Miscreated Creatures: Revisiting the Rotocula

At some point, as a young college student, I heard some quote or other about how it was impossible for humans to imagine a truly unique creature. All the various mythological beasts are just combinations of different animals: the head of a this, the body of a that, and the tail of another thing. I don’t recall where this quote came from. It might have been something Rene Descartes said while trying to provide rational evidence of god, but google isn’t backing me up on that.

Regardless, as a young man who had always prided himself on his ability to come up with new creatures, I took this as a challenge. Could I come up with a body part for a creature that had no analogue in the natural world?

After some thought, I came up with an orb which would spin in a fleshy socket, allowing a creature to roll on a kind of organic wheel. I was proud of myself for the originality, despite failing to actually disprove the proposition. All I had really done is take an eyeball, sever the optic nerve, and make it a foot. I could claim creativity, but not originality.

Anyway, the idea stuck with me, and five years ago when this blog was just starting to hit its stride, I used the idea to create a sexually dimorphic creature called The Rotocula. The Male Rotocula was my 11th entry in the Merciless Monsters series, and the Female Rotocula was the 12th. Both are dragged down by being Pathfinder monsters. Lots of pointless statblocks and mechanical information, without any real life to them beyond a clever idea.

When I got started on Miscreated Creatures, I knew I wanted to revisit the idea to see what could be done better. Here is the result:

The Rotocula, as illustrated by cbMorrie

Rotocula (Female)


Armor 12, 10 HD + 35 HP, Move 420’(140’), 1 Atk for 1d12/Xd6, Morale 9

Rotocula are a sexually dimorphic species. The females and males have significant differences in their anatomy, requiring separate entries for the genders.

Female rotocula appear to be an elongated lump of sagging blue skin, with a head on one end and a short tail on the other. On its back is a white diamond shape, matched by the white underside of the tail. The female rotocula has a vertical mouth which completely bisects its head, and can be opened wide enough for the tongue and tonsils to be in front of the teeth.

Rotocula move on a set of wet, rotating orbs. Alzazi the Bloody Hand, a wizard who captured and dissected a number of these creatures, wrote:

“These strange appendages–I hesitates to term them ‘feet’–are not (as heretofore suspected) completely unique. Upon vivisection, it cannot be ignored that these spheres closely resemble an organ found in our own bodies: the eye. Without the binding tassel of the optic nerve, it is allowed to roll freely, lending the creature a remarkable level of speed and silence of movement, but denying it the ability to travel outside the flatlands of its home.” -Alzazi the Bloody Hand, Archmage of the First Rank, from his seminal work, “Aberrant Anatomy”

    • Female rotocula prefer to attack victims which are fleeing by keeping pace with them, and moving forward to envelop them in their jaws. On a successful attack roll, the target takes 1d12 damage and is swallowed whole. (Standard swallowed whole rules apply)
    • If the female rotocula’s prey is standing still or moving towards her, she tends to clumsily slam into her target with force. On a successful attack roll, this deals 1d6 damage for each 30’ of movement traveled this round to both the target and the rotocula. (1d6 if the rotocula/target moved 30’ this round, 2d6 if they moved 60’, etc.)
    • Due to their high rate of speed, poor stopping power, and leading with the soft tissue of their mouths, female rotocula take x4 damage from weapons which have been set to receive a charge, and have a 5-in-6 chance to break any such weapon into pieces.
    • Female rotocula have a 5-in-6 stealth skill for the purposes of moving silently over flat terrain. If they must also hide from visual detection while moving, their stealth skill is only 1-in-6.
    • While the female rotocula is perfectly adapted to movement through the flatlands of its home, any kind of rough terrain provides a significant obstacle. Underbrush or trees do not hinder them, but any attempt to enter rocky terrain puts them in danger of getting stuck without purchase for their ‘wheels.’
    • The first time the referee would normally roll the female rotocula’s morale, she instead raises her tail and bellows a mating chirp that echoes loudly. There is a one-time chance that there are male rotocula nearby who will respond to the call and come defend their potential mate. Roll 1d20:
      • 1-13: No male Rotocula nearby.
      • 14-17: A single male rotocula comes to assist in 1d6 rounds.
      • 18-19: Two male rotocula come to assist, roll 1d6 for each.
      • 20: Three male rotocula come to assist, roll 1d6 for each

Whether or not any male rotocula are around, the next time the referee would check for morale they should do so normally.

While there is a kind of skull on each side of the female’s bisected head, only one side has a brain. Which side varies between individual specimens. There is a noticeable visual weakness from the eye on the non-brain side. It only vaguely sees hints of color and motion. If the weaker visual side is identified, it could be exploited by characters wishing to slay or trap the creature.

When mating, the female opens her mouth to its maximum degree. The male must place his snout in her throat. Once the act is complete, the female’s jaws snap closed, killing her mate.

While not ‘minions’ per se, it is notable that female rotocula don’t view insect people as prey. Often, small groups of insect people will climb on the backs of a rotocula to spend days feeding on the parasites that live there. If the rotocula is threatened while they are present, they attack with bows or by spitting acid.

The Rotocula, as illustrated by cbMorrieRotocula (Male)

(Animal Intelligence)(Solitary, or Mounds of 1d4 + 1)

AC 16, 6 HD, Move 360’(120’), 1 Atk for Xd8, Morale 7

Male Rotocula have sagging, reddish-brown skin. When they draw their three trunk-like legs up inside their bodies, it’s easy to mistake them for a pile of mud or dirt. They spend much of their time concealed like this, waiting for prey to wander into their territory. When they spring up, they move by rolling the three spheres at the end of their legs, much like the female does. Allowing them to move incredible speeds over flat terrain, but limiting them significantly elsewhere. The male’s mouth, filled with yellow teeth, is at the end of a fatty snout appendage dangling from beneath its body.

  • Characters who do not notice a hiding male Rotocula have a 4-in-6 chance of being surprised when it attacks.
  • Rotocula have a 6-in-6 stealth skill for the purposes of moving silently over flat terrain, or disguising themselves as a pile of dirt. If they must also hide from visual detection while moving, their stealth skill is only 2-in-6.
  • Thanks to their legs, male Rotocula are less hindered by rough terrain than the females are. They can move up to 90’(30’) in any terrain which they cannot reasonably roll through.
  • Male Rotocula attack by slamming their heavy bodies into targets, dealing 1d8 damage for every 30’ of movement between themselves and their target at the start of the round. (1d8 if they must travel 30’ to attack, 2d8 if they must travel 60’ to attack, and so on, to a maximum of 4d8). A successful hit roll is required for this attack to succeed.
  • Due to their high rate of speed and poor stopping power, male Rotocula take x2 damage from weapons which have been set to receive a charge, and have a 5-in-6 chance to break any such weapon into pieces.

Duchess Annabelle Drocellia, a student of the anatomical sciences, once successfully removed the creature’s brain and most of its internal organs and rode it around from the inside like a kind of carriage by pulling at the creature’s various ligaments. The body quickly atrophied and ceased to function further, and her notes on her methodology are spotty. But it is theoretically possible to turn the male’s corpse into a kind of rudimentary automobile.

Miscreated Creatures: The Ugly Thing

Remember that monster book I’ve been writing for like…five years now? I’ve mostly been playing it pretty close to my chest, but I don’t have time to get a proper post written, so lucky you, here’s one of my monsters. I hope you enjoy it.

And now I’m writing a second introductory paragraph, because I really want to alight that image to the right, given its dimensions, but the header refuses to alight properly, and it’ll just be easier if I make up something to go in this space.

The Ugly Thing

(As intelligent as a severely developmentally disabled human)

Armor 14, Move 120’ (40’), 4 Hit Dice, 2 Bites 1d8, Morale 5

Its eye is too big, it has too many mouths, it produces a rancid smell and a variety of strange fluids from incorrect places. This thing is an ugly thing, and no one could ever love it. That is the strongly held belief of The Ugly Thing, and much as one might be moved to pity its body image issues, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a convincing counter-argument.

  • The The Ugly Thing is obsessed with the forms of beautiful humans, and expresses this obsession through taxidermy. It’s probably the foremost expert on human taxidermy in the world, but even still the process is ugly, and never really produces perfect results.
  • The creature can temporarily alleviate its self loathing by shrouding itself beneath an illusion. Each of these false forms matches the appearance of one of the taxidermied humans back in its lair, complete with lumpy skin and stitches. Given the odd appearance of these forms, anyone specifically paying attention to The Ugly Thing within 15’ can automatically disbelieve the illusion. Anyone standing further away must make a save versus Magic. Because of the ease with which its illusions can be shattered, The Ugly Thing does its best to avoid attention when it moves in public.
  • If discovered, the The Ugly Thing will charge, spinning its arms like windmills. Hollows in its jaws cause a eerie, high-pitched whistling sound that strikes hard at the fear center of the human brain. Any human NPCs must make an immediate loyalty check or flee.
  • When attacking from surprise, the The Ugly Thing gets a +4 to its attack roll, and deals x4 damage.
  • In addition to normal damage, the creature’s right arm deals 1 point of Intelligence damage on a successful hit, and the left arm deals 1 point of Wisdom damage.
  • Anyone struck by both hands must make a save versus Poison as the creature’s venoms combines within their system. On failure, their brain begins to heat up. Veins bulge, and the character seizes for a few rounds before falling unconscious for the next hour. In this state, it’s easy to drag them off to become their attacker’s next taxidermy project, if they’re attractive enough to deserve it.
  • By focusing its eye on a location for 1 round, the The Ugly Thing can teleport to that location.

A wizard with more money than charm or sense wished to make a perfect mate for himself. A demure creature of radiant beauty. Instead The Ugly Thing crawled from his vats. A being cursed with strong aesthetic sensibilities, but no aesthetic beauty of its own.

The Ugly Thing killed its ‘lover’ when the wizard decided to put his monstrosity out of its misery. In an emotional frenzy, the poor creature then used the wizard’s laboratory to haphazardly summon a demon and beg for beauty. But The Ugly Thing is a stupid creature. It did a poor job of its summoning, and if its plight had not so amused the demon it might have been destroyed. Instead it was given its strange powers. Given the ability to wear whatever beauty it could steal, but only unconvincingly.

The Ugly Thing inherited its lair from its creator, filled with poorly tended magical oddities. Most of these have withered, or rotted, or run out of fuel in the years they’ve been left untended. In their place are dozens upon dozens of taxidermied humans, the menagerie of forms The Ugly Thing may take. The lair is a building in the midst of a thick copse of buildings. The doors and windows beneath the 3rd floor are fakeries, and the only access is via a secret door 3 blocks away, which leads into a tunnel. If found, the contents of the lair will resolve dozens of local missing persons cases.

At some point the The Ugly Thing met the Xepolon, who felt some pity for this lesser being whose very existence was like a cruel cosmic joke. Xepolon crafted a pair of mechanical wooden hands of remarkable quality, which The Ugly Thing could operate with its twin mouths. They are delicate contraptions, kept in a velvet lined box in The Ugly Thing’s lair. It wears them only to perform its taxidermy. In exchange for a few private tasks, the Xepolon also gave The Ugly Thing a pair of its 3 ½’ tall wooden automota, to assist it in the activities of daily living.

If any of the PCs have a Charisma score of 15 or higher, and aren’t an uggo for some reason, The Ugly Thing will covet their beauty. It will attempt to capture them and drag them back to its lair, where it can kill them and taxidermy their fresh corpse. If all the players’ Charsimas are lower than that, The Ugly Thing will have no particular quarrel with them. It may even be willing to deal magical oddities in exchange for subjects of exceptional beauty.

Unsurprisingly, Charisma is important to the creature. It has 4 Charisma itself. 1 point of Charisma damage dealt to the creature translates into horrible physical and psychological harm, dealing 20 points of hp damage. If its Charisma is somehow raised to 15, then the failures of the wizard are undone. The creature transforms into a beautiful and demure… (1-5. Man, 6-10. Woman 11-12. Hermaphrodite)

The mechanical hands of The Ugly Thing are superb quality treasure, and if a character replaces their own hands with the wooden ones, it will improve their dexterity by 1. The hands are lacquered and resistant to fire, though if the character takes more than 10 damage from fire, they’ll have to make a save versus Paralyzation to protect their hands.

Whomever makes the killing blow against The Ugly Thing briefly inherits its obsession with its own appearance, which affects their morale for good or ill. The character adds their Charisma modifier to their attacks for the next week of game time.


The Boardgame/RPG Hybrid

I’ve never liked one-shots. You so rarely get anything like a satisfying experience when you’re only playing a single session, and the lack of any long-term goals or consequences makes what experience there is feel lifeless. To me, the long term results of my actions are essential to my investment. Ergo, I tend to play in lengthier campaigns, or not at all.

This is a big part of the reason I’ve never been interested in the convention scene. I’ve attended one convention in my whole life, and don’t feel any desire to seek out another anytime soon. Online conventions, like ConTessa, are cool in theory, but since it’s all one-shots, it just doesn’t appeal to me.

Sometimes, though, because I’m a Nice Guy ™, I’ll endure a one-shot if a friend needs players. It’s good to support your friends, and so I do that, because I’m a good person. And so, last year, when a friend invited me to both of the two Anti-GenCon games he was running, I agreed to play.  One was going to be straight up D&D, and the other was a homebrew system he’d worked out based on the old Doom games. I signed up for both, fully expecting to be bored.

The first game, the D&D one, wound up like every other one-shot I’ve played in. It was dull, and forgettable. That’s  not a condemnation of my friend, it’s just an inescapable reality of how I react to the format. The second game, the homebrew, was whole different animal. It was fun. More than fun, playing it was the highlight of my week.

We were barely a half hour into play, and I was already excitedly making notes about little ways the game could be improved. In the back of my mind, I was wondering if my friend would be okay with me stealing his idea to write a game of my own. After the session ended, he and I talked for quite a while about how it went, and what could be done with the system. Since then, we’ve been working together to turn his 6 pages of homebrew into a complete game.

Spoiler alert: this post ends with me shilling a product to you. But, before we get to the boring advertising bullshit that I will hate myself for writing, I want to discuss what I think makes the game work. The spark of fun that was there even when the game with just 6 pages long, and made me enjoy a form of play I’d never enjoyed before.

Dungeons & Dragons, and its many variants, are built around the idea of a campaign. There’s nothing stopping you from playing one-shots. One-shots are a time honored tradition, as ancient as the game itself, but all of the game’s incentives are focused on long term play.  Why plunder the dungeon for gold, if you’ll never get to spend it? Why gain experience if you’ll never level up? Why shouldn’t you play recklessly and get yourself killed? It’s not as though you’ll ever get to play this character again anyway.

Perhaps I’d enjoy one-shots and convention games more if my character was persistent between them. Sorta like  how Flailsnails works. But, that’s beside the point.

Bubblegum Berzerk, which is the name we’ve settled on for our game, is built around the one-shot. There’s nothing stopping you from playing an extended campaign, but all of the game’s incentives are based on short-term play. Much of the moment-to-moment fun results from players making diegetic jokes, which the game rewards them for.  Instead of overcoming complex challenges and being rewarded for success, the challenges themselves are a reward in the form of a fulfilled power fantasy. Through play, players earn points, and when the game ends, those points determine who is the winner.

That’s why, very early in the game’s development, I started pushing the idea of the RPG / Board Game hybrid. The PCs are not characters, so much as they are playing pieces. Something taken out and played with, then put back into the box until next time you want to play. And when you do, it doesn’t matter if you play the same character again, or a new one. There’s no difference between those two concepts.

To boil the game down to basics: the players are a team of disposable action heroes. They’re trained from birth / cybernetically enhanced / warped through gene therapy / whatever other explanation for superhuman badassitude you can think of. They run around a map, and roll a d10 anytime they want to do something. If they wanna do something “kickass,” they gotta roll high, if they wanna do anything else, they gotta roll low. How high and how low change over the course of the game, so that it generally gets easier to do badass stuff, but more difficult to do basic stuff.

Most of the game is spent in a cycle of Running Around the Map -> Fighting Assholes -> Opening up new options -> repeat. It’s a simple cycle, within which the players are encouraged to be creative with Alpha Points, the game’s “score.” While the player with the most Alpha Points technically “wins,” the points and the winning are explicitly dumb useless goals. The only value the points have is whatever value the players imbue them with.

Alpha Points are earned in various ways, but the most notable to me is that players can get them by saying killer one-liners, or performing some super badass action that impresses the referee. To paraphrase something Zak Smith once said: normally, being funny is risky, because maybe nobody will laugh and then you’ll feel bad. This game is fun because it takes that stress away. You can try to be funny all you want, and if anything you say doesn’t get a laugh, it’s okay, because you were just playing the game. Making the attempt was expected of you.

At the time, Zak was talking about Cards Against Humanity, which is kinda fitting. I think there’s a sort of bizarre overlap between that game and Bubblegum Berserk. Not really a mechanical one, but I think the fun of the game comes from a similar place.

If I had set out to come up with a cool idea for a new game, this never would have been it. But I didn’t set out to come up with this idea. Instead, I just had a really fun experience, then tried to preserve and communicate that experience, so it could be shared by other people. Which, in retrospect, may be why I actually enjoy playing the game a lot more than running it: because my goal the whole time was to recreate the fun I had while playing.

As of now, writing is done on the game, art and proofreading are progressing at a good pace, and layout hopefully shouldn’t take too much longer after those things are done. I’m sure that once it’s out, I’ll be posting all of the place about it, annoying people, and making myself sick at how much of a sell out I’ve become. Sorry in advance for that.

But when I do it, you should totally spend some of your monies on the game. I sincerely think you’ll have a real good time playing it.

Trick or Treating with NPCs

On Halloween, the players may approach any NPC in the game and ask “Trick, or Treat?” The referee should then roll on the table below to determine how the NPC responds.

Also, if you call Halloween “The Day of Ghosts” or “Spook Night” or any other uniquely fantastified non-name, you are a fuckin’ goober. Holidays aren’t copyrighted, why do people keep coming up with legally distinct versions of holiday names? It is dumb.

The Trick or Treater…

  1. Gets a big bag of rocks.
  2. Gets a big bag of candy!
  3. Is afflicted with intense flatulence for the next few hours.
  4. Will be an instant expert with the next musical instrument they get their hands on.
  5. Is startled by a monster from the random encounter table, which pops out to spook them.
  6. Will be able to breathe underwater for the next few hours.
  7. Will only be able to breathe underwater for the next few hours.
  8. Gets a bar of chocolate called “Save-U-Latr”. Eating it grants a +4 bonus to your next saving throw.
  9. Gets a bar of chocolate called “Save-U-Latr”. Eating it grants a -4 penalty on your next saving throw.
  10. Gains a +1 to their chance to get a random surprise round, until the next time they get a random surprise round.
  11. Will get their bones broken the next time they’re struck in combat.
  12. Will only take the minimum amount of possible damage from the next attack they are struck by.
  13. Gets a Jack-O-Lantern stuck on their head. They can’t get it off until it starts to rot and get soft and squishy.
  14. Has their clothes illusion’d, so they appear to be wearing a very spooky costume.
  15. Is left in the care of a young child, which they must care for, or be arrested for criminal neglect.
  16. Has their face painted in a colorful and fun way.
  17. Is afflicted with an allergy to Dungeon Dust, which causes them to sneeze any time they’re in ancient places.
  18. Receives a balloon animal of their choosing from the NPC.
  19. Gets a spanking for some naughty thing the NPC saw them do. It is not the fun kind of spanking.
  20. Is temporarily gifted with 5lb telekinesis.
  21. Is recognized by someone nearby they owe a debt to, who wants them to pay up immediately and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
  22. Is absolutely perfect at climbing trees, until the following evening.
  23. Is given the opportunity to weed the NPC’s garden, chop their firewood, and run a few errands in town for them. No takesie-backsies on Trick or Treats. Or else.
  24. GETS A PONY!
  25. Gets a case of the hiccups that just won’t quit. Each time they hiccup, little bubbles come out of their mouth. When they pop, they say the thoughts that the character never would have said out-loud.
  26. Learns that they are unconditionally loved by someone in their life. And really, isn’t that the greatest treat of all?
  27. Is cursed with a terrible haircut.
  28. Is given a bag of magic seeds, which will grow into full grown crops in a single week, no matter the weather or the quality of the soil.
  29. Is cursed, so that every chair they sit in for the next year will have a whoopie cushion on it. Even if they pause to remove the cushion, it will simply reappear on the chair when they do finally sit.
  30. Will almost immediately be approached and greeted by someone they’ve always wanted to meet, but probably never would have had the opportunity to.
  31. Has all of their teeth rot and fall out within the next few weeks.
  32. Gets tickets to the carnival, an event more fun than it has any right to be. You’re seriously in for a pretty dang good time.
  33. Starts to experience severe back pains, which reduces their encumbrance.
  34. Is graced with an official title. It has little material benefit, but will be recognized and respected by everyone within the culture in which it was given.
  35. Will be pooped on by birds. A lot. For a very long time. This character is suddenly a favored target.
  36. A candied apple, which heals 2d8 hit points. Any hit points rolled above the maximum are gained as temporary hit points.
  37. Has a face which, everyone will agree, is a very scary mask. Because they are ugly.
  38. Will be transformed into a kid.
  39. Is now in trouble with the authorities! The NPC called for them immediately. Trick or Treating is only for children, and any adult caught doing it is obviously some kind of deviant.
  40. Will experience a My Little Pony style lesson moment, about the importance of friendship.
  41. Gets a potato.
  42. Meets a rat named Bently, who wants to be their friend.
  43. Is given a coupon book for the goods and services local to the town. The coupons are all very confusingly worded, and have obtuse requirements that make them a huge pain in the ass to use. Some are expired.
  44. Receives a magic hat, which makes them an expert at ice sculpture.
  45. Is cursed so that, any time they walk through a town, they will be struck by falling garbage and emptied chamber pots from the windows above them.
  46. Gets an excellent toy doll, with articulated joints. It’s the best toy ever.
  47. Learns all the gossip their companions have been saying about them behind their back. The referee is free to make up whatever they want, so long as it’s likely to hurt the Trick or Treater’s feelings.
  48. Receives a book on the subject of local myths and legends. (After reading it, the player is free to ask the referee 4 questions on the subject, and have them answered with complete honesty).
  49. Must make a mandatory visit to the dentist.
  50. Is given a temporary tattoo, which glows with cool runes and shit.
  51. Will probably be surprised when the NPC disappears into a puff of smoke.
  52. Gets a good wash from the NPC. They really get in there with a brush and make you smell nice.
  53. Will be pelted with rotten eggs.
  54. Is blessed, such that the next monster they meet will be friendly.
  55. Gets scolded by the NPC for wearing such low visibility clothing on such a dangerous night. Is forced to wear a reflective vest which will ruin any attempt at stealth.
  56. Is given a glass of unpleasant-tasting vegetable juice. It’s not fun to consume, but once you’ve got it down, you feel completely reinvigorated. You don’t need to sleep again for 2 days, and won’t take any penalties at all from doing so.
  57. Will be transformed into a goblin for the next 48 hours.
  58. Receives a paper mache mask, which is shockingly convincing as the face of some other creature, but is very fragile and will break easily.
  59. Has their gender swapped.
  60. Discovers that undead creatures are friendly to them, until the next time they harm one.
  61. Has all of their meaty-bits turn transparent, so that they appear to be a walking skeleton. I call them Skello-persons, which is legally distinct from any similar, Carcosan entities.
  62. Will be overjoyed when that one really weird, fucked-up sex thing that they’re into becomes completely commonplace until the next full moon. Everybody will be talking about it, and be eager to do it. Later it will be regarded as a fad.
  63. Knows that their mother is mad at them. They don’t know why, but she is, and she might yell at them at any moment.
  64. Is blessed, such that people they meet regard their opinion of high importance, and will be very interested to know the character’s thoughts on just about any subject. This effect gradually fades over the course of a week.
  65. Will be chased by a pack of ravenous dogs. (10 per level of the character)
  66. Will be chased by a pack of adorable puppies (3 per level of the character)
  67. Drugs lose all of their effects for this character. They become forcibly sober, because nothing can get them buzzed.
  68. Just once, if they jump out of a glass window, they can land wherever they want, and can roll just right so that they only take 2hp of damage. 1 from the glass, and 1 from the fall.
  69. A cloud of rain forms over the character’s head, and will follow them around wherever they go.
  70. The next time they would die, it was all a dream. They wake up in their bed.
  71. All foods affect the character’s mind as if they were drugs, causing them to exist in a constant haze.
  72. Must choose an animal. All instances of that animal, all over the world, can now fly. If they could already fly, then now they can swim. If they could already fly and swim, then what the fuck, they can teleport.
  73. Birds can talk now, but they only speak to the Trick or Treater, and all they ever do is talk shit.
  74. The next harmful spell the Trick or Treater would be affected by is warped, so that the Trick or Treater is instead granted Protection from Evil.
  75. Their nose gets all big and warty.
  76. Becomes significantly more attractive. Two or three points up on a ten point scale, at the very least.
  77. The next time they would run, they run as if they were underwater.
  78. The NPC tells them that their next attack will be “a little more effective than normal.” Their next attack will be an auto-hit, auto-kill, no matter what their target is. Under no circumstances should the player be aware of the full potency of this treat.
  79. Every coin in the Trick or Treater’s possession goes down by one denomination. Gold becomes silver, silver becomes copper, copper becomes stone, etc.
  80. The next time you sleep, you dream of reading that book you’ve been meaning to read. When you wake up, you have all the knowledge of the book, as if you had read it.
  81. Gets their shoes tied together.
  82. Is empowered with the skills of an expert tapdancer.
  83. Is cursed, so that their weapon becomes stuck in its scabbard during the next combat.
  84. Is blessed, such that everything the Trick or Treater eats tastes like candy.
  85. Hands become so sticky that anything they touch becomes stuck to them until some water is poured over their hands.
  86. Receives a really comfortable pair of shoes, which will make all of their traveling around much more comfortable. There’s no mechanical benefit, but dang, it’s just a way nicer way to adventure, ya know?
  87. From now on, whenever they sleep, their dreams will appear floating above their heads for anyone nearby to watch.
  88. For the next few days, all reaction rolls are made at a +1. Everyone is just being kinda cool to you, yo. It’s the harvest season, and people are just kinda chill, ya know?
  89. A serial killer has decided that you need to be their next victim. They’re stalking you now, and they’ll come for you next time you’re alone.
  90. The NPC casually hands over some item or piece of information which significantly advances the players along some quest they were already invested in. It doesn’t solve the whole thing for them, or anything, but it will sure make their lives a whole lot easier.
  91. Your butt falls off. There is no longer any way for you to sit, or to fart, or to poop, or to enjoy the pleasures of anal stimulation.
  92. The NPC relates some information regarding a small inheritance the Trick or Treater is entitled to. All they need to do is go claim it from the executor of their great aunt’s estate.
  93. The NPC calls out for help, claiming that the Trick or Treater attacked them with great violence.
  94. The NPC passes along info regarding a friendly water Nymph, who is currently fed up with other nature spirits and wants to make some human friends.
  95. A bag of tasty tasty popcorn, a kernel of which gets stuck in your teeth, and will remain lodged there FOREVER, giving you uncomfortable mouth pressures.
  96. The NPC offers to do your laundry. They’ll do a really good job of it, too. It’ll all feel very soft and warm when they’re done.
  97. Dogs no longer trust the Trick or Treater, which is bad, because people always put an undue amount of faith in whether or not a dog likes a person.
  98. The NPC offers comfortable accommodations for the night, complete with soft beds, privacy, and meals.
  99. The NPC offers to perform oral sex. They are really, really, painfully bad at it.
  100. The Trick or Treater is entitled to one Wish.

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.