Tag Archives: Zalekios

I Love Creative Players

A GM with some very...'creative' players. Source UnknownWhen you’re GMing a game, what really makes you smile? What is it that your players do which makes you feel like as though the game is going perfectly? For myself, I love it when my players approach a problem from a direction I never considered. Or, even better, when they decide to tackle a problem I haven’t considered at all. I’m of the opinion that if they’re thinking that creatively, then it is because I was able to foster an environment where they felt like thinking creatively was beneficial. They recognize that the world around them has a certain kind of logic to it, and that logic is consistent enough that they’re able to think about problems diegetically.

I’d like to share three stories which I think encapsulate this idea really well.

Skeleton Feet: Different areas of my game world are keyed to different encounter tables. Everything which can be rolled on those tables has been carefully selected for that area. For unintelligent creatures, my reason for putting them there might be as simple as ‘this is where they live.’ For more intelligent beings, there will often be a small backstory, perhaps a couple sentences in length. If the players encounter 1d4 orcs, it might be because there’s a hidden orc village in the area, which was founded when a group of orcs was driven from the northern mountains by humans. Simple as it may be, it already solves a lot of problems. The orcs will react violently to humans, there is a village nearby for the players to find if they want to find out where the orcs came from, and I’ve added to the history of my world by saying orcs used to live in the mountains to the North, even if my players don’t find that out.

In my game world, 3 or 4 adjacent ‘zones’ all share a small possibility that the players will encounter a handful of goblin skeletons. The backstory on these skeletons is that many many decades ago, a necromancer passed through the area. He was still relatively inexperienced, and he experimented with his necromatic powers by raising a lot of dead goblins from a mass grave he found. The necromancer has since moved on, and is now a powerful lich in a tower in the far south. Given that you can’t really interrogate skeletons, I figured that if my players encountered them, they’d wonder why they were there, but not pursue the idea too far. To be honest, when I wrote that, I was really just looking for a way to make the encounter table more varied in those areas.

It took my players a few sessions of adventuring before they encountered the skeletons. They managed to defeat them handily. Here’s what happened, (roughly transcribed from a recording I made of the game):

Phoenix The Sorceress: Do any of our characters know about undead? What can we learn about these?
Me: Knowledge(Religion) is used for undead. Gibbous?
Gibbous The Cleric: Sweet, I’m useful! *roll* I got a 17.
Me: Alright! You’re able to notice two things about these goblin skeletons. First, they seem to have been animated for a very long time, and second, it doesn’t seem like they were being guided by any set of instructions.
Gibbous: [Sarcastic] That is super helpful.

At this point, the party very nearly moved on, figuring that there was nothing interesting about the encounter. But after a bit of chatter, some of the other players started to get curious.

Rosco the Ranger: Maybe they came from a nearby crypt?
Poker the Rogue: How old are the swords they were using? Can we tell?
Pumofe the Barbarian: I just woke up from a 200 year sleep. Do their swords look like something I would recognize from when I was around.
Me: Interesting! No, they don’t conform to any style you would have been familiar with 200 years ago. They are probably of more recent stock.
Pumofe: Can we see on the bottom of their feet how much bone is worn away?
Poker: [Joking] Check how worn their teeth are, check them for parasites…
Me: Wow. Um…well, you’re not CSI, but the feet seem to be worn down pretty thin. They’ve been walking around for maybe twenty to fifty years.
Pumofe: Do they have anything stuck to them which might tell us where they’ve been?
Me: Lots of little tree branches, leaves. A few tiny scraps of cloth, but its so deteriorated that it’s impossible to identify.
Gibbous: Is there someone we could ask about this maybe? Someone who would know the history of the area? I have Knowledge(History).
Me: Well, knowing anything about this would probably be too specific for your character to know about, since you’re not from around here. But make the check, and we’ll see if you know of anyone more familiar with the area’s history than you are.
Gibbous: I rolled a 16, so that comes up to 20!
Me: That’s plenty. Do you remember the town down South between the two rivers? The high priest of Obad-Hai is elderly and learned. He would know a great deal of the area’s history.
Pumofe: Is that on the way?
Poker: Yeah, we need to follow the rivers to get back to the Wizard’s tower anyway.
Gibbous: And we can still kill orcs along the way!

From there the players continued on to the town of Overton, spoke with the high priest, and learned of the necromancer who had passed through the area some 30 years prior on his way south. They added the Lich to their “list of things to take care of,” about 10 levels before I had planned on them doing so.

I love this story in particular because it demonstrates that my players don’t view the world as random anymore. I honestly don’t think I would have considered how worn down the skeletons feet were if I was a player.

Razorgrass: This incident occurred in my most recent game, actually. The players traveled to the Abyss to hunt for demon’s blood. Given their low level, I decided to send them to a rather innocuous corner of the Abyss. Instead of facing hordes of demons, I designed an area where the environment itself was hostile. One where divine (i.e. healing) magic would summon demons to attack them.

The players had only been there a short time when they encountered a large field of grass, which they quickly determined was razor sharp. Fortunately, most of the group is heavily armored, and those who aren’t only took a small amount of damage. None the less, the players didn’t want to squander their hit points in a place this dangerous. So Phoenix used her Gem of Fire Ray to burn a 60ft path through the field.

Shortly before this, the players had hast healing magics, and I had been tracking a band of demons as they approached the party’s location. They had only just begun walking down the path when the demons burst from the trees behind them. I described the demons as “About 5ft tall, corpulent, and naked. With a jaundiced-yellow color to them, and wicked claws on each hand.”

The barbarian wasted no time in shouting to the others: “Run into the grass!” The demons were some of the least intelligent of the Abyss, and were excited by the prospect of devouring mortal flesh on their home plane. They charged into the grass after the players, and promptly had their HP reduced by almost half as each step through the razorgrass dealt 1d4 damage to their naked bodies. The players were easily able to wipe the floor with the weakened demons.

Though they did pay a price: there was much less blood in each demon after the battle for them to harvest.

Zalekios and the Buildings: In this story, I actually wasn’t GMing. I was playing my chaotic evil Warlock/Rogue, Zalekios Gromar. None the less, this story marked a turning point for me as a GM. I felt such a sense of accomplishment and freedom after this encounter, that I decided this was the kind of feeling I wanted to enable my own players to experience.

Zalekios Gromar is, in a word, overpowered. And the GM who kindly runs games for me has often been frustrated by the difficulty of crafting encounters to challenge me. Zalekios himself is supposed to be an intelligent, but extremely overconfident character. He once leaped from the 4th floor of a tower simply because he was bored by attacking his enemy from range. And after being overpowered for so long, I the player had become pretty overconfident myself. Nothing seemed to be able to stop me. So when a Paladin appeared in a town I was resting in, and demanded I surrender myself, I charged him with eldritch blasts blazing. We battled for several rounds, each dealing a lot of damage to the other. But I quickly noticed that my HP was getting dangerously low. Zalekios was in very real danger of dying.

I was kicking myself for being so foolish as to charge a paladin head on, and frantically tried to come up with something I could do to get out of this alive. The paladin had already told me he’d tracked me for weeks, so running would only be a temporary reprieve. And since he could magically heal himself and I could not, that seemed like a bad plan. Desperate for some tactical advantage, I asked the GM what buildings were nearby. We were, after all, in a town. He said that the encounter was taking place in a largely undeveloped area of the town, but drew three houses on the map none the less. They were small, just one story high, made of cheap wood and clay.

That was all Zalekios needed.

He cast a special type of Dimensional Door which left a silent image behind, and ported up to the roof of the nearest house–just barely within his range. I attacked from range while the Paladin was distracted, and then again while he charged the house. Instead of climbing it as I suspected he would, the Paladin simply bowled himself into the supporting frames for the house, causing it to collapse just as I ported away. I tried to point out that the paladin should lose his powers for destroying someone’s home, but my GM replied that all three houses were abandoned, and that this part of town was sparse because all the buildings here were being taken down so nicer ones could be built. The pally did, however, take damage from a building falling on him.

I bounced between the remaining two houses that were within range of my Dimensional Door, trying to keep the paladin at range. He inexorably began to limit my escape options until he had me completely cornered. I was at 3 hit points, and had to make a choice. Either I could attack and be killed immediately afterwords, or I could run and be killed immediately afterwords. I decided that if this was Zalekios’ time, I’d rather see him go out with some fight left in him. I charged up an Eldritch Blast–

–and never, in all my years of gaming, have I been so ecstatic to see a natural twenty. The paladin was blasted, and Zalekios strapped the body to his horse just so he could resurrect and torture it.

The GM later admitted to me that the paladin had been specifically designed to beat me. He was a gestalt Paladin/Barbarian (which I pointed out should have been impossible) who was a good four levels higher than Zalekios himself was. The GMs plan had been to capture me and take me to trial or something. But my tactics had defied his expectations, and allowed a little bit of luck to make the difference between life and death.

That’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had while playing a tabletop game. I was supposed to lose, the game was stacked against me. But because I made superior use of my environment and the choices available to me, I won the game.

I want my players to feel like that as often as possible.

Magical Marvels 7: The Son’s Service

Zalekios Gromar's Kukri - The Son's Service. Art by cbMorrieAt long last, a return to my ongoing series of weapons which appeared in my Ascendant Crusade campaign. When this series left off in February, I posted about The Glare of Vecna. Prior to that I posted Gravewhisper’s Claw, Wallcraft’s Offerings and Kofek’s Tongue. All of those weapons, and now this one as well, were illustrated by my ladyfriend. You should check out more of her art on her DeviantArt page.

WARNING: This post covers material which is significantly darker than what normally appears on this blog. I’m not kidding, this gets very grim.

The Son’s Service
Artifact Kukri


PHYSICAL ATTACKS


(Kukri)(Attack) +5
(Kukri)(Damage) 1d4 + 5 (Slashing)(18-20/x3)


SPELLS GRANTED


4/Day – As a standard action, the wielder can ‘cut’ a door in the air with the blade, creating a Dimensional Door which allows the wielder to instantly travel up to 30ft.

1/Day – The caster can spend 1 minute scratching a door into a stone surface. When the door is completed, stepping through it will cause the effects of a Plane Shift spell for 1 minute. The plane the wielder wishes to travel to must be whispered to the blade before the creation of the door is begun. Anyone can step through the door, even enemies of the caster, so long as they do so within 1 minute of the door’s completion.

1/Week – If the hilt of the blade is held so the eyes of the skull meet the eyes of a helpless opponent, then the wielder may speak the trigger phrase “Love is weakness.” When this is done, a brief light will flash in the skull’s eyes. The victim’s dearest loved one must then succeed on a DC: 14 fortitude save against death. On a successful save, they still take 3d6 pain-based damage. When this happens, the victim will hear their loved one’s cries of pain, and suffers a -6 morale penalty to all rolls for the rest of the day. (This is based off of the Love’s Pain corrupt spell in the D&D 3.0 Book of Vile Darkness)

1/Week – If the hilt of the blade is held so that the skull is pressed against the heart of a victim, then the jaws of the skull will bite into the victim’s breast, tearing away a small bit of flesh. The victim will then immediately drop to -8 HP, and stabilize. No saving throw is allowed against this attack, however if the victim is wearing any kind of armor it is impossible. Making this attack in combat is extremely difficult, and works as a melee attack roll made with a -4 penalty. (No weapon bonuses are included in this attack roll, as the attack is not made with the weapon’s blade.) (This is based off of the Stop Heart spell in the D&D 3.0 Book of Vile Darkness)


SPECIAL ABILITIES


  • Anarchic Physical attacks against lawful creatures are made at a +2 bonus, and deal an additional 2d6 damage. (Cumulative effect with Goodbane)
  • Goodbane Physical attacks against good creatures are made at a +2 bonus, and deal an additional 2d6 damage. (Cumulative effect with Anarchic)
  • Ghost Touch Physical attacks deal normal damage against incorporeal creatures.
  • Stolen Youth The wielder’s aging is slowed to 1/3rd the normal rate. Any effects which would magically drain the user’s age are only 1/3rd as effective.
  • Gift of Agony The Intelligence of The Son’s Service suffers constant anguish over the tragedy of its creation. Once per day, it can transfer this pain to a victim through a touch attack, dealing 4d6 damage. If it has been lying dormant for awhile, it may choose to inflict this attack on the first person to pick it up.
  • Bodysnatcher If the blade is buried into the brain of a corpse, then The Son’s Service gains full control of that body, and any abilities it had in life. The blade’s first impulse will be to escape from its owner, and an ego check must be made to command the weapon to obey. Another ego check must be made if any attempt to remove the blade is made.

INTELLIGENT ITEM ABILITIES


EGO 32; INT 19 (+4) WIS 10 (+4) CHA 19 (+4)
Senses Darkvision 120ft, Blindsense, Hearing; Communication Speech, Telepathy
Languages Common, Abyssal, Vasharan
Alignment Chaotic Evil
Purpose The Son’s Service is a psychopath. It is constantly driven to perform vile, and harmful deeds. Most often directed towards lawful, or good characters. It loves nothing more than to be used as an implement of torture and slaughter.


APPEARANCE


The Son’s Service is a Kukri about 4 and 1/2 feet long from the end of the pommel to the tip of the blade. The entire thing appears to be made of bleached white bones. The hilt is made of a series of vertebrae, which end in a pointed pommel. The hilt of the weapon is a very small skull, and the blade protrudes from the crest of that skull. Upon close inspection, someone familiar with anatomy might recognize the blade as a warped rib-bone, which has been flattened and sharpened. Though normally dark, the eye sockets of the blade occasionally take on a faint glow when the weapon is focusing its attention.


HISTORY


The origins of the blade known as The Son’s Service are as dark and depraved as the master it was crafted to serve: Zalekios Gromar.

After the murder of his father, Zalekios was raised by the succubus, Setya. The demon knew how to feed young Zalekios’ psychopathy, and gleefully encouraged him in his childish pursuits of murder and mayhem. As he grew, Setya artfully crafted her Vasharan son into a weapon. A mortal man with all the rage and power of a demon. When he reached maturity, Setya bore for him twin children. One, a girl, she named Reizalla; destined to succeed Zalekios’ as Setya’s agent of chaos. The other, a boy, was sacrificed in a ritual so vile that it tainted the very air around it. Even centuries later, those who unwittingly stumble into the location where the ritual was performed find themselves choking and coughing as though breathing smoke.

The succubus then used powerful magics to twist and reshape the dead child’s fragile bones into a blade. One so strong it could crack steel. She dubbed the blade “The Son’s Service,” and gave it to Zalekios as a parting gift when he went forth into the world to spread chaos and death. Immediately upon accepting the blade, Zalekios could hear it cursing him in his mind. The weapon hated him with a pure malevolence, the like of which has never existed before or since. If it could, the weapon would destroy the father who cavalierly accepted the corpse of his own son as a gift. But it could not. In fact, the weapon could never take any action, or inaction, which would harm Zalekios. Nor could it even attempt to disobey him–such was the curse of the vile rituals Setya had performed.

Zalekios’ created a path of destruction throughout the world for decades. He murdered children or parents, he schemed to topple kingdoms, he did whatever would cause suffering. And always, The Son’s Service was by his side, opening the wounds which fed Zalekios’ blood soaked path. Were it not for the rancour the blade felt for its master, these would have been the happiest times of its psychopathic existence. Eventually, when Zalekios allied himself with The Whispered Queen, there was much less killing to do. She demanded a greater amount of subtlety from her companions than The Son’s Service would have liked.

Many years passed in the Whispered Queen’s service, and Zalekios grew restless. He chafed at taking orders from a woman he knew he could kill, and viewed her goals of bringing order to the world as perverse. But he could not stand against her. Powerful as he was, he knew how fiercely loyal the Queen’s other companions were. Even he would fall before their combined might. He brought to her a compromise: turn her forces on the Abyss. Let him lead her armies against the demon lord, Graz’zt. Zalekios would usurp the Demon Prince, and claim his throne for himself. Once he was a demon lord, Zalekios could spread chaos throughout the multiverse, and would have no desire to meddle in the affairs of the material plane. Besides–he argued–it couldn’t hurt to have a demon lord as a friend.

The Whispered Queen agreed, and began preparing her forces for a march into the abyss itself. The titanic army overran Graz’zt’s outer defenses, and penetrated deep into the demon lord’s Argent Palace. They reached the center of Graz’zt’s power, and with victory within his grasp, Zalekios charged the demon prince. But The Whispered Queen advanced no further. She and her forces stood in silence as Zalekios and those loyal to him were torn to pieces and devoured by demons.

The Queen had taken Zalekios’ advice to heart. It couldn’t hurt to have a demon lord as a friend.

After Zalekios’ demise, The Son’s Service was given to Reizalla for her part in the betrayal. But she found that the blade hated her for being the surviving twin almost as much as it hated Zalekios for being responsible for its existence. And the weapon was not magically compelled to obey her as it had been for their father. Reizalla traded the weapon to a balor, and ever since it has traded hands from one demon to another. Likely it now resides in the treasure vault of one mighty demon or another, yearning to draw blood once more.

Goblins Redux Illustrated

Mogmurch Celebrating His Victory by cbMorrieWay back in November I wrote about a game session in a post which I had entitled Goblins Redux. To quickly recap, it was a Zalekios Gromar game, which is usually one-on-one with me and the GM, but since my ladyfriend had moved in with me we wanted to get her involved in the game. Rather than creating a level 12 character to join in, however, she suggested that she play the four level 1 goblins from Pathfinder’s “We Be Goblins” module. The game ended up being extremely entertaining, and she even described it as “the most fun I think I’ve ever had playing D&D.”

She recently made this drawing of the campaign’s final encounter. There were these large flying dragon-things which Zalekios was fighting. Being level 1, nobody really expected the Goblins to be much help. That is, until Mogmurch managed to throw an alchemical bomb directly into the creature’s mouth. The act was so remarkable that even though we decided against leveling the goblins up, it has been decided that Mogmurch will forever after get a +4 bonus when attempting to throw something into a small space. I thought my readers might get a kick out of the drawing. And if you do like it, you can check out more of her work on her deviantart page.

By the way, I was totally planning to do an April Fool’s Day post. It was going to be about how one of my players accidentally bought the 4th edition rulebook instead of Pathfinder, and asked if I would give it a try since they spent all that money on it. I would then extol the virtues of the system, and how I had completely misunderstood it previously. In the end I decided that I really needed to use this weekend to recuperate some of my energy and finally get around to doing my taxes–and I didn’t even do that latter part! I’ll just have to plan something really original for next year…

How Zalekios Gromar Learned Clarity

Sahuagin from the D&D third edition Monster ManualToday, for the first time in a few months now, I managed to get together with my friend Jeremy to play a session of our Zalekios Gromar campaign. For me, this is always a huge amount of fun. Not only is Jeremy an entertaining fellow to sit around and chat with, but he’s also the only person I know who is willing to occasionally take on the mantle of game master. Most of the time managing the game is my responsibility, and I love it. That’s why I have an entire site dedicated to running Pathfinder games. But being the game master can also be both limiting, and stressful. Taking some time to be a player rather than a GM lets me cut loose a little bit. All I really need to worry about is my own actions, and how I can survive and succeed with my own goals.

Being a player also allows me the opportunity to see the game from the opposite perspective. No matter how concerned I am with ensuring that my players are having fun, it’s always valuable to sit down, be a player, and figure out what I want. Are the things I want as a player being facilitated in the games I run as the game master? Which elements of the game am I enjoying, and which am I finding arduous? I find that my occasional jaunts to the other side of the GM screen are often more educational than a week’s worth of reading blogs and old Dragon magazines. And tonight, two lessons stood out to me.

First, some quick background on the game. Zalekios is currently working a number of angles within the game world, many of which are indirectly opposed to one another. Not only is he working for a kingdom, but he’s also working for someone else who wants to destroy all the kingdoms, whilst simultaneously attempting to establish his own kingdom. It can become a little confusing, but I’ve got 23 charisma and 10 wisdom, so what do you expect? Anyway, the kingdom Zalekios is working for (Angle #1) sent him to investigate some strange attacks which were destroying ships as they left a nearby port city. This worked to Zalekios’ advantage, since he needed to scout that same port city as part of a plot to destroy all the kingdoms (Angle #2). In the city, he booked passage on one of the ships, and sailed with it until it was attacked. He captured one of the Sahuagins, and forced it to lead the vessel to the mysterious “Wet Gnome Lord” who was behind these attacks.

So here’s a bit which will become relevant later. Having captured this creature, I began forming plans for how I might find use for it as a minion. So, when we left the ship to venture to the island home of the Wet Gnome Lord, I took the Sahuagin with me. Memory may fail me, but my conversation with the GM went something like this:

Me: I’d like to take the…Sha-hugga-mug with me.
GM: The Sahuagin?
Me: Yes. That. I’ll untie him from the mast, but leave him tied up with some loose rope for me to hang onto.
GM: Like a leash?
Me: Yeah, kinda like a leash. How long can he go without breathing water?
GM: Lets say 48 hours.
Me: Alright, well, we’ve been sailing for over 30, so I’ll let him swim to the island in the water, whilst I hold his leash from within a rowboat.

Now, what I understood to be happening was that the Sha-hugga-mug’s arms were tied to its sides, and I had a rope around its neck to serve as a leash. I figured it could swim well enough with its legs, and if it couldn’t…well, Zalekios is Chaotic Evil. Sahuagin from D&D 1st edition Monster ManualKeel hauling a sea creature is far from the worst thing he’s done. Hell, earlier in that same session I’d committed a murder simply to enhance an intimidation check. Then killed the fellow I had been intimidating to keep him from pinning the murder on me!

Once we reached land, we entered the Wet Gnome Lord’s tower, and that’s about the time my ladyfriend joined the game, once again playing as Zalekios’ four faithful level 1 goblins. We encountered the wet gnome lord, and I completely ruined all my GM’s plans by negotiating with the session’s endboss. (Let that be a lesson to all GMs: players will always defy your expectations.) It ended up being well worth my while, because not only did I convince a powerful wizard to leave the ships alone (Thus fulfilling my obligation to Angle #1), but I also convinced him that we were allies, making him Angle #4. I am a devious little schemer, yes I am.

To solidify our partnership, the Wet Gnome Lord asked Zalekios to take care of a golem which had gotten a little out of control. Zalekios agreed, and climbed up into the locked attic, where he found the golem walking around in circles, paying the intruders no mind. Zalekios moved off to kill the creature, and assumed the four goblins would find some way to help (or, more likely, find a way to make things much more difficult) We rolled initiative, and I leaped into combat. It was then that the GM asked;

GM: So, wait a minute, you’re just leaving the Sahuagin there unattended?
Me: So what? It’s tied up.
GM: No, it only has a leash.
Me: …fuck, yeah, I guess that’s how you would have interpreted that. What I meant is that its arms were still tied to its sides.
GM: Then how would it have swam?
Me: It has webbed feet, I figured that would be fine.
GM: No, it would need its arms to swim effectively.

Oops.

Wait, what's a Murloc doing he-GARGBFBLFBLFBLFBLFBLFBI was already engaged with the golem, so I wasn’t going to bother with a low level creature like the Sha-hugga-mug when I was already facing something which could probably kill me. Fortunately, thanks to the marching order, my four goblin worshipers had the creature surrounded. So whilst I battled the golem, they subdued my prisoner. They even managed not to kill him! Though he will have a nasty burn on his face, and a bad limp from now on. Everything went better than expected, but this all goes to illustrate a point. I wrote recently on the point of GM clarity, but this story goes to show that player clarity is just as important. There was no clear point during play when my GM being more clear with me would have fixed the problem. Even if he had allowed me to have the creature’s arms bound due to the misconception, that would have meant changing a minor ruling from an hour’s worth of game time prior. (Namely, whether or note the creature could swim, and thus continue to survive on land). The entire problem could have been fixed had I, as the player, simply been more clear about my intentions.

On an unrelated note, a funny story from this game session: one of the four goblins, named Poog, is a cleric. He cast the spell Burning Hands on the Sha-hugga-mug during combat, and I quickly looked it up in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, where I was surprised to learn it was a 15ft cone. My GM, also surprised, said “Well I guarantee you it wasn’t that way in 3.5.” So, I got out my 3.5 PHB, and we looked it up, and much to our surprise, it had been a 15ft cone in 3rd edition as well! Flustered, my GM added “They must have changed it from second edition!” So, I pulled out my 2nd edition PHB, and he found the spell and read the description aloud.

GM: When the wizard casts this spell, a jet of searing flame shoots from his fingertips. His hands must be held so as to send forth a fanlike sheet of flames: the wizard’s thumbs must touch each other and the fingers must be spread. The burning hands send out flame jets 5 feet long in a horizontal arc about 120 degrees in front of the wizard.”
Me: …So, it’s a cone?
GM: Shut up.

Good times.

Magical Marvels 6: Succubic Shield

Succubus by Teddy Wright
Image Courtesy of landoftwiv.blogspot.com

Going through some old notes recently, I discovered the character sheet for a succubus named Setya. She’s the mother of the notorious Zalekios Gromar, and a former general in the Blood War under Malcanthet. After being taken as a prisoner of war, she was disgraced in her lady’s eyes, and ventured to the material plane to seek redemption. It was there that she sired Zalekios, and began shaping him into a paragon of chaos, which she hoped would please Malcanthet. On the character sheet I found a number of magical items I had created specifically for Setya, including this shield which I thought was interesting enough to share with all of you.

Succubic Shield
Heavy Reinforced-Silver Shield


PHYSICAL PROPERTIES


AC Bonus +4 [Shield(2) + Deflection Enchantment(2)]
Construction The shield is composed of silver, reinforced by mithril.
Weight
25lb
Arcane Spell Failure Chance 15%
Armor Check Penalty -1
(Shield Spike)(Attack) (Treat as one-handed, martial weapon)
(Shield Spike)(Damage)  1d6 (Piercing)(20/x2)


SPECIAL ABILITIES


  • Anyone who takes damage from the shield spike must make a DC 17 fortitude save. Failure indicates that the shield successfully inserts a tiny demonic parasite into the victim. This parasite immediately bestows one negative level on the victim. The parasite then remains dormant for 9 months before it awakens. The host is then entitled to another DC 17 fortitude save, or the parasite bestows another negative level on the host, before going dormant for another 9 months. This continues until either the host is dead, or the parasite is destroyed. The parasite cannot be discovered by divination magics. Removal of the parasite is difficult. The simplest method is to cast a spell of 6th level or higher with the [Good] descriptor on the host.  However, if the host is able to save against three of the parasite’s level drains in a row, the parasite dies of starvation.

APPEARANCE


The surface of the shield is deeply embossed with intricate imagery. The center of the shield is dominated by a man, depicted as helpless against a flock of succubi which surround him. Each entices him in different ways: power, wealth, numerous permutations of lust. The shield spike extends from between the man’s legs, and is engraved to resemble a phallus–though the conical spike shape is not significantly altered by these engravings.


WHERE IT CAN BE FOUND


A succubic shield is an item of exceeding rarity. They are only forged for those succubi who both participate in the blood war, and who choose to do so as members of the martial classes rather than as spellcasters. In all likelihood, the only way a party would encounter an item such as this would be to participate in the Blood War themselves. However, a handful of mortals, after doing just that, have managed to return to the material plane with a succubic shield. So in rare cases, it is possible to encounter these items in treasure hordes, or collections or rarities. It is also possible that one might encounter a succubus on the material plane who carries a succubic shield.


BACKGROUND


Mortals live and die. Empires rise and fall. Planets are born only to crumble again into nothingness. Even planes occasionally fold into themselves, or merge with other planes, reshaping the face of existence. And through it all, the Blood War rages on. The wild hordes of the abyss clash with the regiments of the nine hells without end. Sometimes one gains the advantage, sometimes the other, yet neither can ever hold it for long enough to claim victory. Neither side can relent, nor would either side ever want to. Only the gods remember when the conflict began, and not even they can guess what would happen if it ended. Some surmise that all war is merely a reflection of this one eternal conflict–others think that preoccupation with the Blood War is all that stops either side from completely overrunning the rest of the multiverse.

Every type of demonic and diabolic creature is represented in this conflict. From the mighty balors, to the lowly quaists, every vile creature has a role to play, including succubi. On this merciless battlefield, however, the seductive charms of a succubus are of little use. Most relegate themselves to supporting roles, serving as scouts and spies. Many others tap into their innate sorcerous abilities to serve as battlecasters. Some few succubi prefer to get their hands dirty. Those few train themselves in the skills of martial combat–often as anti-paladins–and wade into the thick of combat swinging a sword or flail. It was for these fearsome warriors that the succubic shield was first commissioned.

Designed by a succubus anti-paladin who had risen to the rank of general; the succubic shield pays homage to the succubus’ primary skillset–with a cruel twist. Oftentimes those injured by this shield’s wicked spike overhear a mumbled comment about “sticking it in,” or “just the tip.” The demonic creatures take great delight in inflicting a deadly ‘pregnancy’ in others, though they rarely speak about it in mixed company. Even with other demons they are cautious, hoping that the long gestation period of the parasite will prevent anyone from realizing that it is their shields which plants it. The secret of the shield’s construction is a closely guarded secret as well, known only to a handful of smiths on the 570th layer of the Abyss.

Note: This entire post is completely overshadowed by Tim Wright’s remarkable succubus art. Damn.

Designing a Village in Detail

Medieval Village ModelNot too long ago, Zalekios conquered a small village. It’s something I’ve wanted the character to do for some time. And, in our last game, my GM was gracious enough to include an opportunity for conquest. To be honest, I have no grand and evil scheme to further overpower my character through corrupt governance. Certainly, I have plans on how I’ll make use of my subjects, but the ways in which the town will benefit Zalekios are much less interesting to me than the challenges and opportunities ruling over a town will provide. The need to fortify it, defend it, and ensure that my subjects are unable to oust me while I’m out adventuring, all sound like interesting and entertaining challenges to me.

So once I had the town under my thumb, I asked my GM if it would be alright for me to make a detailed map of the village. He agreed, and we spent some time going over what my limitations were. Geographically, the village is located in a large area of plains, with no major shifts in elevation or terrain type for several miles around. Neither are there any significant bodies of water, or forested areas nearby. Honestly, I think he just made the environment as simple as possible because he’s afraid of my ingenuity. But that’s okay with me. I like a challenge.

I was also told that I had a total of 377 villagers, 27 of which could be level 1 experts, adepts, warriors, or aristocrats. The rest are level 1 commoners. Other than that, he left everything up to me. I’ve checked in with him periodically throughout the town creation process, but he hasn’t vetoed any of my decisions yet. Of course, I’ve kept everything in line with what one would find in a dirt-poor town, so he hasn’t had much to say “no” to. He and I have been playing games together long enough that we have a pretty good sense of what the limits are in each other’s games.

Now, even as a GM, I don’t often have the opportunity to truly build a thoroughly detailed community. Normally it’s simply not an efficient use of time. It’s much easier and faster to simply plot out the most basic outline of what the town is like: what kind of government it has, what its economy is based on, whether it has any unusual traditions or culture, and whether it has any noteworthy landmarks or NPCs. Everything else can be generated on the fly. Even with more detailed cities which my players return to often, I rarely do more than sketch out general “districts,” and identify the location of the main roads through the town. The port city of Niston, which the players in my Ascendant Crusade game have visited in between adventures for several years now, is still just a rough collection of squares marked “Affluent Area,” “Merchant Section,” “Slum,” “Docks,” and so on.

As a player preparing to govern this town, however, I find the idea of exacting detail appealing. Knowing precisely how many warriors are in the town guard will help me plan my defenses. And since the character in question is Zalekios, knowing just how many commoners I can eat before my breeding stock gets too low is important! Additionally, a large part of my plans involve modifying the town, in the form of watch towers, walls, work camps, etc, so I want to know precisely what I have to work with.

Example: Afghanistan population pyramid 2005I decided to start by figuring out what kind of population I have. I broke my population into three age based groups. First would be children, defined by Pathfinder as anyone under 15 years old. Last there’s the elderly, which I defined as anyone over 55. In between those two groups are the adults. So out of my 377 total population, I needed to figure out how many people fell into the three groups. I decided to use a population pyramid to work out a basic percentage. I spent some time looking for one which applied specifically to medieval villages, but didn’t have any luck finding one. So I just stuck with the closest to average I could find. What I wound up with, using some very rough estimation, is 91 children, 260 adults, and 26 elderly. I figure that, to keep things simple, I would split the genders evenly. Since my population is an odd number, I flipped a coin, and determined that the odd person out is a woman named Old Ms. Dyterran, by far the oldest person in the village at 84 years. Her children are dead of old age, but she lives with her grandson and his family. She likes to tell scary stories to children.

Outliers such as old Ms. Dyterran aside, I find these numbers to be telling of the type of community this is. With a max population of 377, it’s a very small community. People’s lives will be interconnected. But I would estimate that the community is still too large for everyone to know everyone else. Even acquaintance level relationships are difficult to maintain when there’s several hundred of them. However, when you break things down by age, the numbers get remarkably smaller. If there are only 91 children under the age of 15, then how few must there be between the ages of 8 and 12? If there’s only ten or twenty kids your age in town, you probably know all of them. That goes doubly so for the old folks, who probably all know each other quite well by now.

Moving on, I estimated that there would be 89 households, based on the adult population. That’s assuming that every household is centered around an adult couple. Children and elderly would live with said couples, as would a number of dependent adults who are over the age of 15, but have not yet struck out on their own. This would mean that there are 2.9 adults per household, 1.02 children per household, and 0.29 elderly per household. So if you walk into one of these 89 homes at random, the odds are that there are two wedded adults there, who live with one young child and one adult child. And there is a roughly one-in-three chance that one of the couple’s parents is still alive, and also living in the house. So most homes contain 4-5 people.

Once I had some ideas on what the population numbers looked like, I moved on to economics. Fun fact, if you google “Plains People,” all you really come up with are the Plains Indians, and they were nomads, so information on them was no help in this project. However, Wikipedia has a great deal of information on plains which I found extremely useful in this endeavor. While it may not be an ideal source if you’re looking for facts you can rely on, Wikipedia more than accurate enough if you’re just looking to inject a little realism into your role playing games. Turns out “plains” is an exceptionally broad category, which covers dozens of terrain types.

I decided that my GM’s goal in providing me with an endless flatland of plains was probably closest to the American prairie. Which, I learned, is excellent for farming. However, farming there required more advanced farming equipment than was available when it was first settled. Apparently, up until that point, farmers used wooden plows, but steel plows needed to be developed to handle the tougher earth. I decided one of my experts would need to be a dedicated toolmaker. Animal husbandry is also an option for people living in an area like the American prairie. Using that information, I decided that farming would be the main source of food and income for this village, with pigs and chickens providing them with some dietary variety.

The only major landmarks of note are the homes of the mayor and wizard, both of whom Zalekios killed in his secret coup. Since Zalekios is impersonating the mayor, he’s taken up that residence, and billeted his small army of 33 goblins in the Wizard’s home. I mocked up this “Town Character Sheet” in open office writer.

Town of Doverston (Zalekiosville) Character Sheet

Town of Middenheim City of the White Wolf Map Warhammer Fantasy RoleplayFrom there, it was time to draw the map. As with the previous steps, I decided to do some research first. I dug through a number of sources for maps, including my own books, the Cartographer’s Guild, and just plain old google image search. I saved a few dozen samples to reference as I went to make my own map, and used elements from several of them. However, this map, from the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, was my biggest aide. It is at the same time both extremely simple, and extremely detailed. If you step back and look at the whole map, you see what appears to be a birds eye view of a large city. Each building and side street is distinct, and you get a sense of what the town is like from a street view. There are clearly affluent areas near the parks, with larger houses, etc, along with poorer areas of much smaller buildings clustered together. Yet for all its detail, the map is drawn quite simply. Each individual building is little more than a brown shape with either an “X” or an “I” drawn on top of it to indicate the slant of the roof.

To start with, I sketched out a “districts” map, like the ones I mentioned above. It looked like a series of circles, like a bulls-eye. The small, center circle was designated for important buildings, like the mayor’s residence. It’s also the location of the town square, where meetings would be held. Around that is the residential area. This was a much larger section, which would contain most of the town’s buildings, arranged around the center of town roughly evenly. The largest circle, by a significant margin, is the farmland, which surrounds the entire town.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Town of Doverston (Zalekiosville) Map
The areas of brown within the town indicate pig pens, whilst I imagine many homes have chicken coops next to them. The small circles in the center of the two ancillary “town squares” represent wells. The two white buildings are the Mayor’s residence and the Wizard’s home. The crosshatch patterns surrounding the town represent farmland.

There are still a number of problems with this map. My scale is way off, for one thing. The more important buildings near the center of town should be much larger, while the residential buildings can be relatively small. The farmland was also truncated due to the limited size of the paper. Normally I’d remake the map before posting it, but at this point I’m not sure I’ll bother remaking this map. Even though it’s not “to scale,” it effectively demonstrates the layout of the town.

Anybody else have experience detailing small towns? Any tips on how to improve my process?

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