Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Little Stephie Earwick's Terrible No-Good Thoughts

"I am an ophtalmologist, precisely speaking. Which is to say, by day I oph, and by night I talm. Ophing I can do with my eyes closed, in fact I prefer it. But it's to talm that I need all the light that I can get."

- Earl T. Earwick, ophtalmologist, to his daughter Stephanie.

Stephanie Earwick, or Stephie if you're friendly, is a girl of ten-and-a-little. The youngest of three, she came after tall Violet and grouchy Evelyn. Her father is an eye surgeon and her mother is buried in the garden because the town cemetery is full.

Stephanie is also, as mister Earwick's contemporaries describe it so hamfistedly, 'sick with thought.' That is to say, Stephanie Erwick worries a lot. About everything. All the time. In fact, thanks to all these anxieties, Stephanie Earwick has built up so much pressure in her head that when she went to sleep one night, her thoughts blew out of her ears, slipped under her bedroom door and spread through the house like poison gas, creeping into the ears and noses and mouths of her sisters, her father, their maid, her mother. 

And so, the Earwick family was cursed.

Cursed so that ever since little Stephie went to sleep that night, her family was not to be her family. Instead they became the waking thoughts Stephie has about them, and Stephie Earwick is scared, terrified, of everything.

Art by Vasily Polenov, 1886

Whenever you (the players) arrive in town, this unfairness has already come to pass. It won't be any more fair to you. The best you can hope to do, perhaps, is to be fair to it. To them. However, they will try to kill you horribly, and you must survive.

You could always run and never return. You could.


Nerves. That's a strange remark but this is what's most remarkable about the town. It's full of nerves. White, wet, stringy and thin. Stepping on one makes your skin crawl, out of second-hand pain and discomfort. They cover the town like plant roots or a fungus. They smell of fish oil, preservative, and blood. They have labels on them too. Doctor's cursive has put names on the paper strips, and dates, and lengths and some markers you're not quite sure how to interpret. Conditions, maybe? Treatments? Every label has an 'O' or a 'T' on it too.

Sometimes, a long nerve will slither away suddenly. If you follow it, you'll find the slit under the door of the Earwick house slurping it up like a spaghetti string.

The town has an overfull graveyard, even from before the curse. There's an old factory. It made jars of mayonnaise sauce. The building has a flaky skin of posters about strike, about pay, about mayonnaise. Some of them suggest using the mayonnaise in recipes or substitutions that are downright awful. The inside is quite derelict. Stinks of rotting mayonnaise. You know how it gets all yellow? Acidic? Maybe a little tangy and brown? Like pus in a jar.

It looks like a place you could die in, that factory. Why the hell do you need a whole factory just to make mayonnaise anyway?

Chicken farms around the downtown area. They're quite large, muddy. They need the eggs, you'd guess. For the mayonnaise. They're still there alright, clucking away. You can hear them downtown, faintly.

There are no bodies, but many dragging marks. Abandoned newspapers, canes, shoes. Blood.


Once luxurious, perhaps. Although, no. There is a certain wealth there, but it's lean and thinly spread. It may have been more luxurious if the town had had more to give. If some had taken less. It's a large terraced house, with a simple garden surrounded by an iron fence. The garden hardly has any grass. It's long and it winds between skinny bushes and down some stone steps. There's a dead chicken in the front, and a gravestone. Open earth. It looks like someone was about to bury the chicken. Which is wrong, of course.

All doors and windows were barricaded. A black paint cross, like a headless man with raised arms, is splayed out across the front door. Wooden boards are torn, on the in- and outside. Windows smashed.

They came out.

Inside, it's like an intestine. A long corridor folded up in a cavity, that sometimes widens into a stomach or a kitchen. No house should be built like this. Probably wasn't. There are two empty mayonnaise jars in the kitchen. A third has a whole chicken crammed inside it.

There's so little light, even with all the broken windows. You quickly feel as though you're far, far away from the open air. There is more corridor, more intestine, than the house could possibly fit.

Thick bundles of the nerves you saw outside are laid out through the corridors. They're going somewhere.


The thing that sets the monsters of children apart from the monsters of adults, is not that they are less real, wicked, or terrible. They're plenty terrible. Some adults like to conceive that a childish imagination is, or should be, an innocent and harmless thing, because they themselves have lived blissful childhoods. This is false of course. In fact this assumption is a thought kissed by evil. After all, how can such a person treat the horrors of a young mind except with dismissal or revulsion?

The monsters of children are different from those of adults because they are less restrained. Most adults are excellent self-censors. Children, however, less so. Thus, their monsters do not need to make sense, or be decent, or explainable, or orthodox, or any such limitation that life experience may impose when the years come.

Bad Violet is ten feet tall and covered in spikes. She wears a dead dog wrung like a towel around her neck, her head is stuck in a bottle with her long black hair spilling out, and her hands are iron vises. She's accompanied by the Sod, a hulking muscular corpse of a man, whose head has been peeled halfway like an apple. He oozes mayonnaise, grease, oil and sweat in thick droplets. His skull is cracked open and instead of brains there is a stained life insurance form.

Bad Evelyn has long simian arms with bloodied knuckles. She's full of porcelain shards, and she's wrung out of shape by large swellings that ooze blood. Her bottom half is the head and front legs of a giant spider. She doesn't speak, only screams like a monkey. She has about the same behaviours.

Bad Mum is a skinless corpse that flies around the house, banging against the walls, like a high speed baseball that never slows down. Splat! Splat! Splat!

Bad Margery is soaked with water as if drowned, bloated, and smells strongly of grimy soap and urine. Her face is made entirely of long teeth making something that is a smile only in name. She can open like an iron maiden, and when someone is inside, boil them into paste while blowing steam like a kettle.

Then there's the last one...

The Bad Doctor, which was once Dr. Earl T. Earwick, is like a spider weaving its web with nerves. It is half-mechanical, made of amalgamations of surgery tools and other medical equipment, innervated by long strands of webbed branched-out spinal chord and spindly bundles of sinew. At its middle the flesh of Dr. Earwick is split along its limbs to reveal the nerves that weave across its mechanical body. It still wears its glasses, but also a fixated, strained grin that Dr. Earwick never wore a day in his life.

It lives in the heart of the house, an enormous cavity into which all hallways and nerves that ran through them emerge. This dark space is filled with the pale sinewous webbing and sporadic bodies, half-alive and hanging by their face which is opened to allow the nerves to exit and spread out. A great cluster of the bodies hangs suspended in the middle like a corpulent fly in a way. On it sits, disembodied, Stephie Earwick's bedroom. She has locked herself inside.

At any point while in the town, the Bad Doctor may attempt to abduct players, kill them and take them to its lair to add to its nauseating web cathedral. It will, however, retreat quickly if at all in danger or outnumbered. It is an ambush predator. Only in its lair will it fight to the death, at massive terrain advantage.

The Bad Doctor performs terrible experiments on the townspeople in his lair. They have no goal, no purpose. He simply practices aimless surgery, as seen through the eyes of a child who cannot rhyme its horrific appearance with its alleged purpose.

That is the dungeon of fear that traps a single terrified soul.

Will you brave it all, to save one child whose mind may have given out already?

Art by Jon Klassen

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Troll Eater Act 1: Forestia

"I live where the drum beats in the belly of God, Lipula. I live in the house of wood with the floor of skulls, I hold my banquets there, Lipula. I fear my shadow wants to live in me, Lipula. My shadow speaks in growls and sends two legions of flies drink of my chalice, Lipula.  Lipula tell me will I live for long? Lipula tell me will I stay for long? Lipula will you not come to the hall, Lipula? Lipula will you not eat with me, Lipula?"

Song echoing from the mountains, only heard when alone. 

It's a powerful call. Many fear it. If your game takes place somehwere like this, in a place of great mountains and trees larger than they ought to be, in a place where the earth growls, then the players might heed it.

Reasons to answer the call:

  • There are so many questions. Dangerous questions. You can't resist the allure of this morbid, visceral mystery.
  • The call makes children scared and animals violent. The sheep are being eaten, not by wolves, but by deer. Someone must protect the village. The call must be silenced.
  • The call is making burial earth churn and old bones reemerge, carried by processions of insects. It's disturbing the souls of the dead. Peace must be restored.
  • The call is deep. It speaks to your guts. It beckons something deep inside you that feels powerful. Untamed. You want to indulge that feeling.
  • The song is like the smell of honey and grease to you. You are lean, hungry, and it will feed you.
  • You are destroyed. Bereft and broken. It is all that speaks to you now.
  • ...

If you want to answer this call, you'll have to travel into the forest that grows against the mountains. Dark and musty beings await you there. Skins of men that travel across the treetops. The Nillijders, five forest kings old and young dwelling in their cave with the court of fairies. Women who sweat blood. Bones between human and animal, and the roots that cradle them like eggs. The smell of lavender, which does not grow here. Your goal is to find the house with the floor of skulls, where the call comes from. 

At any point you can isolate yourself to listen to the call, and see whether it has grown louder or softer. This is your compass.

The Troll Eater is an adventure presented in three parts, or acts. This first act describes the forest you have to go through to find the eponymous Troll Eater. The next will describe the Troll Eater's lair and what it has in store for you. The third and final part will make itself apparent as it comes.

Chopwood Opera, my previous post, was born from the combat mechanics of a dead game. This adventure is born from the lore and setting of it. Credit to Vulnavia from the Lovely Dark for making stuff so good I felt I had no choice but to write this. If you want a game system crucible to pour this post into, Charlie F-A's Into the Wyrd and Wild is perfect.

Content warning: Annihilation meets A Field in England.

Art by Sergey Averkin

The forest adheres to a few principles. That is to say, the druids and hermits of the forest have gathered from its savage phenomena a set of through-lines that appear to underpin their observations and rites. They are...limited. Incorrect, perhaps. Or rather, drawn crudely on copying paper laid over an alien web. They are the product of druid mythology surrounding the forest, which is just that: a mythology. The forest does not obey them. It isn't dictated by them. At best it is described by them.

They are:

“All things are in a cycle above and below. Below, the earth: slow, dead, the object, the substrate. It exists in more shapes than the red, and more colours. It has a million mouths that the flesh cannot see. It breathes so deeply that it does not breathe. It moves so slowly that it does not move. The Nillijders live in its skull.” 

Death, Decay, Soil, Subduing, Rest, Plants, Silence

"A forest is the feeding organ of the dead. It is a site of fundamental bereavement and consumption. The woodland animals lick the leftovers off the lips of the earth. It is also like a brain. The thoughts of the dead are the cries in the forest at night, racing like banshees across the treetops. You will not know when it is digests you on its spiral tongue."

Confusion, Obfuscation, Maze, Forlorn, Tragedy, Loss, Secrets Kept

"All things are in a cycle below and above. Above, the flesh: rapid and alive, the subject, the savage self-instrument. The giantess Ividraud has borne the red from her blood and her seed. Flesh is a substance that the kings would not accept, so they chase it on its heels until it is exhausted, and dies.

Life, Body, Blood, Animals, Fear, Ecstasy, Fever

"There are warriors who eat the fallen antlers of stags, ground into powder that they pour into their gullet like sand and then spit at each other. The older ones do not grind them but swallow them whole, which destroys their innards. This turns them into creatures that can kill with a finger, but starve in a week."

Decision, Violence, Dominance, Contest, Weapon, Battle, Hate

"Inside an inside, there is another inside. In a wound you will find thin tubes of white meat that are like ways through the unknown. Robbers crawl in them, thieves. The birds have sharp beaks, thin like wires and long as an arm, to stick into the tubes and eat the things that travel from corpse to corpse. As they tear them apart, more tubes spill from their body."

Entry, Key, Invasion, Theft, Defence Pierced, Uninvited Guest, Travel

"When a body dies its spirit leaves it, crawls out of its mouth and flies away as a white-pink moth. Bugs are the bastard children of the spirits and the souls of other things. A corpse that swallows enough insects will stand and its eyes will turn scaled, and the eyes will grow bushels of long antennae and the words of this apparition will be the language of the soul."

Lure, Spirit, Ghost, Poison, Transformation, Congregation, Infection

“This Principle is wrong. It has never been agreed upon by druids, but over time, it has been found in every list, every diagram, every calendar. It has been called Cave, Mouth, Pit, and many other names. Where does it come from? Why is it always here?”

Mistake, Transgression, Abnormality, Fault, Fluke, Vestige

Art by Akeussel

As you travel through the forest, following the sound of the call, you will encounter many manifestations of the forest. Here are a few:

D10 Phenomena
  1. Roots of a tree lie exposed. They twist among each other like the knots in a brain. When you leave and come back, the pattern has changed. The third time you return, the tree is dead and mushrooms grow from its rotting bark. The fourth, it is expelling a human skeleton. The fifth, the tree is gone.
  2. A fleshy hole hovers in the air. It expands and contracts rhythmically like slow breathing. Anything you throw in disappears. If you crawl into it, you see a vision, and then flip a coin. If you roll heads, you die and the next four animals the rest of the party encounter have part of your body merged with them. If you land tails, you are born to an animal the party encounters the next day, both you and animal unharmed.
  3. When you find an animal carcass or make a wound on something, the wound spills out stringy white worms, thin like hairs. Anyone who touches them, contracts Heronway. If left alone they exit the wound they protrude from, and move across the forest floor in unison like a white rustling doormat.
  4. A cobblestone hut that's devoid of people. Inside is an anvil, a hammer resting on it, and a mountain of bones. They have been smashed between the hammer and the anvil. Some are broken, but some are bent like metal bars.
  5. Five standing stones, resembling tall and lean naked male human figures, each well over 8 feet tall, each one embracing itself giving it a pillar-like appearance. They all have flower crowns set on their heads, in various states of decay. When it is full moon they all clatter their teeth for a full hour in the middle of the night, then stop.
  6. You see a creature, seemingly humanoid but appearing made of densely knotted organ meat or carapace. A troll. It quickly removes itself from your vicinity. If you pursue it you will get lost in the forest, and there will be obstacles to overcome if you want to find your way back to your previous route.
  7. A group of pale white-pink moths sit on trees in the area you are in. If you kill one, the next human you meet will be empty: they will be a stark skin, full of nothing. If you eat one, you are not alone in your head anymore. There is another thing, a horrible thing. You get a vision every time you sleep until someone drills a hole into your skull to let out a white-pink moth. If they let out two, all your flesh and bones inside your skin are compressed into a ball (you die).
  8. A 6 foot high wheel of tree roots rolls through the forest, crushing undergrowth and animals getting in its way. If you chase it, it will stop at twilight, open like a flower, and release the smell of lavender. Inside is a dead wolf whose head is twisted into a knot. Touching the wolf gives you a vision and then peels the limb you touch it with like a fruit. The wolf carcass then moves horizontally sideways, unmoving and hovering, until it hits an obstacle which presses it flat.
  9.  ♫ Song bird song bird where have you been, I've been waiting foooor youuu...song bird song bird songgnos drgnbibngrd where haah erehw foooor youuu... ♪ 
  10. A thin brook. It clatters over rocks smoothened by its running. At one point it drops down into a hole into the ground. Anything you drop down this hole disappears. If you force your head down this hole, your skin and then muscle begin to run like water, down the hole. Bones drop in too. Party members will see insects the next day carrying your teeth and building a tiny house with them. Drinking from it, it is just normal water.
Art by me!

D10 Monsters
  1. A raw and skinless creature, hopping around, four feet tall, and shaped like a big human heart on two legs, with thin arms dangling from the middle. It may look ridiculous, but it beats as it jumps around, which is an eardrum-rending and rib-cracking sound if you are too close. Comes in groups.
  2. Appears as a lithe young woman with translucent-pale skin and (body) hair, concealed by a mantle of skinless bleeding arms that sprout from its collarbone, by which it does not seem weighed down by in its prancing and laughing. Potent, nauseating musk. Eight feet tall. Wears entrails as scarves and clothing, otherwise naked.
  3. A long centipede made of frontal wolf halves, each back half being swallowed by the maw of the next wolf. Total length unknown. Possibly circular.
  4. Person in warrior's garb ravaged by stag antler jammed into their body via the mouth. Head hidden by copious horn and bone spike growth. Blind. Its fingers, with bear claws, pass through armour and clothing. Kills everything it encounters. Dies after a few days from starvation.
  5. A human skin, rubbery and outstretched in the length, and a face that has no features except for a maze of gyres. Lives among the trees, where it stretches itself out between branches and trunks. When travellers appear it whips them with the branches and twigs or pulls them by the neck into the treetops, and strangles them.
  6. Something like a large flatworm, its back earth-like and camouflaged to look like a dirt path, concealing many bear trap-like jaws that are ready to spring open once an unwitting animal or traveller walks on it. Its underside looks like an outstretched human skin, face and all.
  7. You see the moon among the trees. It shouldn't be there. But it is. When you get close enough the dark around it becomes an enormous black wolf/bear-like creature's head and swallows you together with the moon. The next night will have no moon in the sky and your head, gnawed, will show up floating in a pond during the next full moon.
  8. Naked humans with membranes between their arms and legs. Hover in the sky just above the treetops, slowly moving, limbs outstretched but not flapping them. Do not attack and seem in a coma state.
  9. A chalice made of fungus-like material that runs across the forest floor on four small legs. Filled with black thick liquid. Will flee from you. When you drink the liquid, you can fly for an hour. Humans who fly become obsessed with it. If you haven't gone back to the ground after an hour you become the above listed creature (entry 8).
  10. Skinny white three feet tall human with a black boulder the size of a beach ball as a head. If you crack open the rock, you will find a skinless head of roughly the same size. Wants to steal your food, to feed birds with it.
Art by Calder Moore

D6 Infections:
  1. Many thin white worms, hair-like in size, fester in a wound. Those able can travel through the worms between two different creatures infected by Heronway. Cured by eating poison to drive out the worms, then taking an antidote.
  2. Quickly spreading skin mould that looks like mangy pelt. Craving for raw meat. Cured by cauterising the infected skin.
  3. Blood becomes filled with small fish, crustaceans, river insects. Matter of time until one grows big enough to clog an artery and give you a stroke. Cured by bloodletting.
  4. Hallucinations, invasive manic thoughts, and fever for a day. Then you lay an egg. The egg is white, slightly larger than a chicken's. Roll d6: if 1-5 it contains black, viscous fluid that stinks immensely. If 6 the egg seems unbreakable, keeps growing until barrel-sized, then hatches into a child version of you. The child does not speak any language you know or can understand, but otherwise behaves normally. Cured by laying the egg.
  5. Swelling of the chest cavity until twice its normal size. Chest heats up progressively until boiling, which blisters the skin. Cured by swallowing a spoon.
  6. Extreme paranoia about the reason why and how you are alive. Your notion of individuals erodes. Everything is made up of more life: fungi, bacteria, and so on. It's a recursive fractal, and also one single thing. Visions of a giantess walking around the forest, the trees reaching to her knees. Cured by a near-death experience.
D20 Visions:
  1. Vision of a long dark hallway full of fungal aggregates of tiny red humanoid shapes. Inhaling sound.
  2. Feeling of warm breath in face, overpowering odour of iron, salt, decay. Sound of wind rushing through tunnel.
  3. Memory that isn’t yours, lingering in your head, then it suddenly disappears.
  4. Feeling of warm soup or broth filling your mouth, when opened only releases strong smell of lavender
  5. Silent but sharp vision of bearded bald man screaming as bright white light hatches from his splitting head.
  6. Others suddenly all smell like blood. Who are they? What are they, really?
  7. Deafening scream of deep-voiced woman. Smell of blood. Sky, if visible, briefly turns red.
  8. Vision of white-cloaked figure, viscera and blood spilling from underneath cloak. Feeling of grass brushing against legs. 
  9. Overwhelming stench of carrion. Loud sounds of hammer striking anvil.
  10. Brief notion of unreality, urge to escape without knowing the prison.
  11. Deep feeling of fever and heat, short amnesia episode. 
  12. Sound between human and horselike scream. Smell of salt and potash.
  13. Everything silenced. Smell of wet leaves and blood. Voice says: “Oh, it’s you again.”
  14. Feeling of warm, wet hands on body. More than two. Sound of clacking teeth. 
  15. Sudden impression that there is one more person with you than there is. 
  16. Vision of small squat pale gremlin sitting on white rock, chewing on skinless head. Overwhelming smell of lavender.
  17. Everything feels wet, even stone, and it pulses. Touch becomes taste, taste of iron. 
  18. Vision of feral woman writing in book with own blood tears. Sound of many insect wings flapping.
  19. Feeling of embrace, so tight it presses the air from your lungs. Smell of body odour and blood.
  20. Singing voice: “Song bird song bird where have you gone, I’ve been waiting for youuu
Art by Ivan Shishkin
D6 Conditions for finding the house with the skull floor:
  1. All but one member of the original party have died, disappeared, or been replaced with new characters.
  2. An in-game month has passed.
  3. Three recurring monsters have been defeated
  4. All characters have accepted that they will not leave the forest, dead or alive.
  5. All characters die at exactly the same time. They then wake up, alive, in front of the house.
  6. The players have gotten used to the forest and it is time for new things to keep them invested.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

CHOPWOOD OPERA: My Health and Damage Rules

I'm currently slicing up the half-formed body old game, which turned out far too ambitious for both my product-making skills and the amount of time I had. It was a big part of my learning process regarding game design, and went from a sickening, bloated union between Pathfinder and Darkest Dungeon to something like Into the Wyrd and Wild. Its name was The Cave In The Wood.

I worked on it for a few years, and at this point, I've made peace with the fact that it's unlikely to actually become a finished product. However, it has a lot of good bits that are worth salvaging and putting out into the world. That's why I'm going elbows-deep into its corpse with my butcher knife and repackaging some choice cuts from this dead cow into a menu for the people.

This is the first steak to come out of that effort. It's the health, damage, and combat ruling, which I'll now call CHOPWOOD OPERA rules. [♫]

Art by Gian Galang

Everything has PARTS. At least one, never more than six. At least one is lethal if it's destroyed. A human, like the player, has four parts: head, torso, arms, and legs. The head and torso are lethal when destroyed. The smaller something is, the fewer parts it should have.

A hit gives a part a WOUND, which cripples the part and gives you a drawback. On two wounds, the part is destroyed or severed. Anything with more than three total wounds dies from being ripped to pieces.

To fight, you have a FIGHT DIE. You start with a d4. When you improve your fighting power by whatever means, it goes one tier higher: becomes a d6. This goes on, up to d20. Enemies also have a Fight Die that ranges from a d4 (weak) to d20 (fuck you). 

Two combatants pick a target part and roll the Fight Dice against each other when they have at it. The HIGHEST ROLL gets to land a hit. With matching dice, both parties land their hit.

This means that the weakest fighter (d4) has a 7.5% chance to hit the strongest fighter (d20). 

MOVEMENT is abstracted, and therefore, so is RANGE for the most part. If you have a scenario where one of the two parties landing a hit on the other is absolutely impossible (sniper shooting man with shiv), replace "man with shiv landing a hit" with either an ally of the shiv man landing a hit, or the sniper getting a wound because of a fuckup or the shiv man's cunning shiv plan. Just make sure that if the sniper doesn't win against the shiv man, the sniper bleeds. When the fight die is rolled, someone gets hurt.

In BIG FIGHTS with lots of fighters, apply as follows: Everyone chooses a target, and all roll at the same time. Read out from highest Fight Die roll to lowest.

Art by Andrew Sebastian Kwan

ARMOUR is a chance out of 6 (roll a d6) per part to stop a wound, representing how well that part is protected. Adding more layers of armour ticks up that chance, but wearing 6 thick shirts over each other that give you 1 in 6 when worn alone does not give you 6 in 6. Every layer has to be distinct. However, doing the aforementioned you can upgrade your heavy shirt armour of 1 in 6 to many heavy shirts that gives +2 in 6, or give it a total of 3 hits instead of 2 that it can take.

Armour that stops an attack takes a hit. Weapons specify whether they do or don't hit armour that they bypass (things like chainsaws do, things like daggers don't). Better armour can take more hits before it breaks. No armour should have more than 4 hits it can take. Armour that has taken some hits can be repaired, armour with all of its hits exhausted is destroyed. 

Hits are tracked per armour piece, not part: gear that protects multiple parts takes a hit when it stops a wound on any of them. It does not take hits per part.


Titanium Bucket with Eye Holes: +4 in 6 for head (3 hits remain)
Homemade Kevlar Vest: +2 in 6 for torso (2 hits remains)
Cursed Cloak: +1 in 6 for torso, arms, legs (2 hits remain)

The definition of armour, and hits to armour, is not strict. A hit could mean the force that protects you tires out or otherwise becomes less able. Here are some more atypical pieces of armour:

Headshot-Eating Mask: +6 in 6 for head (1 hit remains)
Donny Catches the Hit: +4 in 6 for any body part (2 hits remains)
Dancing Sickness: +2 in 6 for legs (3 hits remain)
Conveniently Placed Wallet: +1 in 6 for torso (1 hit remains)

DEATH INSTINCT is a 2-in-6 piece of armour that protects all lethal parts (in the case of the player, the head and torso)Death Instinct activates only when all other armour fails and can take only one hit, but is restored when the holder survives a fight. 

Death Instinct is an OPTIONAL rule to slightly reduce lethality and incentivise attacking non-lethal limbs for a more cinematic fight.


Art by Takehiko Inoue, from Vagabond

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Thawing Kingdom for Zinequest: Kickstarter!

"After all this cold...this age of ice and silence, finally..."

Finally, the Thawing Kingdom is back. And it's not just back as more blog content, it's back as a zine you can get! That is, if it manages to succeed as a kickstarter campaign for Zinequest 3!


In addition, a little update. I have a twitter now that you can follow for blog updates, updates on this kickstarter campaign, and possibly more: art and other RPG project may well come to this blog too!

What's In The Zine?

The zine mainly puts all of the existing Thawing Kingdom content into one nicely presented place, edited and polished. However, it also contains a bunch of new tables, of spells, items and more!

If you back the tier for it, you will also be able to get a Thawing Kingdom bosscrawl, which is a simple A5 sheet list of Dark Souls-style bosses to slay in this forlorn land in search of restoration and a new age: a little bonus, for a little extra.

So take your mantle thick, strap on your snowshoes! If you follow the project by getting notified at launch, that helps me estimate the backer number, and keeps you up to date! Show yourselves oh silhouettes in this cold mist!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

GLOG class: The Sauna Demon

Another GLOG class, yes. I'm cleaning out drafts, alright. I swear, it's the last one. Man, these things are like biscuits.

Art by Rachel Suggs

Being a wizard is hard work. Especially when you have to be running around with this bunch of ruffians adventurers who think a bath is something you can either eat or kill, maybe both. Luckily you know better. In Wizard City, if there's one public matter that is taken very seriously, it is the sauna. Wizard brains are contstantly being whipped with live arcane electrical wires. They need to blow off steam (and residual Thaum) regularly.

It was brought along by that curious bunch (I know, rich coming from wizards) from up north, then some people from the east came and said they came up with them first, but not before some people from the south said it had always been theirs, and so on. The kind of sauna you go to is an important cultural statement in Wizard City. It all started with this wizard, oh what was his name, who plopped a whole sauna down in Cranberry Street so he could bathe, while passing through for only a day and shouting "Perkele!" a lot. He left the next day claiming Wizard City was a glorified man cave.

The Sauna Demon is not necessarily hideous or demonic in form, nor are they malicious. The name was chosen by wizards because these sauna-keepers are a bit witch-like in nature. They don't take wizards very seriously, and belly-laugh their way through the scholarly arcane traditions. This means, as far as wizards are concerned, that they're certainly not sauna wizards. Are they sauna witches, then? No! No no no, we can't have that, we can't have witches in Wizard City. So what are they?

Demons? Yes. Demons is good. That shows that we don't like them, but it's very serious business not liking them, since they're demons. Which we summon, by the way. To do our bidding. Take that, demons.

Most Sauna Demons have a plain human appearance, but they do tend to be a bit supernaturally shameless, hairy, and irreverent by demeanour. This class should definitely (not) be multiclassed with my GLOG wizard, the Radiomancer.

Art by Armand Serrano


Starting items: Pail and bath brush.

A: The Sauna, +1 Con, +2 Save, +1 HD, Nikolas
B: Winter Coat, +1 Con, +1 Wis, +1 HD
C: Blow Off Steam, Warm Welcome, +1 Cha, +1 HD
D: Spirit Form, +2 Wis, +1 HD

THE SAUNA: You can open any door and find a small sauna interior instead of what is normally behind it. It fits four people comfortably, and up to seven people uncomfortably. While you or anyone else is inside, the room stays connected to that door. The door can be locked from the inside, but it is a lock easily breakable with brute strength. You cannot take anything that belongs in the room outside of it: it disappears from your hand and reappears in its normal place. If the walls of the sauna are broken, thick steam blows everyone out and shuts the door, disappearing. You cannot summon the room again if this happens, until you get a magical sauna repair person to put it back in order.

NIKOLAS: Wherever it is you came from, you brought him with you. Or rather, he followed you behind the trees while you weren't looking. Nikolas appears when you roll a critical failure (natural 1 on d20), and he has a chance to show up in particularly cold areas as well. He will steal one of your templates (you can save to spot him and fend him off with your brush). You then have to chase him down to get it back. Nikolas is able to use the abilities of the template he has stolen. If Nikolas steals template A, which he himself is on, he'll forget who you are and it'll be easier to catch him. He stops appearing at critical failures until you have template A back. You can't level up while one of your templates is missing. If he appears again before you've gotten your template back, you suffer the following effect (like Wizard Dooms):
  1. When next you open any sauna or bathing room, Nikolas is there with a wood axe and wearing only a bath towel. He'll try to kill you.
  2. Nikolas is back. He wants blood. He appears, stronger than before, and comes to butcher you.
  3. Nikolas manages to get the drop on you while you're bathing and cuts your head off. You're dead. Nikolas is satisfied and disappears with a cold winter wind.
You can prevent Nikolas from appearing by leaving out an offering of Kossu or Vodka and roast sausages for Nikolas. The plate and bottle are emptied messily while you aren't looking. This protects you for 3 days. Any other meal and alcohol combination will protect you for 1 day.

WINTER COAT: You have a hefty, well-insulating layer of fat and cheery disregard for the winter gods. You take only half damage from frost attacks, and save twice against other cold-related effects, taking the better result. If you can already save to take half damage, you save to take no damage instead. Furthermore, you can turn this template into a warm coat and give it to someone else, temporarily losing it yourself. They must return it to you before sundown, otherwise the template is permanently transferred to them, and you lose this part of your power. If you have template D, you can regain this template by turning into a bear and eating the one who possesses it.

BLOW OFF STEAM: When you bathe or take a sauna, your mind is at ease. Remove negative mind-affecting effects from yourself. Others can retry their save. Additionally, if wizards or other people affected by non-permanent magical mutations bathe in your sauna, the mutation disappears.

WARM WELCOME: You have free entry to any bathhouse or sauna: even those who do not want to let you in must do so out of courtesy. You can also ask of anyone to use their bathing facilities, to the same effect. If anyone still refuses, their bath(house) is cursed. However, if they allow you to use it but only on a certain condition, that does not trigger this effect: they can effectively refuse you entry by allowing you to use it if you meet a condition which is impossible to meet. Only folkwise people know this loophole. 

You can give someone a piece of paper with your name and signature on to let them speak with your blessing: you pass this ability on to them for a day. At sundown the paper shrivels. You can only pass this ability to one person at a time, but you can still use the ability in the meantime.

SPIRIT FORM: Being a sort of natural spirit, you can occasionally change your form. For a total of ten minutes per day, while you are in an area that is not under distinct magical influence of an outside force, you can change into various natural forms:
  • An animal between the sizes of a squirrel and a moose. If you eat food that has touched human hands you must turn back.
  • A rock roughly equal to your size, or a small tree. You are immobile in this form. If you are completely put in shadow, you must turn back.
  • A gust of wind. When taking this form you must move constantly. If you are caught in a bedsheet, you must turn back.
  • A small pond (up to five feet across). You are immobile in this form. If someone throws rubbish into you, you must turn back.
If you are forced to turn back rather than do so of your own accord, you cannot change form again for that day. A druid, witch or shaman (not a wizard or sorcerer) can always tell you are not a regular natural feature when in changed form, and may command you to turn back: you must then choose to comply, or save to resist. If you fail the save, you are forced to turn back regardless.

Art by Vikki Truver

Thursday, December 31, 2020

GLOG class: Accidental Splatter Killer

I know, I know. It's a GLOG class. There are hundreds of those. No, literally, there are. I'm not sure whether there's much point in making new ones when I feel like it's more of a creative exercise than a real, useful piece of game resource. However, it's fun, and not too hard. You can probably adapt it to other stuff too. So here's this ridiculous thing.

You're a monster. You eviscerate those who threaten you without hesitation and with extreme brutality. But worst of all...you don't know how it keeps happening! Oh god, you're a nervous wreck, a teary-eyed worrywart. You were about to get a raise, and that was your new top and now it's covered in blood and oh god, oh god, will it ever stop?!

You're an industrial strength transmitter of splatter film bad luck. Somehow, whoever really stresses you out can expect an immediate and gruesome fate, which honestly is only tangentially related to you at best. It's a curse. You're sure it's a curse. What kind of horrible demon would do this to you?

Art by 룽텐 (Chainsaw Man fan art)


A: Save* +2, Attack -4, StressSPLATTER

B: Save* +1, Stealth +1, The Knife, +1 HD, -1 stress limit, -1 SPLATTER stress requirement.

C: Save* +2, Stealth +2, Cursed Clumsy, Splatterbrain, -2 stress limit, -1 SPLATTER stress requirement.

D: Choose one: FREEDOM or LOVE. +1 HD. Attack +6. Stealth -4.

*= this save bonus is negated if what you save against appears appealing and relaxing. Death is not relaxing to you, it scares the hell out of you. Like most things do.

Stress: Every time you are attacked, you fail a save, something dies within 10 feet of you, or you encounter something really fucked up, you gain a stress die. You can get rid of stress dice by drinking, smoking, getting high, or being loved. Every stress die you have reduces your Charisma and Dexterity by 1 because you are a mess. You start with 4 stress dice. A stress die is a d4.

Once you have 8 stress dice, save against death (wish) for every additional one you gain. If you ever hit 16 stress without dying, you instantly gain template D.

SPLATTER: There's a horrible curse on you that makes your constant state of nervous breakdown have eviscerating consequences. The higher your number of stress dice, the more devastating the SPLATTERs you can cause. Using a SPLATTER gives you one extra stress die. You can only use SPLATTERs on creatures with HD up to one higher than your own, and creatures with that one higher HD can save vs death to take [roll stress dice necessary to unlock SPLATTER] damage instead of being killed by a lethal splatter. Weak enemies may need to make a morale check if they witness a SPLATTER (GM's discretion). You can use splatters on enemies in a range of 10 feet times your current number of stress dice.

  • Skewer: target is gored by one or multiple sharp objects, blood spurts everywhere. Unlocks at 3 stress.
  • Deface: target's face is ripped off, their guts hang out, or they otherwise suffer a borderline-lethal but extremely painful and hideous injury. Unlocks at 3 stress.
  • Dismember: target loses 1d4 limbs and takes the stress die damage for each limb lost. Unlocks at 3 stress.
  • Decapitate: target is beheaded or has their head otherwise removed/destroyed. Always explode it if possible. Unlocks at 4 stress.
  • Rip: target is ripped, cut or otherwise separated into 1d4 pieces. Unlocked at 4 stress.
  • Pulp: target is smashed into a paste or exploded. Unlocked at 6 stress
SPLATTERs are freak accidents. They get uncannier when there seems no way in hell they could happen. Because they do happen.

Art by 룽텐 (Chainsaw Man fan art)

The Knife: You always end up with a knife in your pockets. So long as you have any way to conceal one, you are always carrying a knife, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. It deals 1 damage when you use it intentionally against someone, but it deals damage equal to rolling all your current stress dice when it accidentally hurts someone. This knife cannot be used to cause you harm and will inflict a SPLATTER onto anyone who tries to force it to.

Cursed Clumsy: Whenever you roll a critical failure (e.g. natural 1 on d20) on any roll and your have more than 4 stress dice, a random SPLATTER is inflicted on a random valid target nearby. If the target is friendly, it can make a save vs death if the splatter is lethal to take the SPLATTER's damage instead. If you have 4 or fewer stress dice, gain a stress die.

Splatterbrain: Instead of getting a mishap on doubles, wizards casting a spell get a mishap if they roll a 1 on any MD if you are also in the range of the spell. If they do roll doubles, they suffer a Doom, and if they roll triples, they immediately suffer their third Doom.

Art by Choo
When you gain the 4th template, template D, you break. All of this blood and horror and death and murder and misfortune and stress explodes your mind. So what do you shout at the heart of the world?

FREEDOM: You learn the way to break your curse. This might involve killing some horrible evil spirit who presides over your soul on a mountain, performing a ritual in a shrine you have to assemble from human bones, or replacing literally all of your blood with the blood of your long lost sibling. Something crazy like that. The sheer insult of the blood-soaked road you have to crawl over fills you with an insane stress-energy panicked fury. You become immortal until you break your curse (you can still be hurt and incapacitated). The restriction on THE KNIFE is broken: it now always deals its 'accidental damage'. Your stress limit to start death saves is raised to 16. When you break your curse, you lose all your templates for this class and can never gain them again.

LOVE: You learn to love it. This is the only thing that seems to love you back anway. You snog the skull of death. Your panic becomes bloodlust. So that's how it is. You really are a monster. Your stress mechanic is destroyed. It's replaced by bloodlust, which builds up under the same conditions, but debuffs your Wisdom and Intelligence instead of Dexterity and Charisma. You gain bloodlust dice by using SPLATTERs, and lose one when a combat ends, when a day goes by without killing anybody, or when you are forced to take an explicitly non-violent solution. Instead of saving against death when you exceed a number of stress dice, you now do this when you drop below 4 bloodlust dice. Every day, this bottom limit goes up by 1. When you have so many bloodlust dice your INT or WIS hits zero, your character goes feral. You have to keep going, because once you stop, and you actually come to your senses, it will annihilate you. But, until then, it's a party.