Monday, November 18, 2019

Hegemon - The Phoenix Empire of Berytos

J. M. W. Turner, Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire, 1815

I'm running a Godbound campaign based heavily on ancient civilizations and their mythology inspired by the wonderful lore of some nations of the Dominion series by Illwinter, my favorite fantasy MMOs, and the awesome creations of Kevin Crawford. The result of this mesh of ideas has been a blast at the table so far and my fledgling pantheon of would-be divinities is already interacting with big players in the region. One of the factions that is featuring heavily so far Berytos, the Phoenix Empire, so I thought I'd explain their vibe and flesh them out. 

Berytos is mainly flavored after the Phoenicians and other Mediterranean seafaring peoples. Think sea peoples of Canaan, Phoenicians and Carthaginian and the cities of Byblos, Tyros, Sidon, and Carthage as important sources. Picture Carthage's founding and the Ba'al worship of the Canaanites.  

Their gist is that they're a literal "phoenix empire" that was destroyed and reemerged as a conglomerate of numerous coastal city states. It is a now cultural melting pot influenced by several other key players along the Telkios Sea. 

A Punic gilded bronze cuirass from Ksour Essaf, 3rd-2nd century BCE. (Bardo National Museum, Tunisia)

The Risen Phoenix

Even the most meager of chronicles of Creation before the Last War recounts the tale of Telkhines, titanic storm demons whose great civilization of Therodos once ruled the waves. The Telkhines ruled over the peoples of the coast and there these slaves learned great lore both ancient and terrible. From the Telkhines these servants learned of exquisite shipbuilding techniques, how to tame the tumultuous seas of Creation, and supreme mastery over metals mundane and impossible. 

This changed when the Pantokrator, the One, during their construction of the Heavens and their taming of Creation, struck down Telkhines for their obsession with Stygian magicks and threatening to prolong the Age of Chaos. The One sundered their bastions, drowned their cities, and the Telkhines were either slain or imprisoned in the lowest circles of Hell. The great Kingdom of Therodos was cast beneath the waves. 

When divine punishment was meted out, the mortal survivors of the now lost kingdom fled. Lead across the angered sea by the Storm Callers, greatest disciples of the Telkhines, some escaped the judgement. Though their might couldn't endure the ravages of the Last War, the echoes of this enclave lived on. Armed with the knowledge of iron-crafting and the magical might of the newest generation of the honored Storm Callers, new colonies were founded on distant shores. Like a phoenix, the dying empire was reborn.  

Much has changed since then. After the shattering of Creation and with their Telkhine gods either dead or shackled in Hell, the humans sought divine leadership. They found the Melqarts of grand Hinnom. One of the colonies was situated near Ashdod and the bloody cult of the Melqarts soon spread through the Phoenix Empire. In the capital colony of Berytos, a great temple to the Melqarts was built, the Temple of Fire and Storms.

But soon another power found its way into the cult. Refugee Colossi, great men of the Machakan royal family, arrived in Berytos and established themselves as rulers of the bloody cult. Their sorceresses claimed divinity and called themselves Brides-in-Waiting. Now Berytos is a seafaring people led by sorcerer-queens from the great temple in Berytos. Since then Berytos has been an accomplished practitioner of war, acquiring new territories and resources, and safeguarding its vast trade network in the Telkios Sea. 

Slowly, the prophecies are being fulfilled. Melqarts of Hinnom have come to claim their brides and feast on the blood of sacrifices. Now in the grand city of Berytos, a terrible queen and a fell king rule. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Troika! - Shuffling around the Stygian Library

Ynn was so cool, I just had to take a look at The Stygian Library as a sphere in Troika! It's always nice when the methods of getting around the spheres are just as interesting as the destinations. Here's a new background and some beasties.

New Background: Mummified Sage

You're a professor and esteemed scholar. Or at least, you were. Exactly where you taught and even what subject are long forgotten trivialities since you discarded your mortality and life by venturing into the Library. Who knows what would motivate you to do such a thing, but since then you've spent many mortal lifetimes researching and gathering esoteric knowledge and interesting trivia. 


  • Fresh Change of Wrappings
  • 2d6 of your Favorite Books and Scrolls
  • Ragged Robes
  • Bootstrap with a Particularly Beefy Tome (Damage as Club)


  • 3 Speed Reading
  • 2 Astrology
  • 2 Mathmology
  • 2 Pedagogy
  • 1 Evaluate
  • 1 Book Fighting
You're not quite alive but you're not quite undead either. You don't need to breath or circulate blood. You take double Damage from Silver Weapons but recover Stamina as normal. 

You can read any written language. Your speaking skills are quite rusty though and leave much to be desired, most likely due to an millenia or two since you last held a decent conversation.

Due to the breadth of your studies you may Test your Luck to identify otherwise mysterious things encountered, such as unknown creatures, forgotten artefacts, unexplored locales, undocumented diseases, little-known historical figures, unseen art, etc. However, your knowledge on the practical and mundane pales in comparison.


Skill: 7,  Stamina: 7, Initiative: 2, Damage as Unarmed

  1. Furtive
  2. Furtive
  3. Repairing
  4. Restoring
  5. Furtive
  6. Furtive
If the party is sufficiently destructive or rowdy in the Library, replace Furtive with Hostile.

Palid faces look out from voluminous robes as they scurry between the bookshelves. Once academics, their extended stay has warped them into the diminutive and emaciated keepers of the Library. Never tiring, never resting, they make sure the sheol computer is working and that the everything is as it should be in the endless depths of the Library.

Librarians are immune to any mind-controlling effect that would interfere with their work.

If hidden behind a bookshelf, a Librarian may teleport to any other bookshelf in the Library as if there was no intervening space, so long as the start and end points are both unobserved.

Libraries all know the Jolt Spell. Depending on their order they know additional spells. Some suggestions include:

  1. Red Order - Breach, Levitate
  2. Yellow Order - Amity, True Seeing
  3. Black Order - Affix, Fear
  4. Grey Order - Exorcism, Posthumous Vitality 
  5. White Order - Invisibility, Undo

Friday, July 5, 2019

Troika! - Mucking about in the Gardens of Ynn

I recently picked up The Gardens of Ynn, a point-crawl adventure set in an ever-shifting extradimensional garden. Aside from pillaging it for my other games, I really wanted to use it as a weird sphere in Troika! But first, a background based off the Ynnian Changeling class and some converted critters.

New Background: Ynnian Changeling 

You've been marooned in the Gardens for quite some time. Perhaps you were a foolhardy adventurer or inquisitive gardener. Perhaps you wandered here as a child and have known nothing else. Trapped here in the Garden for so long, you've adapted to your new home a little too well and aren't entirely human anymore. On the bright side you're aren't entirely a strange vampiric fey yet! It's just that your tongue is forked and your skin is a tad pale (or is it mint green?). Your ears are a little more pointed, your limbs too long, and your hair is now a brilliant color. Your voice even seems to have an undertone of birdsong. And who knows how alien your physiology has truly become on the inside.


  • Hooked Nails & Numerous Needle Teeth (Damage as Knife)
  • Book of gardening techniques, poetic ramblings and strange doodles in the margins
  • Garden Tools and a Rusty Rake (Damage as Staff)
  • Worn Clothes, covered with growths of vines and flowers. +2 to Sneak rolls in vegetation.
  • Butterfly Wings (+1 Fly) or Strange Eyes (+4 Second Sight)


  • 4 Language - Birdsong
  • 3 Gardening
  • 2 Claw Fighting
  • 2 Sneak
  • 2 Forage
  • 1 Climb
  • 1 Staff Fighting
You don't recover Stamina by eating a Provision - instead you may consume a mouthful of blood (about 1d6 Stamina from any willing or unwilling volunteers) at most 3 times per day to recover an equivalent amount of Stamina. 

You cannot recover Stamina in sunlight but recover twice as effectively in darkness and are severely allergic to iron and holy objects. You take double damage from such sources and take damage while touching or carrying such objects. Don't even try to go on holy ground.  

If you are reduced to negative Stamina, instead of dying you are transformed into a patch of flowers or mushrooms growing where your body falls. Regain 1 Stamina twice per day (sunrise and sunset) until you are fully healed. You return to flesh when your Stamina is fully recovered or blood soaks into the ground you're growing in. A stake in the heart prevents this and freezes you at 0 Stamina until it is removed. Churning up the soil you're growing in destroys you forever.

White Apes 

Skill: 7,  Stamina: 9, Initiative: 2, Damage as Modest Beast

  1. Lazy
  2. Aggressive
  3. Feasting
  4. Hungry
  5. Territorial
  6. Crafty

Four armed albino apes with carnivorous tendencies. Having long gone feral, they carve out their territory with markings of dung and mutilated corpses turned grisly trophy. Not quite as smart as a human but they are familiar enough with crude tools and barbarism.

Clockwork Lawnmower 

Skill: 9,  Stamina: 15, Initiative: 1, Armour 2, Damage as Large Beast

  1. Malfunctioning
  2. Stuck
  3. Sparking
  4. Dormant
  5. Rampaging
  6. Mowing

Clanking and shuddering, these huge machines of steel lurche through the gardens using their whirling blades to trim the lawns. Their mindless nature often means that more than grass gets caught in their wild blades. 

Special: Takes twice as much damage from electricity but only half as much from fire.

Parasitic Wasp

Skill: 5,  Stamina: 5, Initiative: 2, Damage as Small Beast

  1. Collecting
  2. Attacking
  3. Hunting
  4. Nesting
  5. Patrolling
  6. Swarming

A predatory insect about a long as a your forearm. These vile creatures reproduce by laying eggs in an unfortunate living host. 

Special: Anyone stung by a wasp must test their Luck (or Skill for Enemies) or become paralyzed for 1d6 turns. Rather than stinging, the wasp can lay eggs inside its victim, allowing their larvae to eat them alive. They must Test their Luck (or Skill for Enemies) or lose 1 Stamina a turn (1d6 if paralyzed) for 1d6 turns. At the end of this duration, if they are dead, their body splits as a new wasp bursts forth. Otherwise, they have fought off the parasitic larvae which perishes within them. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Weirdcrawl Approachs

Whitehack is pretty flexible when it comes to what it can run and I've had Yoon-suin on the mind...

Yoon-suin is already a weird and wild setting, but I wanted to make it a tad more gonzo and throw in hyper-intelligent sleeping god-machines and have a good excuse for opium dealing slug-people and confused Norman knights from the past to team up to take down mummified monks of Chaos from the Moon Mountains with the railgun they found on the beach.

Basically, I mashed together Yoon-suin and Silent Titans and threw it on a nice handout for my players.

I really want to run this as a hexcrawl in the coming months once my summer games wrap up. I might add more to it, like converting the avatars from Silent Titans and listing out some cool artifacts from the past and future. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Seven Seals - Setting Spiel

Trench Shrine, Mike Franchina

This is a setting I've been rolling in my mind for some time. It was sparked by the work of Mike Franchina and his "Trench Crusade" project. Go check him out! The basic premise is that in the first year of the Great War, the Apocalypse breaks out resulting in an Occult "Weird War" scenario as you mix dark mysticism, fanaticism,  and technological advancement. I want to draw on cool things like weird war tech, gnostic and antiquated cosmology, and apocalyptic themes. When the Great War turns into the Final Battle, what terrible weapons would be forged? What life look like as things end? Why is it even happening in the first place?
The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea - William Blake
Riders of Doom, Mikhail Borulko

Shock Troops, Mikhail Borulko

We were warned to repent. We did not listen. Our Great War could have ended before it truly started. We did not cease. Our works were not perfect before the eyes of the DEMIURGE on His celestial throne. As brother killed brother and waded through tides of crimson, we could only preserve what little strength we had in the face of the opening of the Seals. When the ANOINTED LAMB opened the seals, the End began. The first four Seals heralded terrible riders who made our Great War eternal. With the fifth seal, the slain arose in terrible spite. The sixth seal ended the light of day as the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, the moon became like blood, the stars of the sky fell to the earth, the sky was split apart, and every mountain and island was moved out of their places. We hid in our fortresses, trenches, and caves acknowledging the presence of Him who sits on the throne and the wrath of his LAMB. Then the servants of the DEMIURGE were revealed to us.

With the sounding of the trumpets of heaven, hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, burning a third of the earth's flora, scorching all green grass. Something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea and a third of the sea became blood, killing a third of everything in the ocean, even ships. And a great star, Wormwood, fell from heaven poisoning the water from rivers and water springs. The sun, the moons, and stars were struck, so that a third of their light diminished to the point of complete darkness for a third of the day, even during the night. The bottomless pit was opened and smoke arose, darkening the air and sunlight. Then war broke out in heaven itself.

Now that celestial war has fallen to us. The Dragon of Chaos, the ADVERSARY, went to war with we who keep the commandments of the DEMIURGE and honor his LAMB. When the It drew the BEAST  from the sea, the ADVERSARY gave it authority to rule the world. The fools marveled at is might and worshiped it as legions of heretics. The BEAST then went to war with our Saints. Then the second beast, THE FALSE LAMB who speaks as a dragon, arose from the earth and gave all who didn't wear the Mark of the Demiurge, the Mark of the Beast. 

We now fight and kill amongst the ruin, waiting for the time when the earth is finally harvested. We answer the call of the Trench Crusade.

Now I better get some of these ideas down and clear before I forget: 
  • ~1918-1920, this all started a year into WW1. The war would have been forgotten if the power of the Seals hadn't whipped everyone into a frenzy (thanks War and Conquest). After war broke out in heaven and fell to the ruined world, the fighting was then augmented by occult magic, heavenly and infernal knowledge, and terrifying beings beyond mortal understanding
  • The political alliances have long given way to three major groups: the heretic legions, the servants of the demiurge, and the lost (who really just want to survive the shit show in some way)
  • The "front" would be a trench hexcrawl with the shells of cities, bunkers, and temples being the "dungeons" 
  • The aether is real. Quintessence is potent dark energy harnessed to fuel and feed the terrible war machines. It is not good for the environment or your lungs, but most don't care about either of those things
  • If you couldn't tell by the above, the earth is absolutely ruined. Most places are burnt, destroyed, echoes where terrible things crawl and squirm. Literally pits to Hell are open. Don't fall in and beware what comes out. 
  • Because of the seals, the dead are around and quite angry. I can seen some organizing (a skeletal brigade still waging organized war) while others are just creatures who hunt people for their tasty flesh. Understandably, flamethrowers and cremation are quite popular.
  • The Demiurge is not God. He is a flawed creator who never knew the actual supreme being but instead styles Himself as the Lord of Creation. The Adversary is an agent of the actual creator being, seeking to liberate humanity from the tyranny of the Demiurge and to test them on whether they can pierce His deceit.Think about it, the Demiurge starting all the terrible things that ruined the world, the Adversary waged its war in heaven as retaliation. 
  • The tides of the chaotic cosmic ocean, the Great Deep, which long ago confronted the Demiurge, again encroach on the world, bringing all manner of terrors. 
  • You can climb down to Hell if you have the time. A few Hell pores are heavily contested battlefields, with airships, flying things, and climbers waging war inside of them
  • Bred from the genes of the LAMB, paladins descend into Hell itself to slay the Dragon's minions in their places of power
  • Oh yeah, I want war machines. Flying battleships, crawling tanks that spew hellfire, planes that skirt the firmaments of the heavens themselves
  • Chemical and biological warfare is the worst it could possibly be. Angels of cancer and blessed lepers spread rot amongst the heretic legion with their holy blight

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Rule Postmortem & Refining

Now, for each rule I find it important to provide a reasoning

Summer is a good time to look back and reflect. It's also a good time to refine and hack away at my personalized go-to system. So let's get to it. Earlier this year, I ran an 8 player sword-and-sorcery OSR campaign at a student organization on my campus. It started as a short intro to OD&D, but the campaign proper was switched to my under construction house-ruled B/X. It was a wonderful time as we tried new things, classes, and mechanics and I'm eternally grateful for my patient players who helped a lot in all the death and playtesting. 

59. That's the number of pages of the final document. It's just shy of the Basic and Expert books which was definitely not my intention. It consisted of remixes and adjusted versions of all the vanilla classes (save for halflings which I dropped), expanded info on ability scores and how to use them, a streamlined encumbrance system, an expanded selection of weapons with modifiers, an expanded selection of armor with minor damage reduction baked in, combat ruling additions, expanded crit tables, a large overhaul of magic (spell acquisition, spell research, high level ritual spells), clerical sacrifice and congregations, expanded turn undead interactions with accompanying typing of undead, redone spell lists for all classes, high level play content, psionics (...yes I know), and 11 custom classes. 

While a fun foray into tinkering, let's just say that I learned 99 ways to not make a house ruled system. But seriously, I really learned a lot from this and I think I have a thing that really fits my needs, something that gets at what my 59 pages of content were attempting to do but in a mechanically elegant manner with a far far smaller page count to boot! 

Clearer Goals, Better Methods

Necropraxis has a wonderful post from last Summer about "evolutionary" trends being applied to traditional fantasy roleplaying games. Reading this, I found some of the unspoken goals that I had in mind and, in a way, they really explain some of the areas where this hacking forray went astray.

"Keeping chargen fast and easy"

I directly drew away from the simple roll stats, pick class, buy gear done in a game with a high mortality rate. Whether it's adding complexity to existing classes and adding complex classes or adding "proficiency" choices at level one (fighters can have a fighting style or command each with different abilities) or even just expanding the equipment section tenfold, character generation was far more complicated than vanilla B/X. The end result of this was that it took longer which in turn made losing a character a harder pill to swallow. You couldn't just spit out an array, get some gear and go. 

This has a lot of effect on play, since we had a lot of fragile characters in a deadly system where losing one is now more of a time investment than before. This resulted in a lot of extremely cautious behavior and death went from a fun "haha what a terrible way to die" as new characters are rolled up to a groans and scanning the ~16 classes and gear lists for things. 

"Minimize bookkeeping"

I used Delta's stone encumbrance system to great success (check him out in the sidebar). It was super successful in keeping people away from the number crunching and more focused on the fiction. I'll be leaning into a simpler system going forward, but it was definitely a big success.

One thing that really didn't minimize bookkeeping was the expansion of magic. It just added so much complexity and tracking and referencing with relatively small mechanical benefit.

I do think that the rather rigid method of time tracking that we used did have some negative effects and caused the game to focus a little more on resource management than I intended. Not that resource management is inherently a bad thing, though.

"Maintain tension at desired level of difficulty"

I don't want to make conflict and violence "sport" in my OSR games. I want it to be a heavy choice, a dangerous face, and not the first choice of action (unless victory is a given). I also don't want the game to be a "misery-crawl" that is too punishing or overly deadly. The good news is that characters' survivability is increased in general in Whitehack along with my addition of a "shields will be splintered" rule. This allows me to stay true to the low hit points and "zero means death" (in most cases), maintaining the lethal and high stakes feel while increasing survivability and steering into the sweet spot of a fun and tense low-level feel.

"Develop content that will see play"

This is the big one. My B/X house rules were full of expansions to stronghold level play, ritual level spells, becoming a lich, creating undead, waging war, spell expansions to all levels, magical research was overhauled, etc. None of that saw play. Our arc and adventure was wrapped up nice and tidy well before anyone reached level 9 or to a mechanical point where B/X and my rules would let them engage in that "high level content".

I am most certainly done with that. I want these awesome types of rules to be available from the get go and grow organically from there. Whitehack's leveless spell system is a great answer to it as well as it's advancement scheme in general. What did get used and enjoyed quite a bit, however, were our interesting classes (even though portions of their later requirements weren't used, their diverse abilities seemed to be quite fun). 

"Minimize numerical inflation" 

The additions I made to the rules added significant complexity to the B/X combat rules. I wanted to add depth and option but it kind of blew back in my face and most of it largely went unused. I think this is because it was a collection of several different modifiers and conditions. We had to keep them in mind during play and in hindsight many were not intuitive. Using Whitehack completely addresses this issue. 

Rather than several different specific modifiers for several different situations it uses a few broad modifiers to cover many situations. Granting 5e-esque advantage/disadvantage for skill tests and a flexible granting of "Combat Advantage" (in the form of +2 to hit and +2 damage, with referee able to double or triple that) for things such as higher ground, striking a surprised foe, flanking, etc. It allows me and my players to focus on the fiction to look for advantages rather than looking for a few codified examples.

In Conclusion

The campaign was stupidly fun. I enjoyed it and I feel like my players enjoyed it too (despite some of the grueling losses!). Learned a lot about my particular playstyle and most importantly, I think I've really hit that sweet spot of a game and rules that does exactly what I want it to!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Summer Games and Vibes

Takeshita Kin-u
It's good to have time to dedicate to this place again. Now that my summer schedule is in full swing, I wanted to sit down and think about what's going on in my gaming-sphere for the foreseeable future.

My seasonal summer campaign this year is Kuromiyamonogatari, an 11th century Japanese game of character drama using the Burning Wheel and it's historical-fantasy supplement, The Blossoms are Falling. With a productive session 0 all done we dove into session 1 with great results! Our weekly session is tomorrow, which I am very much looking forward too. The character dynamics and cast of side characters we have made already are really a testament to what happens when you mix a great system with a wonderful group of players. I think I'll keep track of our end-of-arc recaps and trait votes here too.

That's the stuff

Aside from that I recently backed some promising games on kickstarter. First is Lancer, a game that I have been following for quite some time. Seeing it grow into a juggernaut of a project that just destroyed its goals has been amazing. The system looks slick, the art and setting are amazing, and I really want to run short missions and arcs in an 08th MS Team style. Perhaps I'll take the pre-release rules (which are completely free at the moment) for a spin for that, but I'll most likely wait until the full release to unleash pure mech goodness upon my unsuspecting players.

I also found myself, as always, being drawn back to that old school pit with the Old-School Essentials kickstarter form Gavin Norman. B/X is my favorite edition of D&D and Gavin does really good work. I'm looking forward to using it sometime soon. It will also go nicely with any usage of Whitehack what with it being fully compatible.

Speaking of Whitehack, this game has really surprised me. It's extremely flexible right out of the box, straight up implements some of the house rules or intuitions I use in other OSR games, and is ridiculously easy to make content for. It's is practically fully compatible with any OD&D, B/X, AD&D/clone content with little to no modification as well. Easy to use and fun to play is a potent combo. It's really become my go-to OSR system and I don't see that changing it's impressed me so much. Perhaps I'll do an in-depth review of it?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Kuromiyamonogatari 『黒宮物語』- When Burning Wheel Meets Japan

Mitsutaka Furube 
The time is Heian.
Beyond the peaks of deep snow, lies the land of Kuromiya.
「Holy Sword」Kuromiya Shin, who but in a generation conquered the realm and begun the country in the Northern Regions.
But now that Kuromiya is in mortal danger.

The above is an intro spiel is for a game set in a fictional location in fantastical Japan, but most of the meat of this idea comes from history. History shouldn't be ignored when planning a game. Especially if said game is looking towards Japan. A melding of myths of the time with some degree of historical accuracy can provide a compelling game world that diverges from the standard Western caricature of feudal Japan (or even worse, the eastern cultural amalgam that is L5R). Especially if you look at the history outside of Sengoku and it's familiarity.

So when I look at setting a game in the 12th century during the Heian period, there are no super-cutting katanas, black-clad ninjas, geishas, oiran or ashigaru. All of those familiar things came much later in Japanese history. Instead, I can take my inspiration from stories such as the Tale of Genji,  Tale of the Heike, and (even though they were made at a much later date) the heroic narratives set during this time such as the Ōeyama Emaki.

Instead of the conflicts common to the Sengoku period, I can focus on an era where two completely different value systems come into competition with one another. Nowhere is this clearer than the struggle between the centralized (and decadent!), imperial court in Heian-kyō where poetry and refined language are the way of things, against the rising power of the provincial warrior bands who adhere to martial prowess, sacrifice, and absolute loyalty.

I think that the Burning Wheel and it's supplement The Blossoms are Falling are perfect for telling a story like this. Due to the nature of the game, the prep for this will be more setting research and inspiration than anything else. Much of what the game will be, will be determined as a group in session 0. Until I get around to running this though, there's plenty of art to get in the mood!

Mitsutaka Furube 
Mitsutaka Furube 
Mitsutaka Furube

A samurai on horseback wearing ō-yoroi
“Devadatta,” Chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra
Illustrated Legends of the Kitano Tenjin Shrine (Kitano Tenjin engi emaki)

From the Gaki-zoshi (Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts)