Friday, 22 November 2019

Belswick 10 - Lomin's diary

This session report brought to you by the player behind super trustworthy elf-of-many-talents Lomin Mor -  thanks for the write-up!

Last session in Belswick, the party returned from the dead and raided the tower of asshole wizard Vedric von Vermis after killing him in a bath house. The cost to breathe again? Mike the druid agreed to loan his body to Buddy the devil for five weeks. This session, the party first bickers about what to do - save Mike or do a delivery quest for the group's sharkling barbarian? In the end they decide to deal with their possessed buddy first, then deal with the fish's issues afterward.


150 gp worth of grave goods
a scrying basin


session log
Lomin's diary
DM's notes
spoilers [ highlight to reveal ]


  • Tilbørd, human Priest of The Authority who likes to make deals. Loads of them. And he likes to learn. Everything.
  • Lomin Mor, an elf rogue who is as shady as they come. Masquerades as lady Olga of nearby Cullfield to run her estate, and always “finds” things to keep. Also keeps a masterful diary which will no doubt spin off into a lucrative book deal at some point.
  • Mike, a human druid/fighter with the grand wish of starting a big animal sanctuary. Currently time-sharing his body with a devil, so Mike's player rolled up...
  • Sydney, a green dragonling sorceror who traveled the world and is now looking for... Mike/Sydney's player absolutely worships chaos, and jumped at the chance to roll his stats with the DMs new d18. Intelligence 1? No problem!
  • Aju, a hammerhead shark-fishling of the barbarian persuasion, looking for a magic amulet so an underseas wizard can complete turning him from a shark into a human. Not really sure what consequences will be should his allotted time of 1 year to retrieve the amulet run out.
  • Guy, human diviner with a crippling 10,000 gp college debt to the Lodge of Augurs and Diviners. Does all kind of jobs for the local lord and his mentor Fergus in order to lessen said debt (absentee player)

The party, having returned from Vedric’s wizard tower carrying loads of goods, takes some time off to make sure a certain marriage happens. They assure the Lady Liselle that she will not be hunted anymore by presenting her with the wizard Vedric’s head on a silver platter, and then get to unloading said goods, making sure they get as much cash out of this raid as possible.

Gold is XP, after all, and one always needs more XP.

Furthermore, the deal Mike made with a certain demon named Buddy seems to have taken effect, which means Mike is no longer in the driver’s seat as to controlling his own body. He goes missing. The rest of the party decide to follow their friend hoping they can at least keep him out of some lord’s dungeon.

Mike and the party know that Buddy is here to "do something to a priest". [ Classic devil double-speak. Buddy is going after the tomb of the Du'van priest Umtak Ktharl, who is freeing himself from his bindings after a recent earthquake. Devils are basically black-ops angels in my setting, and Buddy wants to make sure the Burglar of Heaven's Library doesn't get free. But Umtak isn't the only priest that Buddy is gunning for: he hopes to tempt party priest Tilbord into trying to free Umtak Ktharl. ] The secrets he could learn... [ Tempted to highlight this spoiler yet, R? ;) ]

Which leads them right into a dungeon...


The party was busy doing all sorts of stuff upon their return. One of these things was convincing everyone they were indeed alive.

Tilbørd found himself replaced by one of the mercs he brought back from the Witmarrow swamp. Father Eustace is training him military style. There must be something more in the past of that priest than reading books! Tilly is dumbfounded. But explains he really isn’t dead, yes that burial was a bit premature and of course, he’d like to continue his apprenticeship.

Aju has found that Tilly has the amulet he has so desperately been hunting for. He seeks to bargain with Tilly for its possession.

Mike is acting stranger and stranger. And is seen less and less. He finds he is lapsing, sometimes missing an hour, sometimes a day. It seems Buddy, the demon he struck a deal with, is emerging more and more frequently.

Mike made a deal to loan his body to Buddy the devil for five weeks, but didn't specify that they had to be consecutive. The devil is stealing hours here and there. I describe Mike as feeling haggard, as if he's holding down a second job at night. There's unexplained footprints in his house, burned letters in the hearth and a sense of slipping and going under. Time to introduce his back-up character.

Lomin Mor has visited Cullfield and sold off most of Vedric’s possessions. The deal with Vennax’s son takes the cake!

From The Diary of Lomin Mor
It has taken forever to find a decent buyer for some of the stuff we’ve looted. Luckily I was recently approached by a servant of a rich noble who had heard I had some interesting wares. After an appointment was made I found myself within the presence of none other than Lord Vennax’s son!

This was too good an opportunity to let pass. He was most interested in some of the art pieces I was selling, commenting they looked very familiar to him, and most pleasing to his eye. I remarked that I had come upon them through a recent passing, where the family had asked me to mediate.

He inquired further into this and offered the sum of 1250 gold for the lot. I knew their worth to be about a 1000, so I was tempted, but decided on a bit of a gambit. I remarked another noble had already offered 1800 gold, but should he be able to pay in cash right this moment the sum of 1500 gold, I would not only let him have the desired pieces, but also give him the information as to where the pieces had come from. He agreed, and after having received his money, it was most satisfying to inform him of the death of his father’s henchman Vedric which also meant he was essentially buying his father’s goods. Oh, the look on that boy’s face!

It did seem wise to quickly take my leave thereafter...

Guy has contacted his mentor, and although there is initial disbelief, has convinced him that he is indeed still alive.

One day a travelling fair hits town. Amongst the arrivals is the bard Mireille, who has learned of our party and is most interested in their exploits. But before anything substantial can happen, our party is beset by a dragonling, introducing himself as Sydney, zookeeper in the employ of Mike. Mike has gone missing. Knowing what they know, demon possession and all that, the party decide to follow their comrade. (Aju not very willing, as he is aching to complete his own quest). Sydney the Dragonling goes with them, loyal as he is to Mike. Although he does first try to make woopie with the barmaid. Guy very much wishes to go but has other duties.

As is right and proper, a replacement NPC for 1-2 sessions gets to be played a bit larger than life. Sydney is a dragonling and a sorcerer, a race/class that were banned before but that are opened up to the group as of now. 

Mike/Sydney's player is absolutely chewing the scenery and relishing that 1 point of Intelligence: he constantly forgets names, trips at the simplest leaps of logic and is always, always looking for another squeeze. It's lovely to see him change the dynamic of the group that way.

From the diary of Lomin Mor:
A most weird creature approached us. He most resembled a dragon, although he possessed hands and feet like all of us, he was huge and his head was a strange glistening orange looking colour. I could see Tilbørd and Guy exchanging a glance, as though they’d very much like to dissect the poor  creature right here on the spot. We were surprised when the being began to speak. Apparently our friend Mike had hired him as zookeeper. And now Mike had gone missing. I immediately decided to join this creature who introduced himself as Sydney. That seems only right.

Mike had recently sprouted thorny bracelets after a sleepwalking visit to his mentor Litvars the Goblin Prince, and the party quickly spot some thorns left behind on the path, which gives them some idea in what direction their friend has gone. They follow the trail thus set for them.

[ How does the party track a demon in a druid's body through the wilderness? I've laid down a trail of bread crumbs for the group to follow. Buddy may have made a deal with Mike's mentor Litvars for a new magic item, but it seems Mike still has some control over whether he leaves tracks or not. Buddy doesn't mind, in fact he wants to lure along Tilbord and companions! ]


Following Mike’s trail leads our party into another duchy. Here they encounter a rather cranky hunter. He complains of lack of sleep and assumes our party is lost, off the beaten track as they are. Upon questioning he has seen someone resembling their friend. This person goes by the name of Mihael. Lomin can’t help but ask if this person was an elf. (Lomin had a bookish brother named thus). But no, it appears to be Mike indeed. And it looks like he has gone in the direction of the nearby village.

From the diary of Lomin Mor:
When we met a hunter following the trail of thorns, his reaction upon seeing us brought  home the strangeness of our party. Tilbørd is our only human. A big man with a shark’s head such as Aju is weird, a huge man with a dragon’s head such as Sydney is even weirder. A magnificent elf such as I isn’t a sight they see daily here either.

On the way, there is a monastery, which of course has to be visited - Tilbørd insists.

The group are welcomed most heartily and the inquiring Tilbørd is given a lot of information by a priest called Alwin. It appears a recent quake has unearthed parts of an ancient tomb. Ever since the quake the people of the nearby town have been sleeping a lot worse and have been in a bad mood in general. Alwin has been performing extra rites at the old temple in the vicinity in order to quiet the restless spirits within.

Next stop, said village.

The locals are indeed a dour bunch. But at the local inn, Sydney quickly befriends a female dwarf, Merle. The dwarf likes a bit of drink as does our dragonling. In fact, her drinking holds a clue. While her daily alcohol intake is pretty massive, water doesn’t pass her lips. Could that be why she isn’t affected by the foul mood which has taken hold on the rest of the village?

Tilbørd uses magic to investigate, Sydney and Merle have it on, the rest sleeps.


And yes, it turns out the water in the village brook is befouled by some kind of magic. In fact, it's turned unholy. Our party follows the stream back to its source. Surprise, surprise, it leads to the ancient temple. They search for the main entrance which Lomin opens easily. And in they go...

From the diary of Lomin Mor
I opened the gate of the main entrance. There was a hallway with an alcove. Inside a Du’van mummy!
Think bog mummy. Unanimated, by the way. There's some grave goods to be found but the party ignores the dead in their alcoves.
We encountered this strange race before, the snakelike people had a really large complex in the vicinity of Cullfield. More alcoves with more mummies followed. Another locked door was no problem for my skill. This time we discovered a statue of an ancient Du’van.
Another hallway, with more alcoves and more mummies. The trapped door at the end we recognized as the same type of  trap we encountered in the other complex. If triggered a massive hammer smashes down from the ceiling, which is not good news if you are standing between it and the door. I took some pitons from my pack and with aju’s help tried to bolt the hammer mechanism down. After I was satisfied, Aju opened the door. We managed to get in before the hammer came down. Job well done. Again. Without me they’d never get anywhere.

More doors, hallways, alcoves and mummies. Finally our party find a secret door. Behind this door, a cracked basin with runes reading something like purity and cleansing. It is cracked and water is leaking away. The source of what is happening in the village!?

There is a crack in the wall which leads to another room. While Tilbørd is investigating the water Sydney decides to pass through the crack. And is instantly attacked.

The water is not holy or unholy, but very pure, Tilbord discovers: it washes away magic as long as you're wet.
[ And as long as the water itself is untainted. This will become quite important next session. ]

Inside the room three dessicated snakelings turn their attention to Sydney, as does as a huge skeleton of the snake person persuasion. There are also 2 sarcophaguses and movement can be heard from within.

Sydney teleports away, an undead weapon hits nothing but air, and the sorcerer appears again on top of one of the sarcophagi. Aju rushes in, enraged and eager to fight. He hits hard, wounding one of the zombies severely and lighting up his destructive aura which deals some fire damage to everyone near him. Lomin sneaks in. Tilbørd is fascinated with the cleansing properties of the water and starts washing himself with it, ignoring the fight in the other room.

From the diary of Lomin Mor
That damn priest can be totally useless sometimes! As the sound of fighting came through the crack in the wall all he did was mumble and start sprinkling water over himself. I could almost see his holy power waning. I decided I had seen enough and carefully slid through the opening in the wall. First thing I saw was Aju wielding his enormous axe and hitting a zombie Du’van, his strike shoving it my way. I did not hesitate and plunged my dagger in its rotting flesh. It died instantly.

The sarcophagus Sydney isn’t standing on bursts open and a zombielike king charges Sydney, using a fear spell.

This frightens Aju, but Sydney is not impressed. “Is that supposed to scare me? You clearly haven’t met my mother!”, he says. The sorcerer throws a chromatic orb towards the king and utterly incinerates him. Woosh. And gone.

Meanwhile the large skeleton makes his way to Lomin, hitting him hard. Aju is having some problems with the 2 zombies, but manages to kill one. His fiery aura hurts the rest as well.
Lomin decides to hit back. And run. (He doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity, a nice class ability) Lomin gets back to Tilbørd on the other side of the wall. Tilbørd has been washing himself this whole time. And now none of his powers work anymore. But he is very clean, also worth something...

Tilbørd chats with the mummies in Du'van and is slowly getting somewhere: the mummies seem to be playing the part of a Du'van king and queen, but they're also waiting for command words to unlock the deeper tomb where a Great Thief is being held. Alas, Tilly doesn't know the name of this prisoner, and so the fight goes on. (The party's random walk managed to miss all the rooms in the Tomb of the Serpent Kings where they could have discovered this info!)

Meanwhile the last zombie dies and Aju decides to grapple the skeleton. He tries to shove him in the open sarcophagus of the late zombie king. Sydney jumps off the closed sarcophagus, gets hit by Aju’s fire damage. He tries to use a poison spell, to no avail.

Lomin  sneaks back in, stabbing the skeleton and kicking its sword out of the way. Sarcophagus number 2 bursts open, a zombie queen appears. Meanwhile Aju manages to wrestle the raging snakeling skeleton into the first sarcophagus, closing it and jumping on top of the lid. His weight is enough to keep it closed.

From the diary of Lomin Mor:
It was utter chaos. I decided to draw my bow and shoot the zombie queen. She exploded in a shower of fire. Once more I saved the day! All the undead were now truly dead. The queen was no more than a faint outline on the outer wall and upon closer inspection, I discovered a door there. This foray was not yet over.

In reality, as Lomin shot his arrow, Sydney launched yet another chromatic orb. This obliterated the zombie queen, just as Tilbørd came in with a lot of magic dampening water to throw. A nice thought, as things were indeed on fire. And from within the sarcophagus, enraged thumping shook the lid and Ajo atop of it. The decision was made to fill the sarcophagus containing the skeleton with the magic dampening water. This worked, as the skeleton first grew drousy and then no longer moved or showed any sign of (un)life.

The "king and queen" were actual mummies. The fear spell that Lomin mentions above is a dread gaze, but the rightly feared rotting touch doesn't come into play because Sydney takes action. Supporting the two mummies are a bunch of reskinned Gnoll witherlings and a minotaur skeleton, downgraded a bit. The party hits upon the mummies' vulnerability to fire, but don't think to switch to bludgeoning weapons against the raging skeleton. That means the fight starts to drag on: a raging barbarian halves all incoming nonmagical damage, and his axe's damage to the skeleton is halved as well. Luckily Aju's player thinks to switch tactics and wrestles the big brute into one of the open sarcophagi!

We decided this was a good moment to call it a day, and ended the session with scrapes and burns. Next time: into the depths!

Monday, 11 November 2019

Hands of Glory, Tree of Glory

I think I originally found the idea of a candelabra of Hands of Glory at Ancient Vaults and Eldritch Secrets. Decided to expand on that idea: what if the Hands to be used belonged to the first criminals, each Hand had its own specific powers, and collecting them would boost these items even further?

The Hand of Glory from folklore is already a gruesome magic item in its own right. Take a hanged murderer's hand, render the fat and use that to turn the fingers into candles; when lit, no sleepers in a house you enter with a lit Hand of Glory can wake up. Other versions turn the bearer invisible, or can open any door, or only shed light for the wielder.

In comparison, the Hand of Glory in base D&D is very tame. Wear an extra magic ring, cast a light spell and see the invisible. We can do better. Statted for D&D 5e, but easy enough to alter.


Hollow Tree necromancers tell tall tales about the powers of the Tree. A cold iron frame hammered into the shape of a twisted, leafless tree, nine feet tall and weighing 900 lbs (25 inventory slots / strength points' worth). The branches and parts of the trunk are shaped like ash, oak, sandal, redbud and thorn apple. Other branches and knots in the trunk correspond to unidentified, maybe even extinct species. Seven fat branches drip down to form hooks where something may be hung from.

Writing in encrypted Du'van is chiseled and etched into the bark. Powerful divination spells like Divination, Legend Lore, Commune or Contact other Plane will reveal the information below. A simple Comprehend Languages spell turns the Du'van script into text in an alphabet that the caster can read, but the meaning stays encrypted. Decyphering the text would take an immense dedicated library.

Tree Design Metal Wall Hanging,Tree of Life, Metal Art of Haiti, Haitian Steel Drum Art - 34" x 34"

The Tree of Glory was created by Du'vanku corpse wizards before their civilization decided to lay siege to Heaven. The artifact has seven mounts that fit the original Seven Hands of Glory (below) and enhances the effect of these lugubrious items. Seven people may attune to the Tree at the same time via the rite to find an unclaimed Hand (below). The artifact may be torn apart by seven people of pure heart, each having fit one of the seven Hands as a prosthetic.

At the time of writing, the Tree of Glory is being investigated by the Order of the Eye, a minor and unofficial offshoot of the Gustavinian Order of secrets. The group does not have access to the divination spells needed to decrypt the instructions on the trunk.

Finding the Seven Hands

The possessor of the Tree of Glory can perform a scrying ritual to find the approximate location of the seven original Hands of Glory. The ritual requires killing an innocent from the tree under the new moon.

At the moment of death, the hanged one turns to face the nearest Hand not currently hanging from the Tree and swings outwards in that direction. The ritual reveals a compass direction (up to 3rd order, such as NNW), and a distance in miles. If the nearest Hand is within a mile of the Tree, the distance is instead conveyed in 100 yard increments.

Carved burial tree from near Dubbo, New South Wales (from)

Lighting the Seven

Successfully mounting one or more of the original Seven Hands on the Tree and lighting them takes 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 days per Hand lit. Once lit, the artifact produces the following effects. The Tree of Glory was pulled down before more than three Hands could be lit; the effect of such an event is unknown - take lines 4 and below as speculation.
  1. Keep any sleepers in a mansion or castle asleep
  2. Keep any sleepers in a town asleep
  3. Put everyone in a barony to sleep
  4. Put everyone in a duchy to sleep? Open all locks in the area?
  5. Put everyone in the kingdom to sleep? Cause the Tree to grow to Heaven? Turn users into angels or demons?
  6. Put everyone in the world to sleep? Cause the tree's roots to buckle Heaven's gates? Briefly stop time?
  7. Put the Authority and his Angels to sleep? Rewind time?

By Shayne of the Dead - from

Each of the seven original Hands of Glory has the following powers, in addition to unique powers listed below:
  • requires attunement to function
  • gives off light like a hooded lantern while lit (lighting takes five rounds, one action per finger lit)
  • keeps any sleepers in a home asleep while lit (2-3 rooms, like a cottage or small house)
  • burns until extinguished by the user, until doused in fresh milk, or until dawn
  • can be fit as a prosthetic (either side - will gruesomely break and reverse itself) for someone missing a hand
From the Ingoldsby Legends, Thomas Ingoldsby

Individual Hands and their powers

  • "owner": power always works when the Hand is on the owner's person
  • "user": power only works when the Hand is lit. Most are marked *
  • "prosthetic": requires fitting the Hand in place of one of their own, or mounting it on the Tree of Glory. Save Difficulty to resist all its effects becomes 17.
* costs an action and extinguishes one of the Hand's five lit fingers. The user does not need to maintain concentration, the Hand does this for them until fully doused in fresh milk or at dawn.

There's a disturbing amount of tshirts with HoGs you can buy. Or baby onesies, if that's more your thing. From.

Hand of the Arsonist
Soot-stained and covered in burn scars
  • Owner can always start a fire
  • User can hurl a Fire Bolt (+5 attack, 3d10 fire) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Delayed Blast Fireball 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Backstabber
Shudders in sudden fits as if to jump at people unaware of its owner
  • The owner gains advantage on the first attack they make in a combat
  • Can let the wielder walk through one wall (as a ghost's Incorporeal Movement) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can snap his fingers to cast Power Word Stun 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Oathbreaker
Fingers appear broken, fingernails missing, skin full of burn marks
  • Creates light that only the user can see. This illuminates even a Darkness spell, but only for the user
  • Can turn the user invisible (as Invisibility) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Glibness 1/week

Hand of the Poisoner
Finger tips stained black, hand is pockmarked and partly eaten as if by acid
  • Owner can safely absorb and release one dose of liquid poison from the Hand's index finger
  • User can hurl Poison Spray (DC 15/17, 2d12) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Cloudkill 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Strangler
Stubby fingers, always twitching in little grabbing movements
  • A breathing target the owner is grappling with starts to choke (drops to 0 HP and receives a Fatal Wound after [Con bonus] rounds)
  • User can hold a viewer immobile (as Hold Monster, DC 15/17) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Finger of Death 1/week (DC 17)

Hand of the Thief
Delicate and supple, more like a bit of wax statue than a severed hand
  • Its light shows anything invisible (as See Invisibility)
  • User can open any lock that the Hand illuminates (as Knock, but silent) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Drawmij's Instant Summons 1/week, no material component needed

Hand of the Traitor
Branded on the palm with a coin featuring a ruler's face, fingers split with iron nails
  • Owner can command the Hand to disguise itself as an innocuous hand-shaped item like a wood carving, an amulet or a glove. Appears like a living hand when fitted as a prosthetic.
  • User can turn a viewer pliable and forgetful (as Charm Person or Suggestion, DC 15/17) *
  • As a prosthetic, the owner can use Dominate Monster 1/week (DC 17)

Friday, 8 November 2019

There can be only one

I set myself a simple rule in my current campaign: a maximum of one for each big, nasty mythological critter in the Monster Manual. They aren't races or types, they are unique beings. That means I can use goblins and zombies and werewolves by the bucketload, and there may be undead wizards, but there is only one true Lich. Only one red dragon. One Hydra, one Death Knight, one Kraken, one Nymph, one Medusa, one Cyclops, one True Basilisk in the entire world.

Why? Not just to hammer home that these things are special. That I can do with descriptions. But because I find that constraints breed creativity. Now I need to think: will I place my one Banshee in this tomb? Or use another ghostly undead in its place? It forces me to keep things fresh instead of recycling enemies and their mechanics. Reskinning only gets me so far and I hope that my players will enjoy this variety as well.

(Players in my campaign beware: big spoiler info below the image!)

Maybe I'll make an exception to the Rule of One for purple worms. Goblin Punch recently suggested to have purple worm become the food of choice at court and I find that a hilarious idea. The princess wants a purple worm feast for her 16th birthday, so ride out, brave knights! From: Purple Worm / Joel Pigou (ArtStation)


Case in point: the Vampire. I already know who my one vampire is, the whole world knows it: Saint Cascarrion, who died and lives to hunt vampire spawn and prevent the return of Nameless Queen Yama.

What's my Rule of One telling me here? Consider the module Death Frost Doom. In its original version, the big bad at the bottom is a vampire. He's waiting for a mortal to invite him out of the tomb so he can lead his army of undead into the world and bring back the Dead Empire that (in my campaign) killed the Creator. Except now this guy can't be a vampire, because I already have Saint Cascarrion running around.

My first thought was to just place some other undead leader type there. A wight, a wraith. (Except I already have my Wraith moving behind the scenes, but ok.) An easy fix, but boring.


I just thought of a more interesting solution: that last tomb is empty. In fact, to get into the complex at all, you have to break a seal put there in the name of the Archpriest of the Authority himself. On pain of excommunication and eternal suffering, turn away from this place.

The Church knew all too well that the Du'vanku had an undead army squirreled away, and they knew its commander could lead that army to shatter the Church. And so the Church took Cyris Maximus, and bound him in so many wards and geasa that even he doesn't know who he is anymore. Now the vampire is their tool instead of their enemy.

Sleeping Priests keep Cascarrion's memories under lock in their dreams, monks in hidden shrines endlessly turn the prayer mills that power Cascarrion's geases. Priests and monks of minor orders, in boring, out of the way places. Hardly anyone in the Church or outside it knows how important they are. But if the priests would wake up and the mills stop, Cascarrion would stop. And remember.

There now. Isn't that a wonderful ploy for a death cult to start and for the players to discover?

Devourer from Planescape


What if Maximus' tomb wasn't the only one? Surely the Du'vanku hid away more of their forces when they realized they'd killed the Creator and wrecked the world. Suppose each of these places references the others. Maybe with maps, maybe with mad writings about rivalries between these monstrous beings.

I've already made the Tomb of the Serpent Kings a Du'vanku crypt. Now I know that the resident lich Xiximanter (the players still haven't met him!) is the Du'van wizard who is trying to find immortality and resurrect his race. I can already see the arrogant Mummy Lord high cleric who wanted to murder the Creator, a Devourer necromancer as a rival to Xiximanter, a Bodak warlock who made pacts with the Exile to get the keys to True Heaven, and so on.

Ah, bipeds. Is it time to restart the great work? From: Vampire Soul Channeler / Ryan Barger (FineArtAmerica)

Monday, 21 October 2019

Belswick 9: Escape from the Isles of the Dead

Last session, the party managed to murder the wizard Vedric von Vermis in his favourite bath house, but ended up paying with their lives. This session, they make a shady deal to escape from the Isles of the Dead and take triple revenge on the asshole spellcaster. Returning to life, they get to raid Vedric's tower, a restocked Arcanist's Mill.'s an interesting thing to see the group so viscerally enjoying the punishment they get to heap on the wizard Vedric von Vermis. Interesting because I'm not quite sure where the feeling comes from.

Tilbørd's player fills me in after the game: not only is the guy thoroughly unpleasant, or trying to kidnap an NPC they've taken a liking to, he's clearly out of their league and happy to rain death on poor villagers (even if those level 3 villagers pack a punch). Most damningly, Vedric managed to escape, barely, the first time they met. (Thanks to this good advice!)

"You cannot imagine how good it was to end that bastard", Tilbørd's player tells me. The party definitely earned this victory.


  • Tilbørd, a nosy human priest of the Authority with more supernatural deals than he or we can count
  • Lomin Mor, an elf thief who masquerades as dear old Lady Olga of the struggling fief Cullfield 
  • Mike, a human druid/fighter with the grand wish of starting a big animal sanctuary 
  • Guy, a human diviner who hunts smugglers and other rogues while looking after a crippling 10,000 gp college debt to the Lodge of Augurs and Diviners
  • Aju, a hammerhead shark-fishling of the barbarian persuasion, looking for the magic amulet that will turn him into a regular shark again (absentee player)
Paper mini's and a handcrafted gallows out of cardboard. Inspiration: CardboardDM.


The party remembers dying. They are woken by a bell ringing someways in the distance. They wake up side by side, swinging from the gallows. The rope hurts like hell but their lungs don't burn. Crows circle overhead. "Give us your coins and we'll set you free! *snigger*" Two copper coins in their pockets - their favorite clothes, but all their belongings are gone. Lomin alone has no coins.

Some acrobatics sets the group free. As they look at each other and speculate in what part of the afterlife they are, they notice weird details. Aju seems to flicker between a full shark and a fish-man. Lomin looks his usual self. Mike and Guy each have a weird spectral tentacle emerging from the back of their head, trailing off into smoke.

And Tilbørd? Oh boy. He's covered in spectral markings. A black flame tattooed H on his left forearm from the smugglers of Harkness, an third eye amulet on his brow, hands blazing with the Radiant Maiden's golden light and the voice of the Authority in his voice. His breath, not that anyone came close enough, smells like that of a ghoul.

Arnold K's Isles of the Dead are great to have in your DM binder. Just knowing that you can continue play even after a total party kill is freeing.


The party explores the island. From the belltower, they can see a larger island up north, and smaller islands to the east. On the main island is a forest, a tower that can't make up its size and a hill with a shining silver-golden light at the top. They head for a dock on the island they're on.

Passing the gallows again, they find a familiar face: their victim Vedric von Vermis! He wants to team up to escape, but the PCs only tie him up tight. When they walk away, suddenly black-gold light blazes in a circle on Vedric's chest, draining away almost all of his soul; he's now see-through and expressionless and drifts off to the dock.

The water is quiet as the grave, a mirror surface you can't see below. "We're NOT swimming in there", my players decide. Wise, as it's chock full of angry skeletons.

The mute ferryman demands two coins from each passenger. Lomin nor Vedric are fondly remembered among the living and they have no coins. But there's another way: the ferryman offers his oar. Vedric, listless, agrees. The moment his hands touch the oar, grey floods his transparant flesh. For the rest of eternity or until he can convince someone to take his place, he is now the ferryman of the Isles of the Dead.


Ferried to the main island, the party discuss where to go. Face judgment? Their feet didn't sink as deep into the sand as Vedric's did, but it's clear their souls aren't clean. (None of them ever prayed for forgiveness or bought an indulgence.)

A line of people snaking up the hill, the tower behind the dark wood - neither are appealing, and the party opt for the third path. On a rocky outcrop they find Mary, crying for a devil to take her back to the land of the living. Tilbørd looms close, eyes her. "You called me?" It turns out Mary wants to return to life to warn her sister Agnes not to marry Edmund, her murderer. Tilbørd assures her it will be dealt with and sends her up the hill, presumably to be judged.

I'm not sure what the penalty on impersonating a devil is.

From the outcrop, the party can see a structure on the small island to the east. At the beach, they are greeted by a shade of someone they knew and helped. This shade helps them across the water via an invisibly submerged path. Each sees another person:
  • Mike sees his father, killed by a cult to Outsider horrors;
  • Lomin sees his fiancée, murdered by his princeling brother;
  • Guy meets his sister who he thought was alive, poisoned by agents of a Baron Ballumbie;
  • Aju greets his wizard friend Nunawe, a turtle-ling;
  • Tilbørd is surprised to see the hapless Swanling merchant Dinadan, his heart burst by the spectre riding him for spilling secrets to Tilbørd.
Charon, etching of Gustave Doré (from)


Brimstone fills the air near a ruined church on the easternmost island. There is a defaced statue of an angel, six-winged and four-faced above an altar, split by a crack in the ground. Red light and heat from below. Buddy, a shadow dwelling demon in halfling form, offers to bring one person back to life if another will offer his soul for eternal service; or two souls to bring back three.

To bring back the entire party? Murder the judgmental angel on top of the hill. Or, I improv off-hand smuggle Buddy to the world of the living by letting him ride one of the party for five months.

Mike's player is down with that shit. He hands me a note with five demands: no children or animals hurt, not in the barony where the party lives; a week instead of 5 months (he agrees on 5 weeks), and a reward of 1500 gold.

"...You're asking him for money?"
"Sure! Gotta build that animal sanctuary."

This will become interesting. Belswick's demons are...different. Buddy has secured the right to ride Mike's buddy for five weeks "to do something about a priest", but he's not starting that clock just yet.

A raft is quickly constructed out of skeletons and crows serving Buddy. All sneak aboard and cast off to the east. Under the waves, hundreds of skeletons turn their skulls to see the strange ship go by.


The party wake up in a cave, armored in full plate and lying on ritual altars. Seems someone has hauled their bodies away from the bath house. Whoever did so was planning to use their souls to animate these constructs, but called it a day and left them to continue the next day. Sleeping bodyguards in a room nearby, still with the burn marks from Vedric's final fireball. Lomin economically slits their throats. In a ceremonial room they find another armor, with Vedric's body inside; a glowing coin/medaillon on the chest holds the remains of his spirit from the botched ritual they saw happen on the Isles.

"We take his head for Liselle, his body to give to the ghouls, and the soul coin because I bet we can think of ways to pester this asshole with it."

Sneaking on, the party finds themselves emerging from a cave system under Vedric's water mill / tower. Under the millstones is a room with a lightning apparatus that is used to energize the plate armor constructs. A voice calls down: "My name is Vedric von Vermis and you are trespassing in my tower!" Apprentices trying to stand in for their master are just adorable.

The animated armors are bull-dozered aside by Mike, who wildshapes into a bull for the occasion. The apprentice, Disguise Selfed as Vedric, is pushed down a hatch by bath house owner (and assassin) Seymon, who decides to make a run for it. Apprentice goes down in a flash, Mike (heavily wounded AGAIN) shifts into Wolf shape and runs down the assassin, who has at least 5 levels on him. But no way to gain sneak attacks, and the party joins up to bring the murderer down in seconds.

My restocked version of the beautiful Arcanist's Mill by Jonathan Roberts. (Added the bridge and docks myself.) An awesome place hanging over the edge off a cliff. Full of accidents waiting to happen like massive turning axles and grindstones and rickety bridges over a deep drop to the rocks. Decidedly easier to fight your way through from the catacombs at night than via the locked and warded front door.


It is, finally, time to rest and then ransack. Find the list of loot below. "Hey, if we're in Lord Vennax' territory, we don't have to pay taxes to that bastard!" How quickly they learn.

We time skip weeks to make all that possible. And next session? There'll be a Bard in town who can spin tales of scary dungeons to loot - the players can describe, then I get to roll to find out what was rumour, what was true and what twists I get to add. In addition, I've asked each player to send me ideas for cool magic items they would like to find for their players, and also to suggest one such item for another player. Secret Santa with magic items, they're sending me awesome stuff.

For now, they'll have to make do with:

Total value: 8025 gp
XP value per PC: 1605 XP

(Overview of all rewards, taxes etc)
  • boots of elvenkind, worth 500 gp
  • stone of good luck, worth 500 gp
  • potion of flight, 1hr, worth 500 gp
  • scroll of rope trick, worth 50 gp
  • gold bracelet, worth 25 gp
  • embroidered vest, worth 25 gp
  • silk handkerchief, worth 25 gp
  • Vedric's spellbook, worth 500 gp (see tab "Spellbooks")
  • Apprentice spellbook, worth 100 gp (see tab "Spellbooks")
  • 3 amethysts, worth 300 gp
  • piece of jade, worth 100 gp
  • garnet, worth 100 gp
  • chess set, turquoise animals, worth 250 gp
  • gold bird cage, worth 250 gp
  • gold ring with bloodstones, worth 250 gp
  • silk robe, gold embroidery, worth 250 gp
  • 2500 cp, worth 25 gp
  • 7000 sp, worth 700 gp
  • 1100 gp, worth 1100 gp
  • Vedric's library, worth 725 gp (see tab "Labs and Libraries")
  • Lady Liselle's reward for Vedric's head, worth 1000 gp
  • Incriminating letter from Baron Ballumbie ordering Vedric to kidnap Liselle, worth 250 gp
  • Incriminating letter from Lord Vennax ordering Vedric to assemble bandits and plunder the Cullfield/Crossroads trade road, worth 250 gp
  • Incriminating letter from "H", blasphemously in the Archbishop's handwriting, ordering research of more advanced animated armors, worth 250 gp

Friday, 18 October 2019

Piracy GLOG ruleset: Jar of Dirt

I sound like a cooking programme on Netflix. "So full of flavour!" But it's true: I'm looking forward to a low magic, high hijinks piracy campaign and especially to using awesome GLOG classes instead of clunky D&D.

Classes don't make the entire game, and so I pulled together all the material I need to run a GLOG game into one document. Here it is. Jar of Dirt steals, proudly, from dozens of sources. It's a work in progress, but I definitely want feedback at this stage, so - board those comments and fire away!

Want a quick bit instead of the entire document? Check out my random tables at the bottom of the post.



  • a roll-over system, because I prefer the "high is good" mnemonic for all rolls. The original GLOG attack roll gives me the heebie-jeebies because it reminds me of thac0. I may (have) know(n ;) university level math & physics, but thac0 is the devil's spawn. (Also I like an uncomplicated roll vs target number, rather than "roll versus your stat, but let me look up the penalty first". Just works faster at my table.) 
  • Cool tables, if I do think so myself (check them out below):
    • reasons why you are down on your luck!
    • tales to make your hair stand on end!
    • unfeasible life goals!
    • magnificent pirate hats!
  • The most important rolls -skill checks and saves- run directly off the ability scores, not the bonuses; if these numbers are so central to the character, they should be central in the rules as well. Added lots of little rule-lets (language slots, quick slots, hireling slots) to put the ability bonuses to work as well.
  • a new trade system to figure out where the high value routes are and what different regions are looking for.
  • backgrounds, professions and skills to quickly flesh out new characters.
  • many classes copied or adapted from all around the Blogosphere: the Artillerist, Assassin, Brawler, Crew, Duelist, Sawbones, Scholar, Scoundrel, Thief and Weather Witch. That's three rogueish classes (Assassin, Scoundrel, Thief) and social abilities in pretty much every class.
  • no exact XP system but a milestone mechanic lifted from Into the Odd.
  • lots of little tweaks and additions: extra ship types, weapons, advanced firearms, ship manoeuvre modifiers and so on
  • two new regions to replace the Golden Isles: the Maelstrom Islands and the Spice Islands (under construction)


  • spicier tables to stock merchant ships
  • Spice Islands region and map, based on the Moluccas/Banda islands. I'm now working through the epic load of homework that Richard of the Countercolonial Heist Crawl gave me...
  • world map with travel times and relative positions of regions
  • a group to play this with!


What's a roleplaying game without random tables to prompt the DM and inflict wondrous misery on your players? (Quiet there in the back, with your "less antagonistic"!)

Here's a couple of tables from Jar of Dirt to spice things up. Seldom necessary, but handy to have around.

We search the drowned guy (d30)

We search the drowned guy
deck of cards, marked
Valois maid costume
enormous sunhat
fantastic wig
lantern and flask of oil
vial of poison (2d6, 50 sp)
saw, hammer and 10 nails
iron pot and cooking utensils
penny dreadfuls or erotic pamphlet
riding whip
3 bottles of rum
empty book, ink and pen
incomplete island map with warnings
pearl earring (50 sp)
navigation tools
small but vicious dog
bottle of indigo (50 sp)
bundle of scandalous love letters
letter of marque
spyglass, wonky
klepto performing monkey
rope and grappling hook
water flask, 25% diseased
packet of opium
incriminating papers, 50% forgeries

Magnificent pirate hats (d10)

this hat
it is
gold stitching
pearl strands
enormous gem
huge feathers
top hat
gigantic brim
a foot high
worm eaten
music box
corks on strings
hidden knives
a bad fit
smuggling space

What's your life goal (d20)

Life goal
lead a quiet, ordinary life
find true love to settle down with
find your father's bones
free your brother from Dreadhold
restore your family honour
retire in a seaside mansion
become a filthy rich trader
gain a position of political power
discover a wholly new species
prove that the world is rational
discover a new continent
circumnavigate the globe
found your own private kingdom
break the hold of the Old Countries
remove the blight of slavery
find incontrovertible proof of magic
take gruesome and epic revenge
find the secret of immortality
break the curse on your family
create something unique

What's up with you? (d20)

afraid they'll find out you're not a true hero / explorer / scientist / daredevil
framed for smuggling / counterfeiting / murder / piracy
2d6 x 500 gp debt to gambling ring / bank / criminals / drug smuggler
fell in love with the sweetheart of a cruel courtier / judge / merchant / captain
dishonoured your family name / mentor / army / betrothed
fleeing ringleader of failed revolution / union / religious reform / free press
get support for your crazy scientific theory / political ideas / trade scheme
escaped suffocating life as religious initiate / noble heir / bank clerk / farmer
exiled after a scandalous affair / raucous play about the king / anarchist pamphlet
out of grace after a failed treasure hunt / trade coup / assassination / spy mission
just started your job when your master was exiled / murdered / disappeared / claimed he never met you
failed as a bodyguard / soldier / guide
looking for better pay / religious freedom / excitement / your disappeared love
promised job fell through / land turned barren / cargo spoiled / friends left you
mistaken identity as a navigator / lawyer / accountant / banker
just drafted as a sailor / marine / smuggler / dockworker
your ship left without you / robbed you blind / tried to sell you / marooned you
you woke up alone in your village / on your ship / on the plantation / in jail
unfortunate penchant for gambling / opium use / petty theft / forgery
memory loss, but you have lash marks / book in strange language / map of strange island / tattoo, seems to move

Tales to make your hair stand on end (d12)

And they were never heard of again
fell in love with a mermaid and chased her around the world to marry her
heard the melodies aboard a cursed ship of decadent nobles and ever sought them
boarded a derelict ship where all the crew lie died with fright on their faces
shot an albatross and wore it around his neck as a lucky charm
struck fire on an island where the wood is alive and the ground hates iron
vowed to hunt down the great white whale that plagued the Maelstrom
from old sea charts and star maps, was convinced of a faster way to Yoon-Suin
sailed out to catch a woman beloved by the sea, plagued by wave and water spout
dove down to haul up the sea king's gold, always signalling: more rope! more rope!
found an ivory statuette adrift and was born by the sea to an underwater temple
saw faces in the water in the eye of a hurricane and called out to them
swore he would make the fastest trip to the Mehabara. His ship arrived in perfect shape, fully stocked and crewless.

Item of Dubious Provenance (d100)

alms bowl
fine wine, 1 bottle
pipe, 3 doses of opium
bag of coal
fishing rod & tackle
pocketful of nails
bag of flour
flask of oil
pot of glue
bag of manure
flint, steel, and tinder
quality cloak
bag of salt
foppish wig
quill, ink, parchment
bag of vegetables
glass jar
3d rations
grappling hook
religious tome
grave marker
rope, 30'
bear trap
groin cup
bearskin cloak
hammer and chisel
sealable scroll case
block and tackle
set of scales
bone dice
silver ring
book of poetry
iron lockbox
book of star tables
iron pot
bottle of fortified wine
iron spikes (3)
stuffed cat
bottle of rum
iron tongs
tablet with chalk
jar of dirt
tarot deck
bundle of rags
jar of grease
ten-foot pole
bundle of wood
jar of honey
bundle of wound wool
jar of leeches
tiny barrel of beer
cake of soap
jar of worms
caltrops (5)
lantern and oil flask
two yards of linen
candles (3)
leather bag
vials of dye (4)
cask of ale
loaf of bread
waterproof bag
chain, 15'
wax seal stamp
chalk, 5 pieces
magnifying glass
wheel of cheese
crow-beaked mask
crowbar, cold iron
map (foreign lands)
wicker basket
cube of incense
metal file
winter clothes
deck of marked cards
monk's habit
wood bore
deer pelt
necklace of teeth
metal wire
devotional statue
needles (10)
wooden bucket
dose of poison (2d6)
net (10')

fancy clothes
palette and pigments

Random books (d30)

Desultory Notes on the Government of Yoon-Suin 
Taylor Meadows
De Humani Corporis Fabrica 
Andreas Vesalius
Locke's Illustrated - art and history of numerous cultures 
Theophil Locke
I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura 
Andrea Palladio
On the Revolutions of Heavenly Objects 
Nicolai Argentik
The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries 
Exhaustive Index of Herbs 
The Complete Art of Artillery
Kazimierz Siemienowicz
The Sceptical Chymist
Robert Boyle
Pictorial of Tea Ware 
An engine for raising of water and occasioning motion
Thomas Savery
Wapenhandelinghe van Roers, Musquetten ende Spiessen
Jacob de Gheyn
Die Lieder alter Völker 
Gottfried von Herder
Golden Sticks 
Salty and Salacious Tales of the Sea Volume IV 
Essay on the Theory of the Earth 
Georges Cuvier
Von den äußerlichen Kennzeichen der Fossilien 
Abraham Gottlob Werner
Der arme Heinrich 
Hartmann von Aue
Treatise on the Origin of Language
Gottfried von Herder
Principles of the Four Humours
General Chart of the Variation of the Compass
Journey Beyond the Three Seas 
Rudolphine Tables 
Johannes Graz
The Savior from Demise 
al-Hasan ibn Tha'labah
Isaac Pound
The Motion of Falling Things
Isaac Pound
The Complete Ambassador
Treatise on the Dissection of Birds and Animals 
Bentley Reaumur
A Short Treatise on the Wealth and Poverty of Nations
Histoire Naturelle des Animaux