Thursday 30 June 2016

The Island

As is typical, while I have dozens of other things on the go, a completely new idea bubbles to the top of my mind. This time it was conjured by thinking about running a one-shot next month when an old roleplaying compadre is back in town. The ideas I had for the one-shot expanded rapidly into something more elaborate and now here I am with a mini campaign.

Another aspect is that I've been getting the urge for a while to run something in a more heroic / high fantasy vein, as opposed to my usual default, which ends up being a sort of amoral, gonzo-ish, murder-hobo style.

So the ideas I have so far are:
  • The campaign is set on a single, isolated island amid a great ocean. The people of the island consider themselves part of a kingdom -- their folklore tells that they were once part of chain of many islands -- but no sign of these other islands and no word from their notional king have come for many generations.
  • The one-shot / start of the campaign may thus involve some sort of whispering of the past or the world beyond the shores of the island.
  • The people of the island worship a pantheon of four elemental gods. Their priests are not standard clerics, but cast specialised elemental spells. (This is a chance for me to try out the half-written material I have for the Complete Elementalist.)
  • The PCs will play the role of protectors or advisors of their community, defending it against whatever peril emerges to threaten their peace. Not to say it won't necessarily be without twists, but a moral imperative is built into the campaign.
  • The island would be a small hex crawl: a few days' travel from one side to the other.
  • Apart from a few vague images, that's all I'm going from, so far. I'm not sure if it'll end up coming to anything, but I'll post more info, if I develop the idea further.
(Image by

Monday 20 June 2016

Wormskin Issue Three: Coming Soon!

I put the finishing touches to the text for issue three of Wormskin yesterday. Here's what we have in store:

  • Of Men, Goats, and Fairies in Dolmenwood -- Gavin Norman, Greg Gorgonmilk. An overview of the history of Dolmenwood and the interactions of its various factions over the centuries.
  • Languages of Dolmenwood -- Gavin Norman. Details on the most common languages spoken (or written) in the forest.
  • The Summer Stones and the Witching Ring -- Gavin Norman. An article describing the unusual, ring-shaped ley line Chell, in the west of the forest. Its origin, powers, and purpose are revealed.
  • The Woods East of Lake Longmere -- Gavin Norman, Greg Gorgonmilk. Seven hexes at the heart of the wood.
  • The Ruined Abbey of St Clewd, Level One: Surface Ruins -- Gavin Norman, Yves Geens. The first level of a dungeon central to the history of Dolmenwood.
  • Monsters of the Wood (gloam, mogglewomp, scrabey, scrycke) -- Gavin Norman, Yves Geens. More woodland beasties.
This issue features some delightful black & white illustrations from Sean Poppe​, some B&W and full colour pieces by Andrew Walter​, and Greg Gorgonmilk​'s wonderful graphical work.

It's in layout now. Keep 'em peeled.

Sunday 19 June 2016

New Monster: The Gloam

I thought I'd share this write-up for a monster which I finished recently. It's noteworthy for two reasons: firstly, it was my winning entry for round 2 of the aborted "OSR Superstar" contest at Tenkar's Tavern; secondly, it is a preview of material from the forthcoming third issue of my & Greg Gorgonmilk's zine, Wormskin. (You can get hold of issue one here and issue two here.)

For those of you who aren't yet familiar with Wormskin: along with the expected list of statistics (Armour Class, Hit Dice, and so on), monsters in the zine are presented with some additional pieces of information:

  • Number Appearing: Monsters may be encountered alone or in groups and abroad or in their lair. Occasionally, a monster’s lair may be discovered unguarded. To determine the exact conditions, an eight-sided die is rolled and the result looked up under encounters for the monster in question. For example, a monster’s description may state: “Number Appearing: 1-3: abroad (2d4), 4-7: lair (2d10), 8: lair (empty)”. Thus, a d8 roll resulting in a 1 to 3 means that 2d4 individuals are encountered abroad, a roll resulting in 4 to 7 means that the PCs have stumbled upon 2d10 monsters in their lair, and a roll of 8 means that the empty lair has been discovered.
  • Possessions: Denotes the items or treasures typically carried by an individual about its business. These are the kind of things that a search of the monster’s pockets, packs, etc will turn up.
  • Hoard: For monsters with a lair, this indicates the treasures which are kept there. Valuables kept by intelligent monsters will most likely be well hidden. Hoards are listed with the standard B/X treasure type (a letter code from A-V) followed by the equivalent Labyrinth Lord hoard class (a Roman numeral, from I-XXII). A descriptor is also listed for some hoards; these hoard variants will be discussed in a future issue of Wormskin, along with charts of trinkets.
  • Encounters / Lairs: Some quick ideas for encounters with the monster (either abroad or in its lair) are given here, providing an inspirational seed for the referee to work from. The suggested encounters generally describe fairly specific situations and should each only be used once. (The judge may cross off or replace encounters once they have occurred.)
  • Traits: One or more charts of distinguishing features of individuals are given, for added descriptive flavour and ease of distinguishing individuals when a group of monsters of the same kind is encountered.

So, here we go, the gloam...

HD: 7
AC: 5
Attacks: 2 × 1d10 (claws) or 1 × 1d4 (swarm attack)
Move: 120’ (40’) / 180’ (60’) -- flying
Morale: 9

Number Appearing: 1-5: abroad (1), 6-7: lair (1), 8: lair (empty)
Alignment: N
Intelligence: Obsessive
Size: M
XP: 1,840
Possessions: Trinkets (eerie), collected items (see below)
Hoard: E/XVIII (eerie), collected items (see below)

Gloams are undead entities formed from the corpses of a multitude of crows, ravens, or magpies. They have two forms, at times appearing as a flock of ragged, cawing birds and at other times in the guise of a tall, gaunt man, constructed from the agglomerated feathers, bones, and beaks of the flock. Both manifestations are wreathed in shadow and accompanied by a creeping sensation of dread.

Possessing a cunning and single-minded intellect of human degree, gloams are able to speak both the common tongue and the cawing language of crow-like birds. Unlike many undead creatures, gloams are not inherently evil. They are, however, possessed of a ruthlessly avaricious nature, which oftentimes leads them into conflict with mortals. Gloams are obsessive collectors, with macabre and idiosyncratic taste. Some examples of the type of objects a gloam may collect are:

  1. The corpses of children, which it binds with string and hangs in its roost.
  2. Wedding rings and other tokens of love.
  3. Condemned murderers, whom it abducts and keeps captive, tormented and on the edge of starvation.
  4. Human corneas, dried and sewn into the dead eye sockets of its own constituent birds.
  5. The mummified or stuffed bodies of animals, which it arranges in peculiar dioramas.
  6. The teeth of the devoutly religious.

Special Abilities
Charm Innocent: Gloams have a curious connection with mortals of innocent mind -- typically young children, but sometimes the mentally handicapped or, more rarely, adults of pure morals (each gloam has specific tastes in this matter) -- who do not perceive the sinister atmosphere which surrounds the monster and are thus vulnerable to its charm-like ability, manifested by the twinkling of an eye. A saving throw versus spells is allowed to resist the charm, with failure indicating that the target places its implicit trust in the gloam, seeing it as a beloved parent or mentor. One who resists a gloam's charm becomes suddenly aware of its true nature.

Damage Reduction: Gloams suffer only half damage from normal weapons – silver or magical weapons inflict standard damage.

Transformation: A gloam can change freely between its two forms. The transformation between humanoid and flock takes a single round, during which a gloam may perform no other actions.

Flock Form: When in the form of a flock, a gloam can only be harmed by area effects such as flaming oil, breath weapons, or fireball spells. It is also able to make a swarm attack, targeting characters within a 20' radius of each other. One target may be attacked per 5 hit points the gloam possesses (rounded up).

Disease: The touch of a gloam carries a disease which can infect mortals, causing flesh to blacken and drop off in flaky chunks. Anyone damaged by a gloam in combat must save versus poison or be infected. The disease leads to death over a span of 1d6 weeks and can only be cured by magic.


  1. Dresses in finery. (The garments fly with the flock, when transformed.)
  2. Smoulders when exposed to light.
  3. Hovers ominously a few inches above the ground.
  4. Streaked with blood, which drips incessantly from the creature's eyes.
  5. Largely skeletal: all bleached, white bones and shiny beaks, with only small, ragged clumps of feathers.
  6. The creature's shadow moves independently of its bodily motion, shifting into forms expressive of its emotional state.


  1. A tall, sinister man (the gloam in humanoid form) offers bright candy canes to a pair of wide-eyed, young children who are gathering kindling in the woods near their home.
  2. 2d4 youths of less than normal mental capacity attempting to release a raggedy man, near death, from an iron cage strung up on the branch of a great oak. A flock of sinister ravens roosts in the tree, overseeing the proceedings with almost-word-like caws.
  3. The smoking remains of an old barn in an isolated wood, freshly razed. A dark figure (the gloam in humanoid form) sits nearby, weeping raggedly at the ruination of its home and precious items.
  4. A gloam inspects the wares of a travelling pedlar of curiosities, taking especial interest in the collection of stuffed animals.


  1. The ruins of an old watchtower, standing now more by virtue of the brambles and wild roses which clad its surface then by any structural integrity of its own. The gloam roosts in the upper floors and hangs its treasures in branches of nearby trees. A lone maid lives in a makeshift camp nearby and is serenaded by the gloam at dawn and dusk.
  2. A cluster of tall, twisted pines at the centre of a sinister, desolate wood. Several large colonies of songbirds live in the surrounding trees, driven to strange, bloodthirsty behaviour by the presence of the gloam.
  3. An old wayside inn beside a little-used woodland road. The gloam lairs in the rafters of the attic, surrounded by its prizes: the carefully preserved and displayed skeletons of adulterers. The inn’s proprietor, an aging woman who was betrayed by her former husband (now a part of the gloam’s collection), lives in harmony with the monster, providing it a source of victims in exchange for its protection.
  4. An oddly-shaped, tumbledown manor atop a rocky outcropping. The place is the former residence of a black magician and greatly feared by local people. The magician is long dead, but his legacy survives in the form of the gloam, which is the result of a summoning gone awry. The monster now lives as master of the manse and continues the wizard's occult research. It is accompanied by 2d6 children, whom it treats as pupils, schooling them in the black arts.