Saturday, 25 September 2021

The Why of Strongholds

It's a hazardous undertaking for civilisation to expand into wilderness. There are wild animals, monsters to contend with, hostile people who were there ahead of you, and other expanding kingdoms closing in. Everyone feels better knowing there are thick stone or wooden walls nearby they can shelter behind when they need to.

This stronghold protects a:

  1. A ferry or bridge
  2. A forest
  3. A trade road
  4. A border route
  5. A mountain pass
  6. A temple

An advantage is:

  1. An underground stream below the castle.
  2. Extensive cellars, cool and dry. 
  3. Good farming land nearby.
  4. Vantage points overseeing all approaches.
  5. Old-growth trees for timber.
  6. Protected from weather by a rock outcropping.

A problem is: 

  1. Crumbling masonry.
  2. Too small for the numbers it needs to shelter during a siege.
  3. Top floors of the keep were destroyed by fire.
  4. An infestation of vermin.
  5. The building is cursed.
  6. The lord is deathly ill.

Money raised by: 

  1.  Charging a fee to passing merchants.
  2. Taxing the local community.
  3. Operating a silver mine.
  4. A provision of the king.
  5. Contributions from wealthy landowners.
  6. Pillaging locals and kidnapping for ransom.

A historical fact is:

  1. A previous lord was killed in a mutiny.
  2. A previous siege was broken by attackers catapulting diseased corpses over the walls. 
  3. Troops here won a famous victory against enemy forces.
  4. The current lord's family were murdered by a witch he insulted.
  5. A demon was imprisoned in the dungeon for many years.
  6. The stronghold was used to test a new magical weapon. It failed.

An outside threat is:

  1. Bandits making hit-and-run raids on locals.
  2. Monsters preying on isolated people.
  3. Enemy forces just across the border.
  4. Seasonal weather will soon make the terrain impassable.
  5. A plague is spreading through the area.
  6. Raging fires.

An inside threat is:

  1. A tunnel from the outside has been dug into the cellars. 
  2. The priest is a secret member of a heretical sect.
  3. The farrier is an enemy agent prepared to poison the horses.
  4. Most of the stored grain has been stolen.
  5. The guards' discipline is lax.
  6. The lord is mad.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Cultist collector

A B/X compatible monster inspired by this image. Which might actually be intended for an RPG sourcebook, the artist has done work for Pathfinder. It's probably intended to be a cultist who is a collector, but I choose to read it as a collector of cultists. Bits of cultists, anyway.

The Collector is a summonable intelligent undead creature typically used by cult leaders to punish followers. It loves to hunt and inspire fear in its prey, so it turns the killing into a chase drawn out over hours or days. When the prey is too exhausted to run any further, the Collector will saw their hands off to keep. Then it torments them with its spears until they die.

When first summoned, the Collector is just a cloud of mist. In that form, it can inflict nightmares on a sleeping victim, gradually using their fear to manifest itself in a physical form. From that point it can take mist form at will and uses it for fast travel. In a chase, the prey finds the Collector manifesting ahead of them when they run in any direction other than the one the Collector wants. If the prey loses their fear of the Collector, it has only its stored reserve of fear to call on. When that's used up, it can no longer manifest physically.

The Collector enjoys its job, and even while bound will usually respond to summonings to see if there's another hunt to be had after this one.

AC 9 [13], HD 5 (23HP), Att 1 x spear (1d6), THAC0 12 [+5], MV 120' (40'/100' in mist form), SV 10 11 12 13 14 (F5), ML 8, AL Chaotic, XP 550, TT - (1d4-1 magic items)


Undead: Make no noise, until they attack. Immune to effects that affect living creatures (e.g. poison). Immune to mind-affecting or mind-reading spells (e.g. charm, hold, sleep).

Holy undead: Cannot be turned by someone of the same religion as the summoner.

Mist form: The Collector can transform into mist or back as a standard action.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

The Why of Ghosts

Is no-one making horror movies about ghosts at the moment? We've had a glut of vampires, zombies and demonic nuns, but I can't remember the last time I watched a good ghost movie. Or a bad one for that matter.

This ghost appears as (1d6):

  1. A soldier
  2. A bride
  3. A child
  4. An old woman
  5. A knight
  6. A hooded figure

It haunts (1d6):

  1. A family home 
  2. A castle or stronghold
  3. A manor house
  4. A market
  5. A crossroads
  6. A bridge

It died of (1d6):

  1. War
  2. Disease
  3. Murder
  4. An accident
  5. A curse
  6. Neglect

A sign of its presence is (1d6):

  1. An eerie cold
  2. Animals show fear
  3. All present feel the same intense emotion
  4. Insects and all manner of vermin appear
  5. Blood or water dripping
  6. Faint sounds of conflict

It has the power to (1d6):

  1. Hurl objects
  2.  Snuff out light sources
  3. Steal warmth
  4. Curse items to break
  5. Start fires
  6. Walk through walls

And also the power to (1d6):

  1. Confuse the mind 
  2. Appear as a living being
  3. Make friends appear to be enemies
  4. Possess people
  5. Read minds
  6. make people see their fears

Its unfinished business is (1d6):

  1. Revenge
  2. A message to a loved one
  3. An unfulfilled promise
  4. Atonement for a crime
  5. Guarding something that was important in life
  6. Proper funeral rites

Monday, 6 September 2021

Library bestiary part 2 - Marginalia

Part 2 of the cursed library bestiary. Find part 1 here.


The art of decorating manuscript margins with educational, comical or topical images is called illumination. The curse brings these illuminated images to life in parts of the library that don't get much foot traffic. Most aren't hostile, but they can be noisy if roused and in the library's deep places, noise will attract worse things than Marginalia.


Drolleries are the standard illumination images - rabbits holding swords, knights riding snails, armoured men with fish on their heads. In the library they're fully-formed beings, but all have a faint parchment-like quality about them. When they move, it's often with the sound of a page turning.

Frequently-encountered drolleries include:

The Snail knight, who rides a giant snail mount. He may challenge the party to a test of honour, hinting that he has vital knowledge that he can only share with fellow cavaliers. The truth is, he only knows the history of a single isolated war.

AC 3 [16] + special (see end of section), HD 4 (18 HP), ATT 1 x lance (1d6), THACO 17 [+2], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F1) ML 8, AL Lawful, XP 175, NA 1 (1), TT None

The Fish knight, who has two brass fish on the side of his helmet. He immediately pledges his undying loyalty to the party and swears to fight and die for the success of their quest. He absolutely will not enter combat, but does loot the body of anyone killed and then try to escape.

AC 3 [16] + special (see end of section), HD 5 (23 HP), ATT 1 x sword (1d8), THACO 17 [+2], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F1) ML 8, AL Lawful, XP 425, NA 1 (1), TT None

Armed rabbits, who team up against any armed person they come across. They use clever strategy and acrobatics and form a serious threat. Even so, they usually make a disciplined retreat before they can do any significant harm. The retreat is via a path through traps they set earlier.

AC 8 [11] + special (see end of section), HD 1-3 (5-14 HP), ATT 1 x weapon, THACO 19 [0], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F1-3) ML 8, AL Neutral, XP 16/26/41, NA 1d4 (1d4), TT None

Suffering saints, who may be sick, injured, starved, tortured or in pieces. They call to the party to pray with them, but resist any efforts to help them. Their suffering is a personal sacrifice to their god. Drama queens, every single one of them.

AC 8 [11] + special (see end of section), HD 5 (18 HP), ATT -, THACO 17 [+2], MV -, SV 9 10 12 14 12 (C5) ML 8, AL Lawful, XP 0, NA 1 (1), TT None

The Dying king, who was too stubborn to listen to prophets and saints, and is now paying the price. Like the Suffering Saints, he resists assistance. His only purpose now is to warn others not to make his mistake. The crime he describes is so mild or obscure that it makes the whole ordeal ridiculous.

AC 5 [14] + special (see end of section), HD 6 (27 HP), ATT -, THACO 17 [+2], MV -, SV 10 11 12 13 14 (F6) ML 8, AL Lawful, XP 0, NA 1 (1), TT None

Badly-drawn animals, who mill around making the sort of noises only someone who had never seen one in the flesh would expect. Not hostile, but may panic and run in any direction if spooked.

AC 8 [11] + special (see below), HD 1/2 (4/9 HP), ATT 1 x butt (1d4), THACO 19 [0], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F1) ML 5, AL Neutral, XP 16/28, NA 1d3 (1d3), TT None 

Specials: All drolleries are immune to piercing or bludgeoning damage and take double damage from fire. Anything taken from a drollery turns to paper in a few seconds.


Historia are images of actual figures from history: saints, kings, heretical bishops, even a few scientists. They can be found doing the things the people they represent could be expected to do in a library. Reading books, giving dry lectures, ordering troops to reinforce the northern border against invaders.

Historia always know where in the library their book is, and what it contains.

Stats: Apply five levels of whatever class is appropriate for the character. Treasure type L (illuminated manuscripts were occasionally decorated with gold leaf and crushed gemstones).

Specials: Historia  have the same specials as Drolleries (see above).


Parodia are similar to Historia, but these images were created to mock their subjects. They may be cross-eyed, have enormous warts on their faces, and wear expressions of bucolic stupidity. They know nothing useful and spend their time performing ridiculous acts. Like Historia, they're not much threat in a fight, but Parodia love to prank people by tripping them on stairs, slamming doors on them, pushing items down from high places, etc.

Stats: As for Historia.


Rubrics are also similar to Historia, but have a faint pink hue to them. They're blood drinkers and the more they drink, the darker their shade and the greater their power. A fully crimson Rubric is a creature to be wary of. They make no use of stealth and repeatedly shout an obscure phrase as a battle cry.

AC 8 [11], HD 2 (9 HP), ATT 1 x weapon or bite (1d6, see specials), THACO 19 [0], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F2) ML 8, AL Chaotic, XP 26, NA 1d3 (1d3), TT None


Attack improvement: For each 10 points of HP damage done by bite attacks, the Rubric gains +2 to attacks and -2 to Save targets. 

Damage: Rubrics are immune to piercing or bludgeoning damage and take double damage from fire. Anything taken from a rubric turns to paper in a few seconds.


Grotesques are simply faces. Blocky and panel-shaped, wrapped in hair or leaves and ivy. They possess and animate furniture.  Someone who sits without looking may be bucked off a chair, or have their gear scattered by a spooked table. In groups, Grotesques will act like herd animals - the larger ones may attack to protect the smaller ones, who retreat in panic.

Basic chair

AC 8 [11], HD 2 (9 HP), ATT 1 x bite or kick (1d4), THACO 19 [0], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F2) ML 6, AL Neutral, XP 20, NA 2d6 (2d6), TT None

Wingback chair

AC 8 [11], HD 3 (14 HP), ATT 1 x bite or kick (1d4), THACO 19 [0], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F3) ML 6, AL Neutral, XP 35, NA 1d4 (1d4), TT None


AC 8 [11], HD 1 (5 HP), ATT 1 x bite or kick (1d4), THACO 19 [0], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F3) ML 6, AL Neutral, XP 10, NA 1 (1d2), TT None 


AC 8 [11], HD 5 (23 HP), ATT 1 x bite or kick (1d6), THACO 17 [+2], MV 120' (40'), SV 10 11 12 13 14 (F5) ML 6, AL Neutral, XP 175, NA 1 (1d4), TT None 


AC 8 [11], HD 4 (14 HP), ATT 1 x bite or kick (1d4), THACO 17 [+2], MV 120' (40'), SV 10 11 12 13 14 (F4) ML 6, AL Neutral, XP 75, NA 1d2 (1d6), TT None 


AC 8 [11], HD 2 (9 HP), ATT 1 x bite or kick (1d4), THACO 19 [0], MV 120' (40'), SV 12 13 14 15 16 (F2) ML 6, AL Neutral, XP 20, NA 1 (1d2), TT None

Saturday, 28 August 2021

B/X compatible monster: Figthing

The One Page Game Jam has ended, and the entries are available for browsing.

They're a fun bunch of games, but some are a challenge to read. There are handwritten documents, background images that don't contrast the text enough, and in some cases a complete indifference to spelling. One game had a section of 'figthing rules'. To my disappointment, it wasn't rules for things made of figs, it was the combat system. So here's a hostile thing made of figs, for which you might also need some figthing fighting rules.


A 7' golem molded from bruised and overripe figs. It squelches as it moves, and carries a buzzing cloud of wasps with it. They crawl on and inside it and form a second threat for an adventuring party to handle. Figthings form (super-) naturally in abandoned fig groves under the influence of awakened wasp nests. They stand in the shadows of trees where they won't dry out, immobile until the wasps detect intruders. Then they attack. A figthing is typically active for two to three weeks before fermentation and rot force its wasps to move on and it loses its animating force.

AC 8[11], HD 4 (18 HP), ATT 1 x fist (1d6) + special (see below), THACO 17 [+2], MV 120' (40'), SV 10 11 12 13 14 (F4) ML 12, AL Neutral, XP 225, NA 1d4 (1d4), TT None


Mundane damage immunity: Can only be harmed by magical attacks.

Splatter: Every second round as a free action the figthing can hurl a wad of sticky fruit pulp. If it hits, the target will be swarmed by wasps for automatic damage of 1HP per round and -2 to any action until they take a full round to scrape it off.

Asphyxiate: The figthing can pass up a normal attack to grab an opponent in an adjacent square. STR vs STR to resist. If it succeeds, it will attempt to shove the gripped creature into itself to smother in sticky pulp. Drowning rules apply.

Edible: Each person who joins the attempt can gather 1d4+2 rations of fruit pulp. It spoils in three days unless preserved. A resourceful adventurer would make jam.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

One page game: 30 Minutes Or Less

Deliver pizza in a wild future New York populated by humans, aliens, robots, clones and Brian. Fresh and on time or the driver dies!

I've been on a one-page-game kick lately, and so have a lot of other people thanks to the One Page Game Jam. It's a fun design challenge - squeeze all the necessary rules clearly onto one page and use any leftover space to hint at a setting.

 I aim for very specific scenarios, because it doesn't pay to generalise - a million other people have already invented D20 with three attributes and no classes, races, or feats. 

In this game you play a team of rough, tough pizza delivery specialists. When an order comes in, you load up and set out to cross as many bizarre environmental zones as might be in between you and the customer. You're on an inflexible time limit, because the pizza box will only dispense the antidote to the poison you've been injected with if you're at the delivery address in 30 minutes or less. Get it here.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

One page game: Goblins on a Stick

You're the smallest goblins in the tribe, and getting picked on is a way of life. Currently you're all nailed to a plank by your ears. You'd like to get free, but keep getting distracted. And those other pesky goblins on the plank keep interfering.

Grab it here.