Friday, 27 November 2015

What are Devils?

 What are Devils?

"When the world was unblemished and fresh, they woke up. Keeper-spirits, new-born, but already knowing. Before them was a virginal world, orderly and perfect, and in deepest fibres of their being the intent, to preserve that order. They had seen no gods; witnessed no great creation. All they knew was a simple directive to preserve the cogs of this living machine.

For a time, atoms spun as directed. The greatest continental drift or smallest heartbeat sung in harmony with cosmic orchestra.

Then, came the thinking races. Man, Elf, Dwarf and others. They tampered, and poked, and spat entropy in the eye of the universe.

Our spirits, once content, formed two great tribes. One sought to incentivise the new to thinkers into staying within their rightful place – a heaven where the cruelties of the world had no place. The other offered the threat of punishment eternal – those who were discordant with the rhythm of their keepers would drown in filth and hellfire everlasting.

For a time, this arrangement was elegant. A two-state solution on a meta-cosmic level. For a time, order persisted.

But there was a itch in the fibre. A sensation of ever present disappointment like a shadow on the mind. It deepened, and grew as the millennia flickered by. Still, the thinkers turned their minds to the dignity of nature, and tore it anew: with magicks; with new discoveries, with an endless, anarchic entrepreneurial instinct.

The tribes began to exceed their mandate. An atom here, a word here. Soon, one tribe exhorted the righteous to acts of crusade and zeal, and the other drew and tempted the mortals as much as they could, and cold war began. What had once been a cherished duty became a battlefield, and in the heart of the tempters was borne a tiny flicker of ambition, masked as duty.

Why do we not hold these mortals in thrall? Why do we not bring perfection with fire, and sword and word? Why do we not rule as we did before?"

The Devils, then, are one splintered part of the forces of Law. They have abandoned their remit, and now seek to draw more souls and power to themselves in order to conquer the world completely. In The Last Days, this takes the form of drawing more souls to themselves and promoting their chosen to positions of power. When a Devil offers you the crown in contract, he is not doing it for you.

The Great Devils jockey for dominion, and shame and undermine one another endlessly. This is not ambition, or competition, you understand – it is simply Devils asserting that logically the greatest at these games should lead, and those weak or inefficient fiends should be reduced. They number Eight.

There is in the minds of some scholars, a hypothetical Ninth. But he is a silent silhouette; taciturn. Whilst he is overseer of the games of the Eight, and they act in his name, he is utterly unknown to the mortals.  Some scholars have claimed that The Chained Angel, parton god of Audenfeyr, or the Iron Tyrant, the One God, are in fact masks of the Ninth. This is all conjecture, and the Eight are not talking.

How do players interact with the Thousand Courts of Hell?

Cults of useful idiots serve some devil or other, in return of flimsy, momentary insertions of shiny metal or petty dominion over fellow mortals. That such baubles from the earth and meaningless trophies can buy an immortal soul is of intense amusement to Fiendkind. This is the lowest form of devils playing the Great Game.

Other mortals are given Power – real power – a portion of the power of the original spirits themselves. Warlocks and Willing Vessels are fairly common, if anathema to most.

There is also the path of the First and Most Terrible Sin: the Goetic Arts. To bind a Devil to your will is risky indeed, but promises power without limit.

Lastly, in the Iron City of Dis stands an army of stillness and perfection – the toy soldiers of an autistic god.  It is the failsafe. The gift. Should the world be compromised – should all the usual methods fail – they shall march through the thinking races and slay ever man, woman and child. They will reign over an empire of perfect ash.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Exorcist-Errant; a custom background for 5e and The Last Day Dawned.

Exorcist-Errant You wandered the high and lonely roads of Audenfeyr, ministering to those who had passed on. With force of will and goodly intent, you sent souls on to their final rest. Perhaps you were born with a morbid fixation; perhaps necessity forced you to hone this craft. Regardless, although the smallfolk fear you, they huddle to hear your voice when things go bump in the night. Of late, the weight of deaths has made your task Sisyphean and ghosts crawl like termites in the bones of the world. 

Skills: Religion, Diplomacy or Arcana (choose two).
 Tools: An Exorcist’s Kit (a holy symbol, candles and religious texts detailing rituals for exorcism and appropriate herbs and salt). (Grants proficiency to any Exorcism check, knowledge roles pertaining to spirits or fiends and saving throws versus possession). 
 Equipment: A set of travelling clothes, an Exorcist’s Kit, a pouch containing 25gp and a sentimental token from a spirit you exorcised.
 Languages: Choose one extra of Celestial, Abyssal or Infernal.
 Feature: I see dead people: On any Perception, Insight or knowledge roll related to haunting or possession you have advantage.

Personality Trait
1 - I have a morbid fixation. All the living are ghosts-to-be.
2 - I am stoic and reserved in the face of horrors unimaginable.
3 – I live for laughter and love. I live in the moment!
4 – My predilection for rituals has made me obsessive and superstitious.
 5 – My faith is the bright fire that scours a broken world. 6 – I am fatalistic. All is dust and death and doom.

1 – All souls have a right to just reward. I must be tireless in moving the dead on.
2 – The dead are a menace. They should be cast out and sent on as soon as possible. (Chaotic)
3 – The cure for a plague of ghosts is a life well lived – we must seek satisfaction for mortal ills anyway we can. (Good)
4 – The faithful must lead the flock. The gods gave you wisdom and the duty to exercise it. (Lawful) 5 – Kings, emperors and ancient magi – all enter as mewling babes and leave as souls unblemished. Why should some wear a crown and some toil? (Chaotic)
 6 – I have a gift and a need for coin. I brave dangers others quail at – I deserve wealth, power and respect. (Evil).

1 – I resent my power and my station. I wish I was free of this burden. (Chaotic)
2 – I secretly wish to transcend death utterly. I don’t want to be reduced to a spectre.
3 – I despise those who live empty lives and end up as wraiths. (Evil).
4 – I suffer from bouts of deep depression. There is no hope for mortals.
5 – I learnt to exorcise ghosts because so many died at my hand. I am haunted.
6 – I am a charlatan – my whole craft is a masquerade. I know nothing about the undead.

1 – There is a spirit in my past I can never sate or exorcise; a loved one who died. I search for a means to appease their tortured soul.
2 – The Great Wheel must turn – I will combat necromancy wherever I find it.
3 – I owe my craft to an institution or individual who trained me. I am loyal to them ‘til the bitter end. 4 – Some day, I’ll master magic enough to fix the world.
5 – I am pious and goodly; my faith is my armour.
6 – I seek to live a perfect life and pass unblemished into the heavens.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Let's Read the 5e Monster Manual - 'B' Monsters.

Here's the PDF showing the B Monsters: the Banshee, Basilisk, Behir, Blight, Beholder, Bugbear, Bulette and Bullywug! You can view the GiantITP thread and see the discussion here.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Let's Read the 5e Monster Manual! 'A' Monsters.

I've been writing a Let's Read for 5e Monster Manual over at the Giant in the Playground forum. Here's a PDF of the 'A' monsters covered so far. If you'd like to read the thread instead, it's here. Here's the PDF.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

20 Questions about The Last Day Dawned

Prolific bloggisimo Jeff Rients offered 20 Questions to help define your campaign world. Here are the answers for The Last Day Dawned; mainly to form something of a road-map for defining the setting on this blog in the future!

Currently the players are rescuing children from a band of cultist-Gnolls; this has involved infiltrating a prison from Demons and coming across their first Willing Vessels and the first suggestion just how long the shadows are getting..

  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
    Most Clerics in the Empire of Audunfeyr worship any number of the Thousand Gods of Audunfeyr; the vast, cosmopolitan pantheon of the most pragmatic religion which has long substituted doctrinal purity in favour of quickly assimilating new cultures. Whilst your Cleric probably knows and can perform the rituals and practices of any number of the Gods, he is most likely a Cultist of one in particular. Feel free to make one up and pick your domains!

    The Empire's Patron Godling, The Chained Angel, is a god of law and human superiority. She grants the War, Law and Goetic domains. Clerics of the Chained Angel must advance the Audenfeyr where they can, and oppose the spirits of wild places.

    The Elves of the Steppe - and their subject peoples- worship the Sky God Therudaz and the Earth God Heartathen: all spirits of natural things: rivers, forests, mountains must be honoured....or ruled over. The strong rule the weak; thus is the order of things. Followers can take their pick of domains, more or less, but Tempest, War and Knowledge best fit Therudaz and Nature, Life and Death best fit Heartathen.

    If you wanna worship Pelor or Zeus or the Buddha or Lucifer we can probably accommodate that somewhere.
2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

A town or city or village for most things. For luxuries you'll need to go to Gamota or another large trading city. Among the Steppe Elves, nothing can be bought - only taken in blood or given as a gift.

This is what LDD aristos look like. 
3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

Most smiths of any real skill will be attached to a court or castle; you'll need the ear of a boyar or baron for anything specialist.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
Look upon my works, ye mighty....
Half the Khagans of the Steppe Elves will claim this title - their calf-skin spellbooks flutter like banners in the wind as they ride hard in a maelstrom of magic: spitting thunder and bellowing curses. The current Grand Khagan, Theddirc, is unrecognised, but with his guile and sorcery he has contained his father's folly for half a century and strives to press the other Khagans into service. 

The Rakshasa Teshei has a chance - he rules  the city of Loquista with an aristocracy of his half-fiend children and was once hailed as the greatest living magi. Now, he languors in his harem.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
Half the Khagans of the Steppe Elves would claim this title too. As would any bravo in his cups. In truth, the undefeated  warriors are almost all monstrosities or fiends: He-Wh0-Feast-On-Children's-Eyes and Kill-The-Gods-And-Topple-Their-Thrones are demons who lead great warbands across the steppes, glutting themselves on souls and flesh alike. 

Who is the richest person in the land?
The Emperor of Audenfeyr, Eiderren III, commands enormous wealth. 

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
The Oracle will see you now.
Good luck with that. A few exceptional priests can channel some kind of divine magic, for a favour. Most are busy as adventurers or on retainer to nobility.
 If you dare parley with the spirits of the wilds, they or their minions may salve your wounds and make you hale.
  1. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Death cannot be cured. Pray only that the rituals are correct that you may leave this world, and not become...

Undead. Undeath is cured in numerous ways: sometimes with fire, sometimes with an axe....

Strange curses might be removed by oracles or hags. Seers and other blessed or cursed individuals abound in the wilderness, and might perform the correct rituals.....for a price.

8. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
Wizards do not co-operate. There are two ways to gain spells:
1) Months of arduous research with no guarantee or success.
2) 'acquire' the spell-book of another practitioner.
3) Be apprenticed to a generous master who trusts you implicitly.

Wizards fight and backbite and scheme and struggle against one another. A few powerful states, like the Audenfeyr, try to create Wizard's Guilds - these are incredibly difficult to police and will require your character be an agent of Crown.
  1. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
In large cities, specialists abound. In the wilderness, a few monasteries exists which hold esoteric knowledge. 
  1. Where can I hire mercenaries?
Anywhere on the frontier, mercenaries ply their trade. Most mercenaries are oddballs and outcasts and roustabouts.  
  1. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Everybody carries their weapon on the frontier, and no petty lord has the power to prevent spellcraft in his domain. 
  1. Which way to the nearest tavern?
  1. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
Slay the leader of a Demon Warband on the Steppe and people will sing songs of you. Destroy a Wild Spirit and the Emperor might grant you lands and title. 
Elves in LDD are not nice. 
  1. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Gamota lies in the grip of civil strife ; the election is contested by half the great families of that city. The city is now a place of blood and barricades.
The Steppe has been at war since the beginning of time, but anyone can find gold and glory there in a warband. You might come back....different, though 
  1. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes
Loquista's arena is always in need of fresh blood. 
  1. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
Cults abound for both Devils and Demon-Princes, shuffling their pieces on the board for the final confrontation. The Order of the Rat plots revolution: sometimes in the shadows; sometimes in the open in village-communes.
  1. What is there to eat around here?
How much money have you got?
  1. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
  1. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
Every forest  or river has its spirit, if that qualifies as a monster. There are dragons in Utangard across the sea; giants too. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

1d10 Weird Forest Guardians

In The Last Day Dawned, all forests are rich with spirits: from tiny leaf-sprites with wooden skin who watch passers-by, impassively, to mighty spiritual creatures who embody the collective essence of the forests around them, to possessed vessels who tirelessly guard the forest. They can be spoken to, bargained with, exorcised and battled; but only the destruction of their charges will put them down forever. In regions ruled by Humans, they are tamed or destroyed where possible. In regions ruled by Elves or Fey, they are integrated as vassals, tributaries or overlords. They are essentially the Holy Fools of the Druidic faith; and can be battled to advance in that hierarchy. All are weak to cold iron and whatever folklore weirdness pisses off fairies in your personal world.

  1.  An enormous mass of chattering, colourful insects. They form and reform into patterns that display their intends. Will accept sacrifices and consume them utterly, preferring symbols of cultivation and domesticity: farm-animals, what-crops, kings. Takes half damage from direct attacks.
  2. An ancient tree, decked with hangman's ropes, with rotting corpses hanging from each. Communicates using the droning voices of the dead. Will claim that willingly hanging oneself from the branches will confer access to primordial wisdom (DM's discretion whether this is true). Stationery but can Awaken nearby foliage and fauna.
  3. An enormous, primordial incarnation of the predatory: a horned-wolf of enormous size that can move silently at will. Desires rarer beasts to consume; respects only might in battle, and will actively hunt members of the Druidic faith to prove the extent of its dominion. 
  4. A possessed statue of an prehistoric fertility goddess whose cult has long vanished into obscurity: enormously fat with huge, exposed pudenda. Despite being of stone, the statue can birth living creatures, and is said to grant fertility to the infertile. Any union consummated in the spirit's presence will result in a viable pregnancy - presumably of some hideous, unnatural progeny. Such abominations guard her grove. 
  5. Two halves: a beautiful Dryad, a Fey Knight: both have skin displaying identical scarification. They are searching for each other in the vastness of the forest, but will purposefully never encounter one another. Will try to draw PCs into ceaseless game of cat and mouse. PCs will then encounter other searchers who have been aiding the couple for days or weeks. If challenge about their behaviour they will attempt murder.
  6. Old Drindle, an impossibly calm, childlike giant. Easy to confuse or mislead. Desires diversion, and secretly yearns for the products of the industry: iron, books, mechanical toys. Casts spells as a Druid. 
  7. A Druid of great age who became a Willing Vessel of the spirit years before. He diligently discharges his duties in ensuring the cycle of forest life turns, but has become distressed as the erosion of his humanity. When the spirit wills him to kill innocents and reduce them to fertiliser, his heart quails. Secretly yearns for the release of death. 
  8. A troll-witch with three docile, obedient troll husbands: she cuts out their entrails and reads the omens therein, relying on their healing to keep them alive. She misuses her gift of prophecy liberally to pursue petty vengeance against local covens of witches, hags and the like who refuse to acknowledge her dominion. 
  9. A child, raised by wolves just reaching adulthood . A Feral Druid of considerable power. Thinks of themselves as a wolf but is experiencing an awkward sexual awakening for which there is no explanation from the wise beings of their forest kingdom; believes symptoms of puberty caused by demons or a curse. Very interested in one of your PCs.
  10. A prey-animal of rare and wondrous beauty: an Elk with skin made from moonlight. Elusive and skittish. Desires protection from uppity vassal-beasts or the Wild Hunt or suchlike. Has tricksy defensive magic: Mirror Image, Blur and similar. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Why the Dead Walk in The Last Day Dawned

The Last Day Dawned is an apocalyptic setting. Not a post-apocalyptic setting where grubby losers dress in BDSM gear, but an apocalypse that is on-going, worsening. The alarm on the Doomsday Clock is ringing, and nobody has a clue about how to fix it.

Good luck pal.

In the world of the Last Day Dawned, undead just happen. You don’t need a Necromancer, or negative energy – sinners will rise to feed on the living unless this is prevented. The Last Day Dawned is a setting of ritual and cosmic rightness where the Great Wheel is broken, sure as the sun rises, the dead will too.

The greedy will claw their way out of shallow graves as Ghoulmen, wrestling with hungers forbidden. The depressed will resume their misery, and suck the vitae from those around them, a lethargic yearning that eats you, marrow-out. Those who died enraged will rip and rend and writhe and tear their way back into this world to punish the weak. For the denizens of The Last Day Dawned, undeath is a practicality of life.

Clerics, priests and druids might know the rituals that will pack your soul off right when the funeral happens. To the Steppe Elves of the East, a body must be left to the crows: they will consume it and carry it to the Sky God. If they died with honour, the crows will return them to the ever-blowing wind.

For Priests of the Thousand Temples, the rituals are intricate, byzantine, dazzling. The Wine God demands his chosen by dried, aged, drawn-out, pickled, then thrown into the fire of a great celebration, lost in laughter and smoke. The Toil God demands an elaborate sarcophagus of beloved-craft….to then be smashed to splinters and hurled into the earth, that Toil begin anew. The Wanderlust God would see them lashed to the front of ships as rotting figureheads, so that their dead eyes, salt-dry, can take in the world one last time. Licensed Priests may know a hundred rituals, Archpriests a hundred more. In any town without a priest, Clerics will be beseeched – bury my son! Lay to rest my aunt! Do you know the rituals of the Guard-God-Who-Never-Sleeps? Sometimes, a goodly Cleric can spare an hour, and set a soul down the river to the Thousand-Thousand heavens. Other times, there is no time, no knowledge, and he must pass on, ignoring the eyes boring into his back. The knowledge that the Dead always outnumber the Living.

Of course, charlatans are active in the funeral industry. Sure, they know the rituals. Wave the hands. Sing the songs. Pocket the gold. Laugh the last. And if a few Ghoulmen are loosed in the city? If a rage-ghast tears ships sails in the harbour? Not our problem. You paid up front.

The worshippers of the Iron Tyrant turn, as ever, to knife-sharp expediency. Burn the corpse, cast adrift any soul, scatter the animus, seal whatever remains in the catacombs and never think of them again. Ritual is weak and degenerate. Heaven is a lie. Supplicate, and be freed.

For characters in The Last Day Dawned, ritual obligations will be ever-present. If you slit a bandit’s throat miles from home, there is always a chance he’ll rise, a vengeful spirit, and haunt this wood. Do you know a ritual that might work? Religion checks can be employed, but I also would like to let players simply invent something: “I think the God of Hale Hearts would take him to the Thousand Heavens!” If players declare a psychopomp, and a convincing reason why their character might know an appropriate ritual for that God, they can attempt to send their soul on. Make an appropriate check. Give advantage for a good story. Failing that, they can cremate the corpse, cleanse the area with magic, and drive the soul out: casting it adrift between planes. An act of destruction you should telegraph as a cruel act of permanent destruction – that might prevent a monster being loosed. 
Battlefields, dungeons or other places of violence will commonly be haunted, and ghost-wracked regions are a geographical truth of the game-world. Crossing them should test the characters like any other dangerous region. In ages past, there were few such regions. Now, as a long history of violence, misery and woe is carved into the bones of the world, they are a pestilence. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Rules for Haunting, Possession and Exorcisms in 5E D&D

One issue I have always had with traditional D&D is that idea that you get rid of a ghost by beating it to death with a special sword, or blowing it up with magic. This is completely absurd, aesthetically very difficult to visualise and it undermines the fantastic opportunity for adventure and role-play represented by the haunting or possession. Characters should contact the spirit and appease it, or force it out using their powers, rather than simply kick the shit into it like they would any other Tom, Dick and Hobgoblin.


Hauntings can surround an object, building or individual that your PCs can encounter. The existence of a Haunting can be made obvious by the usual horror-movie fare: apparitions, unexplainable phenomena, and a sense that something is wrong. You should plan the backstory of the haunting in advance and cede clues throughout an adventure location. A good structure would involve finding the backstory through a mix of social encounters and discovery or contact with the haunting. For example, if this is a ghost of a jilted woman, why was she jilted? How did she die? What could she possibly want now? Give several means of laying the ghost to rest or allow players to invent one from the pieces in place (“Yes, and...” works wonderfully for this sort of quest.) The use of a maguffin or action should appease the ghost, and allow them to move on. Award XP as though solving an equivalent difficulty combat encounter.


In my The Last Day Dawned setting, there are two kinds of possession. There are victims of possession, and there are Willing Vessels. Willing Vessels are those who have entered into a partnership with a fiend and accepted them as a tenant in return for power. Once the Willing Vessel dies, their soul will be consumed and the fiend will rise again, in full control of the body and free to do what it desires in the world. At this stage, the fiend can also be killed to return it to Hell – the original inhabitant of the body is gone. Willing Vessels otherwise act in accordance with their normal impulses. Victims will demonstrate utterly changed behaviour. Unknown to most who make this deal, and most likely unknown to your Player Characters, is the fiend can assume control of the Vessel at any time.

Player Characters may find possession more difficult to detect, and schizophrenia, depression or other mental illnesses could easily be mistaken for it. Adventure hooks could revolve around rumours that a major public figure is possessed, or help with the strange behaviour of a loved one, or a spree or murders in a vicinity. Detect Evil spells will show those who are possessed, although not the nature of the possession.

Demons and Devils will never go willingly, and cannot be appeased like a Haunting. They need to be exorcised. As before, individuals, objects and buildings can all be possessed – but they will fight back so much harder than a Haunting.  Possessed individuals will need to be restrained and unable to cast spells or initiate combat if an exorcism is going to be attempted.


In my The Last Day Dawned setting, exorcism can be attempted anyone with a level in Cleric, Warlock, Paladin or Druid. You can negotiate if you want to expand this to encompass Wizards or Rangers or Bards or even Barbarians with your players, but I like the idea that this is a specialist skill set granted to those who wield divine magic or are accustomed to dealing with spirits of some kind.

If your players cannot rid themselves of the spirit using the above methods, they can attempt an exorcism. This is a specialised Ritual and series of skill checks. The initial set-up should take an hour of in-game time, and then a Religion or Arcana check is made to bind the spirit. I would apply a three-successes-before-three-failures rule, and run this section like a combat. Base the DC on the power of the spirit - exorcising Asmodeus should be tougher than your bog-standard Incbus. Between attempts, the spirit should take Lair Actions on initiative 20, and attempt to possesses the exorcist (Will or Charisma save of appropriate DC, failure leads to temporary possession – I’d grant advantage if the players thought to cast Protection from Evil or Magic Circle or Spirit Guardians or anything that feels appropriate).

To prevent other PCs from becoming bored in what should be a tense scene, I would run aspects of this encounter like a combat: the curtains catch fire, the Cleric’s holy symbol becomes red hot and flies across the room and your players need to put it out without interrupting the ritual. The weather changes, the roof starts to collapse, the room becomes impossibly cold.  Swarms of vermin or animate objects or the living dead could awaken and try to disrupt the ritual, and will need to be fought off by the players. The ghost may attempt to communicate with the players, allowing your charismatic skill monkey to convince it to go quietly. Try to think of something that fits the nature of the haunting or possession that represents the spirit fighting back.  All characters not actually involved in the exorcism should always be responding to other challenges and actions by the spirit.

More complex hauntings (such as a whole castle) might require exorcisms in several places. Differentiate these by the spirit’s response and use of the scenery to fight the players.  One the battlements, storms threaten the PCs and the gargoyle come to life to attack them. In the basement, the walls bleed and the wine sets ablaze, and parts of the ceiling start to fall down.

Successfully exorcising the spirit should grant experience like a combat encounter. Failing to exorcise a hostile spirit? A horrible, but appropriate complication, and the possible possession of the unlucky exorcist.