All posts by LS

Neve Canri

ErinSassinationThis post is entirely self indulgent. Any enjoyment you get out of it will be purely incidental.


If I am the referee, then Neve Canri exists in the game world. Whether her machinations are visible to the players, or her attention is focused on some far off corner of the cosmos, she is there.

Neve Canri is a God. Various worshipers claim she is the patron of various things: secrets, lies, conspiracies, undeath. But these are human attempts to understand the divine. Neve Canri is the patron only of her own unknowable will.

On a divine scale, Neve Canri is young. But her ceaseless campaigning has left only a few gods that remember a time before her. The rest are mere infant godlings by comparison, having risen to fill the vacuums she created.

She typically appears as a dark haired woman wearing an elegant gown. There are diamonds where her eyes ought to be, and her withered hands that are little more than skin and bone.

She resides in the Citadel of the Seed, a tower hidden amongst the mountain ranges of the abyss. Each of the tower’s 16 levels appears to be a whole world, with the pathway upwards hidden somewhere in its landscape. At the center of the top level is a great mountain, at the peak of which is the granite throne from which Neve Canri rules.

Orcus is dead. All undead creatures serve Neve Canri.

The Background

Neve Canri began life circa 2008 as an NPC I largely improvised on the spot when a game session lasted well beyond the material I had prepared. I was a different kind of referee back then. The kind who planned out storylines in advance, loved D&D 3.5, and had never killed a character at his table.

I still have all my notes for that first session of what I later called the “Ascendant Crusade Campaign.” I’d recently grown close with some new friends through World of Warcraft, and I wanted to introduce them to the hobby. The first line of my notes is “Start: Almost cartoonishly generic.” This is followed by what I think is supposed to be boxed text. Like I said, a different kind of referee.

FirstPageOfNotesThe structure of the adventure was, indeed, generic. The players would begin in town A, and there was a caravan going to town B. They’d first be presented with the opportunity to join a group of bandits planning to ambush the caravan. If they turned down the job,  they’d be approached by the governor with a counter offer to protect it.

I actually wrote notes for three different paths the players could take through the adventure, and felt quite proud of myself for the level of agency I was providing. As an amusing aside: the players immediately split the party. The halfling rogue went off with the bandits, while the rest joined up with the caravan as guards. It was all sorts of amusing, but that’s neither here nor there.

More to the point, these were the halcyon days when D&D lasted for as long as everyone felt like playing. The group was still going strong, even as they approached the end of my prepared notes. So I began weaving rumors of cult activity in the town they’d just arrived in. Some additional adventuring revealed a hidden cavern beneath the city, and what appeared to be a human sacrifice in progress. A young woman lay on an altar, with chanting cultists and burning braziers around her. Her name was Erin Wallcraft.

I don’t remember exactly how much about Erin was improvised on the spot. I seem to recall it had always been my plan to have a rival adventuring party in this campaign. I might have even outlined who the characters in that rival party would be. But, I certainly didn’t plan for the whole conspiracy which grew out of this improvised moment.

See, Erin wasn’t being sacrificed. She was, in fact, a very important member of the cult, and a fellow worshiper of their god: Vecna, lord of magic, undeath, and secrets.  Under Erin’s orders, the cultists were performing a ritual to transform her into an undead creature. A ritual the players interrupted on the assumption that they were rescuing her. But Erin was pretty good at rolling with the punches, so she happily thanked the PCs for her ‘rescue.’

I was careful to note that Erin got up off the altar on her own, because of course, she hadn’t been restrained. Further, when Erin told the party that she needed to go “free” her companions, I described her running ahead of the group. She opened the door (without unlocking it), and said something to the effect of “Hey guys, these adventurers right here just rescued us from the evil death cult that was trying to kill me! Yaay!” When the players saw these supposed prisoners, I mentioned that they were all fully armed and armored.

I often think back on my younger days as a referee with some shame. To this day, though, I’m proud of how much agency the players had here. I dropped hints like crazy that Erin and her friends were lying, but the players were oblivious. It made the many betrayals that followed so much sweeter.

Erin’s adventuring party wove their way in and out of the campaign from that point onward. They showed up in roughly every 3rd adventure.  My original intent was for them to be the PCs’ rivals, but my players really liked them. The two parties became very buddy-buddy with one another, and the players would actually get excited when they ran into Erin & Co. The single longest game session I’ve ever played was 15 hours straight of of the PCs assisting Erin in recovering “her teacher’s journals” from a trap-filled dungeon. “Her teacher’s journals,” of course, being code for “The copy of Ordinary Necromancy penned in Vecna’s own hand.” Failed spot checks allowed her to slip the book under her robe and claim someone else must have raided the dungeon before them.

Between game sessions I was developing Erin and her party voraciously. Something about these characters took hold of me. I planned out their whole story, backwards and forward. I started drawing them a lot. I’ve never drawn so much in my life as I did when I was trying to pin down these NPCs.  I even outlined two sequel campaigns that would pick up after Erin conquered the world. In the first, the PCs would start as low-level mooks in Erin’s army, as it marched into the Abyss to overthrow Graz’zt and place one of her party members on his throne. And after that campaign ended, I’d jump forward a thousand years so the players could be the peasant children that were destined to defeat Erin once and for all. I had a bit of that frustrated novelist syndrome, for sure.


Unfortunately, life began to pull everyone in different directions. Like so many other D&D games, The Ascendent Crusade petered out. The final session (played with only 2 of the original group), was meant to be the first of a new phase of the campaign. The players encountered Erin’s group. They were fording a river with a coffin, and Erin wasn’t with them. They told the PCs that they had encountered someone called “The Whispered Empress,” and that this mysterious figure had killed Erin. They were on their way to bury her now, after which they were planning to retire from adventuring for good.

What had really happened is that Erin had become a vampire, slain & replaced the High Priest of Vecna, and re-dubbed herself “The Whispered Empress” in preparation for her coming war of conquest. This encounter was one final clue for the party, albeit a subtle one. Vampires cannot cross running water under their own power.

It has always bothered me that I never got to finish Erin’s story. The very fact that I thought of that game as “Erin’s Story” speaks to my frustrated novelist syndrome, but by all accounts the players were enjoying themselves. One actually told me they wished I still ran more narrative-driven games. No harm no foul, I suppose?

Years after the campaign ended, I did have the pleasure of revealing to one of the players that Erin had been evil the whole time. I told her  my plan had been for the campaign to end when the players finally met The Whispered Empress, and it turned out to be their old friend Erin. She would have offered them positions of power within her empire, and killed them (or tried to) if they refused. That player’s complete surprise at this revelation was satisfying to me.

Erin’s adventuring party inspired me to do some of my first really serious D&D writing. Like the clumsy addiction system I put together for Erin’s drug habit, or the Arcane Surgeon class I drafted when I decided Erin’s party needed an irreligious healer. Notably, many of the very first posts on Papers & Pencils were my attempt to tell Erin’s story through The Girl and the Granite Throne. But that never really worked out either. Such is life.


All of which finally brings us around to Erin’s transformation into Neve Canri. It was October 2012, and my younger brother Ronnie came to me and asked me to run a D&D game for him. He had never played D&D at that point, and I was happy to put together a campaign. I recruited my ladyfriend (one of the original Ascendant Crusade players), and Ronnie recruited one of his friends, and we had a quorum. I hacked together a quick custom ruleset that I called D&D&LB. Dungeons & Dragons & Little Brothers.

I set the game in the distant future of the Ascendant Crusade world. One where everything I planned had taken place, and then faded into obscure legend. Erin had conquered the world, placed one of her allies on a demon lord’s throne, and reigned for a thousand years before the world was freed from her iron-fisted grip by a band of plucky upstart heroes.

As a little treat for my ladyfriend, the whole world was designed to be vaguely recognizable. I was really just curious if she’d pick up on it. Most of the names for places and things were altered to sound like they’d gone through a thousand years of playing ‘telephone.’ So the town of Heathrop (He-Thrup) became Haetrop (Hay-Trope). Stuff like that.

It was as I was answering Jeff’s 20 questions that I decided to take it one step further. “Who are your campaign’s gods?” Why not Erin? But “Erin” is a silly name for a god. So somehow I came up with the name “Neve Canri.” I honestly couldn’t tell you how I got it. There’s a better than even chance that I just played around with syllables until I found a jumble of them that sounded good in my ear. And it still does. It’s a fuckin’ awesome name for a god, if I do say so myself.

I didn’t plan for Neve Canri to play any special role in the campaign. There were two good gods, and two evil gods, and she was just one of the latter. I suppose, though, it was inevitable that she started to show up more and more. I had such a strong sense of her character compared to the other three gods. Plus, the megadungeon the players were exploring was specifically the remnants of one of Erin’s fortresses. It was only natural the players tended to find a lot of cultists and artifacts dedicated to her.

Late in the campaign my brother’s Hireling died. He was bummed. He looked at me and declared that his character would call out to Neve Canri. He offered his soul in exchange for his Hireling’s life. I wasn’t really prepared for that, but the exchange seemed reasonable enough. I agreed. His hireling returned to life with full hit points, and his PC’s eyes turned into diamonds. I told him he would be expected to act always in the best interests of Neve Canri. And he did, for about ten minutes.

Maybe two sessions after that, the players slew a dragon. This was exciting not only because of the horde of treasure they earned, but also because that game allowed PCs to consume bits of dragon to empower themselves. Or maybe die, if they failed a save. My brother chose to eat the dragon’s eyes, which I warned would be a betrayal of Neve Canri. He did it anyway. A pair of dragon eyes forced the diamonds out of his sockets. He gained dragon eyes, and his resurrected hireling immediately exploded in a rain of gore.

During the last few sessions of the campaign, Neve Canri sabotaged the party at every turn. Undead would pop out of nowhere to attack at the worst possible moment. A doppleganger of my brother was created with the express purpose of assassinating and replacing him. The final session of the game was a flash-forward to 10 years in the future, where the PCs were all super high level and badass. They ventured into Neve Canri’s own realm to destroy her, which they utterly failed at. It was a good time.

It was in the aftermath of that campaign that I decided I wanted to keep Neve Canri around as a meta connection between my game worlds. She’s hardly the most original or interesting god. Honestly she’s pretty much a ripoff of Vecna that I’ve tried to contort into something vaguely resembling an original creation. But after spending 10 years with this NPC, she feels like a more substantive deity to me. Her ridiculous backstory actually happened, more or less. And while “her” story is over, I find that her continued presence pushes me to come up with schemes that are worthy of her.

So if we ever play together, remember: Neve Canri is watching.


NES OSR Bestiary 3: Castlevania

If you find this idea appealing in the slightest, you should totally check out Reynaldo Madrinan’s blog Bum Rush the Titan. He’s done a lot of work OSR-ifying Castlevania under the Barovania tag.

Most of a Ghost: Typically, a ghost is an incorporeal manifestation of an individual who has died. While such ghosts may or may not have a full recollection of their lives and knowledge of their present state, they are none the less the spiritual residue of a once-living creature.

A “Most of a Ghost” is less than that. They’re usually created on accident by a careless or distracted necromancer, like skin forming on a pot of soup. Superficially, they’re similar to a ghost in that they’re incorporeal creatures shaped in a more or less human fashion. However, they are not a manifestation of any individual, but rather, a collection of scraps from dozens of individuals, mixed with necrotic energies and other mumbo-jumbo. They’re about as real as Velveeta cheese.

Being both incorporeal and unintelligent, Most of a Ghosts are pretty useless. The best you can usually do with them is have them wander around an area like undead scarecrows, warding superstitious peasants away from your manse.

Fuckface Fish: Sometimes, fishermen jack off using a fish’s mouth.

Hey, don’t look at me. Fishermen are gross.

Anyway, these are the births that result from this act of bestiality. Fish-kind’s revenge against the lusts of man. Fuckface Fish are as large as a man, but have delicate bones and hollow organs which allow them to slip effortlessly through spaces that are seemingly impossibly small. They make their way through water pipes to take up residence in our cisterns, wells, and toilets. When they hear the movements of people nearby, they leap out to attack.

Their goal is to eat human dicks, which are their only source of nourishment, and they will happily beat a person to death if that’s what it takes to access our tasty tasty underpants sausage.

If the target is willing to prove that they have a vagina, the Fuckface Fish will gladly leave them alone.

Sisterhood of the Sine Wave: There exists a mystery cult of women mathematicians, which holds that the Sine Wave is not only a beautiful expression of mathematical perfection, but also, that it is the fundamental bedrock of all truth and beauty in the universe. (They are violently opposed to their counterparts in the Cult of the Cosine, but that is neither here nor there).

Like any mystery cult, they have their little rituals and chants, mostly designed to be spiritually fulfilling rather than efficacious or correct.  Of particular note, however, are their burial rituals, wherein the head is removed, and anointed with sacred equations. It is then released into the air, to bob up and down with constant forward motion, setting the deceased mind into an eternal contemplation of the beauty of the Sine Wave.

These anointed heads are the very definition of an unstoppable force. As such, the Sisterhood takes great pains with their equations, to set each head in motion on a path which can be followed, unobstructed, for all time. If anything does get in the way of the head’s path, the head will smash through it. This would obviously be injurious to any person who got in the way, but worse yet, could be a true catastrophe if the head were to gradually angle its way downward to plow through the earth.

Really Annoying Cat Monsters: Also known as RAC’Ms, will sit completely statue-still until approached by something with enough meat on its bones to look tasty to them.

Despite their stillness, no one would ever confuse these creatures for inanimate objects. It is completely obvious to anyone who looks at them that they’re just waiting for the right moment to spring to life and attack. Yet, despite this complete obviousness it is remarkably difficult to steel one’s self against the inevitable pounce. It always happens during some brief lull in your attentiveness, and they always leap in a slightly different direction than you think they will.

Monkey Kid: Sometimes, human children are born as Monkey kids. Like any birth defect in this primitive time, it is a condition regarded with horror and fear. The child is left out in the wilderness to be eaten by wild beasts, and the parents will be lucky if they are not forever shamed by the community for bringing a tiny monster into the world.

Monkey Kids have small brains, weak spines, and overdeveloped feet. They leap and bounce on all four limbs as they move around, and before Auschuzak, those who survived their infancy lived to a maximum age of about 15 years.

But Auschuzak, Devil Prince of the Yellow Expanse, took a liking to the wretched little things, and adopted their whole race as his children. He extended their lives to that of a normal human, deigned that they could only be percieved by those who already knew they were there, and blessed them with a a purpose.

Once a Monkey Kid reaches maturity (about 4 years old), it will begin to look for a human to latch itself onto. Any human will do, really. Once a suitable target is found, the Monkey Kid will leap onto their back, sink its teeth into their Unhappiness Glands, and begin to feed off their suffering.

The command of Auschuzak prevents the victim from noticing the weight of the creature living on their back, though they may notice how much less pleasant their life has suddenly become.

Twoskulls: A pair of Dragon skulls, one on top of the other. Both are capable of breathing fire, but neither is particularly inclined to do so unless there is some specific reason for it. They’re honestly pretty bored, being largely immobile aside from the ability to spin around, and they much prefer to try and get a bit of good conversation out of intruders.

The top skull is the more talkative of the two. It refuses to acknowledge that the bottom skull exists, referring to the bones beneath it merely as its own “body.” Bodies, of course, don’t have anything of their own to think or to say, and thus, it refuses to acknowledge the bottom skull. The top is arrogant and condescending, but generally pretty friendly.

By contrast, the bottom skull is an unhappy grumbler. It controls the movement, but has a huge inferiority complex about its position rubbing up against the floor. It’s well aware of (and hateful towards) the top skull, and appreciates any gestures of respect show to it.

Firebrain: An oblong skull which flies all around at the speed of sound, and is on fire. They jibber constantly, oscillating between low-voiced, incomprehensible grumbles, to equally incomprehensible screeching. Firebrains are angry, that much is clear. What they’re actually angry about is much less clear.

The real trick of dealing with a Firebrain is figuring out what is bothering it at the moment, using only the few words you can pick out of its speech, and whatever other context clues you can divine from the environment. If a person can appear to empathize with the Firebrain’s plight, they’ll be left alone as a similarly aggrieved comrade.

However, if a passer-by seems apathetic towards the Firebrain’s anger, they’ll be (unsurprisingly), set on fire.

NES OSR Bestiary 2: Ninja Gaiden 2

I realize it might seem odd to jump straight to Ninja Gaiden 2. What about Ninja Gaiden 1? Well, the first game was good, but I didn’t grow up with it. I didn’t even play it for the first time until I was an adult. For whatever reason, I only got NG2 as a hand-me-down from my uncle, and I spent countless summer hours holed up in the cool basement, playing this game on the old color TV my parents had left down there. The one with woodgrain siding, that you turned on by twisting a knob.

Plus, Ninja Gaiden 2 is just the objectively superior game.

In the early 2000s, the Geico car insurance company engaged in a little ill-fated bio-advertising. They tried to engineer a small army of their “cave men,” for use in sales events. They did not take into account just how violent their creations would be.

CroMagMen are the ubiquitous mercenary tough-guys of the future. They’ll take on any job, just so long as you don’t mind how violent they get while they’re doing it.

When dealing with a CroMagMan, expect them to ask at least a few questions about your car insurance.

When a barrel full of beetles is boiled in the blood of of a boy, a BeetleBoi is born. The process only takes a few hours, until the blood has been reduced to a thick sludge, and the horrid little creature can be safely fished out.

They’re hunched creatures, standing about waist-high to a full grown adult, and covered in a glistening black shell. Their forearms are just long sharp exoskeletal blades, which they tap along the ground in front of them, making a click-click-click sound as they approach.

BeetleBois are blind. They don’t have particularly good hearing, or much of a sense of smell either. They get around by tapping their forearms. They do have one strong sense, though. They know where the nearest sources of blood are, and will move quickly to tear open and consume any bloodbags they perceive.

Nobody loves Vommo. Even Vommo’s mother left him in a dumpster when he was 6 months old, because she couldn’t take the smell of him anymore. It is not Vommo’s fault that he sweats vomit out of his pores.

A lifetime of solitude on the streets has robbed Vommo of whatever mental faculties he may have been born with. He’s a sort of pathetic, foul-smelling simpleton. He deserves nothing but compassion, though you should try never to be alone with him. If he thinks no one will protect you, he’ll wrap you in a big bear hug and force you to smell him. It’s an obsession; half cry for attention, half fetishistic sex act. More than one person has been crushed to death by Vommo’s mighty hug.

Gota Getchums
A failed attempt at genetic resequencing left Gota both highly suggestible, and intensely, passionately, insatiably violent. Gota doesn’t have any sexual organs left anymore, and the “squish” sound your brain makes when he smashes your head in with a club is the most satisfaction he gets out of life.

He prefers to rush in and get his kills quickly, because as soon as people start talking, he gets confused. Gota will more or less obey any command or request uttered in his presence. He literally confuses any such statements with being his own thoughts, and it takes him a few moments for his own identity to reassert itself.

A group of amoral (and frankly, stupid) scientists thought they might be able to make a lot of money if they found a way to combine different creatures into the perfect murder-soldier. The Überthought was the furthest they got before they ran out of funding.

It’s a man, with the head of a jackal, the hands of a Hook Horror, and the spine of a Dire Armadillo. It’s an insanely wasteful concoction, considering that at least one of those animals had to be genetically engineered before it could be harvested for parts.

Compliment Fisher
This resolutely cheerful chap somehow finds a way to take just about everything as a compliment. If you attack it, it takes pride in being considered enough of a threat to warrant violence from you. If you insult it, it knows you’re only doing so because it managed to make you feel something. The damn thing is infuriatingly cheerful, and honestly there’s no reason for you to hate it or want to hurt it, but fuck if that kind of relentless optimism doesn’t grate on the nerves.

The easiest way to kill a compliment fisher is to feed it as many sincere compliments as you can manage. The more you stroke its ego, the larger its head will become. Eventually, its neck won’t be able to support the weight any longer, and the creature will crumple under its own weight.

No-Grandma Jones
Ya know how your grandma was always complained that you were just “skin and bones” right before she started feeding you like some kind of creepy fat fetishist? Well No-Grandma Jones is literally that. Skin, bones, and nothing else.

Every one of his movements is uncomfortably fast. He is obsessively competitive as well. If he sees you do just about anything, he’ll make sure to let you know that he can do it better. He frequently challenges people to duels, or to place bets, over just about anything conceivable. If no better options present themselves, he’ll just challenge you to a duel.

No-G is a gracious winner, but gods help you if you win.

Muscleboys and Musclegirls of the Cult of the Horned Serpent
Remember in the 1982 Conan the Barbarian (unquestionably the best film of all time),  where the king refers to Thulza-Doom’s cult as “Just another snake cult?” This is another one of them.

The Muscleboys and Musclegirls are stolen from their parents at birth, and raised with only two principals. The first is strength. They lift wheels and push weights for hours every day, building their bodies up into rock-solid death machines. The second is oral sex.

Specifically, the Muscleboys and Musclegirls have oral sex performed on them frequently by the cult’s most attractive priestesses and priestos. Furthermore, they’re told that this pleasure is a secret ritual, not known to anyone outside of the cult. A gift from their snake god, to its loyal followers.

Unsurprisingly, this makes the Muscleboys and Musclegirls very loyal, and very willing to murder anyone who threatens their beloved blowjobs and cunnilingi.

Little Rethorbs
Whenever a teenager dies, if they had a younger sibling who is now the oldest child, then something of that sibling dies as well. Their essential “younger sibling-ness” is lost to the ether, flows into the earth or out into space, or, on occasion, forms into a Little Rethorb.

Little Rethorbs think you’re really cool, and just want attention. Once they latch on to a person, they will hop around, being loud, jibbering constantly, and getting in the way until they are killed.

If humored for an extended period, they will gradually calm down, and may even become useful. After about a year, they might learn not to be so noisy, or to speak so constantly. After three or four years, they might even become helpful companions.

But, for real, what kind of adventurer would tolerate that shit for that long? They’re just gonna stab it and move on.

Senoj Darb
An insufferable snob with a fish-like head, no eyes, and dozens of snake-like bodies. Senoj is a critic of absolutely everything it encounters, and somehow manages to find everything wanting. Your swordfighting style is too plebeian, your singing is off key, your paintings are bourgeois.  Anything without 6 layers of irony to it is hack.

Normally this would just be annoying, save for the fact that Senoj is able to summon Spheres of Annihilation to destroy whatever it deems unworthy.

NES OSR Bestiary 1: Dragon Warrior

The amount of time I’m able to devote to writing has been dramatically cut back for the next few months. More or less this is actually good news for me, but it does make keeping up with the blog bit more difficult. So, I thought this might be a good time for a nice simple little series.

Like many people my age, the NES was a pivotal part of my childhood. It shaped my perceptions of concepts like fantasy, adventure, and good game design. The bare-bones nature of everything from the graphics to the narrative to the sound left a lot of room for my imagination to stretch itself as it filled in the blanks. So, I figured it might be fun to pick four of those games that are particularly meaningful to me, and turn some of their enemies into OSR monsters.

Of course, there’s a certain innocence to many of these, which presents a bit of a creative challenge. By “innocent,” I don’t mean that they’re kid-friendly, I mean that they were created in a time before many of the foundational monster types had become too cliche to bear. In an NES game, skeletons, bats, and dragons were all still novel ideas, if only because the medium itself was novel.

Fortunately, I’m not boring enough to try and write faithful adaptations of these monsters. I’m just going to get weird, drawing on my own childhood interpretations of what these sprites represented, and filling in the rest with whatever oddity I can come up with.

Bouncery Boos
Teardrop-shaped creatures, with smiling faces and rubbery skin. They are extremely talkative, and very friendly. Many people “de-claw” them using a set of heavy garden shears, and keep them around as a sort of pet.

Friendly as they may be, though, they really want to bathe in your blood. See, anytime they douse themselves in blood, they grow bigger, and it feels really good to grow bigger. Really REALLY good. They love bouncing just right so that the spike on their head plunges deep into some friendly person. Then the warm goo flows out. It flows all over them, and they can feel little explosions of pleasure inside them as they absorb the blood and their bodies swell larger.

A draconic period. Each month, when a female dragon menstruates, a flock of unfertilized Drakees are expelled from her body.

Drakees are angry little creatures, who feel they’ve been denied their right to be dragons. For many years, draconic mothers had to be extra protective of their young, because Drakees liked to murder baby dragons out of jealousy. Eventually, the dragons spread a rumor that if a Drakee killed 10,000 humans, they would become a dragon themselves.

The rumor effectively focused the Drakee’s rage away from dragon youth, and onto humans. If any Drakee gets too close to the 10,000 mark, an elder dragon will quietly have them killed, to prevent the conspiracy from being revealed.

Spell Bundle
Careless magic users sometimes allow spells to slip out of their minds, uncast. Maybe it’s been a long day, and you just never needed that Fireball, so you go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning, your mind is empty, and ready to be filled with new spells.

These lost spells wander the ether at random, eventually meeting up with other forgotten spells. A school forms, growing larger and larger as new spells latch on to it, until the whole group coalesces into the form of a robed figure. The only goal of the Spell Bundle is to find some appropriate circumstance in which each of its many tangled spells can be cast, until there’s nothing left, and the robed figure dissipates away into nothingness.

Walking Wall
A favorite construct of powerful wizards. First, they need some structure made of bricks, such as a wall, a bridge, or a tower. Once enchanted, this structure can rearrange itself into a large humanoid shape.

Walking Walls travel with the wizard, serving as guardians. Whenever then need arises, a command word will cause them to rearrange their bodies back into structures. The specifics of the form they return to can be tweaked, but they cannot become a different sort of structure. So, for example, a creature made from a straight length of wall can become a circular wall, but cannot become a tower.

Exiled Seabrain
In water, Seabrains are polite and peaceful intellectuals. However, when one of their kind has committed a particularly hateful crime, they are banished to the surface world, and condemned never to enter any body of water again. This seems like an unenforceable edit, and yet no exile ever seems to disobey it.

Deprived of their natural environment, Seabrains become obsessed with the water inside living creatures. They go on an apologetic rampage, tearing apart any creature within range of their powerful psychic abilities. They continue on in this way until they are killed, or until they finally die of exposure away from the water. An Exile can sometimes live for months before finally succumbing.

These particular skeletons come from the corpses of self-hating fat people. After a lifetime of being blamed for the person’s insecurities (“big boned,”) these bones have come to find flesh and meat deeply offensive. They particularly hate fat people, but really anything with skin is disgusting to them, and must be purged. They are almost religious in this zealotry.

A bulbous creature, which can inflate its body with helium, and float on the wind like a balloon. Despite being composed of mostly empty space, Phloatos are somewhat intelligent, and even capable of human speech. They’re insufferable to talk to, though. They think absolutely everything is boring, and make snide comments about anyone who expresses sincere emotions.

A Phloato’s tendrils are dangerously radioactive. Avoid letting them touch you.

Heralds of the Next Empire
These bear-sized, scorpion-like creatures have traveled from an alternate version of our world. They are the heralds of an empire which will someday extend its boarders into our reality. This is not a question of “if,” only of “when,” and the heralds are here to ensure the transition is smooth.

They do not speak, and are not particularly violent. They merely travel our world, plunging their stingers into everyone they meet. If they encounter no trouble doing this, then they will move on. If their stinger is deflected, they’ll use their powerful claws to hold the victim down. If the victim puts up too much of a fight, it might be better just to tear them apart rather than deal with it.

If a person survives being stung, then within the next few days they will realize they now speak a new language. The language isn’t spoken natively anywhere in our world. Only those who have been stung understand it.

Laughy Jims & Jills
Likes to say shitty things to people, and always defends themselves by claiming it was “just a joke,” or insisting that the offended party needs to “get a sense of humor.” Laughy Jims and Laughy Jills are notorious for being able to dish it out, but absolutely can’t take it. If you say anything to bruise their fragile ego, they will immediately become belligerent, and possibly even violent.

The creature attacks using its body as a club. They’re honestly pretty bad at fighting, and will often just get in a few hits, then fly out of range and declare victory. If you can’t reach them, it must mean that they win, you pathetic, ground-bound loser.




15 Movement-Based Magic Items

A woman out for her morning run on the latest British invention for home exercise, London, England, January 4, 1923. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Some magic items. We all like magic items, right? Anyway, introductions are boring. Here are fifteen magic items I came up with:


  1. Two flat discs, about 1′ across. One is black, the other is white, and the two are connected by a 20′ long cord. The black disc has a switch on top of it which, when depressed, will cause anything touching it to disappear. A fraction of a second later, everything that disappeared will reappear at the white disc. The white disc doesn’t have a switch, so travel cannot be made in both directions.
  2. A 100′ length of rope, with a small bag attached to one end. Breathing into the bag for 10 minutes will cause it to magically expand, growing larger and larger until it’s roughly the size of a horse. At this point, it will begin to float up into the air, trailing the rope along with it. It will rise until the other end of the rope is is 2′ off the ground, then stop. The balloon can support roughly 500lb of weight before it will begin to droop back towards the ground. If additional ropes are tied together, the balloon will continue rising until the bottom most rope is 2′ off the ground.
  3. A full sized door, complete with frame and hinges. Obviously, this is a fairly cumbersome item to carry around. If the door is placed against some surface (such as a wall), the edges can be hammered in. Over about 10 minutes of noisy work, the door will gradually embed itself into the surface. Once in place, the door can be opened, and will reveal a passage straight through to the other side of the wall. If the wall was particularly thick, the door can create a tunnel up to 200′ long to reach the other side. Once mounted, the door is a permanent fixture, and cannot be removed.
  4. An ancient treadmill. It’s a massive, heavy thing made of steel and wood. When walked on, movement can be “stored” within a person, to be released the moment they step off the treadmill. So, if a person walks on the treadmill for 1 mile, then when they step off the treadmill, they may pick any point 1 mile away from their current location, and will be carried there in an instant. Time spent walking on the treadmill requires the same amount of time and ration use as if one were walking on a road through flat lands.
  5. An envelope made from parchment, small enough to fit inside a coat pocket. One person of any size can be fit inside the envelope, though they must either enter it willingly, or be placed inside it while unconscious. While inside, the person is weightless, and does not experience the passage of time. Even if they are injured and bleeding out, their condition will not worsen while they’re inside. If the envelope is destroyed, the person inside is not harmed, they merely pop out. However, if the envelope is destroyed while it is inside a small container (say, a bird cage), the person may be injured or killed.
  6. The Trebuchet of Safe Landings, capable of launching 90 kg travelers over 300 meters.
  7. Rings of Burrowing; a set of 10, one for each finger. Wearing the whole set allows a person to dive into the earth like a mole, and survive down there for as long as they like without worrying about lack of oxygen. Only soil can be dug through, so a constructed floor, or particularly rocky terrain would prevent the wearer from using the rings. The initial dive into the earth requires a full round action. While burrowing, the wearer can move up to 20′ per round. Emerging from beneath the earth requires only a move equivalent action, so that a standard action (such as an attack) is allowed right after popping up.
  8. A small ladder with only two rungs. When placed on the ground, fluffy rungs will descend from the nearest cloud to meet it. (Assuming, of course, there is a cloud nearby). Anyone who climbs the cloud ladder can drift with the cloud, traveling great distances along the path of the wind. Each day, there is a cumulative 1-in-8 chance that rain will begin to fall from the cloud. If the passengers have not dropped their ladder down to leave before rain starts to fall, then they will be dropped from the cloud with the rain, and plummet the ground below.
  9. A map, and a dart, kept together in a specially made case. If the dart is thrown at the map from at least 15′ away, then the thrower will be transported to wherever the dart sticks. From 15′ away, the armor rating of hitting a specific hex is 17. For each point the hit roll misses by, the dart will land 5 hexes further from the desired target, in a random direction. If the hit roll results in a 6 or lower, then the dart landed off the map entirely, and the thrower is transported to one of the outer planes.
  10. Bosco is a playful dog. She doesn’t really know any tricks or obey any commands, and she gets excited by balls, butterflies, and her own reflection. She’s very fun, but not often useful. However, if attached to a pulling harness, up to eight other dogs will materialize into any other harnesses nearby. Bosco is a whole dog sledding team, wrapped up in a single dog.
  11. Quadruped Bracelets, when worn, cause the arms to elongate. If the wearer leans forward just a bit, their knuckles will be able to reach the ground. Using all four limbs to move doubles a person’s movement speed, though having longer arms hinders them in other ways. Notably, using weapons is almost impossible, and anyone attempting combat actions while their arms are long will suffer a -5 penalty to their attack rolls.
  12. A 1′ long stick, covered in simplistic etchings of sex acts. If the stick is broken in half, the person holding it will be transported back to the spot where they were conceived. (Anyone who is touching them, or touching the stick, will be teleported along with them). This may be their parent’s old bedroom, a secluded spot in the woods, or wherever else their parents happened to be fucking when they wound up making this person. The stick can work as many times as it can be broken in half.
  13. River Lightning Shoes are a precious magic item. If they touch a river, then the wearer will transform into an arc of light, and begin shooting downstream at 300 miles an hour. They can attempt to disembark from the river at any time, but they’re going so fast they only have a 2-in-6 chance of getting off at the right spot. Otherwise they’ll either undershoot, or overshoot their destination by 1d6 hexes. Try not to fall into a river by accident when wearing these!
  14. The Breastplate of Flight can be integrated into any set of medium armor. Whenever the wearer is struck by an attacking foe, they will instantaneously teleport 10′ away from their attacker, along a line that both characters are on. (So, if your attacker is standing to the East of you, you will teleport 10′ to the West). Helpful in escaping from a battle you wish to flee from, but obviously makes brawling somewhat difficult.
  15. A length of rope 50′ long. The rope has been specially treated with the blood of cockroaches, and baked in the sun. Within any area completely encircled by the rope, the person who laid the rope in place is capable of superhuman feats of speed. Their movement speed is doubled, and they’re able to take twice as many actions each turn as they normally would.

How to Keep Your Friends Alive When Everything Seems to Want Them Dead

Combat healing is a bullshit mechanic. Honestly, any healing that takes place during a session seems a little bullshitty to me. I don’t like to think of hit points in D&D like life bars in video games, going up and down constantly. Rather, hit points are like a character’s ability to hold their breath while diving. When the players are in a dangerous situation, hit points measure how long they can last there before they need to come up for air. (By which I mean, return to town, and rest up for their next delve).

Being low on hit points and having to choose between walking away or pressing onwards is an important experience. On the one hand, you’ve made it through this many rooms already, and treasure may be just around the corner…but you might die. On the other, you could return home and come back later fully refreshed, but the rooms might be restocked.

And yes, it could be argued that this situation still occurs when midsession healing is allowed. You’ve just gotta wait for the cleric to run out of healing spells. But that seems like a pointless complication to me. All you’re doing is delaying something that would happen anyway, and in the process, you’re burdening the party with spells and items, which take up spell and encumbrance slots. Those slots could be filled with more interesting options if the opportunity to heal from injury wasn’t so useful as to invalidate other spell/equipment choices.

All of that in exchange for essentially giving the players a communal pool of extra hit points. If all you want is for the players to last longer, why not just give them more HP to start with?

All that being said, I’m not against the idea of mid-session healing in theory. It’s the practice that annoys me. Healing potions and Cure Light Wounds spells are too reliable. You can pretty much always get your hands on them, easily keep them with you, and using them is always an unambiguously good choice.

Below are a bunch of healing and healing-adjacent mechanics that I think would be interesting to see in a game. I’ve avoided pinning any of these down into any specific means of conveyance. They could be turned into spells, or class abilities, or items, or purchasable services. At this point, what I want to do is come up with some interesting ways to replace healing. The vectors by which that healing is delivered can be worked out later.

As a small aside, several of these have been shamelessly lifted from the video game Atlas Reactor, which is why I used screenshots from that game for this post. I realize game mechanics can’t be copyrighted, but it does seem only fair to acknowledge my source.

Magic Shields, which act as temporary hit points for the target. So if I’ve got a shield on me with a rating of 5, and someone deals 6 damage, then the shield absorbs 5 of those, becomes dispelled, and now I take 1 damage.

I imagine the shields having a short duration. Something on the order of a single combat round, so that whomever is doling them out will want to be careful when they use it. It’s not something you cast on the fighter at the start of combat because they’ll get hit eventually. It’s something you save, until the fighter is surrounded by 12 goblins, and needs a little extra survivability for the coming round.

Healing is based on location, so that players must reach a place in order to heal. The simplest way to do this might be to have pools of healing water which exist in some places. I feel like a lot of older video games did this, and I always thought of it as a very video-gamey solution to the problem. But, the more I think about it, the more I think it actually fits D&D better than D&D’s native method does.

I particularly like how it fits into the “I’m almost dead” decision. Do you return to town, where you can rest and heal up in safety? Or, do you open just one more door, and hope it’s one of the places you can heal in.

The danger here is that once the party finds one of these healing locations, they can always return to it. But that could be solved by saying each person can only use the location once. And, of course, the locations can be as common or uncommon as the referee desires, based on the style of game they want to run, or on the individual area. (Ancient temples may offer more healing locations than vampire castles do, for example).

You could also make the location something very simple, but restrict it in other ways. For example, “While standing under moonlight, Dave can heal up to 30hp each month.”

Create a lifelink bond to your ally, so that some percentage of damage done to them is instead transferred to you. Something nice and even, like 25, 50, or 75%. This could last a single round, or until the bond is broken somehow.

I like the percentage approach because no incoming damage is actually being invalidated, the players are just shuffling it around to suit their needs. A character who is safely hidden away from the bad guys may end up dying through this transfer, and the character actually getting hit isn’t exactly safe either. They’re still taking hits, just fewer.

The way I imagine it, this would be done by a willing party member, to assist another party member. But, it might also be possible to force unwilling people to become damage sponges. It might make the players too overpowered to allow something like that, but their obviously evil acts could have interesting consequences.

One player tags a target in some way, perhaps by throwing a special goo onto them, or casting a spell on them, or something. If the tagged target takes any damage, then whomever dealt that damage is healed. Not necessarily at a rate of 1:1, that’s a little much.

Perhaps the amount of healing could be determined by the tagging method. If you hit the target with a level 1 tag, each successful hit against them will grant 1 healing. Level 2 tags could grant 2 healing, etc.

This would have the interesting side effect of allowing the tagger to direct the focused fire of the party. “Hey everybody, attack this guy!”

An ally is tagged in some way, similar to the above. Any damage they take during some period of time is recorded. Lets call it the “recording period,” and it could last anywhere from one to three combat rounds, I think. When the recording period ends, the damage taken is totalled up, and the tagged player gains Fast Healing 1.

Every combat round, they regain 1 hit point, until they’ve regained an amount equal to the amount they lost during the recording period.

Essentially, any damage taken during the recording period will be returned to the tagged player. But, it’s returned at such a slow rate that they may not survive long enough to get it all back.

An area of effect damage spell, which also grants a small amount of healing to allies as a side effect. Much like a fireball would harm a group of cultists, but would heal the fire element they summoned.

Of course, part of the challenge of casting area of effect spells is damaging the most enemies you can, while not damaging any of your allies. This flips the problem a bit. You don’t want to cast it on a group of allies, because you’ll lose out on the damage (which is much more substantial than the healing). But, you also do want to get the benefit of the healing, so you specifically wait for a good mix of friend and foe.

Cause an instrument of violence to become incapable of causing harm. For example, a sword may be tweaked so that it cannot stab, or the ground may be adjusted such that if a person fell onto that bit of ground, they wouldn’t take any falling damage.

So lets say you’re fighting a goblin. One player does whatever they need to do to “break” the goblin’s spear. They’ll probably make a few attacks with that spear, and some of those attacks will hit. It might take two, three, or even more hits before the goblin realizes their weapon has been nerf’d, (almost literally in this case), after which they pull out their dagger, which probably deals less damage.

Healing potions exist, but they are incredibly rare. The players will be lucky to find a handful over the course of the whole campaign. This robs healing potions of their reliability. You can’t always get them, and so they’re something to be saved. There’s a worry that if you use a potion, then you may not have it sometime in the future when you really need it.

Healing potions exist, but they are incredibly large and heavy. Like, instead of something you drink, a healing potion is something you bathe in, and must be carried around in a huge barrel, just for one dose.

This exacerbates the problem of healing items taking up encumbrance that could be spent on something more interesting. However, this healing item takes up so much encumbrance that it stops being useful enough to invalidate other equipment choices. When a player asks themselves: “Do I bring a healing potion, or three iron spikes?” they’d be a fool not to bring the potion. But if they have to choose between bringing the potion or all the rest of their equipment, that decision isn’t so easy.

I think if I went this route, players would immediately start hiring people to carry their potions for them, which is fine! That presents an interesting set of problems all its own. What happens when these potion porters die? Do you leave the potion behind? What about when you’re in a dangerous situation (when you’ll need a potion the most), and all your porters flee? How many people will really be willing to do the job of hauling huge barrels of potion in the a dungeon? It sounds like an unpleasant and dangerous job with shitty pay.

Healing potions exist, but they’re poisonous. There’s no risk of death (or hey, maybe there is?), but there’s a lot of ways a potion could harm a character, while still increasing their hit points.

Maybe potions cause mutations? Maybe they artificially age the player? Maybe they cause a person to go blind for an hour after drinking them, or make a person incredibly flatulent such that they attract more monsters? The possibilities for side effects are pretty much infinite.

It’s also worth asking: are the side effects guaranteed, or are players allowed to make a saving throw?

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