--a town and a dungeon, usually. the tiger is there to make travel between things a bit more dangerous. there are no tigers in civilized places except dead ones.


1. from an article i read while looking stuff up for this post -

Wednesday, October 21, 2020



    text. short little thing.

subheader :pensive:

     more text. great ideas about things that many people love.

i have things to say about this image.

    more text!!!

    aha there's different fonts.

what's the difference between quote text and normal text...