BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Tag: art

If Symbolist/Decadent Artists Ran D&D Campaigns

In homage to Joseph Manola’s brilliant post, “If Romantic-Era Artists Ran D&D Campaigns” over at Against the Wicked City:

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898): Gloomy, melancholy, eccentric sort of guy runs a distinctly Biblical-feeling OSR game when he’s not reading Schopenhauer. Insists on running only OD&D because the “old masters” knew best. His worlds can best be described as “the Old Testament on LSD.”

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1  Prehistoric dire tortoise lumbers across the landscape
2  Rapacious sphinx demands answers to riddles lest it devour the characters
3  Disembodied head sings maddening song
4  Wandering Cleric (level 1d10) will prophesy characters’ futures
5  Hydra
6  Vengeful angel attacks the most morally corrupt character

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Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901): Runs dark, classically-themed hexcrawls full of bizarre interpretations of Greek mythology. There is a sense of exploring a vast, eerie dreamscape filled with vague, mythological figures. Starts with Mazes and Minotaurs, but he eventually switches to Fate and runs very narrative-heavy games with strong allegorical overtones.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 3d6 rowdy centaurs have a boisterous brawl that threatens to draw characters in; at the end, everyone still alive gets drunk and has a wonderful party
2 2d6 sirens tempt party to suicide
3 Pirate vessel crewed by 10+1d20 pirates attempts to take characters hostage
4 1d4 cyclopes decide to eat the characters
5 Beautiful maiden or youth chained to a rock as a sacrifice for a coming sea-monster
6 Medusa

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Félicien Rops (1833-1898): Exemplifies the style of D&D that horrified Christian parents imagined in their most febrile nightmares during the 1980s Satanic moral panic. All but requires his players to create characters with Evil and/or Chaotic alignments. Runs creepy horror games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Has a tendency to make players uncomfortable with explicit descriptions.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 A coven of 2d6 depraved witches conducting unspeakable Black Mass
2 1d4 Succubi and/or Incubi, tempt characters into sordid acts of debauchery
3 Wandering Cleric (level 1d10) dedicated to a profane god and 1d6 cultist followers, probably in the midst of an unpleasant ritual
4 Vampiric sybarite seeking new blood-donors
5 Death
6 Satan

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Félicien Rops (1833-1898), 'Messe Noire' (Black Mass), 1877

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Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (1851-1913): Originally one of Böcklin’s players. An authoritative DM, he gets really angry when anyone uses violence to solve problems. Most NPCs are druids or ghosts or druidic ghosts, usually naked, usually telling you about your alienation from God, or the nature of injustice. His games are rich tapestries of ideas, where you get experience points for getting closer to cosmic harmony. There’s never any treasure worth taking, and no one is interested in money, anyway. He started with some version of D&D but has house-ruled it beyond all recognition.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 2d20 frolicking water elementals urge characters to cast their clothes and worldly possessions into the water
2 Stern vegetarian ghost lectures characters about the evils of eating “lumps of animal flesh”
3 Alluring druids demonstrate the artificiality of monogamy, invite characters to join
4 Elder earth elemental brings forth a bounty of organic vegetables from its body, providing magical healing
5 A sphinx asks riddles with answers like “peace” and “nature,” alternatively sermonizes about the destructiveness of organized religion
6 Enigmatic stag crosses your path, stares at characters soulfully

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Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898): Runs two games: an Oriental Adventures game that’s vivid and richly realized but borderline-offensive in its depiction of a monster-haunted mythological Japan, and a very dark Pendragon game where everyone is a fallen knight or a scheming princess or a demented fairy or something and the chivalric code barely conceals our violent, transgressive passions. All treasure dispensed in jewel or clothing form. Develops intricate house-ruled subsystems for disease progression, seduction, and disguising yourself, but ignores or handwaves most of the rules-as-written in the actual books.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 Sophisticated ghoul lectures characters about art and tries to convince them to let it eat them
2 Demented magic-user (level 1d10) casts beguiling spells and phantasms
3 1d6 diseased revelers, masked, intoxicated
4 2d6 sinister fauns play creepy music and follow characters around, serenading them; refuse to stop
5 Sinister knight/samurai blocks the path, demanding answering to macabre riddle
6 Coldly furious female fighter (level 1d10) seeks vengeance, utterly destroys anyone impeding her

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Harry Clarke (1889-1931): Sets all of his games in Ravenloft. Constructs excessive, horrifying deathtrap and funhouse dungeons, usually designed by psychopathic wizards/vampires or reclusive weirdos. In any given session there is a high probability of ending up dismembered or buried alive or mind-controlled or just insane. TPKs commonplace.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 Every surface in the room sprouts poisoned saw-blades
2 2d6 diseased zombies, former victims, shamble forth from a crumbling wall
3 Rug-covered pit trap leads to oubliette, currently occupied by 1d3 ravenous cannibal prisoners
4 Hallucinatory gas-trap leads to paranoia and amorphous horror
5 The door to the room seals behind characters, and dirt begins filling the room
6 Insane vampiric warlock (level 1d10) broods over his library, attended by a demonic servant

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St. Severine’s Skull – Character Portraits

These character portraits were drawn by the talented Bronwyn McIvor (of Beemonster Illustration), who plays Wynflaeth.  This is the party I’ve been taking through the St. Severine’s Skull Megadungeon.  They’re currently on the second level of the Dungeons below the Keep in the Inner Bailey, way ahead of the material I’ve posted here (they’ve been through the Gatehouse, Chapel, Catacombs, Library, Archives, Black Tower, Laboratories, Cellars, and the 1st level of the Dungeons so far).  They’re a pretty balanced party and have been playing well, with no deaths – they mostly consist of new players who don’t have bad habits and so actually run away when things seem dire or too hot to handle.  They’re getting close to the Skull but they’re running very low on food and spells at the moment; at the end of the last session they locked themselves in a forgotten treasure vault in hopes of deterring the Goblin tribe inhabiting the Keep from feasting on their flesh.

Wynflaeth

Wynflaeth (Half-Elf Cleric) and Biff the War-Pony.

Simsa

Simsa, Gnome Ranger – a possibly deranged xenophobe and nature-lover.

Tully

Tully, a definitely deranged fire-worshipping Dwarf Barbarian with a zeal for the destruction of Undead, preferably by cleansing flame.

AndroAndro, an Aasimar Rogue in the service of the Church.

 

Sigil’s Most Wanted

I recently made a bunch of wanted posters for my players as handouts – the law has finally caught up with them after a year and a half of hijinx in the City of Doors.

Wanted Pandemonium Six

The original party met in the Howling Land of Pandemonium; due to their exploits the Sigilian authorities have dubbed them the “Pandemonium Six.”

Wanted Alfgrimr

Alfgrimr was a character made by a Planescape veteran who, unfortunately, has now left the campaign (due to graduating from library school).  Alfgrimr was a very, very odd character – a water genasi Cipher of the Transcendent Order (which meant that if his player said he took an action, even in jest, he had to take that action), he was obsessed with achieving immortality and thus was always collecting odd bits and pieces along his journeys in the hope that they would extend his lifespan.  He was also crazily ruthless and disturbingly creative.  For a period another character possessed a Helm of Telepathy – which, at our table, is now represented by a paper crown worn by the player whose character is wearing the helm – and Alfgrimr’s player would periodically pass the telepath unsettling notes, the “ambient thoughts” rolling around in Alfgrmir’s twisted consciousness.  He also died a lot, and eventually became a proxy of the Norse god Baldr.

Wanted Kets

A catfolk Rogue and former street urchin, Pockets has a history that feels a bit like something out of a Dickens novel crossed with Selina Kyle and Garrett from the Thief series.  The abandoned daughter of the former Cat Lord of the Beastlands, “Kets” is a hardened, embittered seventeen-year old pickpocket turned upscale burglar who usually is about as jaded as they come.  She fights with a rapier and a winxy pistol, an ensorceled firearm she picked up in a Demiplane modeled on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.  She’s defiantly True Neutral.

Wanted Gwendolyn

Gwendolyn is the animal-lover of the group and one of the two Good characters.  Along with Belric, below, she helped create a giant, green super-intelligent hog monster that grows bigger the more it eats and is now housed in an extradimensional warehouse in the Sigil’s slums, hence her moniker “Swine-Mother,” bestowed on her by a group of Xoasitects.  She’s a half-elf Ranger/Druid and so serves as the party’s main healer.  She often tends to spend a healthy portion of a given sessional wild-shaped into some sort of bird.  She’s also slightly deranged from wearing a Helm of Telepathy for a bit too long.  Oh yeah, and she’s wearing a symbiotic Corset now…

Wanted Klaira

Klaira is the party’s Bard/Gunslinger and the only other Good character, so she’s forced into the role of “group conscience” pretty frequently.  She’s also on the run from Unseelie bounty hunters who want to return her to a twisted fey aristocrat who previously kept her around as an enslaved storyteller, Scheherazade-style.  During the Savour of Madness adventure in Ravenloft she got grafted with a reptillian tail remeniscent of a chameleon’s.

Wanted Belric

Belric is a Halfling… and also the child of an Olympian demigod from Arborea.  He’s a Sorcerer who specializes in lightning spells, a former Athar turned Sensate, and easily the whackiest character in the party – he’s got all the appetite of a Hobbit and a taste in mind-altering (and body-altering) substances that would match William Borroughs.  He eats and drinks everything: mysterious chaos-cheese from Limbo, age-reversing potion, Alignment-altering liquor, animal petitioners on the Beastlands, and dozens of other morsels and tinctures.  Chaotic Neutral to the core.  He was reincarnated as a Kobold for awhile.  He’s also bedded fallen celestials, fairies, and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about…

Wanted Achaia

Achaia is a Fetchling Rogue/Shadowdancer with a Stealth bonus so high I often don’t even call for Stealth checks anymore.  She can shapeshift and hide in plain sight, and steals pretty much anything that isn’t nailed down, which all goes into a capacious bag of holding.  She’s usually pretty self-serving but seems to have a soft spot for children and simialrly vulnerable types, going out of her way to aid the downtrodden and neglected.  The hat was filched from the Mad Hatter’s felinoid house.  She’s also got a nice little time-manipulating stopwatch a Paladin polymorphed into Goblin form gave her after an escapade on Acheron.

Wanted RulgaRulga was a character made by a player who unfortunately had to leave the campaign, but she was great while we had her.  A Dwarf Monk and member of the exacted Fated – who are something like Planescape’s Objectivists and Nietzscheans – she served as a major voice of reason (she was also the only Lawful character in a party full of Chaotic types).  She eventually met Arthur Pendragon in Avalon on Elysium – he was waiting to be recalled to Albion on the Prime Material Plane, but the party somehow convinced him to join them, and over time the two had an extremely strange off-kilter romance that survived several reincarnations.

Sewerscape: Starsnouts

Star-Nosed Mutant

The Effulgence brought many gifts to the folk of the sewerscape.  The blind creatures known as Starsnouts were given one of the greatest gifts of all – a second sight, which they call the Mindscent.  Powerful psychics and prognosticators, these Molekin are also amongst the most dangerous denizens of the tunnels.  The mass of slimy tentacles sprouting from about their nostrils are not only physically powerful, able to wrench a Ratkin’s head from his neck with the twist of a tendril, they contain psionic receptors giving the Starsnouts the ability to literally smell the minds of others and, through concentration, the power to manipulate and mutilate them.  As a result, Starsnouts are usually served by a caste of psychically dominated thralls, who perform virtually all manual labour in Starsnout settlements.  The Starsnouts themselves dedicate themselves principally to mystic matters.  Indeed, most Starsnout tribes resemble religious cults, dedicated to ancient idols dredged from the muck, particularly revering ancient machines that exude powerful vibrations: rusted jukeboxes, washing machines, autopianos, stereos, and other devices the Starsnouts are able to psychically power (such machine-deities effectively run on “prayer” – through the collective mental adoration of their worshippers).  Being blind, Starsnouts usually eschew guns and similar weapons favoured by other tribes.  They have few laws save prohibitions against blasphemy and similar malfeasances; heretics, smelled out by Starsnout inquisitors, are punished by having their nasal tentacles severed, leaving them powerless and blind.

Sewerscape: Mouldwights

mouldwight

There are hundreds of different Mouldkin strains in the sewerscape, but none more common than the insidious Mouldwight.  Shambolic husks reanimated by the fungi that infest them, Mouldwights appear as near-skeletal corpses covered in fruiting bodies, their skulls often crowned by a prodigious mushroom-cap or cluster of puffballs (depending on subspecies).  Displaying rudimentary intelligence and an alien, predatory cunning, Mouldwights roam the tunnels below in search of additional carcasses to colonize.  If they come across living beings they do not hesitate to attack, breathing clouds of toxic spores which, if inhaled, infect a host and slowly eat away at them from the inside-out, necrotizing their organs and spreading beneath their flesh, finally bursting through their skin in a horrific profusion of caps, stalks, and toadstools.  Many Mouldwights also possess lash-like, cankerous tendrils they use to pull victims towards them in order to administer their corruptive exhalations.  Mouldwights rapidly decompose their host bodies, however, and eventually the decayed remnants of their hosts simply collapse.  The Mouldwight fungi linger for a short while before withering and dying, unless a new host wanders by in the meantime.  Because Mouldwights can reproduce quickly they frequently form packs, coordinating their efforts to trap would-be prey – presumably the creatures communicate using spores since, unlike some Mouldkin, Mouldwights do not speak.  They are highly vulnerable to fire, sunlight, and fungicides, and prefer the dampest, darkest areas of the tunnels – fortunately for them, such areas are common in the mildewed labyrinth of the sewerscape.

Sewerscape: Vermigorgons

Medusa

Some believe Vermigorgons are mutated humans, warped into their current form by the Effulgence.  Others claim they were birthed in bygone days by the Biowitches of yore as living weapons, experiments that escaped into the sewers and thus survived the conflagration above.  Physically, they resemble human females (indeed, their bodies are closer to pre-Effulgence humans than most Trampkin) but with a mass of writhing, giant earthworms sprouting from their scalps instead of hair.  Through some quantum psychokinesis, a Vermigorgon can use her powers of observation to radically affect the molecular makeup of her surroundings, transmuting almost any known substance into mud simply by looking at it.  In this manner Vermigorgons can dig tunnels through the sewerscape and deliquesce predators and enemies, making them extremely dangerous foes.  The power is activated through the use of a specialized nictating membrane a Vermigorgon can almost instantly draw across her eyes; normally this membrane is drawn back into a Vermigorgon’s face.  Vermigorgons seem to dislike one another and rarely congregate in numbers.  Gatorkin, Frogkin, and other creatures are sometimes adopted by Vermigorgons as bodyguards, consorts, and servants; their lairs are usually labyrinthine mud-warrens with many mud pools where minions frequently lurk.  The motivations of Vermigorgons are frequently inscrutable and highly individualistic.  Certain members of the species have been known to collect large libraries, obsessing over matters of ancient history or mystic lore, while others lead hedonistic lives of debauchery and decadence.  Few seem to aspire to positions of real power, however – something which other denizens of the sewerscape are thankful for.

Sewerscape

Some time ago I ran an intense but short-lived forum game called Underdeep, a play-by-post strategic roleplaying game where the players adopted the role of subterranean rulers warring for control of an underground realm.  Underdeep featured a pretty typical fantasy world – deliberately vanilla (Orcs, Goblins, Dwarves, Dark Elves, etc) – but while running it I found myself wondering about alternate possibilities for underground worlds…

Sewerscape

Star-Nosed Mutant 2 CatkinGatorkin

The Great Effulgence burnt the world above to a cinder, and now only Blindghasts and gibbering Glowghosts dwell in the Lambent Lands above, lingering in the poisonous, glimmering wreckage of the megacities that once spanned the globe.  But down below, in the vast, interlinked sewer systems of those incinerated metropolises, life survived and thrived.  In the irradiated entrails of the earth, a seemingly endless labyrinth of pipes, passages, shafts, and tunnels, new societies have arisen, tribes of animals and people twisted by the same corruptive energies that desolated the world above.

The Ratkin are the most common – scabrous, plague-ridden scavengers and raiders who roam the tunnels in murderous Mischiefs, plundering and stealing, hoarding treasure in their feculent Middens.  The various Molekin tribes dwell deeper, extending the sewerscape with fresh excavations.  Perhaps most formidable of the Molekin societies are the Naked Queendoms, militant hive-realms dedicated to conquest and empire, though individually the dreaded psionic monstrosities known as the Starsnouts are more dangerous, telepathic abominations who delight in violating the minds and bodies of their enemies with their psionic powers and writhing nasal tentacles.  Then of course there are the Gatorkin, a pack of depraved, inbred, albino lizard-people with an insatiable longing for raw flesh, the nigh-unkillable, survivalist Roachkin, the conniving Batkin, the revolting, carrion-feeding Flykin, the rabid Racoonkin, and the pallid, mewling Trampkin, warped descendants of the tunnel-dwelling homeless.

Yet these creatures are not the only denizens of the sewerscape.  In the lower tunnels stranger beings stir.  The seething horror known as the Wormhost squirms through the lowermost bowels of the world while the protoplasmic Filth Elementals self-assemble out of coagulate effluvia made animate by the puissant rays that scoured the surface.  Deranged machines wander the deep places, pining for their former masters, while in certain ancient caverns of primordial origin the Wizened Ones groan in their dotage…

Inspirations

A handful: Necromunda, Redwall, Gamma World, Fallout, Metro 2033, Railsea.

Systems

I’ll be writing this as systems-neutral, but good systems would include hacked-up versions of Savage Worlds, Mutant Future, Omega World/Gamma World, d20 Modern, and probably lots of other systems.

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