Blood from a stone: a closer look at gargoyles in the Fantasy Trip

September 6, 2021 at 5:54 pm

“The monsters were his friends, and guarded him.”

― Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

In the original Fantasy Trip, there were a lot fewer restrictions on what race of character you could create — centaurs, giants, and reptile men were all on the table. There was a strange (and unbalanced) caveat that these races would take twice as much experience to advance, but as a multi-hex bruiser with a minimum 25 ST who cared? That said, not all these monstrous races seem so far-fetched, and a couple of years back we created playable options for reptile men. Today we’d like to do the same for gargoyles.

With its signature minimalism, all we know of TFT gargoyles is that they are “tough, ugly humanoids (that) have a silicon metabolism” and “gargoyles live in small tribes in mountainous areas, hunting and eating rocks. They especially love to inhabit ruins. They prize jewels, and can sometimes be hired as guards by the wealthy; they are tough and trustworthy, though sullen.” They are strong but dim-witted, and can fly in complete defiance of physics. But there is an allure to being able to play rock-skinned, flying, sharp-clawed killing machine so let’s give it a shot.


Building blocks to creating a gargoyle

To do this, let’s start with attributes. We give them base abilities of ST10, DX8, and IQ6 with 8 more points to allocate. To keep with the original theme, increasing IQ above 10 would cost 2 points at creation or twice as much XP later on.

The rest of their abilities can be handled as racial Talents. This balances their extraordinary aspects and also gives the player to create a more personalized character. Who is to say that their gargoyle must have claws or that all gargoyles can fly?


New IQ 6 Racial Talents:

Stony Carapace (2) Prerequisite: Gargoyle. While their silicon-based bodies are inherently tough and resilient, gargoyles make themselves even harder with secret treatments and mineral baths in their high mountain redoubts. A gargoyle’s carapace thus treated deflects one hit of damage per attack (AD1). This Talent can be taken up to three times.

Claws (2) Prerequisite: Gargoyle. The sharp talons of a gargoyle are deadly in a fight. They can be used either in regular or HTH combat and do +2 to damage.


New IQ 7 Racial Talents:

Advanced Claws (2) Prerequisite: Gargoyle, ST12. Longer and stronger than their lesser counterparts, these claws add +1d to damage.


New IQ 8 Racial Talents:

Gargoyle Flight (3) Prerequisite: Gargoyle. As stated in the rules, gargoyles have a limited form of magical levitation that passes for flight. This Talent gives a gargoyle a Fly MA of 16 and the maneuverability of a typical flying creature. A gargoyle without this talent can still leave the ground, but must make a 3/DX test to move up to 8, and takes penalties to attack as a wizard with a Fly spell (ITL, p.20).

In addition to these available talents, all gargoyles can stand perfectly still and blend in with their environment, and gain +2DX for Stealth or Hiding tests made in rocky terrain when they are not moving.

To offset these advantages, there are some downsides to playing a gargoyle. If you are using our Drawback system, give the player points for them, or simply let them take up to two points of Talents for free.

New Racial Drawback: Suspicious (minor habit) After generations of being hunted as raw materials for magical potions, gargoyles have a deep distrust of other races. They rarely let their guard down around others and are hesitant to make friends. Others get a -1 to Reaction rolls when dealing with gargoyles, and gargoyles take the same penalty with strangers.

They also have the Outsider drawback (minor social) and most societies have little experience with gargoyles, do not serve food suitable for them, and do not carry clothing or gear suitable for their use.

Following these guidelines, a starting gargoyle could have ST13, DX11, IQ8, have AD2, 2d-1 damage, and a Fly MA 16, as well as one spare point if they wanted to add a simple weapon proficiency or mundane skill. Which is pretty close to the monster listing.


A hard rock life

Most gargoyles live a stable, if unsociable life. They are hatched from eggs, and these rookeries are usually isolated hilltops aptly providing food sources. These nests are only occasionally tended and gargoyles often enter the world alone. There they begin feeding on the minerals available, growing larger and stronger. Within a month the young goglings are the size of a human toddler and often as strong as a teenager. Visiting adult gargoyles share in the teaching of the young, as the concept of parenting is alien to them and all who share a rookery are equal in familial bond. In a year’s time, they can speak their own tongue and fly short distances, and in three years they will range widely on their own and return to the nesting place less often.

This is life for most gargoyles for the next 30-50 years unless mishaps befall them, or until they fall to the hardening — a thickening of the skin and slowing of metabolism that eventually returns a gargoyle to the earth as a rocky shell, so that it can nourish future generations.

Gargoyles eat rock and stone and prize the flavor and nuance of gemstones, but they can survive on the foods of other races. It takes a tremendous amount of food to sate a gargoyle, however, and they do not relish its taste. In the wild, they roam like herbivores from one mineral source to the next. They gather only occasionally for rituals or mating, and usually only gargoyles from a single rookery are seen together.

There are groups of gargoyles that trade with humankind, and even work for them, but these are more the exception than the rule. Their natural distrust and fear of gallbladder-hunting wizards keep them on the fringes of most society. It is not uncommon for a gargoyle to know a bit of human speech.

While fearsome to behold and ruthless in battle, gargoyles are not normally aggressive and will usually only fight in order to escape. Then can be fiercely territorial if they believe their feeding grounds are threatened and have been known to brutally retaliate against prospectors or miners.

Their religion is primitive and primal and they make sacrifices to ensure safe hatchings and abundant food. The stony remnants of those who succumbed to the hardening are sacred to the gargoyles and often be found decorated with garlands and studded with small gemstones. There is little history of wizardry among the gargoyles and those that follow this path are usually disfigured or handicapped in some manner, and use spellcraft to compensate. They commonly decorate themselves with gemstones (powerstones being the most prized) to emulate their ancestors.


Alternative earth: variants of the gargoyles

Mergoyles have adapted to live underwater and cluster around volcanic vents in the seas. Their wings act as fins and give them an MA12 underwater, but they can not fly. While still stony, the mergoyle’s coloring favors the blues and greens of their environment

Pit gargoyles have long abandoned the surface and delve deep in the earth for their sustenance. Their wings have atrophied to little more than support appendages and their claws have adapted for better climbing. They have a climb MA of 4 and can traverse walls and ceilings with little difficulty. While no longer capable of true flight, pit gargoyles can hover in place briefly and cross gaps and crevasses on thin air. They are all but black, and commonly coated in lichen to mimic their surroundings.

Sentinels are more of a subgroup of gargoyles than a true variant. For millennia powerful wizards, religious orders and rulers have employed gargoyles as guardians over their strongholds in exchange for minerals and gems. These gargoyles have perfected the skill of motionless vigilance and often are mistaken for true statuary. They not need sleep in this state and a 5/IQ is needed to note their living state. Usually less strong and more dextrous than their wild brethren, sentinels are also more likely to use weapons. They take their duties very seriously and are very rigid in their outlook.



Heavy Hitters: Making the most of hulking armor and massive weapons

July 12, 2021 at 5:30 pm

“All armor has its weaknesses. That doesn’t mean you should stop wearing it.”

― Elizabeth Carlton, Chivalry’s Code


While poets and the populace might swoon over the image of a mounted knight in gilded plate riding through verdant grasslands, it’s far more likely to find a warrior scrambling through mud in battered steel bashing away at a foe with poleaxe, hoping to rattle them enough to get up close with a blade.

It might not be as artful as fencing or as dramatic as the specialty weapons favored by gladiators, but a heavily-armed and armored warrior is a fearsome opponent. In the Fantasy Trip, however, it is tricky to pull off. Not only is it expensive to purchase plate armor, but it also carries severe DX penalties to attacks. Adding in the ST requirements for the heavy weapons usually carried by these warriors makes it a difficult feat for a beginning PC.

For example, a starting human can begin with plate armor and a large shield. If they wanted a broadsword that requires a 12ST, leaving a maximum DX12 if they spent no points on their IQ. That gives them an adjDX of 6 for attacks, which is less than a 10% success rate. And with minimal points for Talents, by the time they learn to use that sword, shield, and maybe a polearm there is little left for horsemanship or courtly graces.

To start, you might want to lose the shield entirely. Most armored fighters in medieval times did, in favor of heavier two-handed weapons. Or, if you prefer a single-hand weapon you could carry a main-gauche for those finishing moves. You will want fine plate as soon as you are able, but normal plate (or even half-plate) are good for beginners. If you raise your IQ to 9, you can take up to two levels of Toughness (ITL, p.38) to boost your defenses.

Your ST to start should be at least 11 to be able to do any substantial damage. The added boost of a 12ST to wield a broadsword or war axe will be offset (probably) by a loss of DX. The penalty of hitting 9.25% versus 16.2% might not be worth it to you.

Here in the ‘Aerie, as in the German Fechtbücher, we believe that most heavy weapons can be used two-handed. Based on the bastard sword and spear damage for two-handed use, wielding a weapon with both hands gives +1 to damage.

Learning Spear, Sword, and one level of Toughness is the bulk of your Talent pool, but you could still add Thrown weapons, Crossbow, Horsemanship or even Charisma to your starting build. Or, a second level of Toughness. Even at the beginning, your PCs should be more than mechanics. You should try to build individuality and flavor into every character you make. Maybe she is a compulsive gambler or a former seafarer who never wants to have wet feet again.

Note also that every armored fighter, or even cavalryman, is a noble knight. They might be simply heavy infantry that lucked into a suit of plate. Or an opportunistic mercenary who found the best way to survive a battle is by being covered in steel. It will take some time (and XP!) to be a truly successful heavily armored fighter, so you might as well enjoy the trip.

After a few adventures, your hero will probably have the ST to heave those mighty weapons, and the DX to land a few blows. You might even have a horse to ride into battle and the skills to do that well. But being a heavyweight will always require balance, especially if you want to have higher IQ Talents like Weapon Expertise, Tactics, or advanced social skills.

Heavy armor and weapons might not be found in all areas of a game world, and not all cultures would embrace it. Dwarves have the love of craft and metallurgy required, but their low natural DX might make it even harder to be successful in full plate. Elves and other more magically attuned races might avoid that much iron in principle. Also, the availability of iron and the skill required to forge it might limit the popularity of such warriors.

On our Almeri game world, the most common armored warriors are in the service of Venetine Empire. They employ mounted shock troops known as Juggernauts in major military actions, and many provincial powers have their own similar forces as a show of power and wealth. A few members of the nobility embrace this and head the ranks of their steel-clad cavalry, but most are willing to pay others or press them into service. Some of the more notable mercenary companies that serve the Empire (or against it) also field mounted lancers. There are a few companies of heavy infantry serving rulers around the Shard, but most of them are largely ceremonial.

While the dwarves of the Kivilim are unsurpassed at crafting plate armor, its use is not widespread among their people. A warrior caste known as the Undying serves as guards around important locations and borders of their Holds. The fierce Einen warriors of the frozen coasts to the south of them greatly prize these weapons and armor, but the dwarves will not willingly sell to these men. So nearly all the steel in their possession are spoils of war.

A surprising number of Sycoran wizards keep heavily-armored knights as retainers. Commonly called Silver Sentinels as their equipment is not made of the iron the wizards despise, they act as enforcers and spokesmen for the leaders of the godless realm. It is said that a small number of mighty wizards command the Sentinels and wield magic as well as blades, but this has yet to be confirmed.


New IQ10 Talents:

Armor Training (2): Practice and experience with heavy armor, chain mail and above give the warrior greater flexibility in battle. The DX penalty for wearing this kind of armor is one less, so that wearing half-plate would only be DX-4.

Precise Blow (2): This talent allows a figure to target gaps and weak spots in armored opponents. When making a melee attack, they can deduct one point of armor protection. Attacking a foe in leather armor, for example, only one hit would be stopped by the armor. If the figure is making an accurate attack (ITL, p.121), two points of protection are bypassed. This talent is only effective against physical armor, not natural armor like plates or scales or Toughness or spells.


New IQ11 Talent:

Overbear (3): This special attack involves using a weapon to shove over or trip your enemy, knocking them prone. To succeed, the figure must make a successful attack, and if it would do enough damage to bypass the opponent’s armor to does no damage but knocks them to the ground. The enemy cannot attempt to stand until the next round.


New IQ12 Talent

Armor Mastery (3): Like armor training, but more advanced. This talent lowers the DX penalty of wearing heavy armor by 2. A warrior in fine plate with Armor Mastery would attack at only a -2DX penalty.

Librimancy: The letter of the law

June 25, 2021 at 9:57 pm

“All knowledge which ends in words will die as quickly as it came to life, with
the exception of the written word: which is its mechanical part.”

— Leonardo da Vinci

Wizards are often bookish sorts, more comfortable among scrolls and tomes than out in the ‘real’ world. But some take it even further, committing their lives and their power to the written word. These are the librimancers and they dedicated to collecting and preserving written records and channeling the power held within them.

While some of these wizards live solitary lives in remote towers hoarding their books, most librimancers work in groups around large libraries and collective archives. Most major cities have at least one library, available to the wealthy or highly educated at least, and particularly rich or powerful individuals may keep a private collection large enough to value the services of librimancers. On Almeri, there are several cloisters in the Godless Realm around the Bay of Sycorax, and their ink-stained brothers can often be spotted haunting markets for rare manuscripts.

While not necessarily scholars or scribes, most have these skills and may have begun their careers in these mundane tasks. All librimancers must be literate and their studies might take them toward theology, poetry, or even medicine or alchemy. Very few restrict their education to the purely magical.

One thing that connects all librimancers is their grimoires, whether they be heavy bound tomes, sheets of rune-covered silver, or lightly rolled birch scrolls. A blank librimantic grimoire costs $200 and is required before joining most orders. In addition, a librimancer may copy two spells per IQ point (or 500 XP spent) into the grimoire. Material costs for adding to the grimoire are half that of scribing a scroll (ITL, p.142) and must be done by the wizard themselves. Casting from the grimoire requires a wizard’s chest like any other caster. The costs of being a librimancer can quickly add up, and this is one reason why they often band together (and are bound to the order by debt) or gain other valuable knowledge to exchange.

In addition to storing their spells, the grimoire can be used by a librimancer as a vessel to hold the power of the various Staff spells. The book gains all the benefits of a normal staff, although a grimoire cannot function as a physical weapon.

Because of the extended casting time of grimoire spells, librimancers are rarely combatants and focus more on planning and support. Their wider range of options makes them very useful in unfriendly environments though. They often scribe detection and protective spells into their books and only keep a small number of ‘emergency’; magics in their memory. One exception is the Write Scroll (IQ16) spell, which can only be learned from memory. Scrolls are a favored weapon of the librimancer, and most carry a few favorites with them at all times.

While a few step out into the world to find lost manuscripts or seek out new sources of knowledge, most librimancers stick close to their cloisters or collections. As such, they often specialize in crafting materials like scrolls and other written materials. They have been known to enchant pairs of books so that notes written by a traveling researcher are magically copied into a tome in the cloister, or tablets enchanted with Trance-like powers that when a question is written on them, the answer (or at least helpful guidance) appears underneath. These powerful items are nearly never sold by the wizards, and are kept closely between themselves.

These word-obsessed wizards are known to stylize their magic in keeping with their profession. Missile spells could be folded sheets, shadows could erupt from tossed inkpots, and protection spells present themselves as strips of writing wrapping around the wizard or glowing glyphs surrounding them. It is said that cloisters of librimancers have created variants of the Reveal/Conceal spells to hide or uncover secret writings. Although most adherents would probably be against Concealing writings from anyone.

New IQ 10 Spell: Silence (C) Perhaps because of their long exposure to quiet archives, librimancers with this spell can snuff all noise from a single hex. This does not bar noises from around that hex in an open area, but if cast on a doorway noises could only be heard as if through the wall. Costs 1ST per turn.

New IQ 12 Spell: 3-Hex Silence (C) Like the spell above, but covering 3 connected hexes. Costs 2ST.

New IQ15 Spell: 7-Hex Silence (C) Like the spell above, but covering 3 connected hexes. Costs 3ST.

New IQ14 Spell: Scribed Servant (C) This magical servant, often known as a Sheaf, is used for small assistance or to carry messages. It appears as a complex folded sheet of paper in the form of an animal or miniature person. It has ST3 and MA6 or 12 if in a bird form. The sheaf cannot speak or hear, but shares a bond with its caster and does what it is instructed. It can be written upon to deliver a message and will accept a response. To create a Scribed Servant, the wizard needs a prepared scroll (of any kind) that has been cleaned with Delete Writing. In the course of the ritual, an additional $25 in materials is used and 10ST spent. If successful, the Servant will fold itself into the desired shape to do its master’s bidding. Failure wastes the materials but the scroll can be used. The Servant remains active for a full day and can be re-activated for a day for 3ST. At no time can a wizard have more than five active scribed servants.

Sacred magic: Wizardry meets liturgy

January 28, 2021 at 4:09 pm

“Life is a magic, God is the magician”

— Hansrajvir


There has been a persistent effort over the years to create rules for priests and religious figures to cast their own magical spells. This undoubtedly comes from the traditional class in Dungeons & Dragons (which many players, ourselves included cut their teeth on) and the desire for players to boost their healing powers to take on more monsters and grab more loot.

The value of boosting healing is also a hotly debated subject, and we firmly land on the restrictive side. so I suppose it’s not surprising that we’re not big fans of building out a system of D&D-style clerical magic. The secular and deadly world envisioned by TFT rules are distinctive and challenging, and one of the things that make the system unique. Making it more like D&D or your favorite long-slog video game isn’t going to make it better.

That said, there is nothing about the magic rules in TFT that precludes a divine source of power. There is nothing overtly secular about the lightning shooting from a wizard’s hand, and it can just as easily be described by faith as by willpower.


Belief in Magic

Sword and sorcery fiction is littered with servants of dark gods that are indistinguishable from wizards — their powers granted through blood pacts and wicked bargains. It would be just as viaable (and historically reinforced) for servants of powers of light and justice to get the same perks.

Traditionally, magic has been defined by manipulating and commanding powers and natural forces, while religious prayer beseeches similar forces to do the wizard’s bidding for a greater purpose. You could say that ‘magic’ is internal and individual while ‘religion’ is external and communal. While this difference is important and can be explored many ways through storycraft and role-play, but requires no mechanical changes. Even powerful spells like Wish can just as easily be defined as intervention by the divine and a summoned Demon may well be a powerful heavenly avenger with little patience for petty human requests.

And in a polytheistic world, a divine wizard can simply choose spells to reflect the aspects of their gods of fire, shadow, nature, strength, air, or whatever the imagination conjures. if you want a greater distinction between the divine and arcane magics, you could have priestly wizards use sacred texts instead of grimoires and sanctified ritual spaces instead of laboratories. These could be mutually exclusive between traditions, but should require similar costs and upkeep.

Most players would assume a religious wizard would take the Priest talent, and should probably be allowed to gain it for one point. Not only does the talent reflect the knowledge of sacred teachings and social status of being recognized clergy, but it should allow the wizard to perform rituals among believers such as weddings, christenings, funerals, and rites of passage. If these have any effects in-game (such as protecting the fallen from unlife) it should be minimal and situational.

Another way to reflect the communal nature of divine magic is to use the Ceremonial magic presented earlier. In this way, a spell caster could share blessings to all the congregants at a service at once. Typically such spells would provide minor benefits like Clearheadedness or Minor Medicament, but other spells Stone Flesh or Flight could be cast on an entire congregation if the ST can be obtained.

IQ 12 Spell: Ceremonial Magic: (S) Allows wizards to cast larger spells, on multiple subjects.The spell involves using strict ceremonies, including candles, special ingredients, chanting, etc. and must take place in a lab or sanctified space. The ST cost to perform this spell is 5, not including the ST cost of the ceremonial spell. The time to cast the spell is 10 times the normal casting time of the final spell.

Any spell can be cast using Ceremonial Magic, regardless of IQ level. To cast the spell, each wizard actively involved in casting the spell MUST know the Ceremonial Magic spell, as well as the spell to be cast. Wizards lending strength through Aid spells (such as apprentices or acolytes) do not have to know either spell, but are limited to how much assistance they can give. In a temple or sanctified ritual space, each willing participant can add 1ST to the spell. Unwilling or sacrificial victims can have their ST taken via Drain Strength to add power to a ceremonial spell.

Second, the energy cost of the spell is calculated by multiplying the cost of the spell by the radius of hexes it will ultimately affect. Note that for a spell designed for a single subject to affect an entire hex, would add one to the radius. So, if you wished to cast Stalwart on everyone within a three megahex circle (1 to cover a complete hex plus the temple’s 5-hex radius) it would cost 18 ST (3 ST for the spell x 6) plus the 5 ST for the Ceremonial Magic spell).


Bringing Light to Darkness

Another popular image of devout heroes are those committed to the fight against unlife, hunting down these abominations and returning them to the grave. While common wizards scoff at the power of prayers and talismans (Book of Unlife, p.4) these practitioners have mastered these tools and others to protect the innocent. Whether known as slayers, Van Helsings, Sabbatarians or Kresniks stand resolute against the underworld. The magical tools of the hunters include:

New IQ 12 Spell: Holy Water (S) This spell is used to create a vessel of pure water imbued with divine power that is dangerous effective against creatures of unlike. Similar in effect to an Explosive Gem, a holy water phial can be thrown for 1d of damage for each 5ST used in the casting (up to 8d) and phials of 6d or higher will do 1d of damage to underworld creatures in adjacent hexes. The water does not damage mundane creatures. Only pure fresh water can be enchanted this way.

New IQ 12 Spell: Soul Shield (T) This spell is used to provide some measure of protection against evil forces that try to possess mortal souls. If a shielded figure is attacked by the possessor, it gains a 3/IQ resistance test to avoid the control. If the spell is cast while possession is being attempted, the check is made against 4/IQ. It also offers +2 IQ to resist obsession, oppression, and stigmatization. It cost 5ST to cast and lasts 12 hours.

Genre-bending I — Exploring the Wild West within TFT

November 23, 2020 at 4:38 pm

“Oh, the places you’ll go!”

– Dr. Seuss

Maybe it is from staying home for the past few months, but we have been thinking lately about visiting new worlds. Maybe not in airplanes, but in games. Going back to the strange tables in Dungeon Master’s Guide about converting D&D characters to Boot Hill or the GURPS Basic Set cover with all the different, we’ve always been interested in the idea of mixing up genres and bringing players to new worlds to explore.

This could quite easily turn into a complex rules discussion (and GURPS gives you all that complexity and more), but what if you could do it with rules as light and flexible as the Fantasy Trip? Let’s take a look at how this might turn out, in the Old West for example.


Go West

If you are transporting existing characters for a single adventure, presumably the story aspects of ‘fish out of water’ would be more important than rules specifics, but you would want the town Marshall to be more than a knight in a 10-gallon hat. The biggest differences between the West and most fantasy worlds are societal and technological. In this era, mankind has gotten much better at organizing itself and killing one another. On the frontier, most of the Talents from TFT would be direct crossovers, from Alertness to Weapons Expertise, without any modifications. Some Talents will have improved with technology, such as Physickers familiar with modern equipment heal 1 additional hit and the Guns skill would be broken into separate talents for pistols and long arms.

Magic may not be practiced in this world, or might not even work. Native wizards may be extremely rare, or natives may even be incapable of learning magic. This kind of flavor choice is best made by individual GMs. The same is true for races. Who’s to say there aren’t goblin lawyers in the Wild West or gargoyle train-robbers in the mountain passes. But it might be quite difficult for members of fantastic races to get by in a western town that resembles our own past.

Most new skills talents would be mundane. Jobs like bartender, cowhand, railroad-man, miner, telegraph operator, and barber would be 1 point. Tailor, clerk, entertainer, journalist, photographer, assayer, and skilled occupations would be 2 points, and professional careers like lawyer, banker, or politician would be 3 points. Gambler is a 2-point mundane skill, but to cheat would require Pickpocket (ITL, p.38) to master the sleight of hand of card-palming and other tricks.

Many social skills — from Diplomacy to Courtly Graces to even Sex Appeal — are based on the norms of a society, and might not translate seamlessly between worlds. The GM should consider adding modifications (up to 1d) to figures attempting such talents in a world not their own.

Technology would have created new skills like Gunsmith (IQ10, 1 point), Artillerist (IQ10, 2 points), and Machinist (IQ11, 2 points). Advanced societal structure would bring about Financiers (IQ12, 2 points), Lawyers (IQ12, 2 points), and Bureaucrats (IQ10, 1 point). All this additional paperwork would lead some to master Research (IQ11, 1 point) to be able to unearth important information.

This more complex society would also lead to a lot more recognized Authority (IQ9, 2 points) from community leaders, military commanders, and important personages. Lesser authority, known as Affiliation, (IQ8, 1 point) can be gained by having being associated with a powerful group like the Masons or a local bandit gang.

Gearing up

Technology is very different from the time of typical TFT heroes and this Wild West. Trains crisscross the landscape and paddlewheel ply the rivers. Telegraphs send messages with the speed of magic, and great machines handle work from hauling ore out of mines to cleaning cotton. Most of these inventions shouldn’t affect gameplay, but they would be sources of wonder and amazement for characters who have arrived from out of time.

War has changed too, and the new means of destruction are wide and varied. While most of these changes are on the battlefield, some have trickled down to the populace — especially on the frontier. Armor only deflects half their AD value against firearms or modern explosives. Most westerners rarely wear any beyond leathers, and might be at a loss if transported to a fantastic realm. Explosives and artillery do damage in the entire megahex where they land, and half damage (3/DX to avoid) in the surrounding megahexes.

Holdout pistol (Derringer)1d+183Requires Pistol Talent, range as Thrown weapon.
Revolver (Colt Peacemaker)2d6-2 910Requires Pistol, range as Thrown weapon.
Rifle (Winchester .44) 2d6 1020Requires Long arms, range as Missile weapon.
Musket (Kentucky Rifle)3d6 105Requires Long arms, range as Missile weapon. Fires every 3rd round.
Shotgun (Remington)3d6 1215Requires Long arms, range as Thrown weapon. Pellets strike 3 hexes, each die resolves vs. AD separately. front
Cannon6d6*- -3000Requires Engineer, crew of 3. Fires every 10 rounds
Nitroglycerin3d6*- -2Requires Explosives. Explodes in hand on 18, fails to go off on 17.
Dynamite5d6*- - 1Requires Explosives. Explodes in hand on 18, fails to go off on 17.
* Explosives damage all figures within their megahex, and those in surrounding megahex must make 3/DX test or take half damage.

Note that money is handled quite differently than most fantasy realms that have little understanding of bank drafts or paper currency. Even the metal value of western coins is far less than their stated value.

Most adventures in the wild west will probably focus on how the figures arrived in this strange world and how they are to get home. Perhaps a malfunctioning Gate sent them through time or a strange Mnoren artifact pulled them into an alternate dimension. Or perhaps a wizard built such a device to gain powerful weapons to use in their world. Or another villain traveled to this place to escape justice, and the heroes could join forces with a bounty hunter to retrieve them. A big part of these adventures would be to showcase the strange environment and interacting with even stranger people. A mighty orc warrior would definitely enjoy a saloon brawl, or an elven archer breaking all the rules of a shootout by bringing their longbow. You might not want to permanently strand your players in Dusty Gulch, New Mexico, but would definitely make for a few truly unique sessions.

Would you ever try this with the players at your table? Are there other genres that you would like to see explored? Let us know in the comments.


The darkness and the wight: A look at the lives of shadowights

September 23, 2020 at 6:26 pm

“The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.”

– Gregory Maguire


With skin tones ranging from ashen grey to coal-black, and thin, cadaverous builds, it is small wonder that the shadowights are often mistaken for creatures of unlife. But this is in no way true and is a source of much anger among their kind.

In fact, they are as alive as any of the sapient races and live their lives in much the same way. But they are infused with the stuff of shadow and shun the surface world in favor of deep caves and great underground earthworks. They rebuke the idea that they were somehow created by magic — by either Mnorens or some other wizard — and believe they were created at the same time as the sun-scorched peoples.

Shadowight PCs can be playable (ITL, p. 82), but they run greater risks than standard races. It might be better to start them at IQ10 rather than 8, and give them the full 8 points to distribute. They might have access to some of the specialized tools and weapons of their people, but they would still have to pay with silver or XP to gain them. They make poor combatants, but might excel at stealth or wizardry.

Shadowight enclaves can be found in all the deep places like caverns, mines, and shadowy mountain valleys. They are not as numerous as other races, and their communities are smaller due to a lack of resources below the ground. These hardships have made the shadowights slighter and thinner, but more resilient. When faced with a lack of food, water, or rest, shadowights gain +3IQ bonus to avoid fatigue.

As a rule, they are not jealous of surface peoples. They view their weakness in the sunlight (taking one hit per round in bright light) as an equal offset to their powers in the dark. They often find surface-dwellers arrogant and foolish, and quietly enjoy their foundering in the dark. They have been known to breed with members of other races, but the offspring are always shadowights. There are usually various race-aspected shadowights in any community.

Their society is close-knit and equitable, with most community decisions made by a vote of all adult members. Food, tools, and weapons are held in common and distributed by the community at need. They are generous among their own kind, and a traveling shadowight will usually offer gifts when encountering others and will be gifted in return.

Surface-dwellers are not afforded the same kindness in the shadows, and will usually not even be aware of nearby shadowights. Groups will usually fade into side passages and galleries, tracking the interlopers and salvaging gear and treasure from failed expeditions. Shadowights gain +3DX on Stealth tests made in their natural environment. Particularly destructive interlopers might face deadly ‘accidents’ and natural hazards to hasten their demise.

Shadowights see well enough in their underground homes, but have heightened their other senses to offset the darkness. They are gifted sculptors, building on the natural stone to create beautiful chambers, soaring galleries, and massive abstract pieces. They also create a haunting, echoey music that can be heard for great distances deep in the earth. Their written language is a series of raised bumps and lines carved in stone or incised in clay. This language can also be translated to knocks and pauses on stone surfaces, allowing the shadowights to communicate out of range of sight.

They are naturally attuned to the shadow, and have discovered and mastered materials similarly touched by shadow. They forge weapons and armor from penumbran ores of great power. A shadow blade crafted by a master gives +1DX to hit and ignores one point of armor defense. They are also capable of striking immaterial and insubstantial foes. Shadowights can use these weapons as if they had ST of two higher, so that a ST10 shadowight would be capable of wielding a shadow broadsword. Shadow armor and shields have one less DX penalty for shadowights as well. Note that these items suffer in the sun like their makers, and quickly crumble outside on the surface. Shadow weapons and armor cost 10 times as much as mundane versions, and can only be crafted by a master.

While the shadowights are far from the only creatures who call this subterranean world home, one of their most common companions are the shadowcats. Most communities have several cats around them, as domesticated as the average surface cat. They are slightly larger than house cats and are deep, lustrous black with pale luminous eyes. They move silently and are naturally stealthy. Keeping shadowcats is a sign of status and many shadowight wizards seek them as familiars

New creature: Shadowcat

ST5-7 / DX14 / IQ5 / MA14 AD0 /D1d-2
Talents: Silent movement, stealth

These lithe predators are somewhat larger than typical cats, and have rich black fur and pale luminous eyes. They move quietly around their underground world and hunt at the side of the shadowights. These creatures are nearly invisible in the shadows. Shadowcats suffer the same ill effects as shadowights in sunlight.

While most shadowights are comfortable in the shadows, there are a few who seek to strengthen their connection to the shadow plane and plumb its depths. These are the wizards of the Order of the Veil. The Order seeks to deepen a shadowight’s connection to shadow, and channels its energies. They are notable by the black face-shrouding veils they wear and their heavy bloodtree-root staves.

They excel at spells like Darkness and Shadow, as well as magic that extends their senses like Mage Sight, Great Voice, and Telepathy. They have mastered the art of shadow summoning, and can create allies formed of shadow to fight for them. Shadow summoning spells (from wolves to dragons) are one IQ higher than their equivalent, so that Summon Shadow Myrmidon is IQ11, and take one additional ST point to maintain per round. Shadow allies have +1AD and are missed completely on a 6 on 1d.

New IQ14 Spell: Shadow-step

This spell allows the caster to step between areas of deep shadow instantly, like a teleport. The wizard must be able to see or visualize the the shadows where they reappear. Complete darkness is beast, but a wizard can step into lesser shadows like those from a fire or lantern light at -2IQ. It costs 1ST for each megahex traveled this way.

Once more into the Weft —
A trifold labyrinth

September 17, 2020 at 5:22 pm

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

– J.K. Rowling


We have spent the last couple of posts (here and here) sketching out an area within our Almeri setting as a location for a mega-dungeon known as the Weft-warrens. Technically, the entire location is the mega-dungeon, as the ancient wizard Kain and his acolytes carved out more than the Ebonthorn and the entire cavern is riddled with caves and tunnels.

This gave us the opportunity to explore another project we have been working on — the trifold labyrinth. Expanding a bit on the highly successful postcard dungeons the Fantasy Trip, The trifold layout lets us build a complete short adventure with multiple encounters, unique adversaries, and even new items and spells all on one sheet of paper.

Beyond the Night's BridgeThe first of these is ‘Beyond the Night’s Bridge’ and it is set in the Weft. Here you will find a mysterious bridge leading into a sealed underground tower, greedy goblins atop gigantic spiders, and shadowy folk from realms beyond our own. It is open-ended by design and probably asks more questions than it answers, leading your group to deeper adventures.

We invite you to download the adventure and take a look for yourself. Run it at your table, or loot it for ideas. Or, just look it over. We’d love to hear your feedback. And keep an eye for more Heroic Expeditions.

Download Beyond the Night’s Bridge trifold labyrinth.



A special shout-out to artist Dean Spencer whose inspirational work graces the front of our first trifold.



Part II–
At home in the Weft: Life underground

September 2, 2020 at 11:43 pm

“Fear has many eyes and can see things underground.”

– Miguel de Cervantes

Living in the Weft, or even a prolonged visit, is not for the faint. There is no day or night, just the ever-present glow of the lava flow into the Crucible. The air is sulfurous, dry, and hot. The population is secretive, dangerous, and often not completely human. It has the air of a boomtown always on the brink of disaster. Not surprisingly, a large portion of the population are goblins, and a selection of humans, dwarfs, elves, and other forms can all be found.

Water is not common in the Weft, and is brought in by Travelers or through Gates to the elemental plane. Cleanliness is not well-practiced, and the dirty, physical work of much of the populace leads to quite a stench in close quarters. Food is less scarce, but might not be eagerly accepted by surface-dwellers. Most meals are made from fungus, moss, and rumbler — a colloquial term for the yard-long earthworms cultivated here. In fact, rumbler is quite versatile and has a meaty consistency and mild flavor. But many never quite get the taste for it. A local beverage called sharab, made from fermenting mushrooms, flows freely and helps lubricate the social life of the city.

Work is also difficult to come by. Most are drawn here to explore the warrens, so adventuring and exploiting adventurers are its two main industries. Guides, brokers, appraisers, gamblers, hustlers, escorts, and thieves pack the taverns and pleasure-houses. Furtive wizards and dealers in antiquities are always eager to ‘sponsor’ excursions into the warrens. Currency is highly variable considering the origin of its inhabitants, and coinage value is usually based on weight. Barter is also quite common in the Weft.

There is no true government in the Kain’s Crucible, or anywhere in the Weft. Powerful wizards and thieving gangs try to maintain order around their enclaves, but they are too often embroiled in fighting one another to establish order. The only true enforcement is the Sentries — seven-foot copper automatons that patrol the Weft and enforce the laws as Kain saw fit. The Sentries do not speak or attempt to justify their actions, they simply apprehend their quarry and banish them through a Gate in the Central square. Most often those apprehended are returned to the worlds from which they came, but tales abound of far grislier destinations for those who commit serious crimes. While open bloodshed and theft will alert the Sentries, there are no complete listings of Kain’s code of justice, and one can never be sure what actions might draw their attention. There are 100 sentries in the Weft, and if one is destroyed another will appear to take its place. No one has ever seen where these enforcers arrive from.

New creature: Weft-warren Sentries

ST30 / DX12 / IQ0 / MA10 or 16 / AD 4 / D2d+2 / Power: –2 to enter HTH combat

Bulky, copper-sheathed automatons that relentlessly enforce the laws as set by the wizard Kain, Their primary combat goal is to engage a target in HTH combat, neutralize them, and carry them to the sally port in the central square. They are immune to illusions and command magic

Crucible’s Hot Spots

Cracked Slab. A local landmark, and many newcomers first sight in the Weft, is the raucous barroom at the ’Slab. That is because a large mirror set above the hearth is the exit point of many trapped Gates throughout the Shards. It is said that Kain himself scattered the Gates to provide workforce recruits when he ruled the Weft. Now it provides comic relief when a hapless soul tumbles out onto the flagstones of the tavern. The Cracked Slab is owned Malldus Bayle — a tall cadaverous man of few words. He came the Weft years back for his own reasons and never left. He rarely speaks, but seems to be listening to everything that goes on in his establishment. By contrast, his dwarf cook is the boisterous ‘Pepper’ Jax Moorsten. Pepper is a master at preparing the local rumblers and accents his cooking with surface vegetables grown under alchemical lamps. He can be found drinking in the common room nearly as often as working in the kitchen. The Slab — whose sign is a broken sarcophagus lid — has many rooms on lower levels from barracks to lavish suites. Malldus has been known to extend credit or even indenture newcomers who are not prepared to pay.

The Cloister of Keys. This low-walled compound with a bell tower seems incongruous to the rowdy streets around it, as do the serene, pale-robed denizens within. These are members of a philosophic order that believe that Gates are a manifestation of the connectedness of life, and seek a deeper understanding of the Weft. Their leader is Malis Ossi, a strange figure with six eyes and pearlescent skin. The Mendicants call themselves the Shackled, and wear ritual manacles and keys about their necks, are one of the few who offer charity to strangers, and will provide services in exchange for information about the Gates. There are more than a few wizards among the Shackled, but most are merely scholars or scribes.

Crucible Craeft. A seeming impossible jetty leads from the shore out into the Crucible’s lava pool itself, with a low building at its end. While scalding and unpleasant, it is not deadly to walk upon. At the end is the workshop and showroom of a group salamanders (ST20 / DX13 / IQ12 / MA10 / D fireball / ITL p. 87) who are expert metal-smiths and jewelry-makers. They are very formal and refuse to barter or negotiate, but their workmanship is of the highest caliber. While there must be more than one, they seem to have some shared consciousness and all go by the title master.

Ebonthorn. The well-worn trail rises from the shore of lava pool to the base of the cliff where the lowest bastions of this tower stand. But there is no door, nor windows, or visible means of entry. The legends tell that the tower was once home to the wizard Kain and housed his disciples, but no evidence remains of that today. But treasure-seekers from around the Shards are drawn to this place in hopes of cracking the mystery and reaping the rewards of what lay inside. With so many Gates and portals to be found within the Weft, perhaps the entry can be found within the warrens that surround the place. Or at least that is the hope that fuels those who continually delve here.

Keeper Akyllo. This goblin wizard maintains a stronghold in an old tower that appears to have been melted a long time ago. But it is rumored that several subterranean layers exist beneath the ruined structure. Akylllo has been searching for an ivory termite den that is believed to exist in the Weft. These are supposed to be both delicious and a powerful magical ingredient. Akyllo’s obscure appetites are well-known in the community, and she is known to pay well for delicacies.

Ruffin Ready Dry Goods. In a place of incongruities, this might be the most incongruous yet. The Ruffins’ business is a brightly colored wagon that roams the cramped streets. The Ruffins themselves — brother Matty and sister Patti — are equally colorful flame-haired halflings who love a good story. More than just their appearance, the Ruffins are notable for the breadth and quality of their wares. They seem to carry stock well beyond the capacity of the cart, and have a knack for finding difficult to retrieve items. They seem almost eager to extend credit to wayward customers, and to underwrite missions for a cause. Those that fail to live up to the terms of these contracts seem to end up badly, and it is quietly thought that the Ruffins may be in league with some dark power.

Part I– Welcome to the Weft, the space between here and there

August 25, 2020 at 5:03 pm

“We may move in different circles, but we all dance the same dance on the music of the spheres”

― Wald Wassermann


Most of the world-building posts here have been about our world of Almeri and its various ecologies, the skies above it and the depths below. But what about the space between, where the strange magicks that control Gates connect to the multitude of shards and places even further afield? What if there was a place where these paths crossed and those that traverse the ways could gather? And what would they do in such a place?

We have talked in the past about the Keepers — strange wizards who control Gates to wield power over the Shards. But there is little formal organization to their order, and their thirst for power and petty vengeances keep their numbers low. But the Cidrian Shards are a vast realm and there is information that can be gained, and mysteries to be experienced, if one knows where to look. One of these places is known as the Weft, and it can be a place of wonder — or the ultimate pit of madness. The Keepers are not the only ones with the means to access the Weft, but they are the most common. And they control the few widely-known Gates that lead into this realm. Other creatures such as demons, elementals, and other even stranger entities have their own methods of travel but are less likely to share.


The middle of nowhere

It is said that the Weft was discovered by the wizard Kain in ages past. It is not known exactly where the Weft is located, or even if it exists in the physical world, but it is a nearly mile-wide opening deep in some volcanic cavern. It is on a natural convergence of magical forces, and Gates form spontaneously on occasion. Also, mis-used and trapped Gates have been known to be deposit unwary travelers within the Weft. The northern end (if compasses can be trusted in such a place) is dominated by a burning lava flow seeping hundreds of feet down the wall of the cavern and pooling in a lake of fire known as Kain’s Crucible. Amazingly, a small community of travelers and trapped souls has grown up around the lake and shares its name. Nearly 1,000 creatures from across the Cidrian Shards call this place home, with nearly half that number of visitors at any given time.

Once Kain found this place, he carved a haven out of a volcanic spire that split the lava stream and provided a commanding view of the Weft. This featureless black tower (now called the Ebonthorn) has no known doors or windows, and only its wide, crenelated roof and sculpture garden are accessible. It was said to be a place of marvels, and Kain and his disciples worked great magic and plumbed the depths of the Weft trying to uncover its many secrets. This may have even been the founding location of the Keepers, but the records of that secretive organization are not shared.

The terrain is rough and rocky, with deep chasms and soaring pillars breaking up the landscape. The ceiling of the cavern climbs thousands of feet in some places and looms just a few dozen in others. It is roughly egg-shaped with the Ebonthorn at the peak. The irregular walls of the Weft are riddled with caves, passages, and worked excavations. Volcanic activity is common and lava pools and stifling fumes rise from cracks in the earth. In cooler areas, huge crystal structures break through the crust and mushrooms rise like trees. Many of these are edible are provide sustenance for the strange wildlife — mostly oversized insects and worms — that live in the Weft.


How the Weft was won

For centuries, Kain and the fledgling Keepers held sway over the Weft, drawing strange creatures from many worlds and working many wonders. And then Kain vanished. If anyone knows why or to where they are not sharing, but the mighty wizard was gone. And his followers — like wizards are wont to do — turned on each grasping for their master’s power. These wars lasted further centuries, and in the end, no one wizard gained mastery. The Weft was largely abandoned to those trapped here and the few passing through.

But wherever mysteries lie, there will be those dauntless few who will seek them out. For the past few decades, fortune-hunters have been delving into the cliffs and deep caves of the Weft and unearthing treasures unseen for generations. A few of the Keepers have occupied strongholds here as well, looking for the secrets of the past. And where there is wealth to be had, clever merchants arrive to serve these explorers and separate them from their gains.

The narrow plane between the base of the Ebonthorn and the lava shores of the Crucible on either side of the Red Channel is a hodgepodge of buildings of many different constructions and styles. Taverns, rooming houses, and gaming halls crowd in among sages, assayers, and dealers in rare antiquities. Most establishments have levels below the surface away from the crowds and the stench. There seems to be little planning

Beyond the cramped streets of the Crucible are a seemingly endless complex of caves and excavations filled with dangers, treasures, and portals to places throughout the Shards and planes beyond. These are the Weft-warrens; a world between worlds. Out here the glow of the Crucible fades and the population thins. Here you will find towers of reclusive wizards, rumbler ranches, new excavations, and abandoned ruins of the past. While not numerous, many bands of ghouls prowl this shadowy country in hopes of easy prey.

This murky space is also home to colonies of gate spiders (ITL, p. 94) that seem to congregate about places where connections are strongest and spin webs to lure prey from other realms. Local goblin tribes have domesticated some of the larger spiders (the size of large dogs, roughly ST8) to seek out these places of power and set ambushes for wayward travelers.

Next time: Life between worlds and notable locations.


On top of the world: the Almeri north country

June 15, 2020 at 9:01 pm

“Nothing burns like the cold.”

― George R.R. Martin


Beyond the storms and the endless gray swells of the Middlesea, those who venture north will eventually be greeted by the sheer cliffs and pine-topped ridges of the Einnen coast. It is a harsh and foreboding landscape, but there are those that call it home. With their communities seemingly carved out of the coastal cliff walls, the Einnen are equally at home on land or sea. They range across the rocky shores and narrow inlets of the Einen fjords in their high-prowed ships with skill and daring.

But in the end, these rovers unerring return to their ports. Because of the limited resources of their harsh clime, the Einnen do not build cities, but instead gather in smaller communities united by blood or other loyalties. Usually no more than 1,000 Einnen are attached to any one Cotte, and of that may be ranging at any time. Most decisions are made by the elders within a community, but when they come together to make group decisions ship captains wield outsized authority. These choices are made by the popular vote of all adults, and those who disagree must either accept or leave the Cotte.

The Einnen are a dark people — in contrast to their icy landscape — with thick hair that ranges from middle brown to blue-black. They regard the sexes equally, and have an open concept of bonded relationships that southerners can find disturbing.

Frozen winters and long sea voyages give the average Einna a fair amount of down-time, and craftsmanship is highly-honored among these people. They may not bright jewels or rich fabrics, but the prosperity of an Einnen is shown in the quality of their gear.

One of the most prized crafts of the Einnen is the carving of whalebone or ivory into scrimshaw. From combs and buttons to ship mastheads, these intricate carvings enrich the life of the Einnen. This has seeped into their magical culture. A Wizard with the Master Woodcarver skill and the Augment Carving Spell (below) can create a magical device capable of holding the energy of a spell that can be released on the holder’s command

New IQ Spell: Augment Carving (S): Lets wizard create an enchanted carving. The wizard must know both the Augment Carving spell and the spell to be written on the scroll. ST cost: None. Writing a scroll requires a wizard’s whole effort for as many days as the IQ required for the spell; they must make his DX roll once on each of those days or their knife slips and it ruins the scroll. Therefore, ST cost is inapplicable; it just takes days of work. A scroll cannot be made for any spell that creates a magic item.

The more complex the magic, the more elaborate the carving must be. And since any figure may try and activate a scrimshaw, it costs twice as much to create an enchanted carving.


Cost for Storing Spells in Scrimshaw
IQ of SpellCost to Enhance

Self-powered scrimshaw can be carved with the ST held within the carving, with the typical 10 times the cost and time invested.

Beyond the shoreline of the fjords, the icy tundra and deep forests of the Einnen show little signs of civilization. In the forests the cave bears (ITL, p. 91) and giant wolverines (ITL, p. 92) reign supreme. Einnen hunting parties and foraging groups can sometimes be found, but there are few permanent settlements inland.

Until you reach the slopes of the Krunnarangs that ring the northern wilds of the Almeri shard. There you can find the delving and forges of the Kivilim dwarves. While not numerous, their tunnels range wide through the mountains and the smoke of their forges and tracks of their chain wagons can easily be spotted in this desolate country. Frost giants are known to roam the forests and low hills before the mountains. They are not as huge as some of their kind (ST30-35), but are much more clever (IQ9-13), and are capable of forging their own armor and weapons. These giants are proud and quick to offense, and feel superior to their brutish southern cousins.

The Kivilim are known to have the secret of steel, and their armor and weapons are famed throughout the world. The raw material for these works is usually the sky iron found only in this northern region. High in the northern sky, far from the shimmering band of the Scintillant is the fiery molten shard know as Surtor, who throws burning chunks of itself down on Almeri. The dwarves (and their competitors the frost giants) claim these fragments and forge them into the sharpest and strongest of tools. Steel weapons break as if they were magical and do an additional hit of damage. Steel armor can be made much lighter than iron or bronze, and has -1 less DX penalty when worn. The dwarves are happy to sell their works when the price is right, but divulging the secrets of its making is a mortal offense.

Some of the splinters of Surtor that reach Almeri continue to smolder and can be used as fuel for the great dwarves forges. They also build mighty engines that drive the chain wagons that move about the Kivilim delvings. These are heavy, wheeled carts mounted on long tracks, with chains that pull them along. These are used to haul heavy ore, bulk materials, and even passengers great distances throughout the dwarven lands. The engines that drive them are massive and complex, and it takes both the Chemist and Mechanist talents to manage one. The wagons themselves are quite simple, with only a brake and a clamp to grip the chain, and can be maneuvered without checks by a figure with the Drive (chain wagon) Talent. A Mechanist unfamiliar with the setup could figure out its functions with a successful 3/IQ test.

Each Kivilim hold is controlled by a heredity leader, and they in turn swear fealty to through family ties up to the High King at Keinenhold. Dwarves do not bear children as easily or as often as other races, so these bloodlines are often convoluted connections to cousins, half-siblings, and adopted heirs. The right to rule is passed on to the oldest hero regardless of whether they are male or female.