Daily Archives: December 10, 2012

SECRET SANTICORE: The Tsvarik III Penal ship!

Once again we look into the dreadful abyss and see the blazing hate-filled eyes of…  THE SECRET SANTICORE!!!


A small piece of map; maze-like, a handful of rooms, maybe no more than 35 squares… square. INSIDE a HUGE spaceship. The whole ship is over 5 miles long, 700 feet tall, another 500 feet wide, a massive prison barge. Rooms should be themed to a high-tech society and to a prison setting (guard rooms, mess hall, cells), but the layout can be as twisty-turny as possible. Thanks in advance!

Not only did Matt Jackson do a nifty little write up, he did some kick ass drawings for it!

The Tsvarik III

The Tsvarik III is Charos Class penal ship. Once placed in orbit, the ship will maintain its geo-spatial position using inertial dampeners and micro-thrusters. The III designation is due to this particular model being the third iteration of this blueprint. The first attempt to use this blueprint resulted in one-hundred and seventy-six prisoners and thirteen prison guards were killed by ebullism when the entire facility decompressed in less than seventeen seconds. The second attempt was struck by asteroids just seventeen days after the first prisoner boarded, resulting in five-hundred and seventy-nine prisoners and nineteen guards meeting their untimely end. Capital Ship Construction, Inc. and the Federated Cosmic Penal Institute (FCPI) have ensured the public that this latest model is safe and impervious to human or cosmic fault.

Needless to say, they were wrong.

Just thirty-six days after launch, communication with Tsvarik III was lost.


The Charos Class Penal Ship is shaped roughly like a large mushroom with a seven hundred foot round command and life support module (also known as the “dome”) that sits atop a nearly five mile long axis.

The Dome.

Command and Control is housed near the top of the dome along with a small docking bay and sensor array. Primary life support and power generation is housed in the lower portion of the dome, forming a massive and cavernous labyrinth of steel and wires. Persons daring to explore these levels (there are forty-seven) without a guard, or extensive knowledge of the craft’s design, will easily become twisted and turned around.

The Axis.

The axis serves as a massively long penal area cordoned off with a support section every one thousand feet. This support section has facilities for basic life support such as a first aid stations or mess facilities, the area between the support sections being the prisoners’ cells. Each prison level has separate controls that will open the cells on it’s level with the correct passcode and badge scanner.

Tsvarik3 by Matt Jackson for Tim Maki

Prison Level by Matt Jackson for Tim Maki

Mess Level by Matt Jackson for Tim Maki

Medical Level by Matt Jackson for Tim Maki

Command Level by Matt Jackson for Tim Maki


Bloodthirsty....  Angry...  And oh. so. SEXY!

Bloodthirsty…. Angry… And oh. so. SEXY!

SECRET SANTICORE: Innocent Bystanders Table!

Time for another awesome dive into the sack of mutilated bodies, pilfered organs, and diabolical schemes that belongs to the Great and Mighty Santicore!!


A table or system or something that helps me decide what all the not so innocent bystanders are doing when trouble erupts.
It might want to take into consideration how violent the trouble is and how they feel generally about the people making trouble, but that’s optional.
For theme it could be about people jacking Santa, but also optional.

William Broom knocked this bitch out the park!

What are the Bystanders Doing?


“A table or system or something that helps me decide what all the not so innocent bystanders are doing when trouble erupts.

It might want to take into consideration how violent the trouble is and how they feel generally about the people making trouble, but that’s optional.

For theme it could be about people jacking Santa, but also optional.”

This is a system for what happens when you try to jack Santa. ‘Jacking Santa’ shall be here defined as physical violence, theft, breaking and entering, foot chases, or any other piece of obvious lawbreaking or conflict. Lesser offences like arguing in the street, emptying chamberpots onto heads, etc. will not draw a reaction unless/until it evolves into something more serious. ‘Santa’ always refers to the PCs’ enemy in the encounter.

At first I thought of doing a general reaction table, with progressively better or worse results from top to bottom. However, it seems like the reactions of the bystanders depends a lot on the character of the community. Giving each community a different set of reactions should give the players more interesting choices to work with. “We can’t jack Santa here, this is Selena Scorpionheart’s territory! Let’s lure him into the Narrows and then jump him.” etc. If your campaign incorporates many villages and towns, then each such polity is its own separate community. However, if you’re running a game based around one big city, then each district or area could be one community.


There are three general types of community:

Authoritarian communities are those under the command of a firm leadership and an efficient law enforcement service. Citizens know that there is a centralized authority keeping them in check. Examples may include a well-ordered city, a town built around a keep, a district ruled by a powerful thieves’ guild, or a prison complex.

Communitarian communities have less in the way of centralized authority, but order is still maintained by the general will of the populace. Examples may include a small village, an elven commune, or a ghetto.

Anarchic communities have no law enforcement, or only ineffective law enforcement. Generally citizens are expected to protect their own rights with blood and steel. Examples may include a city of thieves and villains, an interdimensional bazaar, or the fringes of an army encampment.

These three categories should broadly cover almost any community you like, but you can give more personality to an area by giving it a unique type. For example:

Voyeuristic communities care little for law and order, but they do like a show. They welcome Santa jackers as a form of entertainment, so long as the jacking doesn’t involve them. Examples may include a barbarian tribe who prize strength and honour over pissweak city morality.

Meek communities have no taste for violence of any sort. When outsiders start jacking Santa, they prefer to simply hide until it’s all over. Examples may include a colony of gnomes who peer furtively from their dark burrows.

Create your own unique tables to give a special flavour to your more exotic urban locations.

Bystander Reaction Table


To determine the bystanders’ reaction to a Santa jack, roll 2d6, taking a roll of 2-4 as negative, 5-9 as neutral, and 10-12 as positive. A minimum or maximum roll will have a special effect. Apply the following modifiers:

+1 if the PCs didn’t start the fight with Santa, -1 if they did.

+1 if the PCs have shown some sort of evidence that they’re the justified party, and -1 if Santa has shown such evidence.

Add the Charisma bonus of one PC who is trying to get the crowd on their side (note that doing this will probably occupy that PC for the first round of combat.) Santa could try to do the same thing, of course.

Other modifiers at your discretion if the PCs or Santa have previously interacted with the crowd, or are famous in this community, etc.

Most of the following reactions assume that the bystanders have enough people to enforce their will upon the PCs and/or Santa. This may not always be the case (see below).

Reaction Authoritarian Communitarian Anarchic Voyeuristic Meek
Negative Special (2) One of the bystanders is a high-ranking guardsman, a Fighter of 2nd-4th level, and he is pissed that the PCs are fighting in his streets. A frenzied mob forms and attempts to lynch the PCs. An old enemy is amidst the crowd and takes the opportunity to jump out and shank the PCs. If no old enemies are available, it is a new enemy who hates the PCs for something they’ve done or wants something they have. The PCs are considered highly entertaining. After they defeat or escape the current encounter, the bystanders will capture them and carry them to the gladiatorial arena or trap gauntlet to further prove their mettle. The jacking of Santa is so frightening that the meek citizens abandon their town entirely. Within a day it is completely deserted and the people have relocated elsewhere.
Negative (3-4) Flee to alert the local authorities and accuse the PCs of jacking Santa. Swarm in to arrest the PCs by force, or flee to get more help if they seem too much to handle. Watch the altercation for an opportunity – to stab the PCs in the back, ambush them later, or just go through their pockets after they’re dead. Curse and jeer at the PCs, mock their fighting abilities and place bets on Santa. If the PCs win, those who bet against them will be furious. Flee and bar their doors against the PCs thereafter until some service has been done to rectify the situation.
Neutral (5-9) Flee to alert the local authorities but don’t make any particular statements about the incident. Band together and chase both parties out of town. Go on about their business. “Oh, you got stabbed in the guts? Around here we call that ‘Monday’.” Attempt to surround the incident and make sure it is an honourable fight to the death. Flee and hide.
Positive (10-11) Flee to alert the local authorities and  accuse Santa of jacking the PCs. Swarm in to arrest Santa, or flee to get help if he seems too much to handle. Offer the PCs assistance or an escape route, but only for a price. Watch, egg the PCs on to escalating violence, and place bets. If the PCs win, those who bet on them will be glad and generous. Flee and hide, but first render what assistance they can to the PCs in the form of items, information, or merely encouragement.
Positive Special (12) The PCs’ enemies are already wanted for crimes, or have a political enemy. A bounty will be paid to the PCs if they defeat the enemy. After the PCs’ victory, an old lady invites them back to her house for tea. This house will be a safe place for the party thereafter. The bystanders take this fight as an opportunity to settle their own scores and/or let off some steam. Within a few minutes the PCs are at the epicentre of a riot. The PCs are regarded as sacred champions after their victory. This means the community is now relying on them to slay the local monster that’s terrorizing the countryside. One formerly meek bystander suddenly gains courage and joins in the fray for the PCs. If they survive, they will go on to transform this cowardly town into a Spartan war-society over the course of several months.

How many people are around, anyway?

For a while I’ve been considering the idea that the density of crowds in the vicinity should be an integral part of the ‘landscape’ of an urban location. There’s a big difference in atmosphere and opportunities between a deserted street at midnight and a bustling marketplace. This sort of thing is largely going to be up to the individual GM to determine, but here’s a simple outline to get you going:

Crowd Density No. of bystanders
Nil – no people are within sight or earshot. A sleepy village at siesta time, a crossroads at midnight, a city block abandoned due to haunting. 0
Few – at least one or two people in view at any given time. A road outside town, a dark avenue before dawn, a church in the afternoon. 1d6-1
Regular – at least half a dozen people in view. A normal street, a village common, a bar in the evening. 3d6 + 3
Thick – dozens of people in view at all times. A bar at happy hour, a village market, a town street during the morning traffic. Dozens and dozens; but only 4d6 are likely to interact with the PCs’ troublemaking.
Bustling – so many people that they become a part of the terrain and make fast movement difficult. A city bazaar, a festival parade, a public execution. Hundreds; but only 6d6 are likely to interact with the PCs.

The important thing isn’t the exact numbers, but the general feeling. The more bystanders there are, the more likely they will be to enforce their desires upon the PCs and others who are disrupting the social order. If the PCs outnumber the bystanders, then regardless of the reaction table the bystanders will probably have to flee and get backup, which may be a long way away especially in an ‘Anarchic’ society. However, bear in mind that most bystanders don’t necessarily expect the PCs to escalate the conflict directly to mortal violence.

The overall purpose of these tables is to give the players a wider range of choices and to make them feel the ‘texture’ or ‘landscape’ of each urban environment differently. If you want to shut down their Santa-jacking activities altogether, you can just say “If you fuck with the law, you’re going to get it, so don’t do that.” However if you want to give them a chance to jack Santa without making it trivial, that’s when you want to put an Anarchic community next door to an Authoritarian one, or a backstreet with low crowd density next to a bustling festival plaza.

There is no Dana....  Only Core...

There is no Dana…. Only Core…

SECRET SANTICORE: Room of Magical Paintings!

As the awesome, all wise and powerful, amazing, spectacular, and well-endowed Wampus King over at Wampus Country has announced; SANITCORE IS HERE!!!  For details as to why it is being released on blogs and not PDF, see here.

Let’s get her started!!!

May the Core be With You....

May the Core be With You….


A room of magical paintings that can be dropped into the lower levels of my tomb-themed megadungeon. Gonzo is good, but no instant death traps please… otherwise let your imagination run free.

Sam Greene brought out all the stops with this awesome gift:

Room ?: The Eternal Thaumaesthetic Chamber of Cressil Unthwaip.

This room, of (whatever dimensions fit in your dungeon, but not too small, alright?) contains five paintings, a mural upon its high ceiling, and at the far end, a raised dais with a covered sarcophagus. The walls are streaked from water damage that goes down far enough to have reached all of the paintings, and dwarves or others skilled in engineering and/or subterranean navigation should receive a chance to figure out that the room is below a magical pool or fountain on a higher floor (your megadungeon has those, right?). Next to the door is a (golem or whatever is suitable for your dungeon level and ruleset. Think tough but not impossible) called the Caretaker. It is dressed as a gentleman’s servant from the Golden Age [or whatever era the tomb is from], and also exhibits some sign of having been splashed by magically-active water.

The Caretaker, stiff but sweeping in movement like low-quality animatronics, greets any who enter the Chamber, identifies itself, and indicates that it can give tours: payment is taken through slots on its hands, framed in the appropriate metal: silver on its left hand and gold on its right. In addition, it makes a unsubtly veiled offer to let the guests do whatever they like, including touching the art, loitering (even for hours to regain spells or heal) or even theft, if offered a coin of greater value. The Caretaker will answer questions posed to it, but has a tendency to repeat itself as if it only has so many phrases at its disposal. Its voice, especially when saying irreverent things about Cressil, sounds wet and slightly garbled.

If the Caretaker is offered a silver or gold coin, it guides the guests through the room with the appropriate commentary; if it is given a platinum or other valuable coin (which it takes by swallowing), it laboriously winks, then looks pointedly at the entryway and becomes unresponsive, although if paid it will provide the appropriate tour and return to its corrupt non-vigil; if the guests attempt to enter without paying, attack the Caretaker, squabble overlong about payment, provide a false or low value coin, or other nonsense, the Caretaker attacks until the offender/s leave. If broken open, the Caretaker has (d6: 1-4 an anticlimactically small number of coins in it, 5 a quite healthy haul inside, 6 is more stuffed than a lucky child’s pinata).

The items of interest are numbered below in the sequence the Caretaker follows during its tour. Silver Tour commentary is careless and contradictory, and reveals Cressil’s old relations’ genuine opinion of him (but has one useful comment that the Gold Tour lacks), whereas the Gold Tour is somewhat more respectable.

Painting 1: Portrait of the Mage as an Old Man

This portrait is of poor quality, unless Cressil was uncommonly ugly. It shows Cressil through a mirror, painting, and the clutter in the  room around him. Cressil seems to have tried to color things realistically, but didn’t do a particularly good job, and so the piece has an uncanny sense of unreality and sickness to it.

Magic: If the Portrait is removed from the wall, the image of the artist reflected in the mirror changes to the true form of any creature obscured by magic or shapeshifting that the painting is held in front of. Good luck finding a way to do it inconspicuously.

Silver Tour Commentary: “Cressil was a terrible relative. This painting is of him. He hated dogs, and his favorite food was cherry pie with sausage.”

Gold Tour Commentary: “A Portrait of the Mage as an Old Man. This self-portrait was the first that Former Master Mage Cressil Unthwaip decided to show after renouncing spellcraft in favor of painting. Cressil, after much study, believed that only artists could achieve any lasting and worthwhile immortality, for magic could only either turn a man undead, which Cressil believed would drive him mad and to evil, or keep a man alive for longer with spells of longevity, that would all eventually fail.”

Painting 2: Anfriela, in Repose.

This painting depicts a beautiful woman gazing out of a window., and is of far better quality than the first painting The woman appears to be doing something with her hands and pondering something, but it’s not obvious what.

Magic: If a viewer takes an interest in the woman in the painting (asking about what she is thinking of, what she is looking at in particular, what her hands are doing, etc.) or gazes at it overlong, they must make a saving throw or be cursed to find little beauty in the world aside from that woman – and as Anfriela appears here as only a painting, even it cannot soothe their melancholy. (The viewer’s sexual orientation does not matter, although for those cursed who might find themselves attracted to the woman, other potential lovers now seem particularly uninteresting to them.)  As a result, the viewer is cursed, until either the effect is removed by magic or the sufferer throws him or herself into freezing water. In addition to melancholy, the curse lowers the character’s charisma (at least of sufficient value to lower the modifier by one in whatever system you use), as any can see that his or her dissatisfaction has made him or her disconnected from the world.

Silver Tour Commentary: “When Cressil went mad, he stopped doing magic and started wasting everyone’s time. But he was weird before, even when he was a powerful mage, so no wonder he never married her.”

Gold Tour Commentary: “Anfriela, in Repose. Anfriela was Cressil’s lover at a young age, though she spurned him for another man. Cressil never took another lover and found solace only by studying, or, when particularly moved, by throwing himself into freezing water, a common constitutional in some barbaric cultures.”

Painting 3: Apples on a Table

This painting is not of Apples on a Table. Due to the magic leakages that have changed all of the room’s paintings, it now depicts the wall it hangs on, but upside down (thus making it appear to be right side up in that image). See the description of the Fresco, below, for more, and where the apples and table are.

Magic: Apples on a Table, when grasped, orients the holder’s subjective gravity toward its own down; so holding it upright would feel normal, and turning it such that the top was oriented at the holder would send the holder falling into the wall in front of him or her. Taking it off of the wall would likely give the holder a strange sensation, and quickly readjusting it to be right side up should be hilarious. About four (or a number that at least contains the number of players at your session, plus a hapless torchbearer if you like) can hold the painting at one time. Any falling damage taken may result in a passenger losing his or her grip, which may result in more falling damage as real gravity reasserts itself. The painting is normal when not held, and the image does not change.

Silver Tour Commentary: “Cressil painted still life paintings when he wanted to be even more useless than usual. He hated the thought of death but everyone wanted him to die. He loved cats.”

Gold Tour Commentary: “Apples on a Table. Cressil spent time experimenting with still life, as evidenced in this painting of a table with apples. It is not one of his more well known works.”

Painting 4: The Siege.

This painting lies on the floor away from the wall where it should hang; the wall where it would sit normally has been chipped as if struck with great force. The Siege is the smallest painting in the room, about the size of a sheet of paper. It depicts soldiers holding a battering ram from the perspective of the door they’re about to charge into.

Magic: The Siege’s magic is activated when it’s placed against something such that the art can’t be observed. When it is, after three rounds the force of a battering ram comes out of the painting (this explains why it’s on the floor — someone turned it around when it was hanging on the wall, and it flew off). The Siege can be used to smash doors open but might also go off if, say, it’s placed in a backpack.

Silver Tour Commentary: “”Cressil’s favorite color was blue, and his favorite food was blood sausage and cherries! His tower at (note: insert some description here that gives just enough information to lead to his land, which could now be a ruined adventure location or filled with wealthy descendents willing to pay for some of an ancestor’s keepsakes) was drafty and always smelled of guano. Isn’t this painting terrible?”

Gold Tour Commentary: “The Siege. When he was a great wizard, Cressil was enlisted to aid at a great siege and was trapped there for the duration. After seeing the deaths of so many, Cressil became a milksop of a coward and became so fearful of capture that he came to find being in any room without multiple exits excruciating.”

The Dais.

The Dais at the far side of the room is the least remarkable part (unless Cressil’s Muse escapes: see Fresco, below). Cressil’s sarcophagus, conspicuously free of decoration,  sits here. If opened, Cressil’s skeleton is the sole content.

Silver Tour Commentary: “Here’s Cressil’s body. We all wish he’d died sooner. Why couldn’t he have made his paintings magical? They might have been worth something, then.”

Gold Tour Commentary: “Here lies Cressil. Death claimed him at last. We now keep his name alive.”

Fresco: Mausoleum, From Above.

The fresco on the ceiling is, indeed, a small mausoleum as depicted from above, surrounded by waving grass, and thus the ceiling is mostly green aside from stones, dirt patches, and the marble of the tomb. The only unusual item is a broken table and a few apples, which lie in the painting directly above Apples on a Table (painting 3.)

Magic: The fresco can be entered as if a portal, and gravity reorients itself toward the field it depicts as the world broadens outward. The sky, however, still appears to be the Chamber, as would be seen from the ceiling. The table and apples are entirely normal. You may chose to have the world in this painting continue past the small area depicted, but no details are provided here.

The mausoleum in the fresco can be either one room or, if you like, as large as an dungeon or sublevel you place or of your own design; regardless, somewhere within is the Spectral Muse of Cressil, who appears as Cressil’ does in his self portrait (painting 1), poor anatomy, coloration and all. The Muse knows all that Cressil did, and is essentially his ghost, but animated by his bitterness over his inevitable death made real. Nevertheless, he is cowardly and meanspirited, and may be provoked into a fight (in which case, give it statistics as incorporeal undead). If a conversation is maintained, the Muse is found to be irrationally unaware of any exit from the painting despite its great desire to leave. It can be brought to the real world by active, handholding-level guidance, and if it is, it immediately merges with Cressil’s skeleton, becoming a paint-spattered, skeletal, undead mage bent on creating art and clinging to its half-alive state by any means necessary. In addition, if this new Cressil learns of what the Caretaker says about him, he’ll hunt down and kill his descendents (who at this point may not even know who he was). Assuming your players don’t destroy him quickly, this new Cressil can stir up all sorts of shit in your campaign.

Silver Tour Commentary: “Up there is his mural. Or fresco or whatever you call it. He spent weeks down here before he died! At least we can charge admission to see the room. Do you think anyone will pay to hear about him?”

Gold Tour Commentary: “If you look up, you can see this room’s largest piece of art, The Mausoleum. When Cressil came to believe his death was imminent, he ordered this chamber built, and died here painting this fresco. Although he was motivated to create art to deal with his fear of death, Cressil was a passionate painter, and despite the uncommon subject he was most passionate about this piece.”

Painting 5: The Cylinder.

This painting is of a cylinder, silvery on top and half white and half red on the body, with writing on it in an unknown script. Oddly, the paint appears wet to the touch.

Magic: If The Cylinder is touched, the touching creature changes in the following ways for the next turn and a half (fifteen minutes):

1) Gains a temporary boost of three levels, and temporarily learns new spells of any new spell levels;

2) Treats any d20 roll of 1 as a 20 instead;

3) Seems a bit more vivid, more interesting, and naturally draws the eye, and is treated as the party leader for purposes of reaction rolls and the like;

4) Becomes so supernaturally interesting that any action it takes during the time is easily remembered by any who witness it.

Only one creature can benefit from the painting at a time. As touching the painting smears it a bit, its magic only holds up for 2d4+3 uses.

Silver Tour Commentary: “Boring.”

Gold Tour Commentary: “The Cylinder. This painting was completed long after Cressil had gone mad with grief at the prospect of death, and as a result no one has found out what it is supposed to represent. Despite this, it is the favorite of most who knew of Cressil’s work.”

Additional Fun!

Lines you can add to your Dungeon Rumor Table, or that could be discovered by Diligent Research or Consultations with Sages:

It is said that within the tomb is the burial chamber of a forgotten wizard. They say he gave up magic in his old age, but what wizard could have resisted enchanting paintings he made? (T and F; the paintings were originally nonmagical, but water from another floor’s magical pool or fountain enchanted them, making this mistaken belief actually true.)

Some of the looters who have been within the tomb tell of a golem that speaks in riddles if given coins, but woe to those who try to cheat it! (T, mostly, except it’s a tour, not riddles.)

Did you hear of the great wizard who desired immortality and became a painter instead? What sort of muse could lead him so astray? (Neither T nor F: Cressil did exist, but his Muse is an animate representation of his bitterness about death, not an outside force, as this rumor seems to hold.)

Did you hear the tale of Cressil Unthwaip? He was a great and wealthy wizard, but gave up magic in his dotage to become a painter instead. He required his heirs to complete a gallery for him with his money before they could receive the remainder, and they were terribly bitter about it. (T)

I heard the tomb has a room full of magical paintings that are all portals to other worlds, and open only if you touch them. (F)