Category Archives: Bubbles

Apologies

I realise it has been a LONG time since I posted here and for that I am sorry.

I’m someone who has struggled to find work for many years and this website is a hobby, more than a profitable enterprise (as mercenary as that sounds), so it fell by the wayside as I looked into other avenues of making money.

I’m going to try to return to updating this blog regularly (hoping for monthly to start with) whilst still having the time to focus on my 5e OGL patreon (www.patreon.com/themoonlitbard) and building a client base for freelance GMing.

I thank you for your patience.

Ryan

The Angel of Beauty

The temple is quiet around Muse. The air is still, the lingering scent of incense a pleasant counterpoint to the smell of fire, heat and blood she had run through to get here. The infernal forces arrayed in the plaza outside are falling silent and she knows their time is running short.

Sweat beads under the collar of her armour, glamoured as ever to resemble a mockery of the court finery she should have been wearing. Her mother’s betrayal is long forgotten, but it serves as a reminder of what can be, if she but wills it. There is nothing she cannot do given time.

She glances sideways, taking in the exhaustion and worry on her companions faces.

Reed is looking around, his bright eyes shining and his smile wide, despite the lines of fatigue on his face and the flickering embers of his magic. She can barely feel his presence in the Weave, the odd chaotic spark a mild clash of cymbals.

‘er Ladyship and Chef, both warriors of great skill and neither particularly interested in the magical arts, look fresher, but not by much. ‘er Ladyship’s limbs are trembling slightly and she suspects the constant rage of battle has taken a much greater toll than the statuesque woman is letting on. Chef, her white hair spotted with infernal ichor, meets her eyes and nods briefly.

Myca, eyes wide with worry, smiles shyly as their gaze meets. The constant worry has taken its toll even on her and Muse feels her jaw clench. He had better not be playing them false.

Movement by the doors catches their attention and the two martial members of their little band disappear down the stairs, Chef to guard their backs and ‘er Ladyship to confront the Servant and rescue her child. Muse smiles grimly, one of her canines drawing a bead of blood from the inside of her cheek. She had kept herself out of all the fighting so far as best she could to preserve her limited magic for this moment. She had sworn an oath ‘er Ladyship, and she would do everything she could to rescue the child, but if it came down to her word versus Myca’s safety, the child would die.

The wood of her longbow, its dark grain as familiar to her now as the pommels of her daggers, is comforting under her fingers as she moves towards the doors, getting out of any obvious line of sight. The string is taut and well-waxed. She knows, if anything is going to go wrong, it will be her fault. Not for the first time does she wish she had some form of magical bow, anything which could injure the fiends laying waste to the city.

She shrugs out of her backpack, laying it carefully on the ground next to her bags of holding as the doors shudder and start to swing open. She closes her eyes, drawing a handful of shafts from their quiver and laying them next to her. One good, clean shot. That’s all she’ll need to end this. One innocent life ended, and the threat of the demon would be gone. For now.

She hears the footsteps in the nave and creeps to the edge of the mezzanine, watching as Nicodemus, that same irritating smirk on his features, leads a handful of devils to the altar where she now sees ‘er Ladyship sitting.

Already the air is filling with power, a heat perceptible to her senses, and she carefully knocks an arrow to her bowstring. Below, Nicodemus and ‘er Ladyship share some words, the bundle in his arms the wrong shape and size to be a child.

He hadn’t played them false. Good. She respected few people in this world and his self-sacrifice, however self-serving, had been worthy of her respect. She turned her attention to the devils with him, content to let the situation play out and wait for an opportunity.

Her ears caught fragments of the conversation as ‘er Ladyship rushed Nicodemus, the crimson tiefling’s guards restraining her easily. It seemed to be more of his trademark confidence and her flowing anger. The human woman was a terrifying warrior, but her anger was too quick, too unfocused. Muse knows it will cause them problems in the long run.

She frowns as the ritual begins and Nicodemus starts calling upon Belphagor. Her eyes dart down the mezzanine, Reed is hiding behind a plant and Myca is lost in a ritual. Thoughts rush through her head.

Nicodemus can be trusted to serve his own interests first, and those of his Mistress second. She disapproved of the warlock/patron relationship, having grown up with a similar one, but it is predictable, easily understood.

Myca will do everything she can to prevent the demon’s arrival, but Muse isn’t sure how effective her hallowing of already consecrated ground will be.

Reed… Reed will no doubt do something creative to simultaneously better and worsen the situation as he always does.

Chef’s cool head is elsewhere, keeping them safe from ambush.

Leaving ‘er Ladyship to follow along with whatever plan Nicodemus has. No.

It’s too risky. SHE has to do something.

Her tail lashes the air as she thinks, heartbeats turning into frozen seconds as a plan forms in her mind.

She glances over at Myca.

She thinks about the first time she had performed, the first smile on Myca’s face, that night of passion, heat and blood in the public baths. Each and every memory is full of a numinous connection to a world of infinite horizons, a world so much greater than one person.

She pulls on those connections, throwing them out into the Weave, into the uncaring cosmos.

‘Jophiel.’ She says quietly. ‘You don’t know me but Belphagor is coming. He will be here. He will be manifest. He must be stopped.’

There is a moment of silence as the universe waits for a response.

‘What will you sacrifice for this?’ The angel’s voice is a chorus in her head, the purest notes she has ever heard.

Without thinking about it, certainty filling her every thought as usual, she replies.

‘Myself.’

The pain is immediate, bands of fire wrapped around her heart, but it is short-lived. She collapses to the floor, her bow falling from suddenly nerveless fingers.

She expects to fall into the fire and smoke of the Nine Hells, but the Angel of Beauty has a gift for her. He gifts her happiness and she finds herself in a sun-lit wood, Myca singing songs as she dances in a clearing.

She smiles, her mind clear of its habitual scheming, and strides forward into paradise.

Years pass and the wood remains safe and unchanging. Perfect day follows perfect day.

And then the sky darkens. A pain, familiar and long forgotten, washes through her heart. She feels the ground beneath her feet writhe and pulse with the power of the wild places. Myca starts crying and stumbles towards her, pounding Muse’s back with her fists and they cling to each other.

‘I love you.’ She says between tears, repeating it like a mantra.

Understanding floods Muse’s mind. For her, the fight isn’t over. This is not where she belongs, angel be damned. There is a world which needs her.

She reaches down, letting the power of the earth fill her being.

Reality reasserts itself.

She hears the sounds of the temple, she feels Myca’s tears on her cheek, she feels the force of the angel as he hovers there, watching the ritual.

There will be consequences for what she has done.

But there is a half-elf who needs her.

The Fall of the Yentai Empire

They say that when the world was young, a race of people lived in what is now the Ozark Desert. These people were wise beyond words, stargazers without peer and masters of their domain. The forest which grew there was lush, warm and bountiful. Truly, there was nothing they went without.

Years passed and these people began to bend the fabric of the world to their will. Using an art of magic they termed lesthran, which means ‘cool-headed’, they learned how to calm their minds and manifest their will upon their local environment. Lifespans began to extend as comforts only dreamed of were made manifest.

With their growing knowledge of magic came a thirst for knowledge, a need to learn all about the world around them in order to better master it. The philosopher-magicians, or yentai as they called themselves, began to build greater and greater structures, reaching ever for the skies above them. The more they learned of the world, the more they wished to know of the stars.

It is possible that, had their downfall not brought their culture crashing down around them, they could have reached the stars and tamed even those celestial bodies. But all things come to an end, even civilisations as enlightened as theirs.

It began slowly at first, as these things do. Societal shifts and currents changing the direction of their learning, schools of thought which began prioritising one form of knowledge over another. No-one can say for certain when it happened, but we know with whom it started.

Xiteha, one of the most senior philosopher-magicians of the yentai, woke one day with a dream burning behind his eyes and a passion in his heart. No more would he strive for the stars, no more would he be content to examine the world within their trees. He would lead his people on a new course. The concept he struggled to understand had never before existed in his people’s language, so he invented a word to describe it: kon-oo-es, the coming-of-the-storm. It is from this word we get our own for Xiteha’s revolutionary concept: conquest.

Whilst his fellows in learning looked upwards, he began to walk among the people and telling them that the world beyond their borders was a place of wonder and they should explore it, bringing their civilisation to any cultures they met there. It took many years, but his ideas began to take root, grow and spread.

Fourteen years after his dream, Xiteha stood at the head of the first expedition, a heavily armed and armoured force of the yentai’s finest warrior-magicians, a new caste created for this very purpose. Their magic was one of destruction and relied on their ability to focus their rage into a weapon of great magical force. With a bow to his son, now the yentai’s leader, he strode into the forest.

The people of Starspire have their own records of what happened next, as, I suspect, do those who live at the southern end of our continent, but for the people who would become the desert-folk, centuries of slavery lay ahead.

Like a wildfire, the yentai expeditionary force spread, uncontrollable and all consuming. Any clan, tribe or people caught in its way was subsumed, becoming part of the growing yentai empire. This was the way of things for centuries: conquest, slavery, forever pushing the borders of the empire out from Omnis and into other lands.

But as with all works of artifice, time, and fortune, brought it crashing down.

Far away from the watching eyes of the Emerald Court, the seat of the yentai emperor, rebellion brewed. Officers of the Expeditionary Force of the Fang, an elite legion of yentai warriors, looked around themselves and saw that the Empire depended upon them. They asked each other what the Emperor had ever done for them and turned their eyes homeward.

Moving swiftly, and confidently, they marshalled their forces and struck.

Although a force to be reckoned with, their magic, tied inextricably to their rage, was not flexible enough to deal with the monsters, storms, illnesses and other, worse, things summoned, conjured or otherwise controlled by the philosopher-magicians and in one terrible week of civil war, the Expeditionary Force of the Fang was wiped out. Other branches of the Empire’s military soon followed as the people of the Emerald Court realised that they held very little actual power whilst the military still existed.

Three months after the rebellion, the yentai empire collapsed, its borders undefended and its jungle homeland a blasted wasteland, scourged by fire and magic.

Vowing to never again succumb to the rage and ambition which had fuelled the military, the yentai fell upon old routines, prioritising a calm mind over all and developing stronger and stronger magical abilities.

Generations passed and the yentai became a people of cold hearts. The records we have of slaves from this period tells us about a cult of snake worship expanding within the Court, the cold-blooded serpents epitomising the calm the yentai so desperately sought.

It was perhaps inevitable that the yentai would begin emulating the snakes they worshipped. Their magics became focused on transmutation and the conjuration of potent toxins as the people began undertaking rituals, powered by the blood of their slaves, designed to merge snake and yentai into one pure being.

It is at one of these rituals that it happened. Maybe the sorcerer leading the spell-casting chanted the wrong words, maybe a flash of inspiration struck an aspirant as they drew the final rune, but the yentai magicians made contact with a creature, a vast serpent from beyond the stars who promised them immortality and freedom from emotions and the pains of the world.

Decades were devoted to summoning this creature, whom they dubbed Osart and after whom they named the remnants of their empire, and finally reached their culmination with a ritual spanning the fragmented remains of the yentai empire. By this time, the wasteland surrounding their homeland had become a desert, the harsh sunlight allowing them to thrive in their new snake-like forms.

By constructing magic circles at strategic points within what domains they still controlled, a sizeable portion of Omnis by all accounts, the yentai began.

Days of thunder and ice followed as the cold between worlds was forced into ours. The sky tore asunder in ribbons of light. People screamed in the night as vision of hellscapes danced in their nightmares. The slaves from which we are descended struck as the ritual neared its peak, killing their masters and earning the freedom of all the desert-folk.

With no-one to control the magic summoned by the yentai and bound within the circles, it flared wildly and wrought terrible miracles. Beings no-one had ever seen before or has ever seen again were brought into the world, given life by the frustrated will of Osart.

One of these creatures, a massive winged serpent is said to live beneath the sands of the Ozark Desert still, its wrath and hunger manifesting in the ozarks which regularly scour these lands.

The World and its People – The Sapphire Grove

Although many oases exist within the Ozark Desert, few are as well visited as the Sapphire Grove. It is named not for the clear, deep pool which provides a seemingly limitless supply of valuable water, but instead for the brilliant blue flowers which bloom among the trees. It is said that the flowers form a trail which can be followed under the light of a full moon to a long-lost temple of some forgotten sun god, but few who try to follow the flowers seldom return.

Although it is situated far from the major trade-routes, the Sapphire Grove has a reasonably large, semi-permanent population. Even though many of the desert-folk here return to their homes with great frequency, there is a large enough contingent of merchants, travellers and explorers from other regions of the world that a small city has grown over the centuries, catering to many different types of cuisine and religious cultures.

Outside of the desert-folk holds, the Sapphire Grove is believed to be the best place in Omnis to find high-quality artisanal goods; whether it be carved wood from the Starspire Forest (well over a month’s travel away) or illuminated manuscripts from Shearmouth at the other end of the continent, it can likely be found in the Grove. Rumours persist of a merchant tucked away in the wide, wind-swept streets who will sell whatever you are looking for at that exact moment or a botanist who has managed to cultivate a potion from the blue flowers which will render you as transparent as moonlight.

Of course, such a cosmopolitan haven attracts an underbelly and the local thieves, known to all as the Blue Thorns, make themselves known regularly by raiding merchant caravans (although they would never sell goods back to the merchant from which they were stolen, and many merchants in possession of such things will happily return them to their original owner) and smuggling contraband in and out of the trade-city. Whilst technically illegal under the town’s laws, it is rare to find the merchant who is not willing to sell goods procured from the Thorns, hence the local custom of pricking ones fingers on the thorns of the local flora to ensure your caravan is not attacked as it leaves the Grove. It has become tradition among travelling merchants to prepare excess goods to surrender as a tithe to the Thorns.

Due to the peculiar relationship between thieves and merchants (where each group respects the other) and in particular because of the Grove’s position in a secluded part of the Ozark Desert, there is little need for a standing judicial body. It is commonly accepted that the Thorns police the streets and punish their own, or outsiders, when the law is broken in so egregious a manner as to be to the detriment of the city. For the most part this system works, but there are those who arrive in the city eager to bring law to this uniquely structured place.

Whilst most efforts to this end fail, there has been some progress made recently in stoking the fires of resentment as refugees from Nyanis across the Widow’s Sea seeking work have joined many merchant caravans as guards or hangers-on. It is becoming more and more common to see groups of a shared cultural background residing close to each other as demagogues drawn from all corners of Omnis seek to impose their vision of society on what they perceive as the perfect melting-pot to form a small desert-state of their own.

People

Leo Camarr is the leader of the Blue Thorns. A man of average appearance, his mind is his greatest asset and he has long kept the peace in the Sapphire Grove. Although his willingness to join with the raids conducted on his command has waned of late, he is well-loved by his people and respected by the few merchants who know his true position within the city for his sense of fairness.

Loran ‘Firetongue’ Bramblejump is a demagogue who recently entered the city and has already made great strides in her quest for power. Reacting to the perceived slights of the taller races, Loran has consolidated her powerbase among the small-folk and has been pushing for a formal division of the city between the so-called Skywatchers (with their heads lost in the clouds) and the hard-working people of the ground.

Braelor Sandhammer is the permanent emissary from Mordain’s Vigil. A typical member of the desert-folk, he uses his years of wisdom to settle trade disputes and it is the rare merchant who doesn’t know Braelor on sight. What few know is that he feeds reports on the city’s political state to his king in Mordain’s Vigil and is waiting for the right moment to begin the long process of destabilising the Grove and removing the Blue Thorns from the desert.

Syndrios Lunalim came from the Starspire Forest centuries ago to study the blue flowers of the Sapphire Grove and never left. Their botanical knowledge has helped many travellers on their journey through the Grove and they are always happy to offer advice when it is asked for. Word on the street is that they have managed to follow the flower road and returned, but they will not talk about this when pressed.

She Who Shines came from the Drowned Lands of the Shifting Sea and settled on the outskirts of the Sapphire Grove. A hunter by profession and a scholar by nature, she sees it as her job to catalogue all the fauna she can find in the sands around the Grove and study them for the betterment of all who live there.

Plothooks

There is dissension among the Blue Thorns and Leo Camarr is looking for external agents to root out the troublemakers.

Loran Bramblejump was attacked on the street recently and is looking for bodyguards to attend a meeting with other powerful members of the Grove’s community with her. She will work with Skywatchers but prefers people of a similar size to herself.

Braelor has gone missing and several of the merchants who know him are concerned. They are offering a sizeable reward to anyone who can find him.

Syndrios has been seen sleepwalking recently, their clothes in disarray and odd injuries covering their body. Concerned parties will pay for any information about what the botanist gets up to whilst asleep.

She Who Shines wants adventurers to help her explore a ruin recently unearthed by the shifting sands as she believes a rare breed of sandcat to live within its depths.

 

Golden Hope

They waited in the darkness of the abandoned house, holding hands as they stared out of their little pool of light at the dusty walls of the secret room. Far below them, they heard the sounds of their strange visitors as they made their way from the mansion, the solid metal clanking of the big half-orc’s armour almost drowned out the incessant chatter of the gnome’s incomprehensible words.

“I don’t want to go back down there.” Sigra said, her eyes wide, and her hand cold in Lothar’s grasp. “It’s not a good place.” He smiled reassuringly at her, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her scarred ear.

“I’ll go and check it out. If they’re telling the truth…” His voice drifted off as the possibilities of what that much money could get them filled his mind.

They were a long way from the muddy hovel they’d been living in in the Sprawl and they had thought that here, squatting in this abandoned manor, their luck had been changing. They’d been here for a few weeks now, scavenging food from the magically restocking cellar, washing their clothes in the stream running through the woods behind the house. To think that they’d spent that first night so close to a small fortune was even more of an indication.

For people like them, clearly descendants of elves from the north who had lain with humans, life was hard. The Sprawl was a dirty, poor place where half-breeds were shunned as signs of ill omen, harbingers of disaster. No-one knew why, but everyone knew to cross the street when they saw a half-elf, or to look the other way when nearing a half-orc. It was why they’d shaved their ears, cutting the points from them, and grown out their lice-ridden hair to cover the tell-tale scars. They were fortunate and favoured their human ancestry, and their quality of life had improved after the wounds had healed, but they still hadn’t felt like they belonged. With this money, if it existed, they could find somewhere they did belong, even if it was just a small house on the Bank.

“Please be safe.” She whispered, meeting his eyes. He nodded and smiled again.

“Of course.” He squeezed her hand, “I’m just going downstairs.” He leaned forwards and kissed her gently. “Wait here, my love.” She smiled slightly and drew the blanket on their bed around her narrow shoulders.

“I’ll always wait for you.” He rested a hand briefly on her cheek, his thumb rubbing the scar from where she had been attacked by a mob of drunken louts a few years previously. She closed her eyes and leaned into the gesture.

“I’ll be back soon.” He stood, his knees stiff from the cool loft air, and picked his jacket up from the chair it had been resting on. His lungs, scarred from the smoke he’d inhaled as a child when his parents’ house burned down, pulled tight in the cold winter air as he opened the secret door and stepped out in the dusty loft space of the mansion.

Towers of boxes and piles of fabrics filled the space, a dim illumination coming from a series of circular windows set into the eaves gave him enough light to see easily by. He followed their well-worn path through the assorted mass of forgotten possessions and lost memories, his feet carrying him unconsciously towards the stairs leading down to the servants’ quarters.

The book shelves in the common area showed signs of being searched, the few remaining volumes laying on their sides where they had fallen after being disturbed. He paused, straining to hear anything in the house, his eyes drifting over the rest of the scene. Chairs waited patiently under tables only now being covered by a thin layer of dust, and a small collection of well-used games waited in one corner next to a small box with a label he couldn’t read.

When he heard nothing, he headed downstairs, his feet echoing slightly on the worn stone steps at the back of the house. The kitchen was as it always was, save for a small pile of leaves next to the slightly open door. He frowned at them. They looked like the leaves from the maze at the back of the house and he glanced out a nearby window. A large hole had been forced through the outer wall of the maze and twigs dotted the lawn in a line leading to the kitchen door.

He shook his head, focussing on the task at hand. He descended once more, past the cupboards which magically filled with food every morning and into the cool darkness of the cellar proper. The stone slabs under the worn soles of his shoes sent a chill into his feet as he walked to the shelves he knew lead into the secret rooms under the house. He reached out a trembling hand and pushed the right bottle, watching as the door opened into a small stone-walled room bare of any decoration.

He crossed to the other wall, his stomach churning and pressed the stone he’d been told about by the cat-person. There was a muted click and a section of the wall swung outwards. He glanced at the floor where they’d spent their first night in the house, and then stepped through.

Runes hovered below the surface of the stone, glowing with a pure golden light. He pressed a seemingly random panel in the wall opposite, still following the cat-person’s instructions, and pushed against the wall next to it.

The room beyond this secret door was made of the same dressed stone as everywhere else, but the stones were blackened and scorched in places, as if struck by lightning. His eyes were caught by the two large chests at the far end of the room, past the empty stand surrounded by scorch marks and carved with runes in a strangely elegant script. Holding his breath, he approached the two finely carved boxes.

The clasps were cool to the touch as he threw them both open, his eyes drinking in the golden coins within. For the first time in a while, he had a hope that they could make the future they wanted, that their life could be theirs for the owning.

Now, all they had to do was figure out a way to carry that much money out.

Homebrew D&D 5e Race – Gems

In a first for this site, I am happy to present a homebrew race for use in your D&D 5th edition games.
Inspired by the Crystal Gems from Steven Universe, each subrace is analogous to a character from the show, and is not faithful to the lore surrounding each gem type.
I own 0 copyrights in this regard, this is merely a translation of a show I like into a role-playing game I like and all rights go their respective owners.

Enjoy!


Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.

Age. Gems don’t age as other races and are nigh immortal. They may be considered fit for purpose, or have reach emotional maturity, around the age of 150.

Alignment. Most Gems are inclined to lawful behaviour, but something causes the odd one to rebel and tread a more chaotic path. It is the rare Gem who is evil, however.

Size. Gems average between 4 and 6 feet tall with many different kinds of body type. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Immortal Body. As Gems do not age in the normal manner, each one has a wealth of experience to draw upon. You have proficiency in the History skill, and in one other skill of your choice.

Illusory Form. Gems do not possess bodies in a biological sense; their forms are light projected from the gem each one has somewhere on their body. When you would be reduced to 0 hit points, you may retreat into your gem. You may spend hit dice as if you were having a short rest (whilst gaining none of the other benefits of a short rest) and then reform in the space you were previously occupying at the end of your next turn, but you gain a level of Exhaustion OR you may gain a number of hit points equal to your level and reform around your gem 1d4 hours later. Whilst in your gem, you may not gain the effects of any positive or negative spell, ability or similar, and you may gain no hit points other than through the methods described here.

Inner Light. You know the light cantrip but may only cast it on your gem. Constitution is your spellcasting ability modifier for it.

Fusion. Some Gems choose to fuse with another to overcome their weaknesses. As an action you may fuse and, whilst fused, you must decide which Gem is the Initiator and which is the Reciprocator. Fusion lasts for an hour, or until you use your action to separate. You gain the following features:

Expanded Health. The Initiator’s hit point maximum increases by half of the Reciprocator’s hit point maximum (rounding down). They also gain the Reciprocator’s current hit points, although any which would take their hit point total over their new hit point maximum are lost. When the Initiator and the Reciprocator separate, each returns to their normal hit point maximum and each has half the hit points remaining to the fusion.

Large Body. You become a Large creature and your weapon attacks deal an extra d4 damage.

Two Gems, One Body. The Initiator retains their sub-race’s Ability Score Increase and ONE of its features whilst gaining half (rounding up) of the Reciprocator’s Ability Score Increase and ONE of the Reciprocator’s sub-race’s features.

 

Subraces

Whilst there are many kinds of Gem, only a handful are likely to seek out the adventurer’s lifestyle.

Amethyst

Amethysts are bold, brash and playful, in love with life and the dangers of the open road.

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1, and your Strength score increases by 1.

Malleable Shape. As an action, you may lower your Strength, Dexterity or Constitution score by 1 and raise your Strength, Dexterity or Constitution score by 1. This change lasts for 1 minute, but you may gain a level of Exhaustion to extend this duration by another minute. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

Burst of Speed. As a bonus action, you may gain a +10 bonus to your speed, +1 AC and deal +1d3 damage until the end of your current turn. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (a minimum of once). You regain any expended uses at the end of a long rest.

 

Pearl

Pearls are calm, collected and at home among people, enjoying the chance to learn new skills.

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma OR your Dexterity score increases by 2.

Graceful Movements. Whenever you make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Charisma (Performance) check related to dancing or otherwise moving gracefully, you are considered proficient in that skill (if you are not already) and add double your proficiency bonus to the check, instead of your normal proficiency bonus.

Adaptable Mind. At the end of a long rest you can choose a skill or tool you are not proficient in/with and add half your proficiency bonus (rounding down) to checks using that skill or tool until the start of the next long rest.

 

Ruby

Rubies are passionate, never afraid to jump into the thick of it.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2.

Rough and Tumble. You have advantage on ability checks and saving throws to avoid falling over, being knocked prone or similar effects. This applies to the Dexterity (Acrobatics) check related to falling damage.

Fiery Temper. You have resistance to fire damage and know the produce flame cantrip. Constitution is your spellcasting ability modifier for it.

 

Sapphire

Sapphires are cool-headed, using their natural abilities to guide the actions of their allies.

Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 2.

Limited Foresight. You have the ability to peer into the future and gain advantage on one ability check or attack roll per short rest. You may confer this benefit upon any non-hostile creature you can see within 10 feet. You must decide to use this feature before the d20 is rolled.

Cool Mind. You have resistance to cold damage and know the ray of frost cantrip. Constitution is your spellcasting ability modifier for it.

 

Peridot

Peridots are hyper-focused and rational beings, driven by curiosity and the desire to create mechanical works and renowned for their control over metal.

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 2.

Born to Create. You gain proficiency in one artisan’s tool of your choice. Additionally, any time you would add your proficiency bonus for this tool, your proficiency bonus is doubled.

Friend of Metal. As a reaction, you may impose disadvantage upon one weapon attack made using a metallic weapon wielded by a creature you can see within 10 feet of you.

 

Lapis Lazuli

Laconic and driven, Lapis Lazuli are born travellers, using their natural abilities to shape water to pay for passage on ships crossing the ocean.

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.

One With the Ocean. You gain a swimming speed equal to your movement speed, can breathe air and water and learn the shape water cantrip. Constitution is your spellcasting ability score modifier for this spell.

Wings of Water. You may cast the fly spell on yourself. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest. At level 5, you regain the use of this feature after a short rest.

 

Gemkin

Gemkin are produced during the rare union of Gem and another race. They typically resemble their non-Gem parent and carry with them an indefinable sense of loss as their Gem parent sacrifices their existence to bring the Gemkin into being. Gemkin always have their parent’s gem embedded in their body somewhere and those who adventure have learned to harness the strange powers within it.

Ability Score Increase. Any two of your Ability scores increase by 1.

Inherited Strength. Choose one racial feature from your parent race.

Font of Hope. You have advantage on saving throws against fear. Once per long rest, you may use an action to end the frightened condition on any non-hostile creature that can hear you as long you do not currently have the frightened condition.

 

Encounters for the Back Pocket: The Menagerie

Encounter type: Exploratory

Suggested number of enemies: Varies, but they should be a level appropriate to the PCs, or lower.

Encounter location: Grounds of a noble estate

The grounds of the estate are covered in lush, green grass. Lanterns, hanging from stakes driven into the ground, provide fitful illumination whilst the moon above casts a silvery sheen over everything. Shadows move within the darkness of the menagerie, animals hiss, growl and call out in the night, their voices carrying the notes of the wild into your hearts.

You don’t know how these animals behave during the day, but you can tell something is terribly wrong. The bitter stench of urine carries on the air, dark shapes pace back and forth inside their cages, and you catch flashes of light from further within the metallic-walled maze of enclosures.

Special Rules

A group of people trying to release the animals are within the menagerie. Each will fight if cornered but will surrender rather than die.

Any open wounds within the menagerie will send of the animals into a nearby frenzy. Assume the first time a wound is inflicted within a section of the menagerie has a 25% chance of driving a nearby carnivore mad with hunger/bloodlust etc. If said animal manages to get out of its enclosure, it will attack the nearest target.

Each time an enclosure is opened, there is a 15% it contains a large number of small creatures which scurry about underfoot, move in unpredictable directions and otherwise act as a nuisance. There is a 25% chance it is a carnivore (see above), a 25% chance it is a bird (with a further 5% chance it is a flock of small birds, a 30% chance it is a bird of prey and a 30% chance it is a pair of wading birds), and a 35% chance it is a herbivorous creature (there is a 20% chance it is a small herbivore, a 60% chance it is medium sized and a 20% chance it is a large creature). With the exception of carnivores and swarms of creatures (as described above) creatures move in random directions. They just want to get out by any means.

 Once opened, each enclosure can be relocked to function as a holding cell, unless the lock is destroyed.

Scattered throughout the menagerie are numerous art objects, which could be worth a fair amount to financially-minded parties.

Suggested Hooks

One of the party has a family member who works in the menagerie and thinks one of the animals is ill.

One of the party knows someone who is trying to free the animals.

Someone the party knows left something in the menagerie during an event earlier in the day.

The party are checking on the noble who owns the menagerie when they receive word something is wrong.

The party are interested in buying one of the animals and have permission to visit it.

Role-playing 304 – Social Anxiety and You, A GM’s Tale

Role-playing, as a hobby, attracts a wide variety of people, from the self-assured, spotlight comfortable extrovert to the retiring introvert, and everyone in between. I’m one of those in between; whilst painfully shy, I love to perform and entertain, to provide the inspiration for my players to make a great story. Whilst I like playing, I love sitting (or, more accurately, standing whenever I feel up to it) in the GM’s chair in spite of the social anxiety which plagues most of my social life.

So, inspired by a regular member of my chat over at my Twitch channel, I decided to sit down and elaborate on how I deal with that aspect of my mental landscape and leverage it as best I can. My standard disclaimer about subjectivity applies here, what works for me, might not work for you and you should do your best to bear that in mind, but here goes.

First things first, make sure everyone is on the same page so there is no misunderstanding. I tend to speak quickly and/or quietly to cover my insecurity and I REALLY struggle to make eye-contact when I’m addressing someone, which can be off-putting/insulting to some people. Whenever I run an event at my local board-game café, I always lead by telling my players that I won’t be offended if they ask me to repeat myself and that they shouldn’t be offended if I don’t meet their eyes.

But how do these make for a better experience?

Being aware of the former, I can focus on my speech patterns and, to some extent, control them, or at least alter them slightly. This helps me to differentiate between characters, speeding up and slowing down as needed, whilst also allowing me to make a conscious effort when it comes to word choice and emphasis (the latter being something I REALLY struggle with in everyday life). I know that I’m not terribly good at voices, my throat isn’t terribly flexible in that regard, so leveraging this factor makes for a markedly better experience at the table.

The second fact, the lack of eye contact, helps more with physical portrayals. Because meeting eyes is a conscious effort for me, I am very aware of my own physicality which means I am more able to physically embody the character of the moment through minor changes of my neutral state, rather than making a more conscious effort to act as/portray them. When it comes to narration, and the less character-driven GM/player interactions, I tend to focus on a spot above the player’s shoulder, just to the side of their head, as many public speakers will advise you to do.

One of the consequences of speaking quickly, however, is that mistakes WILL be made. As with many things in life, mistakes are inevitable, and it is simply a question of learning from them. This… isn’t something you should broadcast to your players, but at the same you shouldn’t be afraid to admit it when you make a mistake, to take a step back and sort out where you went wrong.

Before you do that, however, it’s always worth taking the time to think objectively about the mistake, to work out if it can work for the betterment of the story. This is something which (I’ve found) quickly becomes second nature. Some of the best moments in my own game have come from me misspeaking or forgetting something important, or (and this is my personal favourite) making a mistake which the players don’t pick up on but roll with. Your players will be the best story creation resource you can ever have, don’t be afraid to roll with what they say. Not only does this mean you have to do less, but you’ll also make them feel more invested in the game.

And this is the crux of the matter. The more invested your players are, the less they’ll notice your social anxiety at play. Ultimately, the only thing to takeaway from this is that it’s best to accept mistakes will happen and to roll with them when they do.

My final two points are related more to before- and after-game behaviour.

The first is to do as much preparation as you are comfortable with. There’s no shame in preparing pages and pages of material if it makes you comfortable at the table, and equally there’s no shame in preparing very little (I touched upon this subject in many of my Behind the Screen videos). You should never measure yourself by how much you prepare vs. how much others prepare.

I typically prepare very little, assigning NPCs a single trait and goal (often on the fly) and giving major locations a three-phrase mood board rather than inventing everything in one go, preferring to discover through play.  This really works for me because it means I can ask my players to fill in details about the world, creating it alongside me, but I know (of) other people it doesn’t work for. Matt Mercer, for example, has said that he puts a lot of effort into creating his NPCs (and clearly he does when it comes to battle maps).

The upside of this approach is that everything is ready and you know everything you need to know (or nearly everything) when it becomes relevant, the downside is that things created for one location/mission etc. may not fit in another. Conversely, my approach means I know only the bare minimum about anything, but it’s flexible enough to fit anywhere. This is why, if you subject any of my storylines or encounter ideas to intense scrutiny, they’re pretty simple, just camouflaged by (hopefully) believable NPCs and player investment.

There is absolutely no point in making yourself uncomfortable

My final point is to tell you to communicate with your players. They are your single best source of feedback. Social anxiety will lie to you, it will tell you that you have failed and that your game sucked (certainly mine does). I am lucky enough to have a group which talks to each other a lot outside of the game and I use this as a constant passive feedback source, as well as just asking them for feedback periodically, to help me ignore the feeling that I’ve let them down.

Obviously, mental health problems have cycles and the effectiveness of asking for feedback varies (I promise you they are not lying when they say they had a good time) but I’ve found this, even though it’s really simple, does help the vast majority of the time.

Hopefully, by showing you how to leverage your own social anxiety as a way of monitoring character portrayal, and by providing a brief overview of the benefits of preparing a lot of (or very little) material for your game, whilst also encouraging you to ask for feedback, I’ve at least provided you a way to start enjoying yourself as a GM instead of being betrayed by the voices niggling away at your self-worth.

I’d be grateful if you’d share your own experiences, or offer your own advice, in the comments.

 

Review: Scion 2e (Origin and Hero)

I realised that I never got around to writing a review of one of my favourite games so here it is. Due to the nature of writing a review in character, there are aspects that are skipped over so if you want to ask for clarification in the comments, go ahead, I’ll do my best to answer!

Anyway, here we go!


Disclaimer: I backed Scion: Origin and Scion: Hero on Kickstarter and so was working with 1st printing material. It is logical to assume that some of the more egregious errors have now been fixed.

<audio notes of Ciarán Holt>

Fine, I’ll review your stupid books, Father, but next time any of the Morrígan’s get make themselves known, you’re dealing with them.

*sounds of a box opening, papers being rustled*

Both are well bound, full cover artwork covers their front, rear and spine. There is a weight to them, but with the page counts, that’s unsurprising. Origin is lighter, due to its far lesser page count, but both are comfortable. I can’t imagine holding Hero for extended periods of time, but-

*pages being riffled*

It’s light enough to be comfortable for moderate periods of time.

I’m happy to see the artwork extends to the inside of the books as well, the variety of artists (I’m lead to understand that artists from many or all of the cultures discussed were consulted) is impressive and sells the feeling the books are going for, namely describing the World we live in and the effects of the Divine upon it.

This information is largely shared between the two volumes: Origin presents a surface level understanding and Hero builds upon it further, presenting information that I was privy to only after you revealed my divine heritage to me during my Visitation. This is definitely intentional and, unlike other rulebooks you’ve made me examine, it would be hard to gain the complete experience the authors intend from only one of the books.

Origin, being the thinner of the two, is more concerned with what happens before a Visitation, or the time immediately after it. I remember when you made yourself known to me, Father, how blind I was then. The knowledge it includes about the World is limited in scope, but feels huge when you realise the ichor in the veins of the characters it helps non-Scions build is barely potent enough to make itself known. And that is the crux of the matter: Origin is meant as introduction to our World. It contains the core rules of a game which allows non-Scions to imagine they are members of a Pantheon far older than they can comprehend.

The rules it has cover character creation, the basic mechanics of the game, how to run the game, how to create mortal opponents (although it does have guidelines on the lower levels of legendary creatures and titanspawn) and all manner of ways in which the divine nature of a mortal can make itself known before a Visitation.

*sound of a book being put down*

Hero, on the other hand, is far more concerned with the life of a Hero, allowing these mortal characters to grow in Legend and become members of the Pantheon proper. I’m not sure how the authors found out so much about Terra Incognitae, but I don’t envy the person who had to travel there to do the research. Each of the more commonly encountered pantheons are described, as are their respective titans and Primordials, with the rest of the book building upon Origin’s character creation with lists of more overt manifestations of Divine nature and its rules on representing the beasties I deal with regularly in a tabletop-friendly format. Don’t get me wrong though, Father. These books have to be used together, something I can only surmise will extend to the other books in the line, whenever they are released.

Both books also include options for playing as Denizens of the world, that is non-human characters tied to a variety of pantheons, as well as sample characters that might be encountered.

The main flaws I found, as with most books of this kind, were the indices, the occasional typo and references to things which don’t exist in the rules. Thankfully, the errata you sent went a long way to fixing this.

I haven’t even started to describe on the fiction inserted between sections to demonstrate the feeling the game is going for but suffice it to say, it’s good.

If the other books in the line, Demigod and God, are as unsettlingly accurate, well presented and easy to understand whenever they are released, I might have play a few games myself to gain a taste of what you have, Father.

Anyway. You asked for my thoughts, so there they are. I hope that was good enough.

After Work

Hi all! Sorry I went dark for so long! I’m aiming to be able to update more regularly from now.


He smiled, the corners of his dark eyes crinkling at the corners, as the Hoffmans left his office. The photographs of himself with smiling celebrities adorning the walls, the book of testimonies and the little black book most of the nearby paparazzi would kill for a look in were a testament to his success but it was these moments, the last few seconds of contact with a couple he had helped, which brought meaning to his life.

For Ibrahim Al-Amin, life was good, but empty. Surrounded as he was by the trappings of good fortune, he had not thought himself a failure until recently.

For years, he had pursued a moderately successful career as a sex therapist, teaching couples how to breathe new life into their relationships, how to kindle flames of passion long left unfed. Had anyone asked him where his success came from, he would have replied that he was a quick study and had dedicated years to observing human behaviour, studying historical sexual practices and had enough experience of what he taught to know what he was talking about.

The first few points were true, there was no denying that. His teachers, and then his lecturers, had been amazed at his aptitude for biology and psychology and weren’t surprised when his name began appearing in the tabloids, always linked to a celebrity couple enjoying a resurgence of passion outside of the limelight. The last one however, if pressed (and no-one had ever pressed), he would admit was a fabrication.

At six feet tall, with smooth olive skin, a neatly trimmed beard as dark and luscious as his hair, and the body of a male model, no-one had ever doubted his prowess. This was a fact which he found deeply amusing considering his complete lack of interest in personal sexual experiences. His looks were maintained for his business, and because he enjoyed working out, not for seduction. Cassidy had laughed when she realised why her flirtations weren’t getting anywhere and the two had been close ever since. Something about her spark, her love of life, her passion for everything, drew him to her in a way that few people had ever attracted him, but it wasn’t a physical thing. She called to him on an emotional and intellectual level.

His mother had been shocked when she found out, the colour draining from her cheeks. It was this which had made him start doubting himself.

Growing up, he had known that he was different. His father’s faith had never felt at home within him, words to a God which he knew on some level wouldn’t answer him. That isn’t to say he knew one way or the other if God lived, but he knew, he had always known, that he was something different. Both more and less than his father.

It wasn’t until his Visitation that that feeling had made sense.

She’d walked into the restaurant where he was dining, all heads turning as the Latina beauty in a crimson gown swept through the tables to slide onto the seat opposite him. At first, he’d thought she was crazy. Aphrodite was Greek, not Brazilian, but something deep within him knew she was telling the truth, that he was her son, that he was set apart from mortals because of the divinity within him and that it was his time to take the gifts he had inherited and make a difference in the world around him.

That was his failing. He had been too preoccupied with success, with wealth, with fame. He had been given all these talents, advantages most normal people only dreamed of and he had used them for personal gain. He had been ashamed when he realised that. For too long, he had been convincing himself that he was working in the best interests of his clients by making them move slowly, not risking too much, ensuring they came back week after week and month after month.

He had resolved to change, and the Hoffmans were his first steps in a new direction. His mother had impressed upon him the importance of community to their family. She had apologised for not being there for him, and, as she had done so, her features had shimmered and briefly become those of the woman in the worn photograph his father kept in his wallet. She had told him about her struggles with her own husband and with the rest of the Theoi. She had told him that there were others out there who were like him, but were not of the Theoi, and that it was his place to bring them together.

He’d spent days trying to figure out where to start before taking the simplest step he could think of; a personal ad in the local paper, asking for people who had received a Visitation and were now changed. He reasoned that that would sound enough like an alien encounter to deter most people but would call to those in the know.

Sure enough, three people had turned up to the meeting.

Silas and Rowan, Scions of Thor and Kali respectively, were a happy couple, both men given to explosive outbursts of passion and displays of strength he could only dream of, but below that he sensed they truly loved each other.

It was Cassidy who surprised him though. In all the time he had known her, he hadn’t expected there to be anything divine hidden beneath the dark make-up, infectious laughter and neon dreads. They’d spent days walking the woods together, debating the merits of classical literature and she had never displayed any outward sign of her parentage. Her mother, the Morrígan, had been there when he arrived early. A pale-skinned woman in a sharp suit, she had given him a piercing look and shaken his hand.

The touch had sent a wave of cold anger surging through him and, when he had blinked it away, she was gone. Cassidy had told him she was always like that, to her at least. She knew she had siblings who saw other Morrígans, but her mother was a being of cold fury, icy passion and the drive to succeed. She had shrugged, the familiar smile parting her emerald lips. That was the joy of being around Cassidy, she was always ready with a smile when he was feeling down.

He looked around the office one last time, a finger on the light switch. It had been a hard week, and he was looking forwards to some after work drinks with his Band.