martedì 31 luglio 2018

Thanatos, the Graveyard Planet

Thanatos, the most famous space graveyard, is giant planet ring made by bones, bodies, urns, sarcophagi and coffins that silently float around the dark and foggy planet of the same name.
For thousands and thousands of years star vessels left their dead in this place, where their mortal remains got caught by the planet gravity to remain floating in the darkness of space in their eternal rest.

original art by Bruce Pennington

It is not uncommon for grave-robbers to wander and search in and out this grim place in the hopes to find precious goods left with the dead, ages old or recently entombed.
This, of course, is an extremely forbidden and despised practice, prosecuted by the Ring Guardians and by passing civilian star vessels alike. Usually the punishment is death and destruction.
In fact, remains of the grave robbers are usually found between those of the properly buried.

The dangers of being caught, however, do not discourage the grave robbers, pushed by rumours of rich and important findings between the remains of this grim place. Rumours heard more often than not in the most wretched and infamous dens of the galaxy. Of course, these rumours are usually lies.

Nevertheless, there's who swears to have seen, floating between the furthest remains, the Golden Mermaid. This magnificent funerary ship, the last home for the Great Khan Khubilai, the Nineteenth Emperor of the Mongolian Concordat of Betelgeuse, it is said to be covered in gold and silver plaques and that magnificent treasures are held inside.

No one ever dared to savage it however, knowing very well that a powerful curse have been placed upon it by Queen Khai, sister-wife of the Great Khan, after being betrayed and stabbed by her husband himself.
This, at least, is what grave-robbers will tell you in their grim stories.


For every day spent searching between the bones and the remains of the graveyard ring there's a 1 in 6 possibility to find something interesting:

1) A still intact sarcophagus of...
- 1-2 a rich and powerful noble
- 3-4 a famous captain or warlord
- 5-6 an influential high priest

2) Funerary goods made up by...
- 1-2 precious china, pottery and fabric
- 3-4 documents of great historical, political or religious value
- 5-6 silver and golden jewellery, precious gems and stones

3) Still functioning pieces of technology:
- 1-2 an hibernation capsule. The occupant is: 1-4 dead; 5-6 still alive
- 2-4 a time capsule from (1d6 x 1d6 x 1000) years ago containing mundane items of the defunct
- 5-6 the body of a warrior still wearing: 1-2 his weapons; 3-4 his armour; 5-6 both

4) A mysterious artefact...
- 1-2 of alien origin: it is impossible to understand its purpose
- 3-4 of religious significance: if revealed it could overturn the history of a mayor cult
- 5-6 with magical powers: its capabilities are so incredible there's no explanation to them

5) A group of 1d6 x 1d6...
- 1-2 mummified or stuffed animals from a distant galaxy, possibly extinct since thousands of years
- 3-4 members of a dark and twisted cult. They are: 1-2 hibernated; 3-6 mummified
- 5-6 humans or aliens sacrificed in an horrible way for: 1-2 religious reasons; 3-4 political reasons; 5-6 unknown reasons

6) A funerary star vessel, still in working conditions, containing...
- 1 only bones and dust, all the rest is lost or unusable
- 2 a mysterious starmap leading to an uncharted place located in the charted space
- 3 an ancient horror that should have stayed forgotten
- 4 a beacon calling to a powerful and unknown alien menace
- 5 the result of one of the other tables
- 6 the result of two of the other tables


For each day spent looking for artefacts there's a 1 in 6 possibility to encounter:

1-2) A Ring Guardians patrol who will attack looters on sight
2) A star vessel celebrating a funeral
3) A grand style funerary ceremony attended by 6d6: 1-2 military warships; 4-6 civilian star vessels
4) A passerby star vessel paying its homages to the deceased
5) Other grave-robbers that:
- 1 will ignore the intruders
- 2 will be willing to join forces
- 3 will attack on sight
- 4 are fighting or fleeing from a 1-2 Ring Guardians patrol; 3-4 civilian star vessel; 5-6 other looters' star vessel
- 5 have been destroyed, or are adrift
- 6 found something really interesting (roll on the findings table)

lunedì 16 luglio 2018

Traveller Starter Set: content and mini review

The Traveller Starter Set is finally mine!

After a lot of time craving for it, I finally got to put my hands on it during a vacation in London.
I've visited Orcs Nest as suggested by many (I've never seen a shop so full of RPG stuff, living in Italy) and found it -it was the last remaining copy!

This introductory box includes:

  • The full rules split in two parts (Book 1: Characters & Combat and Book 2: Spacecrafts & Worlds).
  • A full introductory campaign (Book 3: The Fall of Tinath).
  • Six pregenerated character sheets with a background summary and a description of the notable abilities in the back of each sheet.
  • A giant subsector map ready to be filled with new worlds created by the referee. In the center of it, the Ahtwa subsector where The Fall of Tinath takes place.
  • Two classic b/w dotted d6 dice.

In general I love the Starter Set, everything seems very good although I still had no time to read the campaign.

I read the new edition rules though, and I like them a lot.
They are a lightly streamlined version of the old Mongoose edition (that I own), they are pretty solid and quite easy to learn and remember.
I like the new management of dice modifiers and the mechanic of Boons and Banes (equivalent of the Advantage/Disadvantage of D&D 5th edition but with 3d6 dice drop lowest/highest). It makes things easier for the Referee, and this is always good.

The rulebooks are very evocative with their full color layout and beautiful pictures, a good step forward since the old edition was still very old-schooley with its b/w layout.
The deckplans are gorgeous 3D illustrations, not handy for play but the classic 2D versions are included for free in the digital version of the Starter Set.
Of course if you buy the Starter Set in your friendly brick and mortar store, you can have the digital copy too for free!

The character sheets are fine and useful for quick one-shots or for those who want to start to play real quick, with a good mix of abilities and styles like a true Traveller crew usually is. There are six pregenerated characters, and one empty sheet.

The box is sturdy and the cover is made in a way it is really easy to open it (unlike many of the boxes from other RPGs).
Inside it there's a nice gimmick: a red ribbon very useful to help to get the rulebooks out of the box by lifting them.

The map is a very nice addition. I would really hesitate to use it for the fear of ruining it, but I can see it as a great and useful tool for Referees.
The symbol of the IISS (Imperial Interstellar Scout Service) in color, the map legend and the galactic directions are a nice touch.

The only disappointment were the dice: as a collector I would have preferred some kind of customisation (a more futuristic look, the symbol of the Imperium on one side, or something along these lines) and because the renewed mechanics include the use of boons and banes were a third dice is used, only two seems cheap.

At the bottom line, in my opinion it is a suggested purchase if you'd like to start with this great game or if you want a fresh update of the past rules like I did along with few goodies thrown in.

You can order the boxed set either in the official Mongoose website or the digital version on DriveThruRPG.



lunedì 9 luglio 2018

The Finger of the Leveller and The Incarnation of Death

A cursed artefact and a nightmarish creature, both powerful and incredibly dangerous, bound together in an endless circle of death: the first is obtained by defeating the second, the second is created by overusing the first.

The Finger of the Leveller

A plain skeletal finger, freezing to the touch and with finely carved runes and symbols all over it so thin they are nearly impossible to see with bare eyes.
Among them, the only clearly visible symbol is the ominous Dead Sign of Duvan'Ku, as it is the result of their experiments with life, death, and the Power of the Beyond to take someone's soul and destroy it forever.
The only clue of the Finger of the Leveller true power is the sensation, noticeable within 10' from the Finger and increasing when moving closer, of one's own soul getting sucked out from the body but never leaving it, and a mild nausea.
After 10 minutes one gets accustomed to the Finger effects and the nausea goes away.

The Finger of the Leveller works as a magical wand with infinite charges of the Power Word Kill spell.
Taking a life with the Finger of the Leveller power destroys the soul of the victim, making any form of Resurrection impossible.

As soon as the Finger of the Leveller is used, the caster becomes its master. From that moment no one else can use its power.
The only way to gain its ownership from its master is to willingly kill her and spill her blood over the Finger of the Leveller. The Finger must then be used to take someone else's life.
If the master of the Finger dies for natural causes, accident, or by hand of someone whose intention wasn't to intentionally take her life, the Finger of the Leveller becomes masterless.

Using the Finger of the Leveller is not without consequences.
Every time its master kills another creature with the Finger, the caster's soul gets sucked away by it causing a very strong but brief surge of nausea.
Mechanically, this means that the character loses as many Experience Points as the targets' Levels or Hit Dice x 1d6 x 100.
The Referee must never tell about this loss to the player, and must keep track of the character's lost Experience Points by themselves. The character will still level up as per their nominal XPs.

Subtle descriptions of the character's shift in appearance, loss of strength and resistance is encouraged as if to give clues that the use of the wand is not without consequences for its master. It is by the master's own will that her extreme consequences should be reached.

The Dead Sign, Laura Jalo

If the master of the Finger reaches 0 Experience Points with the use of its powers, the character effectively becomes the Incarnation of Death.
As her soul gets completely sucked by the Finger of the Leveller , her body will wither as if one thousands years have passed in an instant, leaving only a thin and mummified membrane of a skin over her bones.
All of the belongings, equipment and weapons worn, carried or hold will rot and rust and become dust, leaving only the bare shreds of the character's clothes as a cover.
The Finger will become part of the late caster's hand and can only be retrieved by defeating the Incarnation of Death, which now is actually a creature controlled by the Referee.


The Incarnation of Death

Armor Class 12 (unarmored) - it may wear additional armor
Hit Dice 10 -or- as the Finger master's Level plus 5
Hit Points 45 -or- as the Finger master's plus 5d8
Movement 120'
Morale 8
Alignment is Legal
- One attack with Soul-sucking Claws for 1d6 damage; with a 6 it strangles the victim causing 1d8 damage and draining her soul and 100 x Damage XP every round. Heals for the same amount.
- Can be harmed only by silver or blessed weapons.
- Visible and dangerous only to characters with 3HP or less.
- Has regular undead immunities.

Jez Gordon

This dark and deathly creature has no other motivation or goal but the mad and incessant desire to have a soul once again.
For this reason its only purpose is to kill, and to suck another creature's soul to replace the one it has lost. However, this will not help as its empty shell of a body is too twisted by the Powers of the Beyond to be able to keep any soul.
The Incarnation of Death will therefore roam incessantly in search of a new soul after another to take and to try to hold, forever failing in its only task.

The Incarnation of Death cannot take one creature's soul if this is not already approaching death by its own. The inner power of the soul, together with the strength of the body, is enough to keep the fiendish horror at bay and even to hide it to the eyes of the living.
Only a weakened soul, already to the edge of the eternal sleep, will not be strong enough to repel the Incarnation, and even at that point the fiend's power will not be sufficient to take the soul of the victim without a willing consent.
There is an exception: if the victim got to the verge of death thrice, and if thrice she refused the Incarnation of Death's embrace, this will try to slain the victim no matter what as her soul and body would have finally lost the strength to repel the creature at all.

The Incarnation of Death will only be visible and dangerous to those who are dying, that is characters who have 3 Hit Points or less.
Once seen the Incarnation of Death will slowly walk towards the dying character with open arms and quietly ask, with a soft and sad voice, "Dost thou want eternal rest?".
Every character that sees the creature suffers from extreme sadness, and all the Saving Throws are performed with a penalty of -2.

  • If there are more characters that can see the Incarnation of Death it will approach the character with less Hit Points. If two or more characters have the same amount of Hit Points, the Incarnation of Death will choose randomly.
  • If the character willingly embraces the Incarnation of Death this will walk towards the character, grasp her throat whit its Soul-sucking Claws and will slowly strangle her draining her life and soul. It will then disappear.
  • If the character refuses the embrace the Incarnation of Death disappears, repelled, unless there are more characters that are dying. In this case it will make them the same question.
  • If the same character refuses the embrace for the third time the Incarnation of Death will attack her with its Claws, as the body and soul of the victim would be weak enough to not be able to repel the horror.
  • If the Incarnation of Death is attacked it will defend itself with its Claws. If its Hit Points drop to less than a third, it will disappear until someone else will be dying again.

The Incarnation of Death, by Jennel Jaquays
from The Caverns of Thracia (1979)

The Incarnation of Death attacks with Soul-sucking Claws causing 1d6 damage; with a damage of 6 it also strangles the victim for 1d8 damage every round and will drain the victim's soul and Experience Points of the damage result x 100.
Sucking the victims' soul also heals the horror for the same amount of the inflicted damage.
While strangled, the victim can free herself with a successful Save vs Paralysis (with a cumulative penalty of -1 every round) or attack with a -4 penalty.

Once 0 Experience Points are reached, the character -if still alive- will fall in a catatonic state for 4d6 days. she will not remember anything of what happened, but will now from now on refuse to
Whenever the Incarnation of Death kills a character or creature, her soul will be completely taken away making any kind of Resurrection impossible. Also, the Incarnation of Death's Hit Dice will be increased by the same number of the victim's own, and its Hit Points will also be increased accordingly to the new Hit Dice value.

This creature's alignment is Legal, as death is a law of the Cosmos and but a few are outside its boundaries. Everything ends with death, sooner or later, as no one can escape it forever.

The Incarnation of Death cannot be harmed by mundane weapons unless made of silver or blessed.


Where to place them

This artefact is a powerful one, dangerous both to its holder and her enemies.
If no research is made over its true powers, its master will probably discover too late the price she will pay.
Given these premises, careful thought should be made when placing this artefact into anyone's campaign.
The same stands for the Incarnation of Death, if the Referee decides to have an encounter with the horror instead.

by noistromo

I would place both Finger or the Incarnation in a dark, obscure, forgotten death cult temple or outpost.
If you're playing with Lamentations of the Flame Princess or you're using part of the lore present in its modules the obvious location would be a Duvan'Ku related place.
The Finger of the Leveller could otherwise be in possession of a collector of occult items, unaware or uncaring of its true powers. Maybe the characters will stumble over it during a theft or a heist. Maybe the collector himself will be killed by the Finger (or be consumed by its use) and the characters will need to discover who and how did that -or who did the killings.

Personally, since I've been heavily inspired by the creature of the same name that can be encountered in the old Judges Guild module The Caverns of Thracia, and I've clearly expanded over it, I will place it in the sealed and forgotten death cult temple present in the first level of the dungeon. In my own version of the Caverns, it is actually a Duvan'Ku temple.

Étienne-Louis Boullée