Thursday, February 11, 2021

Mr. Sticks

The World-Spider came, but ahead of it was sent its envoy.

The Spider merely hungers. It does not think. It does not plot. It does not hate. Those are left to Mr. Sticks.

Generally, the World-Spider is antithetical to physical matter and most mundane concepts. The universe bubbles and hisses at its approach, and in its wake it leaves desolation on a metaphysical level. There seems to be no good reason why or how something so loathsomely humanoid could work with and around it, and certainly not for so long. And yet, he does.

Mr. Sticks is the harbinger of the World-Spider. He goes ahead of the Spider to prepare each world and plane for consumption. He is the one who plants the first seeds of the spider cults and acts as their enigmatic high priest. He oversees the elimination of threats to a smooth feast. He is even rumored to act as the Spider's steward and caretaker during its epochs-long slumber in between feeding sessions.

Whatever form he takes while the Spider is at rest is unknown. He is only known by what he chooses to sleeve himself in while walking the worlds populated by recognizably living things. It is commonly believed that the first body is willing. This need not be the case for any subsequent hosts. They can be of any sort or species, but he favors humanoids when they are present. He finds they are the most entertaining to wear.

At present, Mr. Sticks usually resembles an unnaturally tall and gaunt person with bruised and blemished skin of an otherwise whitish pallor. He lacks a face in the conventional sense, though small wrinkles and pinholes that might once have been eyes or a mouth can be seen. Everything is severely desiccated, like the liquid was thoroughly sucked out of him. He needs no mouth to speak, in a voice like a suppurating wound.

He possesses countless bones, but no real joints. When he wishes to move, his bones rapidly break and reform into their new shape, producing the telltale loud tik-a-tik, tik-a-tak sound that heralds his approach. His spine can twist and bend grotesquely before snapping back upright. His arms can coil like ropes, and his legs hold him up at jagged, impossible angles.

This latest form is also his most dapper yet. For reasons known only to Mr. Sticks, he chose to keep the attire of the first human he inhabited this past cycle. It was apparently a very well-to-do person from an industrialized society with a sense for fashion. He wears a dark grey pinstripe suit, bowler hat optional. In other ages, he dressed differently; as an armored knight, a king shrouded in saffron, or completely nude, with all his awful stitches and seams visible.

Mr. Sticks is terribly affable, or at least enjoys pretending to be. Those doomed individuals who have caught his attention can look forward to an extended, pleasant conversation with him before or even while they die- generally in a particular fashion, over a period of time.

He is nearly impossible to kill. He possesses unnatural strength and speed, as well as mastery of stealth and subterfuge. He can hide in plain sight in someone's blind spots, appearing only when he wishes to- when it is too late. While the Spider only eats for sustenance, Mr. Sticks plays with his quarry like a cat toying with a mouse before leaving most of it uneaten. He will track targets for weeks on end, slowly ramping up the paranormal events and horrific hallucinations around them until he decides to end it. In particular he delights in the moment when hope turns to despair, and he will pepper his activities with false hints that he has been defeated or gone forever.

In the unlikely event that he is defeated, the same shriveling of hope into dread happens regardless. Whoever kills the Spider's envoy has the woeful distinction of becoming his next host. Not long after his desiccated corpse stops twitching, the victor will begin to experience headaches, psychosis, internal bleeding, and itching. Several hours to days later, they undergo a painful transformation into the new Mr. Sticks, suit and all. The host is effectively dead by that point- hopefully.

Rumors surrounding Mr. Sticks include

  1. He is actually just a hive mind of eusocial spiders living in a husk.
  2. Perfectly ordinary spiders are his unwitting spies across the world.
  3. Each host's memories are absorbed and used to his advantage.
  4. Burning especially noxious incense keeps him at bay- for a little while, at least.
  5. … So does loud, rapid drumming. This also makes him angrier.
  6. You may communicate with him by speaking his name eight times into a darkened corner.
  7. He is the last thing to die in a world, his dissolved by acid only for him to rise again.
  8. The silk threads of his suit could be spun to insulate a piece of the world from the Spider.
  9. He has a keepsake on him at all times- a fist-sized piece of insect chitin.
  10. Just knowing about him alerts him to your existence. Tik-a-tik, tik-a-tak...

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Desolate Days: 40 Special Things

 A random assortment of Special Things one's goblins might encounter and make use of while braving the wide, unwelcoming world.

These are relatively simple, mundane items that might be found or given in a goblin Home. "Primitive", if you must use the word.

Stranger and more wonderous items are sure to exist out there in the wilds. An impossibly rare few might even offer a +2 bonus to certain risk rolls.

d40Special Thing+1 to...
1Air BladderWeakness risks to swim on the surface
2Bag of RocksClumsiness risks to attack things from afar
3Bone NeedleClumsiness risks to mend torn things
4CharcoalNaivete risks to draw coherent images
5Crude InstrumentTimidity risks to perform music
6Facepaint, BlueTimidity checks to be friendly
7Facepaint, RedTimidity checks to be scary
8Fancy LoinclothTimidity checks to flaunt wealth and affluence
9Fermented FruitWeakness risks to ignore pain
10FlintNaivete risks to light fires
11Floppy SandalsClumsiness risks to walk on dangerous terrain
12Frog OilClumsiness risks to avoid getting grabbed/grappled
13Glossy Conch ShellNaivete risks to filter and hear certain sounds
14Greasy SoapTimidity risks not to not smell like a monster
15Gut String CordWeakness risks to detain something
16HammerstoneClumsiness risks to make small stone unspecial things
17Hopping StickWeakness risks to jump long distances
18Hunk of SaltNaivete risks to cook appetizing meals
19Jagged Bone KnifeClumsiness risks to cut things
20Jar of DirtNaivete risks to grow things
21Leaky WaterskinWeakness risks to resist thirst
22Lucky RopeWeakness risks to climb
23Lumpy PillowWeakness risks to sleep on uncomfortable ground
24Monster MuskClumsiness risks to smell like a type of monster
25Old DollTimidity risks to resist fear effects
26Oversized MittensClumsiness risks to hold cold/hot/sharp stuff
27PeaberriesWeakness risks to resist sleeping
28Pet Shriek-FrogNaivete risks to avoid being sneaked up on
29Pincer Bug JewelryTimidity risks to appear tough & cool
30Pocket SandClumsiness risks to blind something
31Priceless Ancient ArtifactWeakness risks to bludgeon things
32Ratty BlanketWeakness risks to resist the cold
33Scribbly MapNaivete risks to avoid getting lost
34Shiny CoinsTimidity risks to barter for goods/services
35Sticky MudClumsiness risks to hide in camouflage
36Stone AxeheadClumsiness risks to make wooden unspecial things
37Stone DrillClumsiness risks to bore holes in things
38Sturdy Stone SpearheadWeakness risks to stab things
39Termite StickNaivete risks to forage for food in the wild
40Worry StoneTimidity risks to soothe existential dread

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Desolate Days: Rudimentary Exploration.

 (A follow-up to my previous post about Desolate Days, in which I make the "game" slightly more than nothing by way of every properly lazy designer's fallback: random tables!)

THE WORLD was shaken to its core by the final victory, subsequent impotent ennui, and eventual explosive suicide of the Dark Lord. Many lands are ephemeral and transitory, rising up out of the sea of dust and discordant music of creation to meet living eyes, only to sink back down into oblivion after their passing. Stable islands stand out in the dust, but they are few and far between.

Because of this, the world cannot be mapped with grids or tiles. You can only know specific points, and their approximate locations relative to one another. Fortunately for goblins, they haven’t invented maps yet, and they lack the specialized language to talk in exact units of measure.

EXPLORATION is the main thrust of the game. Goblin expeditions venture out from recently discovered openings onto the surface to see what the wide, ruined world has in store for them.

The expedition begins on the Home point. This is where cracks in the earth lead down to the goblin vaults. Home is almost always a safe place to rest or resupply, compared to the wilderness. With luck, Home is the beginning and end point of every expedition.

From here, you can Visit Home, Quit and end the expedition, or move Outward to a new Point.

When moving Outward, the referee rolls d6. That is the number of times the referee rolls on the Encounters table. The Encounters can be rolled all at once and ordered how the referee chooses, or they can be rolled one at a time as the goblins overcome them. Every 3 Encounters is a full day of travel. After you navigate all Encounters, roll once on the Points table for a destination.

After arriving at a new Point, you may Explore the Point, move Outward to another Point, or move Homeward to travel back to older Points. All moves may involve Encounters.

Home can have up to 6 Points directly connected to it, like spokes on a wheel, but each of those “spokes” can lead infinitely Outward… or at least as close to infinite as goblins can count.

The sample Encounters below are more like evocative phrases meant to get an idea going. They are open-ended, and should always have multiple different paths to overcoming them. Goblins are encouraged to think of something and roll with it.

Each Point should have a full day or more worth of content if they are delved into. They should also be able to be bypassed if the goblins can't handle it, or if they just really would rather not.

1Uneventful travel, spiced up by “games”.
2The weather turns. It rains dust and discord.
3Dizzying, flashing lights descend on you.
4Swarms of stinging, biting bugs harass you.
5A sick, frightened animal blocks your path.
6Something scurries off with your food.
7That cloud is too low, and moving too fast.
8Something glitters enticingly in the darkness.
9The ground opens up. Something grabs you.
10Voices whisper contradictory orders to you.
11Melancholy and homesickness grip you.
12You swear you’ve been through here already.
13The plants here don’t like intruders.
14A distant figure seems to be following you.
15You meet a friendly goblin expedition!
16You meet an unfriendly goblin expedition.
17An old rock with carved scribbles. Magic!
18Fellow misbegotten monsters from the deep.
19Accidentally wake up shades of Tall Things.
20The Shadow hangs heavily over you all.

1A completely empty dirt field- eerily empty.
2Watering hole with strange and exotic beasts.
3Labyrinthine grasses that sway without wind.
4Old, gnarled, and angry forest.
5Ford across a furious, rocky river.
6Many small, round caves in a cliff face.
7Ancient, iron-studded battlefield.
8Tall, jagged tor of unusual rock for the area.
9Wide, wine-dark lake with a lone island.
10Immense fissure leading deep into the earth.
11Black sand desert pockmarked with ruins.
12Murky, roiling hot springs.
13Solitary, crumbling tower of basalt.
14Frozen tundra with bizarre ice formations.
15Magnetized, floating isles of rock in the air.
16City once belonging to the Tall Things.
17Temple to some dead, forgotten faith.
18Ruins bearing the marks of the old Lord.
19Foreign goblin Home- abandoned.
20Foreign goblin Home- populated!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Desolate Days: A Super-Basic Feeble Goblin RPG!

(So I've been knocking an idea around for at least three years now. The catalyst for the thought was reading about the RPG setting Midnight, where a very obvious Middle-Earth expy is mostly conquered by the resident Dark Lord and players take the role of people either surviving, fighting the occupation, or ushering in the darkness. The question it raised was "what would it be like if the story began even farther along than this?" What if the forces of evil won entirely? Well, evil likes to turn in on itself in most stories, so I figured that after a brief victory lap, the villain would implode from pyrrhic hollowness or just plain boredom, and leave only ruins behind.

It quickly became a post-apocalyptic setting where I could guiltlessly let my two major biases--mistreated goblins and desolate beauty--play out in full. Of course that was three years ago, and up until now I just idly kicked around a bunch of different systems and rules as I tried to figure out what worked best; d20, TROIKA!, Savage Worlds, USR, Fighting Fantasy, Powered by the Apocalypse, Cypher, Engine Heart, and even one very ill-advised dip into board game mechanics.

Nothing really worked out to my liking, so eventually I decided to do my own thing... by which I mean ripping bits and pieces from other existing ultra-simple RPGs like In Darkest Warrens.

I offer zero promises for this thing's balance or enjoyability now that it has finally sloughed out of my brain, but here is what I have completed so far.

Originally it was meant to be one of those trendy little single-page RPGs, and it can still work like that because I avoided the worst of my habitual rambling (unlike in this intro segment). But I've since begun work on point-crawl exploration mechanics and encounter tables in order to make the game more than just a work generator or GM fiat machine. More will be forthcoming, as are edits.

Also, happy surviving into the New Year, dear Burrowers! Or new years, depending on your calendrical preferences.)

DESOLATE DAYS is a game about sifting through the ruins. You are goblins, newly awoken from your stasis vault after the end of the world. All is a wasteland; everyone from humans and elves, to gods and your former Dark Lord is gone. Set out from the cold comfort of your caves. Explore. Fill the gnawing vacuum. Inherit old legacies, or discard them.

GOBLINS are endearingly wretched little things. They have no history except for the nightmares they have of the Time Before. Tools more advanced than sticks and loincloths are a novelty to them. They are curious, eusocial, and yet to discover concepts like ‘war’ or ‘personal space’.

STATS define your ability to overcome adversity. Stats represent your goblin’s weaknesses; the lower the number, the better. The four Stats are:

Weakness- athletics, breaking stuff, enduring the elements, etc.
Clumsiness- balancing, hiding, delicate touches, aiming, etc.
Naivete- knowledge, problem-solving, learning “magic”, etc.
Timidity- social skills, being brave, resisting actual magic, etc.

Assign 3, 4, 4, and 5 to your Stats. Stats can change over time, but may never be less than 2 or greater than 6.

RISKS are taken when you want to perform an action that can result in failure. To Risk, roll d6 vs a relevant Stat; roll equal to or higher than your Stat to succeed. If you fail a Risk, you may Push Yourself to reroll once by increasing a Stat by 1. Circumstances may modify a roll by ±1 or more.

ENCOUNTERS are situations where goblins have to roll several Risks to succeed, and may suffer Anguish if they fail. They can be combat, exploration, interpersonal conflicts, etc. All participating goblins earn 1 Progress per Encounter, whether it ends well or not. There are usually 3 Encounters in a day.

ANGUISH is the physical and mental trauma a goblin can withstand before breaking under the pressure. A goblin’s Anguish starts at 0. Max Anguish is 6, but can be raised as high as 10. When you take damage or suffer stress, increase Anguish by that amount. When you reach max Anguish, you are Broken.

BROKEN means a goblin cannot act. They are unconscious, catatonic, or both. Broken goblins can be revived with the help of friends during a Rest. Revived goblins are reset to half their max Anguish (rounded up). If all goblins are Broken, the expedition is lost.

SPECIAL THINGS are items a goblin finds in the wild and decides to keep close for their utility or sentimental value. A Special Thing can give +1 to one very specific Risk, like a piece of lucky rope that lets you climb better. A goblin can hold up to 3 Special Things.

MAGIC” is anything the goblins do not understand, which to a band of childlike stone-age agoraphobes is… most things. Starting a fire, drawing complex plans in the dirt, or picking herbs to ease a stomachache are all examples ofMagic” spells. Unlike Special Things, you don’t get any bonuses to Risks from using spells, but the right piece of “Magic” gives you new options. You must first witness a spell in order to learn it.

RESTING lets goblins recuperate, compartmentalize, and give hugs. In a safe place you can Rest to reduce Anguish and/or spend Progress Points. Goblins lose up to 2 Anguish per Rest, (3 if you spend Progress). Resting more than once a day might lead to unexpected Encounters.

PROGRESS is about overcoming your weaknesses. While Resting, you may spend Progress in the following ways:

Lose 3 Anguish instead of 2 = 1 point
Decrease a Stat by 1 (minimum 2) = 1 point
Increase max Anguish by 1 = 2 points
Learn a piece of “Magic” = 3 points
Revive a Broken goblin = 4 points (anyone can contribute, including the goblin in question)

Monday, December 28, 2020

They Skitter

The World-Spider came, and those who heard its approach were the first to go.

It started off as a distant scratching at the door, or the rustling of thick, bristly hairs over cloth. They tried their best to ignore them.

But the sounds came closer, and grew louder, until they proved too difficult to ignore- or to deny.

Soon they entered those ill-fated minds, and took up scratching and bristling against the backs of their brains. The sounds reverberated outward across their nerves like vibrations on strands. Actions ceased to be of their own volition, and thoughts of alien origin became the norm. With time, even the frantic undercurrent wishing for those scratching, skittering sounds to stop was subsumed.

What was leftover was a vessel.

For some time, they managed to look outwardly normal- at least at a glance. Speech became halting and unnatural, and virtually all daily routines were abandoned. But they retained their shape, and general knowledge possessed by the people who once were. And these qualities were used to their advantage. Few could hold themselves together long enough to infiltrate high and mighty places, but a body with only two legs was good enough when seen from a distance. No time could be wasted in their attempts to prepare the way.

Soon they were drawn together by strands of silk that only they could see, led to empty and desolate places where they could unsheathe themselves and work unobstructed. They tapped into the underlying web beneath all things, and sent such a tremor through it that the location of the world was impossible for the World-Spider to miss. They also kept abreast of anyone or anything that has heard the scratching at the door, but has managed to resist- or worse, work against it.

Once all legitimate threats are eliminated, and the World-Spider has been summoned irrevocably, its extensions may finally know the end. When the sky is wreathed in its silky cocoon, and the soft cries of reality itself can be heard, they are the first to be unmade. All becomes twitching legs and needle-like hairs for one moment of awful exultation, but just as suddenly the writhing mass dissolves into liquid potential.

They are spared the sight of fangs piercing the heavens as the world dies, though few of their many eyes would even be functional enough to see.

Of course, even that end would be welcomed, after so long spent under the direction of Mr. Sticks.

A nest of skittering signs and rumors

  1. Dust and cobwebs are accumulating at an alarming rate all over town. They seem to return after every footstep or broom sweep.
  2. Parents are alarmed at a new game which has taken their children by storm of late. It is called "Feeding the Cellar Door".
  3. The sudden surplus of fine silk on the market has caused massive devaluation, economic shakeup, and a growing fashion war between the upper and lower classes.
  4. A curious delicacy has begun appearing in coastal restaurants catering to the fine and exotic. They call it "land crab", and it is said to originate in Other Parts.
  5. Paupers and transients have been vanishing off the streets in increasing numbers for weeks. The authorities are only becoming concerned now that a few members of their secret police have gone missing undercover.
  6. Astrological circles have been in a bit of a tizzy recently. They insist that the stars seem "wrong" somehow. No one is listening to them.
  7. A string of grizzly murders has been committed. Each victim has been drained of bodily fluids through massive puncture wounds. Specialists suspected an unsanctioned vampire at first, but those do not grow barbed hairs like the ones found at each crime scenes.
  8. Something has been eating people's pets of late. Even when they are behind locked doors, several stories above ground.
  9. Services at one of the city's chief temples were interrupted when the high priest tried and failed five times to speak their god's name. On the sixth attempt, they vomited a mass of animate spider legs that then fled into the rafters, catacombs, and dark corners of the temple. Extermination is ongoing.
  10. Increasing numbers of clerics (as well as the odd warlock) are reporting that their patrons are responding less and less to their prayers, and that their voices sound faint and somehow 'peckish'.
  11. Spells tied to conjuration or the manipulation of planar magic are fizzling, being disrupted, or having wholly unintended effects.
  12. A wealthy noble's scion was spotted departing their estate with a strange gait one night during a storm. Their family has quashed all search & rescue efforts.
  13. A geomancer from one of the frontier areas was arrested for disturbing the peace. They insisted that the earth is 'thrumming in fear'.
  14. Nearby farmland is covered in record numbers of cicada exoskeletons, but not a single cicada was seen or heard, and the next brood wasn't expected for several years.
  15. The old, disused trestle bridge seems to be under renovation now. What else are all the ropes and midnight lamps for?
  16. That band of herb-burning itinerants hastily packed their wagons and left the vacant lot the other day. Most of the locals say good riddance to them, but their manner as they departed seemed strangely mournful.
  17. The provost has ordered the urban park to be closed with no warning or explanation. The guard will not release the people trapped behind its gates.
  18. A fire destroyed large sections of the local monster hunter's guild hall. No fatalities were reported, but untold sums in specialized weapons and equipment have been lost.
  19. Some new skin disease has been making the rounds lately. The rashes and peeling are bad, but it's the crawling sensation that is the worst.
  20. The man in the handsome suit is back. He's traded his face for a bowler hat.