Friday, May 27, 2022

D12 Answers to the Question: How Does This Monster Move?

There's this Netflix show called "Love, Death, and Robots" which is an anthology series where each episode is a different sci-fi/fantasy story. It was recommended to me that I check out an episode from the most recent season, called "Jibaro", by trusted confidantes. After having seen it, I can second that recommendation to others. It's a real feast for the senses. The inspirational part to this post luckily comes in youtube video form, so I don't have to waste words when your eyes, dear reader, can see for yourself:

Look at the moves of that siren, how it makes its victims move. Tigers pounce, crocodiles lunge, but that siren dances. Jibaro's animation made me realize how I've under-utilized description of how a monster moves, and the uncanny possibilities therein, which I hope this table will help rectify:

1. It dances. This one's a gimme. Sub-table (1d4):
-1. As though expecting you to join it as a partner.
-2. In a spiraling waltz, twisting away when you try to close in and seeming to always be up in your face when you least expect it.
-3. It dances a venerable, traditional style of the region, with precise, formalized, subtle movements.
-4. It dances a capering jig, tap-dancing and thrusting suggestively.

2. Moves like it's tetanus-wracked, stiff, seizing, clenching, leaping forward with tooth-crunching groans.

3. It uses its limbs unintuitively, crab-walking about with its elbows and knees bent backwards, or using its face, hand, and leg in a tripod gait, yet moves as fast as you would sprinting normally - a sight as ridiculous as it is uncanny.

4. Moves like it's drunk, or concussed, stumbling and twitching like it's halfway forgotten its own body.

5. In short bursts so fast it's almost too quick for your eyes to keep up, in between periods of mantis-like stillness.

6. Far too smoothly, bonelessly, like its body is a fluid being poured between invisible containers more than a solid object in motion.

7. In jittering, low-quality stop motion, like it was animated by Ray Harryhausen after suffering a stroke. One moment its claw's about to tap your nose, the next it's on the other side of your face and it's carved you out a few new nostrils.

8. It moves with its layers of tissue ever-so-slightly uncoordinated with each other, muscle slurping off bone and bone jutting out through skin before settling together in a decent shape again once still.

9. It moves out of sync with its actual movements, sliding and floating along regardless of the pace of its steps or the flapping of its wings.

10. It starts shuddering and shaking so that its features are a blur as soon as it spots you.

11. It moves like a visual glitch, stretching and snapping, leaving "pixels" of its own tissue behind in the air.

12. It moves through your blindspot like it can read the movement of your eyes before you even decide to move them, seeming to disappear and reappear from blink to blink.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Ravenloft Riff: Kopurland

Been a real Ravenloft-head lately. Came across this webcomic: which is good yet sadly unfinished.

There's this kids' book series about a time-traveling treehouse, and one of the books had the protagonists go back to viking times, where they discover a corpse that had been blood eagled. Seemed very gory for a book that was for pre-teens. It's stuck with me ever since I read it many, many years ago. Anyways, the post:


The wind rakes its fingers down the hills of Kopurland. Its slopes once stripped of trees are again stripped of their rich, dark soil, pulled in hazy streams down to the water. Thralls tend to sheep in the muddy folds, while in the feasting-halls a raucous tension rises - ships go out, too few ships return, and the island lacks the resources to replace the ones lost. A cold fog drifts in from the sea, and no light seems able to banish it. Things creep from the dankest caves, no longer needing to fear the sun. Seals, as always, watch dumbfounded from its bays.

The land itself is flexing, in flux. Earthquakes have become commonplace - as if giants trample the world. Stone splits and geysers spray scalding from the sudden rifts. The upthrust earth exposes things long-buried: rune-stones dedicated to forgotten gods, the lairs of unwholesome beasts, pockets of blistering magma.

Skalds say that the Kopurlanders' ancestors came to the island fleeing the apocalypse of their old world. More and more of its inhabitants are coming to believe that the apocalypse has finally caught up with them.

The Darklord(s)

Kopurland is a nascent domain, not yet fully taken by the Mist. Ships can still get in and out from the mundane world - at least sometimes.

Its throne too, the position of its darklord, is not entirely settled yet either. Its strongest claimant is Sacrist Osmund, a monk who betrayed his fellows to a raiding party from Kopurland, trading their lives and the monastery's wealth for a privileged position on the island - this incident was what invited the Mist. However there are a few others on the island who have earned the torment of a lordship as well. Should Osmund die, or should their crimes well exceed his in Kopurland's darkest days, one of these claimants could usurp his place.

The Mist is being held at bay by the presence of the few other surviving monks of Osmund's monastery (kept as thralls), all genuinely decent and faithful people. If they were killed, fled the island, or corrupted, that would precipitate Kopurland's swift fall into the lands of dread.

Sacrist Osmund is craven, brilliant, and ruthless. A relentless social climber who believes accumulating power is the only thing between him and the absolute, impoverished brutality he was born and raised in. Has no friends, and no faith, only people and ideas he can use.

The Twin Torments of Kopurland:

The Oathbreaker's Curse

Kopurlander society - that is to say, the society of its raiders and killers who live off the work of their thralls - is big on honour. This honour is the sort that's violently defended and enforced in public, while violations in private are overlooked. While nominally opposed, this double standard of duels to the death over insults and underhanded schemes and affairs tends to in practice work for the overall stability of the status quo, like a tensegrity structure made out of people and their customs spoken & unspoken.

The first torment of Kopurland amends this. Anyone who breaks the word of a promise or sworn oath will die, bleeding from every orifice the next time they're alone. Those who break the spirit of the same will die slower, sickening and aging prematurely. While the tradition of oath-swearing on Kopurland is intricate enough to prevent easy or inadvertent breakage, enough deaths have happened that people are starting to catch on. The curse is taken to be another sign of the end of the world.

Conspirators like Sacrist Osmund are starting to sweat.

The Ilhvel

It's true that a monster haunts the waters around Kopurland: a whale-sized mass of corpses, their bloated, gelatinous flesh fused together, the mingled remains of those killed in the Kopurlanders' raids. It swims fast enough to catch a ship in full sail, and when the rain falls heavy enough it can drag itself a short distance onto land.

Kopurland produces enough food to sustain its population, yet the illhvel is still starving the island. The prestige and social ties of its high clans are maintained by raiding and the distribution of spoils from raids. With the dearth of raids, these ties are disintegrating. The slavering wolves deprived of prey begin to eye each other hungrily.

Among the island's thralls a suicide cult has taken root. They worship the illhvel in secret, slinking away to moldy grottoes to whisper by the light of whale-fat candles of the island's inevitable destruction. The most dedicated fling themselves into the sea as offerings to it. The illhvel accepts them.


The High Clans

Clan Ufrak: The self-purported greatest warriors of Kopurland - certainly its wealthiest. They were the ones Osmund collaborated with - the clan felt that strength of arms alone couldn't sustain its dominance, and that education, literacy, trade, and other modernizing efforts were becoming necessary - Osmund was taken on as an advisor in these matters. The clan projects an image of confidence, that it can weather whatever disaster is befalling the island while remaining on top, yet the clan is large, and fracturing under the pressure - there are many secret defectors who'd prefer to see their own star rise even if it meant the overall decline of Ufrak.

The clan head's second son, hoping to gain favour, set off to hunt the ilhvel with a few trusted comrades. The ilhvel caught them, sensed the son's dissatisfaction, and remolded them into a monster. On dim nights this monster stalks Clan Ufrak's elephant tusk-arched hall, picking off a few drunken stragglers each time. Its ultimate targets are its father, and its older brother. A fabulous reward is promised for whoever can return its head.

Clan Himnsker: Once famed shipwrights and raisers of rune-stones, masters of the forest of Kopurland's eastern side. As the forests were felled and turned to fields for sheep-grazing, the clan dwindled in esteem, becoming the butt of jokes that portrayed them as bumpkins and sheep-shaggers. The clan is split between its young and old.

Far from despairing over the apparent end of the world, the older members of Clan Himnsker sees it as the time for their glorious resurgence. They're slipping into a carnivalesque fundamentalism - human sacrifices in standing stone circles with beer and hallucinogenic mushrooms by the barrel, wrangling sheep and thralls from other clans while screaming bloody murder.

Clan Himnsker received several thralls who were once fellow monks of Sacrist Osmund, and many of their younger members have been swayed by the monks' quiet preaching. They believe that Kopurland is undergoing divine punishment for its violent ways, and that only societal reform can save them. They're conspiring with similarly-minded members of Clan Ufrak, yet discovery by either of their clans could get them branded as traitors and slaughtered.

Clan Maorija: Descendants of freed thralls who clawed their way into a position of power. They cultivate a reputation as scary motherfuckers, and the most wicked rumours surround them: cannibals, witches, poisoners, assassins. Some of these rumours are sometimes true. The clan has seen the developing situation on Kopurland and collectively decided to get the hell out of there. They plan to secure the island's remaining ships, grab everything that isn't nailed down, find some way to distract or eliminate the illhvel, and sail off to greener pastures.

The clan has developed a terrible weapon to see this plan to fruition: a vapourizing form of the noxious mixture drunk by the island's berserkers, which sends those who inhale it into an indiscriminate rage. The hamlet they tested it on had no survivors.

The Murder1: There's strangers on the island in black-feathered cloaks, perhaps a half-dozen, who know things they shouldn't. They showed up soon after the persistent fog rolled in. Superstitious fear and their excellent skill at arms has kept them from simply being killed. These strangers call themselves the Murder. They're interested in the island's rune-stones, in its old stories and new speculation. They're investigating Kopurland's drift into the Mist, and willing to throw their weight behind anyone who can provide them answers.

1 These guys are kind of my take on the Keepers of the Black Feather

Monday, May 2, 2022

Here There Were Dragons


True dragons were hunted to extinction a generation past. The last living dragon hunters grin toothlessly when they tell the stories of their hunts and fondle fangs yellowed by time. Dragons were great, dragons were terrible, but dragons weren’t able to shrug off cannon-fire. In the end they were only beasts. The moment human ingenuity was leashed to the contest for territory, the drive for glory, their doom was sealed.

True dragons are extinct, but their descendants remain. Hunts targeted the biggest and fiercest dragons, leaving the runtiest and most cunning to brood, until all that was left were clever little things without even wings who would make but a light snack for their forebears: kobolds.

Kobold isn’t what they call themselves. It’s what we call them, a portmanteau of the sounds they make the most. “Kob” is their word for something good (and gold, “kobkob”, is best of all), and “old” is their word for something bad. Your average kobold can go weeks without saying anything else, relying on context to relay full meaning.

Draconic instinct is still strong in kobolds, tempered more by circumstance than dimming in the blood. They long to hoard, to lair, to lord over their lessers - yet their desire dwarfs their frames. It spills out from their mind's eye, illuminating designs for devices to make up for what their bodies lack: fiery explosives, beartraps with jaws that snap, snaking tunnels, gliders to soar, and so on. They can trade and work together with others of their kind or anyone else for that matter, but the changes in their minds haven't kept pace with the changes of their bodies. Pro-social mores and emotions are still alien to kobolds - sympathy, guilt, gifts, and so on aren't in their range of experience - unless they learn to adjust intellectually for what they intuitively lack, they tend to work off selfish, reptilian utilitarianism. Kobold societies tend toward a controlled chaos of everyone trying to screw everyone else over for personal benefit, with a few coming to dominate the largest hoards and then coordinating in cartels for mutual self-interest.

Ingenious, hardy, prolific, pernicious - haunters of mines and mountain passes - kobolds can be more of a nuisance than dragons ever were. There's certainly less glory in fighting them.


People once thought that dragon-dreams were a curse that afflicted the families of dragon-hunters, a terrible vengeance on their slayers. Victims would one day start to slip away more every time they slept, until they snapped, or found drugs that could drown out the dreams - for when they dreamed they were visited with visions of being dragons, in detail as clear as if they were truly living as them, feeling their hearts pump fire and their wings carrying them across the sky. At every dawn it was as if they were waking to find themselves flayed, amputated, and blinded, such was the gap between the capabilities of dragons and humans.

It was shameful, it was tragic, decent members of upstanding families suddenly jumping from towers, becoming arsonists, tearing others apart with their teeth and nails - all covered up wherever it could be, of course. But then it wasn't just the families of dragon-hunters getting the dreams. Whole communities would gather in tents and squares to roar and share charred meat. Cities burned. The source of the dreams was narrowed down.

Humans beings are simple creatures, physically speaking, just flesh and blood, but we die complicated: a moment for the heart to stop, minutes for the brain to die, a day or two for the little sperms swimming around in your nutsack to wind down - as a few examples.

Dragons are flesh, and blood, and fire, and sorcery. Imagine how many more pieces of them there might be, each rotting in its own way.

Some invisible putrescence was seeping from the dragons' remains kept as trophies by their hunters, and from the charnel-pits of old battlefields of man vs. beast. Exposure to this caused the dreams. Every last skull and set of dragon-scale armour was gathered up, brought far from what was deemed worthwhile civilization, and buried in mountainous heaps that would come to smoke and smoulder without fuel or end.

This worked to contain the most obvious spread of the dragon-dreams, but their embers linger. The expendable people on whose land the remains were dumped still suffer from them. On days when the wind blows wrong their fumes can be carried very far indeed. Some find the dreams an acceptable malus if it means wielding a blade of dragon-bone.


It's said that human liches learned the secret of their metamorphosis from dragons, but dragon-liches - dracoliches - don't sentimentally preserve a single corpse, they invent histories - they are histories.

Where a dracolich lies, monuments will begin to spring from the earth, entire temple complexes following after, the artifacts of an extinct culture sprung from the creature's own soul, every angle of their architecture and symbol of their iconography serving to glorify it. The stones remember new shapes, extruding fossils into the air. When fully emerged these fossils will take on flesh, becoming drakes, wyverns, linnorms, dinosaurs, and every other variation of the draconic form - except of course, for dragons themselves. Humans too sometimes slink into their lairs, seduced by the promise of their retroactive golden age of power and domination.

At the center of it all the dracolich lurks, its flame inverted into cryogenic stasis. They think eonic thoughts, hold geological grudges. It's not any individual human they hate - it would be like us hating a single ebola virus - but the whole human super-consciousness, every culture and society. In their empty eyes, annihilation is too easy, and too gentle. The dracoliches want to see us utterly debased, our great paintings used to wipe the asses of tyrants and mothers forced to eat their children like starving hamsters. They mentor the worst of necromancers and whisper in the ears of explorers to bring imperial slaughter across oceans.

At least, this is what can be gleaned from the most communicative dracoliches, which isn't saying all that much.