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Friday 18 May 2018

Positively the last RuneRites

If you were a fan of the RuneRites column in White Dwarf thirty-five years ago - indeed, if you were even born then - here's a very late addition to the files. I had this lined up to run alongside Oliver's "Wrecker Island" scenario for Questworld. But then Questworld fell through, Games Workshop stopped pushing Runequest, and RuneRites got shifted back to bimonthly. Since the scenario was never used in WD, neither was this column, although the former later appeared in Dragon Warriors book 3: The Elven Crystals. It had changed quite a bit - the original scenario was set in tropical seas, the DW version was rainswept and wintry - and the RQ monster stats here were never needed. So, for the RQ completists out there...

A selection of sea creatures
By Oliver Johnson

When adventuring in a marine setting, be sure you are familiar with the drowning rules (Runequest Appendix E). Also, Borderlands explains how difficult it is for humans and other air-breathers to fight underwater: Air-breathers don’t get their damage bonus underwater. Except for metal-strung crossbows, missile weapons cannot be used. Armour reduces combat skills by 5% per ENC point unless specially designed for use underwater. Attack chances (except for thrusting weapons) are halved after making the ENC reduction. So if the drowning don’t get you the monsters sure will! Talk about being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. -- DM

Barnacle men
These undead creatures come up from the ocean depths during storms and cling to the hulls of ships and coral reefs. Their bodies are completely covered with barnacles, and anyone succeeding in hacking one apart will find only a calcified white skeleton beneath this near impervious layer. Using their massive strength, barnacle men break through the bottom of ships to search the holds for jewels. If there is no plunder to be had, they will then stalk the ship terrorizing its crew. Barnacle men are frequently found with stolen precious stones embedded in their shell covering; assume a 20% chance of 1-8 gems.

Folklore: If you wander round the bars and taverns of Deliverance, you will find many an old salt with tales to tell of barnacle men, but few who can claim to have actually seen one. The popular belief among sailors is that these creatures are the liches of pirates so rapacious and malign that they cannot rest in death, but rise up from their sunken ships to torment the living. Most sailors know that disruption is a good way to deal with barnacle men.

Giant electric eel
Any character who hits an eel suffers an electric shock. This is resolved as a 2d8 attack to CON, like a systemic poison attack except that the lost CON recovers at the rate of 1 point per full turn. Additionally, a character receiving an electric shock is reduced 1d6 points in STR for two minutes.

Dead men’s sighs
Said to be the dying breath of sailors killed on rocks and reefs, these blue, wraith-like spirits appear at dusk and dawn, drifting out of the waves to attack the unwary. Normal weapons (even Runic metals) will not harm them, but any magical damage immediately disperses them like mist. They attack by closing with their opponent and matching POW vs POW. If the sigh wins, the victim takes 2d3 damage (a chilling numbness) directly to a random location, and the sigh then dissipates.

Rays will always attempt to avoid melee, and will only fight if cornered or attacked in the lair. Rays should be treated as though they have shimmer 2 at all times. This is not a spell-effect, but instead derives from the ray’s camouflage ability to fan up an obscuring cloud of fine sand from the sea bed when threatened.

Giant clam
You encounter a clam by stepping onto it, so any encounter must be checked against the character’s Spot Hidden. A character trapped by a clam takes 2d6 on the first round, then 3d6 on the next, and so on. The damage does not go on increasing after the sixth round. Armour will protect until it is crushed. Clams can be forced open by combined STR equal to the clam’s own STR (4d6+8) – if a character can improvise a lever of some kind he gets a 50% STR bonus.
Sharks vary quite a bit in size and ferocity. The sort described here average about 2.3m in length, and are well known to the sailors who ply the southern seas to trade in Gradisti. Sharks will attack anyone who is bleeding or thrashing about, and such is the terror that these creatures instil that I suggest an MDFx5 roll is required for any character who spots them while in the water. If the character fails this roll, he or she panics and cannot help shouting and struggling. If a shark’s tail is reduced to 0 hit points it will start to “drown” as sharks must move forward to breathe. Reducing its head to 0 hit points will halve its Attack chance but the shark will fight on for 2-6 rounds before dying.

Hungry Morguss
Hungry Morguss is a legend among sailors, a monster of folklore spoken of by those who have somehow survived when their ships went down in maelstroms or violent storms. Such mariners will sometimes whisper of having looked down into the ocean’s depths at the moment of disaster and seeing in the waters below a huge, mad, staring face with a gaping mouth, bigger than three large ships, sucking the doomed vessel down in a whirlpool. This evil visage is believed by sailors to be Hungry Morguss, a marine aspect of the devil. We may speculate at leisure as to other explanations. The face of Death himself? A monster, demon or forgotten god from Questworld’s antiquity? A mere phantasm created in the mind of sailors when disaster is imminent? How shall the truth be known?

Friday 11 May 2018

The supersize option

All of the Fabled Lands books are now back in print in large format editions. These are 8" by 10", matching the original 1990s books -- though not, unfortunately, with those old fold-out covers that marked FL out as a hybrid of RPG, gamebook and boardgame.

But here's a heads-up. If you're ordering from Amazon, you're very likely to see a message telling you the books are "temporarily out of stock". The reason for that is they're set up for print on demand, which means that when you order a copy, Amazon sends a request to the printer (Ingram Spark) and your copy is added to the print queue. So naturally it isn't in stock at the time you order; that's the point of print on demand.

That message doesn't appear if you order the smaller format books because we set those up on Createspace, another POD company that Amazon bought a few years ago. It does seem as if Amazon's policy is to list books printed by rival POD companies as out of stock, but not to do that if the book is printed by Createspace.

Point is, you should get your book delivered in the same time either way. Amazon might tell you it'll take 1-2 months, or even that they are unable to say when the book will be delivered, but the fact is it'll probably arrive within a fortnight. Some Amazon customers have told me they even received an email from Amazon saying that they couldn't give a delivery date, only for the book to turn up that very same day.

There are other options, though. You can ask your local physical bookstore to order a copy for you. If they say they don't know how to do that, give them the ISBN and tell them to look on Gardners.

Or you can buy from Barnes & Noble who, not having their own print division, are happy just to supply what the customer wants without all the hassle.

Over the Blood-Dark Sea
The Plains of Howling Darkness
The Court of Hidden Faces
Lords of the Rising Sun

The snag there is that the first two books are printed by Createspace, who won't supply to B&N, so you have to get those from Amazon. It's a war, and book buyers are in the middle of it. Don't let the Soulwatch grind you down.

Friday 4 May 2018

"Elf-struck" (scenario)

This is an adventure seed rather than a scenario. I threw it into my campaign as a monster-of-the-week episode while the player-characters were making their way across Dark Ages France en route to Wessex. I make no claims for the scenario except that it could work in pretty much any setting right up to modern times. The presence of the ulembi, incidentally, connects it canonically to the lost continent of Abraxas that Jamie and I created for an MMO.


On the way to Rouen, the characters pass through the forest villages of Ury, Fons Bliaudi (later Fontainebleau) and Barbizon. In each village they encounter a local idiot. The behaviour is the same: the man stares at them, points, and mouths inarticulate sounds.

Locals will say: “Don’t mind ‘e, ‘im be Hugo/Peter/Will, been like that fer years. The duende took ‘is wits, left ‘im cabbage-brained.”

The story is that these three were woodsmen, but each ventured too close to Oldtooth Dell where the fairies (duende) live and came home half-witted.

At Fons Bliaudi
The inn is run by a young woman, Tarqua (23) who is pensive and distracted. It turns out that her husband, Uril, went to Barbizon to sell a bay mare three days ago and has not come back – though the journey there and back could be done in a day.

Tarqua may try to bribe or seduce the characters into helping find out what has happened to her husband.

If they ask, locals tell them it’s unlikely he would have run off. Tarqua and Uril were sweethearts from the age of 5. They are even known as “Uril’s Tarqua” and “Tarqua’s Uril”.

Could he have fallen prey to bandits? The miller scoffs: “He had his cudgel with him. No dozen bandits could take on Uril with his cudgel.”

At the inn, they see one of the idiots hanging around under the eaves as if surreptitiously listening in on their conversation. (He’s actually making a recording.) Having already seen one in the previous village, they should now be wondering why there should be two such individuals in such a small area. If not, running into the third idiot in Barbizon will surely tip them off.

Their Perception vs the idiot’s Holdout of 13 to spot the box he’s carrying. He won’t want to show them what it does, but if forced it plays back sounds that may be recognizable (IQ-5) as the rhythms of their own words from a few minutes earlier, only with unfamiliar substituted sounds at a deeper frequency than speech.

The idiot follows them along the road to Barbizon.

Oldtooth Dell
A steep wooded valley. A stream runs down to a pool that you have to wade through to enter a cave. They could be guided here by Podraig and his truffle-sniffing pig “Trimmer”. Along the way, if very observant, they might spot birds and animals watching them more intently than usual. (The Ulembi is looking through the animals’ eyes, though Podraig would of course attribute it to faerie influence.)

Inside, the cave smells musty and lair-like, but with a faint ammoniac trace behind that. It narrows to a cleft in the rock about forty feet back from the entrance – a high, sharp-roofed tunnel that narrows to about six feet wide.

After about forty feet, the tunnel turns and there are paintings visible on the walls. Hand-prints on the right (made by blowing dye around the right hand) and on the left a procession of animals, then of men in hide clothing, and finally something that looks like a huge inverted tree (or perhaps roots of a tree) that dwarfs the human figures. This is a prehistoric depiction of the Ulembi.

By now the ammonia stench is sharper, and characters should roll IQ to notice a very faint headache (located in the forehead, if anyone asks).

Approach to the innermost cave
The tunnel narrows to what at first looks like a fire-blacked chimney. From here, a low passage stretches up. It requires characters to crouch, and they can only proceed by discarding armour. (Characters of Lifting ST 16 and up must discard under-armour too.)

As they move on, they start to experience a greater pressure in the head, accompanied by flashes of visions – or memories. They can fight this with Will-5. Anyone who succumbs or willingly allows the memories to flow will get the flashback.

The flashback
In our Immortal Spartans campaign the characters remembered themselves as 16-17 year-olds patrolling in the Krypteia, and learned something they had all been made to forget over a thousand years earlier. The idea is that the ulembi’s ESP set off something in their minds that allowed them to penetrate the mind-block that had been placed on them then. Substitute whatever important flashback or psychic insight will enhance your campaign – or disregard the flashback entirely if you prefer.

The cave
At first just see the device. Uril is here, with wires leading into his head. He rolls his eyes if spoken to, but seems not to understand them.

The ulembi is splayed low, and therefore at first unseen by the characters (assuming it makes its Stealth roll) then rises up amid the rocks – possibly getting surprise.

This creature has been here for thousands of years, periodically hibernating while trying to build a transmat device to return home. This device, only about three-quarters finished, is an array of wires, crystals and silica panels salvaged from its crashed ship.

The recordings it has the idiots make are played into the device in order to tune it to human brainwave frequencies. When complete, the device will draw on energy from everyone within fifty miles, mind-wiping them in the process.

Creatures from a star cluster beyond the Coal Sack, who came to Earth millennia ago by psychically broadcasting themselves through outer space to escape their own dying world.

Ulembi have large heads whose hard ridged integument resembles a walnut. This skull protects the creature's huge brain. A ring of dark globular eyes protected by deep recesses allow the ulembi to see in all directions at once. There is a short neck and then the ulembi's trunk bifurcates, the two stout limbs resembling large serpents. At the end, each limb divides into four tentacular fingers. The ulembi can balance on one limb or on its "elbows" while holding something in the fingers, but rarely needs to do so because all ulembi are able to manipulate small objects by telekinesis.

When fully reared up on its limbs, an adult ulembi's head can be as high as eight feet off the ground. But it can also splay its limbs out low, moving with ghastly stealth through undergrowth no more than a few feet high. In combat the ulembi is able to bristle its scales, giving the limbs a rough jagged surface like pineapple skin. This allows it to flay the skin off an unarmored opponent. Young adults sometimes wear bronze vambraces on the lower limbs, with which they can deliver powerful whip-like blows. Older ulembi disdain physical combat altogether, preferring to use their psionic power to instill a feeling of dread and despair in a foe.

Given a short time with a subdued victim, the most powerful adepts of the ulembi can psionically rewire his brain so that he will serve as their agent. This can even take the form of subliminal commands, so that the victim does not know he has been affected. Eventually tumors form in the brain of the victim, however, and madness and death soon follow.
The transmat device is sufficiently functional to create a levitation effect within the cave. It takes three rounds to power up, then suddenly gravity seems to cut out. Initially roll HT to avoid nausea; fail means -2 skills, -1 active defence. Every round while weightless, Free Fall (default DX-5) sets an upper level on your skills (except block/parry).

Uril can be freed if the wires are broken, but his mind is too far gone to be saved. He has become like one of the idiots they met earlier.