Illyrians of Note: The Demimonde

Just above the ranks of the criminal underworld but falling just short of respectability, there exists a shadowy, ill-defined "half-world" populated by a motley assortment of artists, poets, entertainers, and others whose profession and temperament leave them stranded on the fringes of polite society. Their unique position affords them the chance to mingle (in certain contexts) with all levels of society, and may be found lounging disreputably at theatrical premieres and gallery openings, making introductions at bohemian soirées, and slipping out of unexpected bedrooms just before first light.

magician4.jpgDoctor Perdurabo

This mysterious foreigner has attained a considerable notoriety in the short time he’s spent in Illyria, and the ruined abbey he’s purchased in the countryside is rumored to be the site of occult ceremonies and frenzied rites of the most depraved kind. He has put it about that he is seeking a young female accomplice to serve as his “crimson altar concubine” for some unknown but vaguely sinister purpose.

Madame Zazu

Depending on the source of the gossip, Illyria's most sought-after clairvoyant and medium is an exiled "Queen of the Caravans", the fugitive mistress of an Azerbaijani oil tycoon, the reincarnation of Queen Hatshepsut, or an obscure provincial girl with a gift for accents and cold-reading.    Whatever her true origins, her seances are well and rapturously attended, and
her Tarot readings and consultations (always held in her small but fashionable lodgings in the New Town) are booked almost a year in advance.  She offers no clear explanation for her mysterious powers of prognostication, save that she works with the assistance of a "spirit guide" in the form of Zalmoxis of the Getae, an ancient Thracian warrior-king whose bronze sword hilt she wears on a silver chain around her neck.


Laszlo, the People’s Poet

An impassioned young man of upper-middle class origins, Laszlo maintains a fashionably dilapidated squat above the fire-gutted ruins of a printworks, from which he publishes broadsheets and handbills proclaiming his fiery but inconsistently-defined ideology. The building was scheduled for demolition some time ago, but the authorities are in no hurry to tear it down, as the location is well-known and easily surveilled, should the nightly gatherings of University bohemians ever develop beyond posturing, sesquipedalian demagoguery, wine-bibbing, and the swearing of fearful oaths. It is considered a rite of passage for junior police officers to attend such meetings undercover, dutifully taking notes in suspiciously crisp leatherbound journals.

Vera Petrović and "Freddie"

A middle-class divorcée turned essayist and playwright, Mrs. Petrović (she has retained her married name) presides over a raffish and often combatative (the last meeting was broken up by police after a pistol was discharged into the ceiling) salon in a small coffeehouse at the edge of the Old Town.  Wits, dandies, and flaneurs of all stripes are drawn there, and the resulting verbal fireworks are breathlessly related (though always under the zealous pen of the censor) in the morning editions of Illyria's rival newspapers.  Mrs. Petrović is most often seen in the company of "Freddie" (full/real name unknown) a free-spirited American sculptress with whom she shares a modest apartment overlooking the parade grounds. Mrs. Petrović has politely, but firmly declined subsequent offers of marriage.   


The Great Clown Pagliacci

Currently playing the Capital for a series of sold-out performances. A bitter, depressive alcoholic who may snap at any moment now. Suffers a recurring delusion that he is God imprisoned in flesh and every day lived as a man is his punishment for creating humankind.

Olympia Gautier

The reigning prima donna of the Illyrian stage, the pale, striking Gautier rose from playing an assortment of slave-girls, maids, and ladies-in-waiting to the ingenue roles with a swiftness that garnered the astonishment of critics and the envy of her peers. Her hypnotic gaze, shockingly naturalistic portrayals, and a certain indefinable something have made her the most talked-about commoner in the Capital, and speculation is rife as to her origins (her name is almost certainly a fiction), amorous entanglements, and the tendency of actresses contending for the same parts to succumb to bizarre and unaccountable reversals of fortune which serve to take them temporarily (or in one recent case permanently) out of the running.

Other Things I've Worked On

Into The Odd RPG
I did couple of illustrations (one b&w, one color) for Chris McDowall's RPG of survival horror and industrial weirdness.

Chthonic Codex Boxed Set
I illustrated the pre-gen player character handouts and contributed to a random table in Book 3: Mysteries & Mystagogues


          Thousand Suns: Five Stars
          I did a couple of illustrations for this adventure of James                       Maliszewski's "Imperial Science Fiction" RPG.

Secret Santicore 2011
I did some illustrations for this one, as well as the "Vat-Spawn" entry.

Flavors of Fear: 13 Weird Fantasy Setting Sketches For Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Jack Shear wrote the vast and wonderful bulk of this fan supplement, but my Weird Classical World mini-settings appear in Appendix 4.

World of Darkness: Changing Breeds: I wrote the stuff about necromancy-practicing were-owls.

Illyrians of Note: Crime & Punishment

A twisted funhouse mirror-image of Illyria's storied aristocracy (see previous entry), the Underworld is populated by no less sensational personalities.  Indeed, the more notorious members of the criminal element make a far greater impact on the lives and livelihoods of many in the Capital than do the glittering worthies found on souvenir portraits and picture-postcards. The tenements, back-alleys and dimly-lit basements where they hold court are the patrimony of your characters, and the gallimaufrian patois of thieves, beggars and whores their native tongue. Below are just a few of the more notorious of these, who may well serve as allies or rivals (or both from one minute to the next) of your characters, along with some of those charged with bringing them to such justice as may be had in Illyria.

gTnzO0v.jpgMagda the She-Wolf

A hard-bitten former prostitute, pickpocket, and smuggler, Magda keeps a watchful eye over a small horde of orphans and runaways in a cavernous warren beneath the Old Town. She shields and chastises her young charges with equal ferocity, and her “little mice” in turn act as her eyes, ears, and light-fingered hands throughout the Capital.


“Butcher” Piet

If backstreet rumor and the shrill warnings of moritat-singers are to be believed, the always-dapper Piet is responsible for innumerable violations of the laws of God and Man. For all the atrocities he’s credited with, no scrap of evidence has yet held up in court, and he walks the streets a free man-- to the consternation, awe, and terror of all. He is rumored by many to be The Devil Himself (or at least a close relation) and Piet has made no attempt to refute these speculations.

The Vrána Brothers

Boško and Bogomil Vrána appeared on the scene seemingly out of nowhere about 5 years ago.  They claim to be identical twins, and they do in fact exhibit a disquieting simultaneity to the point of finishing each other's sentences and occasionally speaking and moving in perfect unison.  As to their physical appearance, no one can say for certain, as they never appear in public without one of several matching pairs of bird masks in a variety of styles.  If bar-room gossip is to be believed, these masks are not removed even in the presence of intimates.  Of the two, Bogomil seems to be the more intellectual brother, and appears to be au courant with the latest trends in music, literature, and art.   Boško has the simpler tastes of a sporting man-about town, and may be further identified by a sharpened Art-Nouveau thumb ring which he employs to pluck out the eyes of those who offend his many whims.  The two have taken up residence, along with a retinue of enforcers, toadies, and hangers-on, in a lavishly-furnished townhouse in the heart of a fashionable quarter of the New Town.  From here, they direct their ever-expanding portfolio of criminal enterprises, including blackmail, theft, racketeering, prostitution, ,sport-rigging, and murder-for-hire.

Young Frankenstein6.gifCommissar Kaltenbach

Obsequious to his superiors and snobbish to all beneath him, the Commissar is a thick-headed, preening martinet to whom the ins and outs of policing play a distant second to the cultivation of gleaming brass buttons, boots spit-polished to a mirror finish, and crisply-executed salutes.


Chief Inspector Sobotka

Bitter, sardonic, and frighteningly competent, the Chief Inspector was himself a graduate from one of the many informal thieves’ academies which flourish in the crook-backed alleyways and dilapidated tenements of the Old Town. As such, he is intimately familiar with Illyria’s criminal underworld and rarely misses a trick. He is hampered only by the contempt of his superiors and the resulting lack of funds and manpower to realize his ambitions.

Sergeant Popov

Ever-amenable to a discreet payoff in the form of a flask of schnapps, some perfunctory sexual gratification, or a modest amount of cash "to buy perhaps some toys for the children," Sergeant Popov  strolls serenely though the streets of the Old Town whistling a jaunty music-hall ballad and absent-mindedly twirling his polished oak truncheon.  Popov projects the image of a jolly, easy-going, genially corrupt policeman, winking indulgently at little transgressions and leaving the citizenry more or less in peace.  For the most part, this is true, but Popov drops his avuncular mask with alarming speed when his stream of "honest graft" is challenged or threatened in any way.  More than one recalcitrant citizen has woken up in the hospital, bones broken, fingers crushed,  and jaw wired shut after a particularly enthusiastic thrashing from Popov himself or the patrolmen under his command (whose ranks include no less than 3 adult male representatives of his massive brood, which at the time of this writing number thirteen).      

Illyrians of Note: The Quality

The next few posts will feature examples of prominent NPCs that players may encounter in the course of a caper or campaign.  While it is rather improbable that your gang of brilliantined swindlers and back-alley toughs will make the regular acquaintance of the worthies listed below, any gallery opening, public ceremony, or fashionable soiree' (such as attract the wealthy and fleece-able) is guaranteed to have at least one of these in attendance, with any luck diverting attention as you go about your larceny.

1367272271-mr-arkadin01.jpgGrand Duke Orsino IX

Jolly but irresponsible “merrie monarch.” Steadily bankrupting the country with his many extravagances and caprices. Orsino is, in no particular order, a gambler, womanizer, gourmand, sportsman, and cinephile. He is also something of an amateur stage conjurer. Friends, relatives, servants and random subjects (especially the more pulchritudinous of these) are often pressed into service as volunteers for the Grand Duke’s latest illusions, card tricks, etc.
Duke Stefano

Solemn, university-educated, progressively inclined, though still a monarchist at heart. He has rebuffed the overtures of at least two conspiracies to usurp his elder brother but his resolve is weakening. He is a current Fencing Champion of all Illyria, a breeder of prize-winning thoroughbreds, and an amateur civil engineer.


Lady Désirée

The wealthiest widow in Illyria, and its leading patroness of the Arts. Speculation is rife as to whether her total obliviousness to all forms of wordplay, innuendo, and double-entendre is a ruse designed to confound suitors or the result of a strict convent upbringing and/or a persistent innocence in matters of the flesh. In any case, her brief marriage to a notoriously debauched sugar magnate yielded no fruit before his untimely demise, and Lady Désirée passes her remaining years in a series of salons, gala luncheons, and candlelight suppers.

Countess Viola

Variously described as "a mockery of her sex," "pert beyond all endurance" and "that vicious little hoyden," the youngest member of the Grand Ducal family is the despair of her elders, the vexation of her suitors, and the darling of the international press (Illyrian newspapermen being firmly under the censor's thumb).  She is most often encountered on horseback, sabre swinging from her hip, or behind the wheel of an experimental automobile, and nearly always in one precisely tailored regimental uniform or another.  Her one notable departure from this caused a minor scandal at last year's Masquerade as she appeared as Artemis of the Hunt in a diaphanous chiton of alarming brevity, bearing a (functional) Tatar bow and flanked by two enormous Irish wolfhounds.  

Some News, Ill Met in Illyria [Part 1], and Also I'm not Dead

First off, I'm not dead.  Not just yet.

Second, some news:
1.  As inactive as I've been on the writing front, I have been getting more and more illustration commissions, and with each new project I feel like my skills are improving.  Here's one from an adventure supplement to James Maliszewski's  Thousand Suns

Some private commissions for Mike Davison of Sword +1

For Evan Elkins of In Places Deep

And Trey Causey of From the Sorcerer's Skull

In addition, I did some work for Epidiah Ravachol's Sword & Sorcery zine Worlds Without Master

And a series of pregenerated PC portraits for Paolo Greco's fantastic Chthonic Codex boxed set.

I have work in Chris McDowell's upcoming revised and much-expanded edition of Into The Odd.

I'll be illustrating the Fever-Dreaming Marlinko city supplement that was unlocked as part of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes Kickstarter.

And then there's this.  I think that one will end up confirming all my elementary/middle school teachers' worst suspicions about my character when they saw the comics I'd made.


I have a neglected pile of half-written posts about Galbaruc and Oriax, but before dusting those off and putting 'em up there's a little side project I've been working on.  In the interests of finally finishing the thing, I thought I'd keep my interest and momentum going by posting some "teaser" excerpts from the document as I'm putting it together.  Eventually, I'd like to put out a nice printed edition of this thing with maps, floor plans, and copyright free (and some original) illustrations, but for right now my goal is to knock out a 15-page or so pdf.

So a while back, Trey Causey did a couple of posts (1 & 2) outlining the basics of a "Ruritanian Rogues" campaign, which happened to coincide with me recently catching a performance of Twelfth Night and watching a bunch of pre-Code movies, mostly directed by Ernst Lubitsch. This is what emerged, and right now I'm working it into a sort of "playset"for Over the Edge / WaRP as that's the system I can most easily run off the top of my head (with the possible exception of WFRP 2nd ed.)  With very minimal tweaking, it could work well for Risus, too.

So here's a brief intro:

The Year is 1912. You are a motley ad hoc association of swindlers, pickpockets, gigolos, demimondaines, legbreakers and second-story men. Your playground and prison is the obscure Balkan microstate of Illyria. With nothing but brains, charm, muscle, and an assortment of random odds and ends, you and your associates will attempt a series of increasingly improbable heists, swindles, and outrages of public decency while staying on step ahead of the police, rival gangs, grey-suited bureaucrats, the secret police, student revolutionaries, formidable dowagers, occultists, aristocrats, ponderous academics, street urchins, monocled sadists with Heidelberg dueling scars, femmes fatales, and your own tragic shortcomings.

Illyria totters drunkenly between picturesque feudalism and modernity. In the Capital there are telephones, cinemas, electric lights and even automobiles, but a traveler venturing beyond its turreted walls may be forgiven for thinking they've somehow stepped back into the 18th Century.

The National Language is Illyrian (an Indo-European language in a tiny branch by itself) which is spoken and understood by all commoners. The business of the Archducal court is largely conducted in French.

The Illyrian Orthodox Church serves as the State Religion, though there are sizable pockets of Roman Catholics, Jews, and, to a lesser extent, Muslims (largely an artifact of the nation’s brief period of occupation under the Ottomans). There is also rumored to be a small commune of Swedenborgians somewhere in the north of the Great Forest.

The standard unit of currency is the Kopin. You have very few of these at present, and the world is teeming with people who have more than they can be trusted to use responsibly.

Here's some recommended viewing to get you in the right mood:

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Kafka (1991)

The Trial (1962)

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

The Assassination Bureau (1969)

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

Royal Flash (1975)

Shadows and Fog (1992)

The Illusionist (2006)

Duck Soup (1933)

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

M (1931)

The Threepenny Opera (1931)

The Ladykillers (1955)

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Kind Hearts & Coronets (1949)

The Great Race (1965)

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Jewel Robbery (1932)

Next post, I'll put up some NPCs that can serve as marks, foils,or allies of convenience for your gang of Graustarkian ganefs.

Items of Psychotronic Might #2: The Brazen Head of Criswell

Preserved by strange alchemies from the far-flung XXth Aeon, the head of this legendary seer will utter strange and terrible prophecies for the benefit of any adventurer bold enough to consult it.  When it speaks, its stentorian tones can mold and mutate the world around it, bringing mundane reality ever closer to its mad vision.

The head may be consulted once per day with a question relating to the following:

     1.  The past or future history/provenence of an object, NPC, building, or geographical feature.  The answer  may well be negated by PC actions/repurcussions of same. 

     2.  The customs, mores, etc., of any society/culture/ethnic group,etc. known to the PCs, at any point in its past or future development.

     3.  What is going on, at this exact moment, in a location known to the questioner.

For every consultation, make two percentile rolls.  The first gives the probability of an accurate answer (the head is notoriously unreliable) while the second represents the consultation attempt itself.  If the answer is inaccurate, the GM is free to invent whatever outrageous bullshit he or she desires, but both accurate and inaccurate answers should be delivered in the same stentorian, overblown, and slightly delerious manner, with the PCs referred to as "friends", "my friends," "dear friends," etc. 

After the oracular pronouncement has been given

If the second roll is an even number there is no additional effect.  On an odd result, roll a d10 and consult the following chart ) :

 Random Brazen Head Effect
 "Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives."  The next 24 hours cycle in a continuous loop "Groundhog Day" style.  This can be broken by one of the party making a successful Save vs. Magic (or whatever), which can be attempted once per day.

 "And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future."
At any point within the next session, one fact can be made retroactively true or false, up to and including death, dismemberment, purchases of vital equipment, and ill-considered fashion choices.

 "You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable."  The questioner can Identify any objects encountered within the next d4 days as per the spell.  There is no actual casting involved-- the character simply knows these things.

"My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer." The Head psychically scans the questioner, who must make a (whetever's appropriate for the system) save or yield up their deepest darkest secret, which the Head will decide to announce, in unsparing detail, at a time when it is least advisable.

 "Let us punish the guilty." As above, but all present must make the save. Of the characters who fail, anyone who's committed a shameful act (by the Head's Eisenhower-era standards) within the last 48 hours rolls twice and keeps the worse result for all rolls in the next 24 hrs.

 "Let us reward the innocent." As above, but this time acts of virtue (according to the Head) are rewarded, and any characters so affected roll twice and keep the better result.

  "Perhaps on your way home you will pass someone in the dark, and you will never know it, for they will be from outer space."  The next random NPC the questioner encounters is actually an otherworldly entity in disguise whose inscrutable designs involve the questioner in a pivotal role.

"My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?" Instantly summons d4 Ressurectionoids armed with laser scalpels and revivification rays. 

 "It is even more of a shock when Death, the Proud Brother, comes suddenly without warning."  Instantly summons d10 Astro-Zombies armed with vibro-machetes.

 "My friend, you have seen this incident, based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn't happen?" However insane the Head's last utterance, it is now part of consensus reality, challenged only by liars, cranks, and the deranged.  Re-roll on the off chance it answered the last question correctly.

Special Bonus! The Legendary Criswell Predicts Your Incredible Future (1970)

Four Dignitaries of Hell of Special Interest to the Criminal Element

This can be considered an addition to the "Hell" entry in The Scofflaw's ABC.

1. Dulak-Mhir, Castellan of the Fortress of Joy. Appears as an aged man in a tattered scarlet robe, his body wound head to foot with iron rings, from which depend a clanking, jangling assortment of keys. He may be called upon to unlock any doorway, gate, or strongbox which stands between a mortal and their desire. He will perform this service in exchange for the petitioner agreeing to bear one of his key-rings. Dulak-Mihr will choose the ring himself, which may be small enough to wear around the pinky finger, or large enough to circle a man’s waist. Whatever the size, the ring will be heavy, uncomfortably tight (but not so much as to cut off circulation) and impossible to remove. It is not known what will transpire when Dulak-Mhir has cast off his last ring and may once more stand unburdened of his duties.

2. Kalkiskordivaay, Marchioness of the Wormwood Star. Appears as a leopard with the head of a woman of no mean appearance, her red-gold hair oddly cast in the light of a crown of pale green fire. When she speaks, it is as the tinkling of small chimes in the roar of a hurricane. Kalkiskordivaay delights in the corruption of stalwart hearts and the betrayal of duty. She will teach the lines and curves of her sigil to favored malefactors in dreams of unnerving beauty. These votaries will then seek out the individual they seek to bend from their purpose and attempt to persuade them to some inconsequential betrayal of a charge or duty. If they can be swayed but one iota, their doom is secured. The corruptor then inscribes the name of their victim in the center of their Patroness’ sigil. With each successive week after the the inscription, the victim becomes ever more susceptible to suggestion, and at a month’s end, they are firmly in their new master's thrall, unable and undesirous to disobey any direct order.  This binding may only be broken if the sigil is somehow defaced or destroyed, in which event, Kalkiskordivaay withdraws her favor in disgust.  She has been known to respond favorably to the sacrifice of a loyal guard dog, or a puppy whelped from same.

3. Ulshh, Master of Revels at the Court of the Inverted Citadel.  Vain, restless, and fond of novelty, Ulshh never appears to mortals more than once in the same form.  His last fleshly incarnation was as a grotesquely fat lavender-skinned man wearing the powdered and rouged skin of a slender fop, with the gaps in this unusual suit filled in with puffs of vermillion taffeta and laced with golden thread.  Ulshh is often appealed to by poets, actors, and musicians whose talents are on the wane, or have yet to acquire sufficent fame and fortune by more laborious means.  For the enterprising criminal, he has been known to provide the following service:  When presented with the tibia of a boy whose voice has not yet broken, Ulshh will fashion it into a flute, engraved with verses in an unknown tongue.  When the flute is played, all who can hear its music (save the player) are forced to dance a stately measure, and may do nothing else until the music ceases.  For every minute the flute is played, the player ages 1d10 years.  Should the player reach the age of 100 by this means, they must successfully save vs. Death every subsequent minute the flute is played.  Should the player die in the midst of playing, the flute splits open, shattering into useless fragments of bone.

4. Glalabursik, Carnifex-General of the Legion Inevitable.  Appears as a pale, hairless androgyne clad in antique armor encrusted with rust, with shrivelled, sightless eyes and a cavernous mouth containing rows of tiny serrated teeth.  The murderer's friend, Glalabursik will grant the following boon to faithful petitioners:  He will produce, from some dark recesses of his armor, no less than 100,000 writhing maggots, which will scatter to devour any and all corpses within a 100 ft. radius of the petitioner.  Every hair, drop of blood, piece of bone, or scrap of flesh will be entirely consumed, leaving nothing but clothing and personal effects, picked clean of any trace of their owners.  This will take approximately one minute per corpse.  When they have finished, the sated maggots will wriggle their way back into their master's armor, and Glalabursik will take his leave with a slight bow.  Those present for this gruesome spectacle will notice no change in their own outward appearance, though anyone who was on intimate terms with those so devoured will perceive them as dripping with gore from head to foot.

Galbaruc: Eight Lies About the City

1.  Galbaruc is the First City, built upon the toil of the infant race of Man for the use and enjoyment of their masters, who journeyed across the trackless void to make dominion of our world, having destroyed their own though perversity or carelessness.

2.  Galbaruc is the Last City, her foundations raised by inscrutable magics and the labor of the creature that Man is reduced to in his last days.  Its overlords, realizing the immanent destruction of all they had wrought, enveloped the city in a great cloud of fog and propelled it backwards through obscure sidestreets and alleyways of time, after first ejecting its builders to endure alone and without shelter the long-deferred obliteration of their race.

3.  When the Celestial City of Urizen was at last complete, the warped boards, bent nails, and imperfect stones that the Great Architect had rejected were flung from the Highest Heaven into the sea.  In their fall, this detritus struck a prison galley carrying a shipment of murderers, whores, thieves, and other convicts being transported to a distant island to serve out sentences of hard labor.  Most were slain in the resulting shipwreck or by the sharks that swarmed to the scent of blood, but the survivors clung to the wreckage, lashing the pieces together and clambering over the struggling bodies of their fellows to safety.  Thus was Galbaruc founded, and the character of its citizenry established.

4.  There has only ever been one Beggar-King of Galbaruc.  His wisdom and sagacity surpasses that of all other earthly monarchs, and his court is a model of efficiency, decorum, and enlightened rule.

5.  There is no Beggar-King at all, and tales of this secretive worthy, his court, and his kingdom are a mere fiction, elaborated upon over centuries by beggars, unscrupulous academics, and the publishers of penny romances.

6.  The yearly marraige of Galbaruc to the Sea, in which the First Citizen takes upon himself the role of bridegroom, is not merely a symbolic gesture.  The First Citizen is betimes required to descend beneath the waves in a special conveyance of glass and gold, there to perform his conjugal duties with Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed, the great shark-headed Sea Mother who dwells below in a great palace whose timbers are the rotting hulls of ships lost at sea.  It is for this reason that the First Citizen abstains from eating godling-flesh during the Festival of the Great Culling.

7.  There are gods so diminished in stature that they have been forced to take leave of the shimmering, otherworldly manses where they held court in better days, and now lead lives of bitter exile in crumbling apartments and drafty tenements throughout the city, sustaining themselves on the prayers of tiny cults and obscure sects.  Some of these wretches must subsist on the scraps of sacrificial meat and dregs of sacramental wine left at their altars by an ever-dwindling number of dedicated voataries.

8.  In the deepest recesses of the Temple of Yash-Kunag, there is a pool, tended by seven virgins of good family, whose charge is the care and feeding of the blind, albino god-spawn that circle and thrash restlessly therein.  There, they divine the city's future from the clouds of blood that bloom across the water's surface while the god-spawn are at their meat.  Should these creatures ever refuse their meal, the city will be swallowed up by the waves within the year.

A Scofflaw's ABC [Secret Santicore]

So here's the piece I did for Secret Santicore this year.  Gentleman wrangler Erik Jensen was kind enough to put a link to it on his blog, but I thought I'd re-post it over here, given the total lack of posting lately.  Looking at it now, I think it's definitely a mixed bag.  There's a few entries I think turned out well, and a few where my procrastination and last-minute scrambling to complete it are painfully obvious.  Still, I hope it's at least somewhat useful, or at least amusing, for someone out there.


If the stars are right, I'll be running a campaign with evil, or at least very selfish, PCs. They will be some kind of criminal organization starting out in the big city. I would like some kind of game aid in running such a campaign.

A Scofflaw’s ABC
Being in the Main Twenty-Six short segments of advice, observations, useful color, and points to consider when running and playing a Criminal campaign.

Assassination: Murder-for-hire, while it has the potential to be vastly lucrative, offers unique challenges to the independent contractor which are seldom considered by those resorting to such methods for political or ideological ends. Conflicts between clients are bound to arise, and, unless clear bylaws and guidelines are set, the whole affair can collapse into internecine chaos and confusion. In one notable example, an agency of some repute was assigned the task of eliminating its own Chairman. Technically, this order did nothing to conflict with the agency’s bylaws in this regard, and as the client’s credit was impeccable, the agency was professionally bound to carry out the contract, against the protestations of some of the senior members. Today, that august body of trained killers lies in ruins, to serve as an example to like-minded entrepreneurs.

Burglary: Even adventurers outside the criminal classes have dabbled in burglary from time to time, and there are few escapades more satisfying than a well-planned heist, successfully executed. Specialists such as Yeggs and Second-Story Men will demand a larger cut for their services, but this is to be preferred to dealing with amateurs who will drop lanterns, fail to staunch their nervous laughter, and bring the whole delicate operation crashing down upon your heads. When targeting a wealthy home, Keep an eye out for disgruntled servants, their livery indifferently worn and a curse for their masters on their lips.

The Competition The PCs, of course will not be the only game in town. Whatever the Racket, odds are someone in the City is already hard at work to the same purpose and will resent the intrusions of upstarts and newcomers. Perhaps there will be an offer extended to Join or Die, or perhaps this established concern will lash out at once in full vigor, the better to maintain its reputation. If the PCs are indeed newcomers, they will be vulnerable from the very beginning, and their arrival on the scene will disrupt the delicate web of alliances, feuds, etc., as each faction and concern scrambles to work this new situation to its advantage. It may be advisable to join such an organization from the beginning, only to play on the cupidity, ambition, or grievances of its members, and arrange a coup from within. While this has the benefit of providing the PCs with an existing infrastructure, the loyalties of your co-conspirators will forever remain in doubt. How long, after all, before some other brash young upstart makes a similar attempt?

Doxies: Trollops, jades, and filles de joie, as well as the gigolos, catamites, and rent-boys who call them sister, are an invaluable resource for the criminally ambitious. Like their cousins on the stage, they mingle and co-mingle with all classes of society, and for a small consideration may be relied upon to provide all sorts of carelessly-provided gossip or relate events to which they were an unnoticed or unremarked witness. They may sometimes be privy to even weightier matters, as their clients may often let slip some secret in a moment of unguarded candor. This last phenomenon, often the cause of great sorrow to the employers, superiors, and co-conspirators of such blabbermouths, has given rise to the occasional practice of deliberate misrepresentation, in which an agent will seek to confound or discover his enemies by passing false information along this network.
A few other means by which they may be employed:

1. The obvious. While the office of bawd, as has been noted, is far from easy, the burdens of generalship are seldom appreciated by those unfortunates serving on the front lines.

2. Theft. Depending on the specifics of their arrangement with a client, a quick-fingered jade may be given ample opportunity to pick pockets, search saddlebags, steal or make impressions of loose keys or signet rings, etc. If given clandestine access to the client’s apartments, so much the better. These items may be procured for their own sake, in service of a larger scheme, or as a means to…

3. Blackmail – If the client stands to lose favor, position, reputation, marital harmony, etc.; if their indiscretions become known, the theft of a distinguishing possession, piece of clothing or jewelry, or simply the recitation of certain physical characteristics visible only in a state of undress may well provide the necessary leverage. If the act of patronage itself offers no opportunity for shame and entrapment, the loss of some object vouchsafed to them by a third party can be quite efficacious in holding such an agent in thrall, particularly if the third party is not known to be of a forgiving disposition.

Explosives: Volatile, expensive, and dangerous to operate and procure, explosives should be employed as frequently as possible.

Fences: Often glossed over, the difficulty of disposing of obviously stolen loot should be brought to the fore in a Criminal campaign. Sumptuary laws may be enforced with more vigor, creating a black market for what could previously be sold openly, driving up the risk and the fence’s cut along with the potential reward. Some items are of little value to all but serious collectors, and the PCs must decide whether the payoff is worth the time, trouble, and expense of arranging such a buyer. The arrest, murder, or disappearance of a fence, particularly one with an established relationship to the PCs, invites new complications and difficulties to be overcome.

Grave Robbing: This venerable industry has two distinct branches, and its practitioners will generally stick to one or the other by virtue of opportunity and inclination. The first involves theft of grave goods – everything from jewelry, cerements of costly stuff, weapons, and other personal effects of the deceased, as well as the furnishings of the grave or tomb itself. Grave-mounds, mausoleums, the barrows of barbarian chieftains, and the half-submerged necropolises of antediluvian kings are generally held to be most fruitful for this kind of work, though not without their attendant dangers. When not engaged with lantern, sack, and pickaxe, they may be found seeking out and poring over ancient histories and crumbling maps. They will have developed contacts with established Fences, and may count academics, antiquarians, and wealthy eccentrics among their acquaintance, though neither would acknowledge the association openly.

The second branch is the domain of body-snatchers and resurrection men. Here, speed and opportunity are the watchwords, and intelligence is to be gained by loitering in gin-shops and execution yards. The cadavers themselves are the prize, though a gold tooth, locket, or finger ring is always a pleasant bonus. Their efforts supply the needs of a clandestine clientele of anatomists, surgeons, artists, necromancers, alchemists, and necrophiles, many of whom are known to the resurrection man only through a third party. Some enterprising scamps in this trade are so scrupulous in their desire to provide fresh and unblemished product to their clients that they will readily employ a pair of strong arms and a pillow rather than trust in the vicissitudes of Fortune.

Hell: The Final Reward of all those who make their living by vicious and dishonest means. Sages, savants, and theologians imagine this abode of the forsaken as anything from a sort of double-sided griddle or waffle iron in the hands of a vengeful Deity, to the state of a soul for whom the absence of said deity is felt with severe and unexpected keenness, to a chaotic, formless nightmare realm of pure thought and sensation existing parallel to our world, to an inverted and exaggerated representation of the Metropolis itself. Such metaphysical considerations and barely-disguised Social Commentary is beyond the scope of this primer. We concern ourselves here with Hell’s Native Denizens—in particular those grotesque and fantastic worthies who serve as Courtiers, Impresarios, and Middle Management in that Sorrowful Country. Many of these are said to take an interest in the affairs of mortals, and to aid and inspire acts of malice, cupidity, and vice among Men, for such is their delight and pastime. The rascal who attracts the attention of one such may aspire to outrages that will keep the moritat-printers and snatch-singers in capons and gin for months, though he may in consequence grow careless, and find himself face-to-face with his Patron earlier than he had anticipated, following an appointment with the Noose or Flensing- Spoon. There is a prolific and cut-throat trade in the criminal demimonde for scraps of lore, rituals of summoning, rites of appeasement, etc., that will secure even the fleeting attentions of these entities.

Incarceration is little employed, except a perfunctory stint prior to flogging, placement in the stocks, branding, mutilation, execution, or in some societies, sale (see Just Desserts, below). Someone suspected of possessing valuable information may well be detained for a considerable time, during which their only respite from the lonely gloom of the cell lies in their captor’s periodic attempts to Persuade and Extract. Princes and other individuals of high estate will often find themselves held captive – in varying degrees of comfort—by their enemies, who weigh the expense of their lodging against the expectation of ransom. If there is a significant public-minded spirit of reform, lesser offenders (especially minors) may be set to some improving task, instructed in an honest profession and in the precepts of religion. All too often, the proximity to other young people of like disposition proves too great a temptation for mischief, so that likely boys and girls become apprentices, and apprentices become journeymen in some loathsome trade or other. Persons in search of eager young recruits, already well-schooled in the ways of petty evil, will find plenty of newly-idle applicants on the steps of such institutions, tossing prayer-books in the gutter and pawning their tools for gin.
Just Desserts: As few malefactors merit prolonged Incarceration, their punishments will most often be meted out soon after arrest, on the spot, or after a perfunctory and largely symbolic trial. These may consist of time in the stocks or pillory, branding, flogging, mutilation, amputation (hands, fingers, ears and noses are popular), or execution, with or without preceding torture. Most of these will take place as a public spectacle for the edification and entertainment of the citizenry. Executions afford characters an opportunity for gallows speeches of pleading oratory or vulgar contempt, and the planning and carrying out of daring escapes. If a PC is not the star attraction, or if their associates are of a particularly practical or vindictive cast of mind, there are additional opportunities for profit and diversion. Souvenirs of personal effects may be sold, along with tickets to balconies, roofs, etc. (whether or not the characters own the building in question) refreshments, impromptu skits or puppet shows depicting the prisoner’s career of sin, ballad-sheets and replica gallows, flensing spoons, etc., for the children. In addition, opportunities for purse-snatching and pick pocketing are legion, and the PCs may wish to take the opportunity of such a city-wide distraction to commit some new outrage in another part of the metropolis when vigilance will be relaxed.
Kidnapping: A venerable and storied pursuit among brigands of all nations since time immemorial. It is not an enterprise to be entered into lightly, and each aspect of the scheme – choosing a target, contacting the family or guardian, the amount of ransom demanded, selecting and securing a safehouse, and the transfer of ransom and hostage itself must be considered in great detail. Even then, fresh complications may arise at any point, and the unfortunate kidnapper may find themselves saddled with a burden too valuable to dispose of safely and too unpleasant for company. By all means, avoid becoming entangled in the schemes of husbands to squeeze money from wealthy but recalcitrant fathers-in-law by kidnapping their wives and splitting the ransom. It seldom ends profitably for anyone.
Loot: At once a driving motive and a logistical nightmare. A few points to consider after counting that sweet, sweet lucre.

1.  What form is it in? Coins and jewelry, while cumbersome in bulk, will be much easier to get rid of than an exquisite antique chest of drawers. Those bottles of excellent wine will be worthless unless stored properly. Kidnapping the duchess’ lapdog seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now it’s yapping its head off at all hours and you’ll have to move safehouses again, or risk discovery. And you can’t stay at Vassik the Eel’s place again after that incident with his rug.

2.  How are you going to spend it? Conspicuous consumption sure is fun, but each new purchase makes it harder and harder to act in secrecy, which is how you were able to acquire it in the first place. Perhaps a some changes are in order…

3.  The more you acquire, the more time, money, and energy you have to devote to guarding all that loot from everyone else.

Magistrates: Eventually, a PC or associated NPC will find themselves dragged before one of these. It should soon become apparent whether you are dealing with a pinch-faced censorious type whose sentences favor the Draconian, and who may or may not carry on a double life of utter depravity in private, or the usual ruddy faced drunk from a Hogarth etching with a gouty leg, a terrifying social disease, and whose wig is conspicuously askew. Either way, courtroom drama should be indulged in shamelessly and with indifferent regard for the niceties of the law. Your players probably don’t have an intimate grasp of your campaign world’s legal system, you may not have considered the problem in great detail yourself, and there’s a good chance their legal representation is a bit shaky on the subject as well so theatrics and bombast are your friends.

Narcotics : When dealing with wacky fantasy drugs in your campaign, ask yourself the following:

1.  Why is it illegal? There must have been pressure at some point from some commercial, political, social, religious, medical, or philosophical concern for there to be an all-out ban on it. Is it purely a matter of economics? A moral panic? A combination of these factors?

2.  How is it manufactured? Are the raw materials readily available, or must they be imported? Is the process of its manufacture a closely-guarded secret, known only to a particular group or faction?

3.  Has the substance been legal (or at least unofficially tolerated) within living memory? Until very recently? This will have a huge impact in how its manufacturers, users, and purveyors are seen in society at large, and the respect or contempt in which efforts to enforce its ban are regarded.
The Occult: Even when not attempting to enlist the aid of the dignitaries of Hell in their pursuits, superstition is rampant in the underworld, and the use of amulets, talismans, “lucky” tools of the trade is widespread. Spells and charms of dubious efficacy are sold and traded, strange rituals are observed before heists and murderous rendezvous, cobbled together from half-remembered childhood observances, bits of stray gossip, popular music-hall routines, and desperate, muttered blasphemies.

Peaching: While those partial to romantic novels may hold some notion of “honor among thieves,” and this fiction may be of use when practicing on the inexperience of the young and foolish, it is best dispensed with by those who wish to get about the business of lining their pockets with backs unpierced. Informers, finks, rats, stool pigeons, snitches and squealers riddle the underworld like maggots in meat. Though held in the strongest loathing and contempt by their peers, greed and self-preservation will out, and it is a rare scofflaw who will hesitate to inform on his fellows if the reward is large enough or the hangman beckons. The fear and suspicion that an associate has turned informant is a powerful motivator, and may send the campaign spiraling off in any number of entertaining directions.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? Some thought should be given to the size, quality, and disposition of the Police, Night Watch, etc, which are in turn informed by the character of the City itself. Does the City even retain such a force, and how common are outbreaks of lawlessness? In Republican Rome, for example, there was no police force to speak of, and no one of sufficient means braved the streets after dark without an armed escort of slaves, clients, and retainers. Is the force large or small—well-funded, or shabby and struggling against a vastly superior force of thieves and cutthroats? How are they viewed by citizens? More to the point for committed criminal types, how corrupt are they? Is there a level of “honest graft” that any officer can be expected to more-or-less adhere to? Public outcry against laxity or corruption on their part may trigger sudden brutal crackdowns and shows of force, and your malefactor will find themselves made an example of for behavior that last week was pardonable with a wink and a small consideration.

The Racket: The chief means by which the PCs’ organization makes its dishonest living. At first, this may be confined to one particular activity in one particular area – running a protection racket in the Plaza of Drowned Men, for example, or supplying Purple Lotus Powder to a string of brothels, gambling houses, and cabarets along the Waterfront. There may be an initial struggle with The Competition, but once secure in their position, they can begin to expand geographically and/or in the scope of their influence as they grow in wealth and power. It’s up to the players whether to “diversify their portfolio” or focus more narrowly on a particular activity over a broader area, but either choice is sure to invite conflict as the PC’s sphere of influence threatens to encroach on those of the existing factions.
The Sporting Life: Whatever sports, games, and public spectacles are available in the City, there should be plenty of opportunity for the PCs to claim a piece of the action for themselves. Murdered bookies, crooked fight promoters, Halfling-doping scandals, sabotage in the hippodrome – something for everyone!
Thugs: Of great necessity when kneecaps need breaking, protection money paid on time, and interlopers discouraged, the PCs will want to acquire the services of a few of these at the earliest opportunity. If at all possible, try to find a short, verbose, almost offensively polite guy and partner him with a hulking brute with fists like Parma hams and a tendency to speak in monosyllables. I love those two.

Unforeseen Complications

1.  War! Martial Law is declared, sudden influxes of refugees, once common items become incredibly scarce as rationing goes into effect.

2.  Plague! Families shut up in their homes, the dead are stacked up like cordwood, and no one’s allowed in or out. If only some altruistic soul could be found to smuggle people and goods past the guard patrols…

3.  The City is hosting a great exhibition! The population will swell by tens of thousands, fantastic inventions and creatures are on display, and a countryside’s worth of well-scrubbed rubes is steadily trickling in to see what all the fuss is about.

4.  An important foreign personage and their sizeable entourage is visiting the City. New suppliers, new customers?
Vice: What’s seen as a vice in a particular campaign setting might be wholly innocuous in our world, and vice-versa. Perhaps there is no taboo attached to imbibing any substances, but certain fabrics are considered indecent when worn against the skin. Prostitution might be a wholly legal, and without any stigma of impropriety, but eating meat is regarded as decadent and depraved. Novels, plays, vocal or instrumental music, the display of certain colors or subjects in works of art – anything that gives pleasure could potentially be regarded as a vice and be subject to laws and restrictions which will be the PCs’ business to exploit. Watch as the PCs claw their way up through the vicious cutthroat world of trafficking in purple dye, or rise to become chocolate kingpin of Waterdeep, or whatever.
Some Weird Crimes:

Stealing the sense of worth from money.

Performing the office of Psychopomp without a valid license

Grimoire forgery/boobytrapping

Creating a Tulpa

Distilling nostalgia-moonshine from memories with all unpleasant facts boiled away.
Xenophobia: Many criminal organizations in the City are divided along ethnic and cultural lines, holding sway in certain neighborhoods and providing protection and a sense of continuity for recent immigrants, in exchange for support, acquiescence, and noncompliance with the Law. PCs blundering into these spheres of influence may unwittingly re-ignite centuries-old feuds and grievances between historically opposed groups, which may in turn bring reprisals as representatives from the Old Country arrive to sort out the affairs of their soft semi-assimilated cousins. Fear, mistrust, tragic misunderstandings, and plain old fashioned bigotry erupt as the City’s melting pot boils over. Or not. You may ignore this side of things all together. X was a tricky one. Is it time for Y yet?

Yegg, or Yeggman – a species of Burglar that specializes in cracking safes and strongboxes. They tend to be lanky and long- fingered or short and plump, with small, supple hands unadorned by rings. They take little care with their appearance, often going about their work in greasy shirtsleeves and stained trousers, though their leather satchels, glittering with the tools of their trade, will be well-worn but scrupulously maintained. They affect an air of lofty indolence and will demand exorbitant prices for their services. They will be insulted if you do not dicker at least a minute or two over this fee, but once agreed upon, always pay in full. A Yeggman will never forgive a slight, and will spend months or years constructing an elaborate and frightful revenge.
Zeal: Inexplicable and unpredictable, this is perhaps the quality the PCs should fear the most. As cynical, selfish entrepreneurs, they will be accustomed to dealing with other cynical, selfish entrepreneurs. Everyone can be relied upon to look out for number one, everything’s for sale, and everyone has a price. The Zealot throws all of this out the window, then lights himself on fire and leaps after it. Zealots are what remains when the acolytes throw off their purple robes and flee. They are the steely-eyed vigilantes who will not be paid off, will not see reason, and will gladly die before compromising an inch. They are the ambitious Watch Captains whose promising careers are over if they ignores their superiors but have dedicated their lives to seeing you hang and will bring you in anyway.

Presenting The Solid Gold Easy Action T.Rex Gaming Oracle

Because the world cried out for it, here is a random generator that will spit out four lines of exquisite gibberish from the oeuvre of Mr. Marc Bolan (1947-1977).  I made it during an unusually productive fit of insomnia and put it up on Abulafia.  It can easily generate ideas for NPCs, locations, magic items, story hooks, setting details, you name it.

A couple examples:

I can feel earthquakes inside of me
The Elf lord
A likeness in flesh of the magic
Rameses born with platinum future

He left us in the room of faded scrolls
Statues that say, worship the day
Are the textures of Earth's distant future
Spun in lore from Dagamoor


Hellenistic FrankenQuest: Arranging the Limbs on the Slab

So I mentioned a a while ago that I'm working on a set of BRP rules for sword-and-sorcery adventure in the Hellenistic world. After comfortably ignoring it for months, I find myself drawn to the project again.

Originally, I had planned to simply use a pre-existing version of BRP and just combine it with Paul Elliott's Warlords of Alexander -- maybe with a few minor tweaks and house rules here and there. But the more I thought about it, and the sort of game I really wanted to run, I realized that the number of exceptions would be in danger of exceeding the rules-as-written.  Why not simply cobble together a purpose built version of BRP that did exactly what I wanted it to?  And why stop there?  Why not graft on bits I liked from other Percentile systems?

Now BRP's great -- gritty, fliexible-- and I especially like how characters improve organically based on what they've actually been doing as opposed to simply "leveling up."  But the Combat system still bugged me.  RQ 2nd ed. was too complex and fiddly for my tastes, and yet Stormbringer 1st was a little more abstract than I wanted.  I kept picking at it though, trying to decide which parts to keep and which to jettison -- fine-tuning it so it had just enough detail to be really satisfying without having to deal with things like Strike Ranks.  I needed something fast, lethal, intuitive, and with enough detail to really reward fighting smart and gaining a tactical advantage on your opponent.  As an added bonus, there should be a hilariously gory critical hit chart.

But  Richard Halliwell, Rick Priestley, Graeme Davis, Jim Bambra, and Phil Gallagher already did that in 1986.  And the gang at the late, lamented Black Industries, together with Davis and Priestly, polished it to a mirror sheen in 2005.*

So here's my first stab at reconciling the two, and I think it's going to work.  D&D, of all things, proved to be the glue.  Note that I haven't made any provisions for Magic yet, and have yet to add options for Homelands and Class Backgrounds.  The former I'm still figuring out how to implement at all, and the latter will be comprised of modified versions of some of the options in  Stormbringer 1st ed. and Warlords of Alexander.

1. Roll Attributes:

3d6 (in order) : 

Strength (STR)
Constitution (CON) 
Power (POW) 
Dexterity (DEX) 
Charisma (CHA)

2d6+6 (in order)

Size (SIZ) 
Intelligence (INT)

2. Derived Attributes:

Hit Points (HP) How much physical damage a character can take before dying.  HP= the average of CON + SIZ (rounded up).  Once a character is brought below 0 HP, The Critical Hit Chart is consulted.**

Damage Modifier.  You add this to damage rolled on a successful hit.  To find your Damage Bonus, take the Average of your STR+ SIZ (rounded down) and apply the number to the following chart.  This number is added to (or subtracted from) your d10 roll when rolling damage (along with any other modifiers).

1           -5
2-3        -4
4-5        -3
6-7        -2
8-9        -1
10-11     0
12-13    +1
14-15    +2
16-17    +3
18-19    +4
20-21    +5

I think this will make a pretty good substitute for WFRP's SB + d10 = damage, while still allowing SIZ to play a part, as in BRP.

* Before any purists take me to task on this, I think the 1st ed. rulebook is more flavorful and complete, and it's my preferred take on the setting, but I can't help but prefer how 2nd ed. cleaned up the mechanics.

**That would be the expanded Critical Hit Chart Booklet included with the WFRP 1st ed. GM Screen. Have you SEEN this thing? Pages and pages of horrible injuries, divided by body part and again by they type of damage -- Blunt, Slashing, Piercing, Firearms...

Items of Psychotronic Might #1: The Mask of Tor

 Part 1 of ?  Collect the set!

Believed to be the ancient death-mask of Tor, legendary hero-saint and patron of Strength and Unreasoning Belligerence.  The mask was once kept in a place of honor at Tor's Heroon, a small, well-tended shrine on the outskirts of the hero's reputed birthplace.  At some point (record-keeping not being a well-developed art by Tor cultists) the mask was stolen, and, despite a series of enthusiastically joined but logistically incoherent quests, has yet to be recovered.
The Mask in its dormant state
The character donning the Mask of Tor rolls 2d10, and adds this number to both STR and CON, even if (especially if) this takes their score well beyond the maximum.  The wearer's INT and WIS are dropped by the same amount, and the effect lasts a number of rounds equal to the higher of the two rolls, at the end of which, the wearer's eyes glaze over and they collapse to the ground with a thud, where they remain insensate for 1d4 rounds.  The Mask is usable once per day. 

Cheap replica mask worn by Cultists.

The Mask in action!

Player's Campaign Questions [Galbaruc] Part 2.

Picking up from the last post:  This batch of questions is from Antion:

Where do I live? How private is it? Enough to muffle a scream?

All native PCs begin play as boarders at a Low Lodging House run by a 'Mother Clinkscales.'  It's a shabbily respectable looking structure in a disreputable corner of the Contrada of the Shark.  It is overcrowded, indifferently maintained, and offers little to no privacy.  On the plus side, fewer stabbings are reported to take place on the premises, guests may store bulky or cumbersome items in a locked storeroom, and Mother Clinkscales herself has a reputation for honesty, discretion,  and even a touching proprietary concern on behalf of her boarders.

Where did I go to school? How prestigious is that?  

Galbaruc has its own university, though it has a reputation as a breeding ground for heresy, hedonism, and weird fringe philosophy.  There is also a medical school, whose curriculum occilates between the archaic and the dangerously experimental.  Most people have no education beyond a simple grammar school (and even that's a rarity in the countryside and the poorer parts of the city), so a University education of any sort is extremely prestigious, a fact often exploited by charlatans.

How many people care what religion I am? What if I'm an atheist?

Though nominally Urizenite, Galbaruc is more religiously pluralistic than many of its neighbors, and the local form of Urizen's faith are considered by more Orthodox believers to be hopelessly corrupt, compromised, and riddled with heresy, superstition, and foreign influences.  Many foreign and indigenous gods have been syncretized as Saints, and in the countryside, especially, older religions are practiced alongside the new.  Even in the city itself, indigenous gods such as Yash-Kunag and Seppophis are worshipped openly by more heterodox Urizenites, and the rites of Yash-Kunag are tied with the panoply and rituals of state.

That said, there is a sizable minority of hardline Urizenites, and brawls and even pitched battles between opposing sects and faiths have been known to take place.  Religious prejudices may inform legal decisions and hiring practices.

Atheists are mostly found around the University, and in artistic circles.  They are considered by the majority to be odd, overeducated, and delusional, but are generally tolerated outside of orthodox Urizenite circles.  Many atheists find gainful employment during the Festival of the Great Culling, as their skepticism makes them less succeptable to the awe-inducing aura of the godlings.

Finally, atheist "clerics" exist.  They do not attribute their wonder-working powers to a deity, and offer their own explanations (if any) for their strange abilities.

What languages do I speak? Common, Ancient, Foreign?

Most people in the city speak "Common."

Other languages encountered so far include:

Zhaibari -- The dominant language of the nearby Sultanate
Kozak -- Language of the rampaging hordes.  Hyperborean's hillbilly nephew, twice removed.
Hyperborean - Dominant tongue of the 'civilized' regions of the Far North.  Lots of dialects.

Some Scholarly/Dead/Exotic languages include:

Classical Hyberborean
Ancient Hyperzephyrian
Northern Tlönic
Southern Tlönic

How easy is it to acquire new magic-user spells?

Access to M-U spells is pretty much limited to what you can find while adventuring and what you can get from other M-Us in the city.  Usually this would involve joining an Occult Order, but theft is also an option.

Is "adventurer" its own social class? How shitty can I treat commoners (or vice versa)?

Adventurers occupy a similar status to actors in Renaissance Europe and Genroku Era Japan -- dangerous, disreputable, and lower-class, but often possessed of a certain glamour and swaggering style that captures the imagination of their betters.

Most common people treat them as they would a chapter of Hell's Angels -- with an amount of distaste mixed with fear of physical violence.

Where can I buy or sell something illegal? (Drugs? Poison? A dead body?)

The subterranean Night Market, which changes locations frequently, is the place to go.  In addition, many unassuming shops do a brisk trade in contraband goods in back rooms and under the counter, if the customer knows who to ask. 

Can I auto-buy new equipment while in town or shouId I ask you to bust out your Ye Olde ShoppeKeep voice?

Standard equipment you can auto-buy unless you're in the middle of fighting a small army of waterlogged living corpses dragging themselves out of the canals or something.  Something exotic or custom-built I'll either do as a scene in-game or settle with you outside of the game so as not to slow things down.

Is a rapier v longsword duel considered ridiculous or merely unsporting? for which side?

In a formal duel, the choice of weapons is left to the offended party.  Generally, it's seen as sporting to allow each duelist to fight with the weapon he's most familiar with.  Sword and pistol duels are common, and more exotic arrangements involving poisonous plants, cursed bells, and lethal gastonomy have been heard of.  The most serious affairs of honor are settled with knives, and anyone interfering in a knife duel is held in the lowest contempt and disgust.

Any random charts or formalized lists of frivolous shit I can waste my money on?

I'm working on it.  I'm using Chris Kutalik's Conspicuous Consumption rules from Hill Cantons in which you can earn XP by spending your hard-earned cash on fripperies and gewgaws.

Players' Campaign Questions [Galbaruc] Part 1

So I put out a request to my players over G+ for questions about setting, playstyle, etc. for my campaign.  As with Jeff's 20 Questions, I think this is a useful and more interesting method of defining a setting, and it forces me to supply details I'd normally be inclined to gloss over, and also to determine what should be left vague.

I'll be doing this in two parts (unless I get another post's-worth of questions).  First up is Michael Moscrip:

How is the local ruler chosen, and what sort of government is it?

Galbaruc is an independent city-state and a republic (though this hasn't always been the case).  The closest historical/cultural analogue is probably the Republic of Venice.  The Princeps (First Citizen) is elected by the Council of Ten, who are in turn drawn from the ranks of the Senate.  There is still a traditional aristocracy, but its power and influence has weakened considerably with the resurgence of the merchant class.

When and where are religious services held? What's it like to attend?

Most religious services are held in churches and temples.  Urizenite churches are typically massive and architecturally dazzling, or strive to be.  Shrines and temples to more obscure deities can be as tiny as a niche in an alleyway, or a back room in a private home or business.  Street preachers of varying persuasions will rant and cajole from impromptu booths and platforms set up around the city, though these are appreciated by most spectators as entertainment.  Mystery cults, etc. usually meet in some underground or secluded outdoor areas.  The structure of these services will differ greatly according to religion or sect, but it has been noted that religious practices in the city tend to take on a more baroque and sensational character than elsewhere, with a greater emphasis on decoration, showy vestments, eccentricity, and theatrical flourish.

Note -- at some point, I might rename they days of the week, but until then, let's assume our own 7-day week with Sunday as a holy day/day of rest for Urizenites, just to keep it simple and familiar.

Are there frequent holidays or festivals? What is it like to be there?

Holidays and festivals are frequent - -both the native celebrations of the city and those brought by immigrants from all corners of the earth (and beyond).  Sometimes, two or more of these may be in full swing at the same time, the streets and canals thronged with celebrants.  Galbaruc's festivals are noted for their insistent observance of rituals and forms forgotten, banned, or unobserved elsewhere, as well as a tendency for ostentation and novelty.  Typically, you can count on a relaxation or reversal of social conventions, lots of booze, sex, drugs, music, and dancing, and swarms of pickpockets and other petty thieves. Two notable festivals are the Courtship of Seppophis and the Festival of the Great Culling.

What sort of thing could people find out about someone that would make them a pariah? That would make them celebrated?

Often, the same behavior will make one celebrated in some quarters and despised in others.  A sense of style and dash can do much to turn a common thief or murderer into a bold, picturesque rogue, subject to the embellishments of popular imagination and the guest of honor at the homes of those wishing to arouse envy and controversy in others of their set.

Acts and attitudes generally applauded:
- defeating enemies of the Republic as well as local dangers and nuisances.
- hosting a public event, funding parks, monuments, fountains, pleasure-gardens, etc.
- donating to charities and philanthropic pursuits
- performing some other act of civic pride
- Acting in a bold, striking, and decisive manner.
- Displays of Courage, Wit, and Cunning.
- Achieving Revenge on one's enemies, or perishing spectacularly in the attempt.
- Rising to the height of one's chosen pursuit or profession  -- the Beggar-King of Galbaruc is still a beggar,   but commands a grudging respect for his position within his milieu.
- Acting according to one's own philosophical, ethical, or aesthetic convictions, with a lofty contempt for death and other consequences of same.

Acts and attitudes generally disdained:
- Treason or collaboration with enemies of the Republic
- Pettiness and miserliness.
- Displays of cowardice and indecisiveness.
- A lack of style and grace -- Coarseness of sensibility.
- Failure to take action due to despair or complacency
- Engaging in slave-trading
- abuse of the elderly, the pious, the innocent, and the beautiful. (according to public opinion)
- Failure to keep one's promises.
- Acting contrary to one's established character and reputation.

All of the above are subject to exceptions, excuses, unforeseen variables, and the fickle whims of the public.

What's the most common job for a common person?

Most working people in the city are unskilled laborers, followed by skilled laborers, small tradesmen & their assistants.  Outside of the city, most people are farmers.  

Who shows up if there's a fire? A murder? A riot?

Fire:  In poorer neighborhoods, it's usually up to an impromptu bucket brigade, perhaps led by a member of that contrada's watch, or some other upstanding citizen.  There is no single permanent paid firefighting force in the city, but several ruthlessly competitive rival organizations have sprung up.  They will often brawl with one another over territory and haggle with property owners, refusing to take any action until arriving at a disproportionately favorable settlement.  In truly dire circumstances, the city militia will be called into action.

Murder:  Each contrada is responsible for arming and organizing a local watch to patrol itself, which can take the form of anything from an ad hoc brute squad with cudgels and torches to a well-trained, uniformly equipped force in distinctive uniform.  In theory, serious malefactors captured by these forces are to be transferred to the custody of the city's nascent police force, but all too often, such things are dealt with internally, with rough justice administered on the spot, in the privacy of a local barracks or a shopkeeper's basement.  Suspects apprehended for murder, rape, etc., often find themselves dragged in front of their supposed victims' families/kinsmen/business partners, who may then determine their fate.

Riot: If it isn't stopped at the Watch level (or if the watchmen join the mob themselves) the City Militia is called out.  The cavalry is particularly brutal in their methods.  Their efforts may be enhanced by those of sorcerers and alchemists in the employ of the City.

If I'm an upstanding citizen, who do I tell if I find a body? Who does that person answer to?

In a good neighborhood (where a body has a chance of lying intact and unmolested for any length of time, and Watch/Police patrols more frequent and robust) an upstanding citizen should inform a man or officer of the local watch, or an officer of the police, if one happens to be in the vicinity.  The police are widely considered to be ineffectual, unsympathetic, and dangerously new, and most established citizens of good character prefer to work directly with the local watch, who more often than not know the citizen, at least by reputation, and can vouch for his character.  Foreigners and those of lesser social standing may prefer to deal with the police, who are held to be more impartial in such matters (for good or ill).

d100 Peculiarity Table for Galbaruc

I made this table for my Galbaruc campaign, though with some tweaking it might work for yours.  I jotted down 106 entries, but ended up scrapping a lot of them, narrowing it down to the 50 I liked best.  My campaign only has 2 PC races in it (Humans and Vat-Spawn) so this table's for Human characters, to give them a little distinction.

These are probably not even remotely balanced.

You are Androgynous:  +4 to attempts to pass as a (nonspecific) member of the opposite sex. 
You are a Libertine: You must make a successful WIS roll to avoid Carousing if you finish an expedition with more loot than you started out with.
You are a Struldbrug.  You have immortality (barring death by violence, drowning, etc.) without eternal youth.
For some reason, (1-2) dogs (3-4) cats (5-6) birds hate you.  They’ll growl/hiss/squawk at your approach, and the GM rolls 2d6 each round you remain within 10 ft. of the animals in question, which attack on a roll of 2 even numbers.
You have a Doppelganger.  This individual is identical to you in appearance and stats, and wholeheartedly devoted to your ruin and destruction.  It will refrain from outright killing you until it feels that the you’ve undergone sufficient discomfort, loss, and humiliation.
You are a shape-shifting reptile from another plane of existence.   Your true from is undetectable by mundane means, but if it is ever compromised, you will need to devour another human to take their shape, a process requiring 48 hours in undisturbed darkness.  Your ancient enemies the (1-2) red (3-4) black scaled reptiles have their agents as well, and you will periodically receive orders from your superiors as you carry on the millennia-long struggle against your rivals,.
You may perceive oracular significance in the buzzing of insects.
Some years ago, you were a member of a secret cult.  Despite certain dire oaths to the contrary, you abandoned it.  Your former brothers and sisters are always on the lookout for the runaway.  Gain Distinctive Tattoo.
You are extraordinarily forgettable.  This can be frustrating, as you must constantly remind casual acquaintances of your identity, but it comes in handy when eyewitnesses to the robbery are describing suspects to the authorities.
You are a Gourmand.  You must make a Save vs. Spell roll at +4 difficulty to turn down the chance of experiencing a new taste.
Once per session, you may summon the spirit of an illustrious dead ancestor of yours for five minutes of consultation.
A powerful Magic-User , for some unknown reason, has taken an interest in your progress, and will act behind the scenes as a patron.  This assistance will not come without a price.
You were born with a tail.  Casual investigation has led you to believe that everyone is, and that there is a secret conspiracy of physicians and midwives to lop them off at birth, to some unguessable purpose.
You were born with a birth caul: While it remains on your person, you cannot drown.
You were baptized in the blood of the Salamander.  You take no damage from fire.
You are a musical prodigy.  You may give an unforgettable performance on any instrument, but the instrument will disintegrate or fall apart in dramatic fashion as soon as you finish playing.
True or not, you have a reputation as a colossal pervert – a sexual adventurer of the most depraved kind.  This will be met with interest and enthusiasm in some quarters, and suspicion and hostility in others.
You bear an executioner’s brand on your thumb, indicating a reprieve from the death penalty.  If found guilty for any crime in the future, you will swing for it.
You are an ordained cleric in the religion of your choice.  You possess no mystic powers, but can perform all observances, rituals, and ceremonies expected of you.  You have not been officially defrocked, but any relationship with the church hierarchy is strained, at best.   Reroll if you’re already playing a “capital C” Cleric.
Ghosts, specters, etc. are especially drawn to you.  These visitations are not always malevolent, and often take the form of pleas for aid and redress of past wrongs.
An otherworldly Insect parasite has lodged itself in the base of your spine.  You will occasionally experience strange fascinations and cravings, which you may attempt to resist with a Save vs. Spell.
You are an albino.
You are unable to grow any hair.  No eyebrows, no pubes, nothin’.   You are blessed to live in a time and place when wigs are fashionable.
You have a coin with the sigil of a Minor Demon carved into it.  You may summon this demon once to fulfill a favor, after which, the demon returns to its own plane and the coin is reduced to a worthless blackened lump of slag.
You’ve woken up from suspended animation  after d10 x100 years.  Take 1 dot in Lore, but your knowledge may be somewhat out of date.  Your speech will probably sound a bit archaic, as well.
Every time you fail your Save while Carousing,  make another Save (vs. Magic).  If you fail, you dream a monster into existence.  You (or the GM) roll up a monster using a random generator, which then blinks into existence, terrorizing the town or countryside and working its way toward you.
You have a horrible, rasping speaking voice but can sing like an angel.
You can hold your liquor like a champ.  +4 to save vs. poison when boozing it up.
You have an inch-tall horn spiraling out of your forehead.
Your physical body is the chain that keeps a monster imprisoned.   The GM will secretly roll a number on a d100.  When you’ve taken that much HP damage, (or die) the creature breaks its bonds and escapes.  Magical Healing can reverse the process, but only at a rate of 1 HP/instance.
Someone believes you to be the reincarnation of their former lover from a past life.
There is a 15% chance of switching bodies with one’s companion during sex. (particularly abandoned libertines may need to roll again to narrow it down).  You cannot re-enter (as it were) the same body after leaving it.
You have a lofty hereditary title to a place that doesn’t technically exist anymore
Attention whore: +1 to all rolls when in front of at least one non-participant  that’s paying attention.
You are a Compulsive gambler : Save vs. Spell to avoid participating in games of chance.
You were born during a thunderstorm beneath a blasted tree--  take no damage from lighting/electricity.
Through the use of drugs, ecstatic ritual, etc., you can enter a Berserk state.  +4 to hit, damage explodes on the highest 3 digits (melee) for d10 + CON modifier rounds, at the end of which, you fall unconscious for d6 rounds.  While Berserk you must make a Save vs. Spell to avoid attacking allies within 15 ft. of you.
You are the deposed Heir to an Island Prince.  Some day, you will raise an army and take back what is rightfully yours!
Your teeth have been filed to points.
You are a Eunuch, with all that implies.  Roll again if female.
You have some training as an Actor – +2 bonus to pretend to be of higher/lower social status.
You have a cheap tin talisman of Seppophis the Huntress.  +2 to attempts to find an individual.  Your pursuers have a -2 to find you.
You have in your possession a  small shard from one of the mysterious standing stones that litter the surrounding countryside.
You have no fingernails on your left hand.
Your weapon is an ancient, storied implement of great renown and prestige.  Generations of proud warriors have wielded it with glory and distinction.  It even has a name.  So your mother always insisted, and so you will tell the pawnbroker when you run out of money for gin.
You are Double jointed.  This has all kinds of fun mechanics implications that can surely be dealt with on an ad hoc basis.
Keith Richards: take a +4 bonus and R2K1 on all Saves vs. Poison when taking drugs.
You have a Holy guardian angel and it loathes you
Pugilist!  Your fists do d4 damage, R2K1.
You have a pickled punk – a tiny, two-headed fetus in a jar.  It can tell you one fact about an individual for each drop of their blood you put in its brine.  After 12 drops, the brine will be completely clouded with blood and the unfortunate creature will finally die.

Answering Jeff's 20 Campaign Questions [Galbaruc]

Questions can be found here.  Answers may change over time as the setting is further defined through play.

1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion? 

The Church of Urizen the Great Architect is the largest and most influential faith of Galbaruc and its immediate environs, but there exist numerous cults and sub-cults dedicated to a bewildering variety of saints and syncretized minor deities.  Small, ad hoc “chapels” to the numerous  aspects of Orc, Urizen’s opposite number, can be found all over the city (though hard-line Urizenites are enjoined to tear them down as soon as they’re discovered)  as well as countless temples and shrines to various foreign and indigenous gods.  Notable local deities include Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed and Seppophis the Huntress.  Some “clerics” profess no faith or deity at all, offering their own explanations (or simple bafflement) as to the source of their wonder-working powers.   

                                                                     2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Standard equipment is easily procured at merchant’s stalls in any of the temporary markets that open throughout the city.   Be prepared to haggle.   Anything more exotic can usually be found in the Night Market.

 3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster  I just befriended?

For that, you’ll want to talk to someone in one of the more exclusive boutiques.  Bespoke work will cost extra, but the price includes discretion.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
This is a matter of considerable conjecture and debate.  All magical societies and orders proclaim their own superiority in the Art, yet the names spoken of with particular reverence and dread are notable for belonging to no society at all, and remaining alive in spite of the efforts of ambitious rivals.  The Beggar-King of Galbaruc is said to be well-versed in obscure lore particular to the city itself.  Jonquil of the Pale Flame is a formidable sorceress, though secretive in her ways.  She has refused, firmly but politely, all offers from such mystical orders as would admit a mere woman to their ranks.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Venozzia the Tigress, a well-born young woman who renounced her family connections to become a mercenary captain (a position she claimed from the band's previous leader in a duel) has achieved great success of late in a series of campaigns in the Northern Wastes.  Her most notable feats to date include the sacking of  the fortified city of  Gorynych (for which the Tsar has sworn eternal enmity) and personally slaying Ghalki-Zhun, a degenerate ice-giant worshiped by the Northern Tribes as a god.

Closer to home, the current darling of the arena is Baudolino of Gra, a farmer's son from the provinces,  He has been seen to kill an ox with one blow of his fist.

    6. Who is the richest person in the land? 
In theory, that distinction belongs to the First Citizen, a personage of great magnificence and sagacity, who  may (with the consent and advice of the Senate and the Council of Ten) command the public purse.

In practice, the Merchant-Princes of Galbaruc far outstrip this worthy in wealth and splendor.  Their grand fetes, held in the glittering ballrooms of their palaces or on pleasure-barges drifting lazily along the Slanc, are unmatched in their novelty and opulence.  The wealthiest of their number is currently Kos the Ruby-Handed, an enigmatic semi-barbarian who arrived in Galbaruc but two years ago from the Cold Wastes, and whose meteoric rise in wealth and station has aroused the enmity of many of his recent peers.  He is rumored to patronize a powerful sorcerer, or a coterie of same.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
 (see below)

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Poisons and diseases can be referred to clerics and physicians.  Physicans are more expensive, but Clerics will often demand payment in conversion or unpleasant tasks on their behalf.  Clerics can also deal with curses, though the method varies with the particular curse  Lycanthropy is cured via the application of silver weapons, beheading, and cremation,  There is no cure for level drain or death.  Undeath is commonly cured by beheading, immolation, and/or destruction of the heart.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

The city is rife with occult societies, 'ancient' orders, secretive sects, and mystical fraternities of all descriptions.  These vary wildly in respectability, power, resources, ostentation of costume and ceremony, and actual occult knowledge.  The more accessible of these operate on two levels: the first, for casual members, lacking any facility with the Art, for whom the Order serves as a social club in which to enjoy pleasant conversation, establish political, artistic, and personal connections, and engage in elaborately staged but mystically negligible rites -- the latter featuring a great deal of theatrical pomp, consumption of fine food and drink, and other fleshly delights, enjoyed with a pleasing veneer of ritual. 
    The second level consists of an "inner circle" in which the more important business of the order is discussed, magical research presented, and rituals of genuine efficacy performed.  Magical Orders in the city are intolerant to the point of murder where unaffiliated outsiders are concerned, and any Magic-User of 3rd level or higher will be sought out for recruitment or assassination by 1d4 such societies after spending a week or more in the city. 

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other                       expert NPC?      
These can be found in great profusion throughout the city and the surrounding countryside.  Those who make their habitation in caves, remote cottages, or nigh-inaccessible towers surrounded by treacherous, specter-haunted forests are commonly held to be more reliable and serious-minded in the pursuit of their chosen studies, though their prices and personal habits can be alarming and eccentric in the extreme,  and paying a call on one such can be perilous, time-consuming, and generally inconvenient.  Those dwelling in the city are (fairly or not) more commonly held to be mountebanks, charlatans, and crackpots.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
Mercenaries are plentiful, and can be readily found south of the Slanc loitering around storefronts, gambling at dice and cards in taverns, and getting involved in drunken fistfights in public thoroughfares.  They come from every corner of the earth--  from tall, pipe-smoking 'Amazons' with stone-bows at their shoulders and long knives in their sashes to scouts and trackers from the Broken Knife islands, their faces covered in spiraling tattoos and their warclubs bristling with shark teeth, to rocketeers and crossbowmen fresh from the Khanate, to musketeers, dragoons, and sword-and-dagger men.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? 
Giant two-handed whale cleavers and blunderbusses are considered déclassé anywhere outside of the most disreputable quarters of the city.  Rapiers and smallswords can be worn anywhere by gentlemen of quality.  The dagger is enshrined in Galbaruci culture as the mark of a free citizen and worn openly in any setting.  Adventurers returning from expeditions are advised to have their licenses ready to produce at all times, as unlicensed adventurers face crippling fines, confiscation of loot and property, imprisonment, branding, and, for repeat offenders, death.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern? 
There are taverns, inns, coffeehouses, cabarets, bordellos, casinos, and lodging-houses (with a taproom on the ground floor) etc., throughout the city to serve clientele of all classes and tastes.  Most adventurers, being heavily-armed, shabby in appearance, and lacking in social graces, tend to frequent low, rough-and-tumble establishments where they may play at cards, dice, or competitive maiming, drink to excess, make contacts with other abandoned scum, hatch plots for unsavory escapades, gather intelligence for the commission of same, and enjoy the amorous attentions of jades, trollops, and rough trade, paid in full with gold wrenched that very evening from the hands of corpses.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
None at the moment, unless you count the predations of bandits and highwaymen.  Notices of wanted miscreants and their bounties can be found posted all around the city.  
15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
The Island Princes often wage (small-scale) war amongst themselves, but are advised to keep their bloodletting and intriguing in check.  Tensions are heating up with the nearby Sultanate of  Zhaibar, as its sultan sinks further into madness.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

The barbaric old days of slave-gladiators are a thing of the past, disposed of in the same revolt by which Galbaruc secured her freedom.  Nowadays, the blood-thirsty mob must content themselves with spectacles involving willing participants.  The definition of "willing" is deceptively broad, including as it does eager swashbucklers, prizefighters from the provinces, indentured servants, debtors, and all animals.  Matches are fought with weapons and without, and may be to first blood, the unconsciousness of one or both parties, surrender, or death.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
Yes, although their very nature ensures that PCs will only become aware of their presence after blundering into their carefully-laid schemes or being approached by their representatives.

18. What is there to eat around here?

As a port city, Galbaruc has access to a great variety of seafood.  Chiles and spices are very popular.  The most popular food for the adventuring classes is generally a fish stew, made with whatever was cheap and available at the market that day, along with some grilled flatbread to sop up the leavings.  Street vendors sell a bewildering array of food, mostly starchy, meaty, and fried.

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
(see below)

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

 The Prelate of the Drowned, an inhuman shape-changing sorcerer believed to dwell beneath the Bay of Maidens, is said to be responsible for all shipwrecks that occur within sight of the city walls.  He is a consort of Yash-Kunag the Many-Toothed, and thus a rival to our beloved First Citizen, and his hoard, amassed over countless centuries, is beyond counting.

Where I'm At With Galbaruc

I've been thinking a lot about my Galbaruc setting lately, which I've let lie fallow for a while now, and more significantly, writing things down.  It should be obvious, but for some reason, I have a weird reluctance to actually put this stuff in writing.  It might be tied into being indecisive in general (a long-standing character flaw) but it's something I've been growing increasingly impatient with.  As long as it's this gauzy, intangible thing floating in some rarefied brain-mist, it's not actually being explored and gamed in, which is, after all, the point.

Somewhere along the way, I got so wrapped up in the hypothetical, world-building minutiae aspect that it became the focus instead of simply making a place to play games in.  This would lead inevitably to stalling and frustration over my lack of progress.  It's the same problem I had back in school.  I'd obsess about everything so much in my head that I couldn't get anything down on paper until the last minute and I had to work my ass off through an all-nighter or two because the paper was due and the professor had already given me an extension.  Far better to get it down on paper first, warts and all, and then take the scalpel to it.

So here's where I'm at with this thing.  It's all subject to modification and revision, but at least it isn't just in my head anymore:

SYSTEM: LotFP, with house rules and add-ons liberally swiped from Small But Vicious Dog, GURPS: Goblins, A Mighty Fortress, Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque.

CLASSES: Limited to (Human) Fighter, Specialist, Cleric, M-U, Dilettante (Elf stats/abilities minus the business about enhanced senses), and (Non-Human) Vat-Spawn.

ALIGNMENT:  No Alignment restrictions for any class.

GUNS?  : Wheel-lock pistols and muskets are the most advanced weapons being fielded currently, but are prohibitively expensive and not ideal for dungeon environments.  Primitive grenades are also available.  Greater destructive power = greater potential risk of horrific fuckups.  Adventurers tend to be armed and armored in archaic fashion, with heavier armor, swords more robust than are currently fashionable in most civilized places and a greater reliance of crossbows, stone bows, etc.

Basically, something like this:

Everyday clothes

Adventuring Gear

Fashion-wise, it's all over the map, a' la the Dying Earth, with an emphasis on dash and flamboyance (especially among adventurers).  There'd be lots of equipment jury-rigged for adventuring purposes -- primitive mining helmets with lanterns mounted on them, or a shallow bowl for luminescent fungus, even more primitive diving suits for exploring undersea ruins, etc.

Speaking of adventurers, I'm taking a page out of RQ's Big Rubble:  No self-respecting City-State is going to stand for hordes of violent transients descending into its ruins, vaults and caves without wanting a cut themselves.    To that end...

FREELANCE ADVENTURER LICENSES are mandatory for non-citizens (all PCs, at least at the beginning, fall into this category) wishing to explore and plunder known "dungeon areas."  Failure to produce a valid license upon request can result in fines, confiscation of goods, imprisonment, branding, and, for repeat offenders, death.  Licensed adventurers pay a 10% exit fee on any loot obtained within the Galbaruc Senate's jurisdiction.

Players should keep the following in mind:

1.  Fake licenses can be obtained, meaning that the PCs forgo taxes after expeditions, paying nothing other than a one-time forger's fee.  There is always a chance of the forgery being recognized, however.

2.  Sites unknown to the Senate and kept secret by PCs cannot be taxed.

3.  It's amazing what a little bribery can accomplish.

DUNGEONS:   I took a course in Italian Archaeology once, and one thing that kept coming up over and over again was how so many now-famous sites and artifacts were discovered completely by accident.  Workmen digging wells and channels, farmers ploughing into the tops of ancient burial mounds, etc.  In areas where there's been continuous occupation for millenia, like Rome, you've got layers and layers of forgotten sites being accidentally discovered, looted, re-buried, forgotten, rediscovered, etc,  A building is destroyed, you set to work on a new foundation, and there's a temple under your feet.

I want to go for the same sort of feel with Galbaruc.  There are still plenty of sites outside the city limits, but you've got dungeons, crypts, catacombs, and ruins beneath the still-populated urban areas.  I loved this idea when I encountered it in EPT, and I wonder why it isn't a more common approach.  The settled, civilized areas are intimately lip-locked to the weird, otherworldly ones, and both sides are engaged in frenzied tonsil hockey as adventurers venture below and the monsters from beneath find their way up to the light.

There'll be more to come, but I thought I'd get this all down while it was on my mind.  I've mapped out 4 levels of dungeon and I'm about to start stocking them with monsters.  I can't wait to roll out the welcome mat and open for business.

Three Monsters I Made Using Jack Shear's 3d6 Weird Monster Generator

I've been having problems with writer's block for the past few days, and today I decided to abandon what I had been working on and do something practical and constructive.*  Mapping dungeons, filling them with monsters -- the basics that I too often ignore, preferring instead to daydream about ambitious side projects that I hardly ever actually work on.  Not today!  Today, I'd have something to show for it!  I knew I wanted to stock the next dungeon with something weird and unexpected. -- something they hadn't encountered in any previous adventure.  Too lazy even to use James Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator, I went with Jack Shear's 3d6 Weird Monster Generator from Flavors of Fear, which I'd glanced at and admired, but had never actually kicked the tires on.  It's inspired, in turn, from Zak S.' article here.  Anyway, here's what I came up with -- each monster completed in just a couple of minutes, with just one roll of 3d6.

Monster 1  "Stenchfoot Clubhands"

Head: Horned beast (+1 Attack, 1d6 damage + stun on a charge)
Body: Shaggy beast (+1 Armor Class)
Arms/Legs: Gnarled ending in club-like protrusions (+2 Attacks, 1d8 damage + save vs. stun)

Hit Dice: 4
AC: 13
Attack Bonus: +5
# of Attacks: 3
Damage: horns: d6 + save vs. stun on a charge,  clubhands: d8+ save vs. stun, clubfeet: d8+ save vs. stun.
Special: unholy stench (anyone in close combat takes 1d4 damage/round)
Vulnerabilities: Bleeder (loses d4 HP every round once injured)

Monster 2: "Skullface Freezytentacles"

Head: Fleshless skull (add Cause Fear to creature's abilities)
Body:  Emanates freezing cold [anyone within close combat distances takes -1 to all rolls]
Arms/Legs:  Writhing tentacles (+1d4 attacks, 1d4 damage + save vs. constriction)

Hit Dice: 2
AC: 12
Attack Bonus: N/A
# of Attacks: 2
Damage: tentacles: 1d4 + save vs. constriction
Special: Poisonous Touch, Cause Fear
Vulnerabilities: cannot cross water

Monster 3: "Shockmaster WitheredLizard"

Head:  Fork-tongued reptile (+1 Attack, 1d4 damage + poison)
Body:  Electric pulse [anyone hitting the monster with a metal weapon takes 1d6 points of damage]
Arms/Legs:  Withered limbs ending in long, reaching fingers (+1 Attack, 1d6 damage + save vs. disease)

Hit Dice: 5
AC: 12
Attack Bonus: +7
# of Attacks: 2
Damage: tongue (1d4, save vs. poison,) hands (1d6, save vs. disease)
Special: Can use Invisibility 2x/day
Vulnerabilities: 2x damage from Holy items.

I'm very proud of my babies and I can't wait to try to kill you with them.

Now roll 3d6 and squeeze out some fresh abominations.

*comparatively speaking

[Actual Play Report] Villainy Roams the Hill Cantons Unchecked and Unhindered!

The Following is an Actual Play Report of the Hill Cantons session run by Chris Kutalik on 2/23/12.  You can read other reports from the session here and here, but I cannot answer for their veracity.

    Dear friends, it is with a heavy heart that I come before you this evening, my sad tale to relate.  Yet I must be firm and steadfast, for the very words which pain me to merely recall them, which burn in my breast like glowing embers, speak of nothing less than a danger which threatens us all.  My friends, are you aware of the growing epidemic of KIDNAPPING?  Gangs of ruthless men, quite abandoned in their ways and heedless of the laws of God and man, roam these hills like unto ravening wolves, preying upon the most frail and tender prey they can find -- our very wives and daughters!  Honest matrons, radiant young brides, delicate blushing virgins -- all are borne away in stealth by these fiends, who respect neither property nor status -- indeed, ladies of quality are especially sought after, for the gold these demons in human form can extract from their grief-stricken parents.  and they do not limit their depredations to the fairer sex.  Sons, fathers, husbands, even valuable household pets-- it matters not to the kidnapper so long as they think to profit from their abduction.

     I myself heard the confession of a young man but a few days ago which broke my very heart to hear it.  In age and aspect, he could have been my very brother, but while I have repented my youthful folly and devoted myself to the service of the MOST PUISSANT SUN LORD GLORY BE TO HIS NAME, this unfortunate wretch had followed a different path -- a dark, and winding path, which began, as it always seems to, my friends -- as a stroll down a pleasant lane through sun-dappled fields, but soon, with many a twist and turn, he found to be a labyrinth of woe, choked with thorns and brambles.  This man had kept bad company, and would while away his days in sin and indolence.  He and his fellows were well known to the bawd and the procuress, the keeper of gambling dens and the purveyor of stolen goods.  And they amused themselves for a time with such wicked diversions as they found without overmuch diligence, until they decided among themselves to commit a crime of greater villainy than any they had hitherto attempted.

     It seems that one of his "friends" -- a confirmed layabout and wastrel, of such softness and effeminacy that but an hour of honest work would leave his hands blistered and bleeding, had taken a wife. Needless to say, he cared not a fig for his husbandly duties, but continued as before, while his unfortunate bride -- a sweet, trusting creature of gentle disposition and becoming modesty -- was left alone to suffer in silence, to endure his thoughtless neglect as best she could.  Her father was a man of some means, and with this knowledge in mind, he conceived his vile project.  He would, with the assistance of these his co-conspirators, abduct his own dear wife in secret, and line their pockets with the ransom when the dear girl's father had offered it up.  My friends, what times are these we live in when the blessed estate of matrimony is exploited in so vile a fashion?  We may censure and hold in contempt --- and justly so!-- the husband who not only tolerates the infidelities of his wife, but compounds the transgression by becoming her pander as well, and profiting thereby!  My dear friends how much more loathsome is the man who, with foul confederates, their hands stained and reeking from crimes innumerable, captures and imprisons his unsuspecting helpmeet -- she who should command his tenderest devotion-- all for the sake of extracting filthy lucre from his own father-in-law?

     My friends, I will not dwell upon the sordid details of this wretched escapade.  How they watched and waited, covertly studying their victim's habits.  How they, with the practice of foul sorcery and beguiling words did lure the innocent creature and her sworn bondman down a treacherous alley.  How the two were captured -- the bondman cut down without mercy, and the hapless bride spirited away to a filthy tenement.  No, these crimes can bear only so much light before we avert our eyes in disgust and horror.  But there was worse to come, dear friends.  For these hard-hearted villains yet possessed a sort of innocence.  They believed, for all their blasphemous oaths and swaggering boasts, that the bonds of family were stronger than the love of gold.  In this, they found themselves rudely confronted with the vile reality -- like a maiden menaced by a leering pervert from the doorway of some low establishment.  The bridegroom, slyly inquiring of his father-in-law's intentions when the abduction became known, was told in no uncertain terms that the girl's life was as dross to him -- the very fruit of his loins could have her pretty throat cut by some murderous transient before he would part with so much as a single piece of copper!"

     "My friends, this is a sorry state of affairs.  When husbands plot against their wives for base gold -- when honest goodwives are abducted in broad daylight from a busy thoroughfare!  When fathers who can well afford it refuse to pay a ransom on their own kin, which, while not an insignificant sum, was certainly within their means!  We live in depraved and sinful times, my brothers and sisters, and great will be the Sun-Lord's reckoning when such cupidity and vice run rampant!  In such times, the word of the Sun-Lord must be proclaimed from one shining Hill to the next!  Repent, oh repent, O my children, and let these Cantons ring with His praises!"

"But what can I do?' you ask.  "I am no thief-taker with net and truncheon.  I am no doughty warrior, with mail and halberd to defend against the unrighteous.  I am no pious priest, whose blessings make the bare branch bud and bloom, and whose curses wither the fruit on the vine.'  My friend, I am a simple man, these my companions all simple men, with simple gifts.  It is not force of arms we seek in our great enterprise, nor miracles -- the Sun Lord alone can provide such.  But we have travelled far, and must travel still farther to preach the good word.  And travel takes its toll in blood and sweat.  And also money.  We do not ask for much dear friends -- but consider!  To what purpose had you intended the gold in your purses?  Was it to serve some vain fancy?  Some vapid bauble to flatter and amuse and TITILLATE?  My friends, when you find yourself on your deathbeds --- and the hour comes swiftly!-- what story will your life's ledger reveal?
Think on it, my friends, think on it."

Praise His Sweet Name,

The Reverend Meriwether Chambliss, Col. (ret.) The Sultan of Uqbar's Lancers.