Wednesday, January 31, 2018


new demon city thing...
There are belief systems which demand devotion to principles not rationally discoverable, to unelected leaders who claim to speak on behalf of an otherworld which lies elsewhere and beyond the one available to the senses, and which demand fealty to only arguably extant entities whose ends may or may not be congruent with our best interests while living. Characteristics that make these belief systems interesting include…

-Rigid hierarchies with charismatic leaders (and often their family members) placed in a position above the others
-Members given exotic titles to define their place in these hierarchies
-Eccentric rules regulating appropriate forms of sexual behavior
-Encouragement of a personal or group-mediated relationship to supernatural beings or mundane beings believed to be supernatural
-Veneration of otherwise ordinary objects
-Regular meetings in consecrated buildings
-Special status conferred on members conversant with specific esoteric lore
-Complex rituals inexplicable to outsiders granting special metaphysical status to different members
-Extensive use of unique symbolism
-Constant, often subtle, attempts to recruit new members
-Deep, unexamined integration of members into public institutions (government, finance, medical etc)
-Concentration on interpreting sacred texts or other obscure artifacts of nature or culture
-Attempts to control or alter the outside world through mass action, often covert and/or violent

…such belief systems are called “religions”—unless they’re unpopular, in which case they’re called “cults”. In game terms, “cult” simply means any religion that causes its adherents all do creepy things in the game—or at least try.

The easiest way to understand a cult is to listen to the song “Children of God” by The Swans.

Design Notes:

When creating a new cult, examine the list of characteristics above and try to think of disturbing ways they could decide to do those things. Adventures involving cults can work in a variety of ways—in The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby the protagonists comes to discover at the end that everyone they talk to about the crisis at hand is part of the cult, in The Void the cult is quickly established as a menace responsible for summoning a far greater menace, in many crime stories the cult only appears at the end, to give a murderer a motive.
Although on paper they are just people, cultists are useful and fun as ways to introduce unsettling behavior and esoteric lore into the game without revealing the ultimate threat too soon. Also, since they are usually lead by con artists with checkered pasts and consist largely of desperate and easily-lead people, they usually generate quite a paper trail—giving investigators lots of leads to follow up. Google a real cult like the Process Church of the Final Judgment to see the kinds of things a cult’s existence might leave behind.

Average Cult Member

Calm: 0 (when alone) up to 5 (when surrounded by their group)
Agility: 2  (Firearms or Hand to Hand: 3)
Toughness: 2
Perception: 1
Appeal: 2       (Deception: 4, Persuasion: 3)
Cash: 1 (they gave it all to the cult)
Knowledge: 1  (Paranormal/Occult: 3, Local Knowledge: 3)

Calm Check: 4 (when it becomes clear they’re a cultist)
Cards: 3 of Pentacles

Average Cult Leader

Calm: 4
Agility: 2
Toughness: 2
Perception: 4
Appeal: 5  (Deception: 7, Persuasion: 8)
Cash: 4
Knowledge: 3 (Paranormal: 4, Local Knowledge: 4)

Calm Check: 4 (when it becomes clear they’re a cultist)
Cards: Ten of Pentacles, Page of Pentacles (10), and High Priestess (2) or Hierophant (5)
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with Demon City stats

These are hybrid creatures that, through necromancy or unknown science, have the characteristics of both a humans and an animal—hunched maggot-people, children with the heads of lizards, jaguarmen, etc.

Though there is nothing inherently wicked in their make-up, rejection due to the prejudices of humanity or the circumstances of their creation may lead them down furtive, dishonest or violent paths.

Design Notes:

Generally the animal part of a zoomorph expresses some emotional aspect of the human that civilization dampens: the tigerwoman is vicious, the man-toad is repulsive.

Zoomorphs created by science often exist in an ironic relationship to these traits—they may be quite ordinary people or animals underneath (and they are essentially like artificial life-forms, so see the Design Notes there for some useful info on how to run them). Zoomorphs created by magic or which are part of a hidden race that has been on Earth all along follow a more symbolic logic—the jackalmen will indeed be clever and skulking.

As with swarms, the Host should emphasize the sensory strangeness of the hybrid form as much as possible and not allow the players to become comfortable with the creatures as simply a fantasy-style “other race”—zoomorphs are closer to the sources of magic and disorder than the party (except perhaps The Problem PC), and their movements, ideas and speech will reflect it.

Typical Zoomorph

Calm: 2
Agility: As animal
Toughness: (Animal’s Toughness divided by 2) + 2
Perception: As animal
Appeal: 0
Cash: 1
Knowledge: 2

Calm Check: 5+animal stat
Card: Often Strength (8) or The Hermit (9)

Special Abilities:

As animal, plus: hybrids with small animals may have natural abilities/characteristics which go unnoticed at their original size but become meaningful when scaled up—like an ant’s scissoring mandibles.


Camazotz (the man-bats of meso-america)

Calm: 2
Agility: 4
Toughness: 4
Perception: 6
Appeal: 0
Cash: 1
Knowledge: 2

Calm Check: 9
Card: Strength (8), The Hermit (9)

Special Abilities:

Echolocation: Camazotz can “see” in the dark using echolocation (normally too high-pitched to hear).

Shriek: Standard attacks on everyone in hearing range at Intensity 4.


Claws: Cause damage and grapple in the same attack.

Maggot Women (a larva-like body with a human head)

Calm: 2
Agility: 1
Toughness: 2
Perception: 4
Appeal: 0
Cash: 1
Knowledge: 6

Calm Check: 7
Card: The Hermit (9)

Special Abilities:

Prophecy: Maggot women can read a target’s future by rubbing the target’s face across their belly—in addition to conveying any details of the future the Host can reasonably guess, choose 3 cards for the target and describe what each means. The numbers of the cards will be the first Throws to come up when they encounter the people, places or situations depicted. Once the situations are encountered, one of the cards will be given as a reward.
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Those Who Crawl To A Godless Place

New demon, suitable for any game, with Demon City stats..

The Chagidel are Insect Demons—their goal is to obscure, becloud and misinform and to thereby inculcate misrule. Enormous compounded scrapyard hybrids of insect and human, shaped as if by an art movement holding a impatient hatred of all that is as intended as an indelible virtue.

They come always as advisors. They ensconce themselves in the offices of the mighty, when the low hirelings and janitors have gone, and whisper to them in shredded voices, promising wealth, counsel, and companionship. Their minds are laboratories of effective fallacy and convincing invention. Their goal is chaos in every discourse, and the elevation of the unworthy. To this end they will serve the wicked, they will slay the living, they will skulk, they will whisper strategems and secrets to those in high places.

They cannot acknowledge any fact that exposes a lie they have told, and to do so would destroy them—if they say a man is a thief and another confesses, they can say nothing, not even to deny it, for to do so would acknowledge it has been said and they would then be undone and fucked beyond measure.

Their true names have two parts of two syllables each, such as Or’qvi Ein-et. They can only be summoned by one who has acquired two gifts due to two separate lies told in two separate homes to two separate souls in the last two days and the summoning requires a sacrifice of twins exactly two years old with two separate blades made from two separate substances on a night when the planet under which they were born is at its maximum distance from the one which the necromancer was.

Demon City Stats

Calm: 9
Agility: 2-6 (see below)
Toughness: 8
Perception: 6
Appeal: 0
Cash: 5
Knowledge: 8

Calm Check: 8
Cards: King of Pentacles (10), King of Cups (10), The Tower (16), Two of Swords

Special abilities:

Demonic: Demons don’t need to breathe or digest, don’t age, and are immune to poison, etc. and cannot be mentally controlled with psionic abilities. Animals will avoid demons in any form. Explosives do not harm Chagidel but firearms do.

Sixth Sense: All demons are supersensitive to danger, hostile emotions and signs of past trauma or the supernatural.

Babel Effect: In the presence of Those Who Crawl (within 100’ and they can see the demon or it can see them), all earnest communication is distorted. To simulate this, Players can only announce their characters’ actions—not words—no questions, no clarifications can be voiced out loud. Players must whisper or write down anything they wish their character to say directly to the Host, and the Host then relays this to the other players, but must change two words. If the player violates this rule, their character mishears something (Host: invent something) and acts on it, and to enact this, the Host takes control of the Player’s character for one round. Players may talk normally only if announcing a specific nonverbal action their characters are taking.

Climbing: The Chagidel can climb across any surface at a normal speed.

Minions: Chagidel are served by insect Swarms—these most often appear near the scenes of crimes committed by the demon or its pawns in order to harass those who later investigate.

Invertebrate Parts: Those Who Crawl appear in a variety of hybrid invertebrate forms, their bodies can include maggot torsos, caterpillar limbs, antennae, insectile eyes, spider legs, leech faces, the wings of moths butterflies or flies, scorpion stings, etc. Their agility should be based on their appearance—a demon with a slug belly will probably be a 2, one with a flylike physiognomy could be a 6. If they have a sting or venom sacs, assume this attack does Massive Damage but can only be enacted after a successful grapple. Wormsilk or webs should have a strength of 6. Some also may be coordinated enough to enact attacks which effect 2 targets per round. Feel free to stat up anything you can envision.

(possibly) Vile Larva: Those Who Crawl are loathsomely fecund and are often summoned when pregnant with repulsive young. The first successful attack on a Chagidel that pierces the skin (interpret any successful attack that could do this as having done so) releases 1-10 misshapen spawn and 1-10 more emerge each round thereafter until a maximum of 10 emerge.

Chagidel Spawn

Calm: 1
Agility: 1
Toughness: 1
Perception: 1
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 0 (but born able to speak and knowing the names of anyone it meets)

Calm Check: 8

Note the spawn can climb and have invertebrate parts but have none of the Chagidel’s other special abilities.


The holy symbols of any faith causes a demon to make a Calm check or flee until they are out of sight. The intensity of the calm check is equal to the degree of fervor of whoever is wielding it (1-9). In the case of an incidentally encountered symbol (a glimpsed church steeple, for instance) the intensity is 2.

Touching a holy symbol, including holy water, does damage to a demon as an ordinary physical attack.

Speaking the true name of demon causes it great pain, and the creature must make a Calm Check against the speaker’s Calm each round to avoid obeying the attacker.

If Those Who Crawl lie and it is disproven, they cannot by any means acknowledge the fact that disproves it.
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Monday, January 22, 2018

Collage Maps, Adventure-writing Process, A City of Cheese

Matt Finch (Frog God Games, Swords & Wizardry, Tome of Adventure Design, Spire of Iron and Crystal, cats and dogs living together) and I had a loooooooooong conversation about pretty much every RPG topic in the universe and the first two parts of it are up here and here.

We had a lot of fun and covered pretty much everything, so enjoy.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thanks to Maxine Hong Kingston

New painting, new monster, with Demon City stats...


A choking ghost coalesces around the dead soul of a victim whose belly has been sliced open. They kill by strangling victims with their spectral entrails.

Choking ghosts can include: ghosts that kill each member of the conspiracy to murder them, ghosts who kill obstetricians who are negligent when performing caesarian sections, ghosts that haunt the lonely places where they died and disguise strangled trespassers as suicides by hanging.

There are righteously angry choking ghosts that can be satisfied by taking their vengeance for them or by bringing their enemies to justice, but there are wicked ones who cannot. Choking ghosts cannot be exorcised by ritual.
I'm doing some how-to-videos of these Demon City pantings right
now over at my Instagram: zak_smith_aka_zak_sabbath if you

Typical Choking Ghost

Calm: 0
Agility: 4
Toughness: 6
Perception: 6
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 2

Calm Check: 8
Cards: Justice (11), Hanged Man (12), Judgement (20)

Special Abilities:

Ectoplasmic Form: Choking ghosts can touch their victims but neither their victims nor most physical forces can touch them-they cannot move through walls and floors, however. They can be touched by blood from the bellies of their victims and by anything coated in it.

Intestine Strangulation: By throwing its guts over the victims head the ghost simultaneously grapples the target and inflicts Standard Damage. A victim that does not escape automatically takes damage again each round.

Manifestation: The choking ghost appears wherever its next victim is at 2am, usually appearing behind the victim or behind a door. After manifesting, it must move normally and will disappear before sunrise.


A white or bone-colored cat can keep a choking ghost at bay.

They can be touched (and harmed) by anything covered in blood from the bellies of their victims.
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Whoa Yeah Game Art

Been workin' on some RPG art...

This is for the MYSTERY PROJECT but for MYSTERY REASONS it might also be
in Demon City too

All this black & white stuff is for Frostbitten and Mutilated, aka "Amazons of the Metal North"
aka " Black Metal Amazons of the Devoured Land"

And these are some layout tests for Demon City...

Help out on the Demon City patreon here

Friday, January 12, 2018

Contessa Event Submission for GenCon is Open

Contessa, if you don't know, is an excellent organization dedicated to spreading diversity in tabletop RPGs.

For a while they've been running a "con-within-a-con" at GenCon.

Their event submission for GenCon 2018 is now open.

Monday, January 8, 2018

How To End A Campaign

So we're playing Rogue Trader...

The first session the Seneschal (played by Dorea) decides the best solution is to assassinate someone inconvenient on a star base--I missed that session. The star base goes into lockdown to prevent the assassins from escaping.

Second session is all about getting off the star base, which we do by showing one of the Imperial higher-ups how spiffy our ancient ship is (40k imagines very Deep Time with its vessels in a future devoid of any progress outside space marine helmet design. Also the ship has a crew the size of the population of West Virginia), with its many hunting trophies (turns out he's a hunter), we go "Say...we could take you on safari, Admiral...?"

"I say! (monocle monocle) Capital notion! I haven't been out hunting in aaaaages!"

Upside: the admiral helps us, bureaucratically speaking, to get off the base.

Downside: the captain decides he's cramping our style.

"Admiral, we've come upon a junglous deathworld! Would you like to go hunting with us?" The captain wants the Admiral to quietly die down there, most of the crew doesn't like the idea of anything called a deathworld. I haven't gotten to play much so I'm pretty excited to go to a deathworld. I vote deathworld, we end up on the deathworld.

We go to the deathworld long story short it is well-named. We lose our captain, near tpk but at least get rid of the Admiral.

After a few more adventures we looks like, on our massive ship with a crew in the 5 figures, we have a genestealer cult on board.

Obviously and unbeknownst to us we'd picked up the genestealers on the deathworld and they'd been growing geometrically ever since.

After some more tests and shenanigans we discover the infection is massive.

The guy playing the captain goes "Hey, can we switch to playing Deathwing for a few sessions, and play space marines who are on the ship to kill the genestealers?"

The GM is cool with this.

We make space marines. The seneschal player and I both make jump-pack equipped close-combat marines with chainswords. As soon as she wakes up in the game she's like "Genestealers? I got Hatred: Genestealers, let's pilot the ship into the sun!"

My character prevails on hers to maybe play the game instead, we're Space Marines, assets to the Empire, we need not throw our lives away when we can wipe out the enemy and live to kill in the Emperor's name again.

So we spend a session bug-hunting cultists and accidentally trashing parts of the ship.

Then, long story, the hater stumbles on a chamber honest-to-god filled with horde levels of genestealers right next to the engine-coolant tanks. This is, for those familiar, a 60-point horde.

The rest of us marines are 2 rounds behind her finding this place.

We arrive to find her having already chainsworded open a massive tank, freezing genestealers everywhere in a fountain of coolant spraying all over her armor with no regard for life or limb and halfway through ripping open the second tank.

Frozen and shattering the genestealers die prettily. After a round of rolling very well we manage to cut the 60 point horde down to a 3-point horde.

Next round--she jump packs straight toward the next coolant tank.

"There's only 3 left, Dorea! Can I stop her??"

"Roll initiative"

She rolls 8, I roll 7. Oh wait, I get a +1 to initative bc the system is too complicated long story I roll 8.

Simultaneous actions--she's jump-packing toward the final coolant tank, I'm jump-packing toward her in mid-air, trying to deflect her flight path so she lands in the middle of the horde and does not end up ripping open the last coolant tank.

I roll my roll-low d100s. 06. 4 successes.

She gets 5 successes, parries me, plows into the coolant tank, chainteeth whirring. My marine goes streaking backwards into the horde, kicking the air.

"Ok (GM giggling frantically) roll d100, Dorea"


"Please Please Please Please use a fate point? Please!"

She uses her last fate point. Re-roll. "97"

Worst category critical hit, warp opens, entire ship explodes, thousands dead, crew dead, genestealers dead, Deathwatch game over, Rogue Trader game over.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fa-ther: What. Am. I???

art by me. click to enlarge

These creatures are unique results of technological innovation and are never fully understood, even by their creators. Though many appear human, they may be partially or wholly constructed of mechanical, biomimetic, cloned or artificially reanimated components. They encompass androids, cyborgs, vat-grown-creatures, frankenstein-like blasphemies and constructs from other worlds.

Design Notes: 

First, decide who created the artificial lifeform and why. Unlike alien lifeforms and many other monsters, these creatures were usually created for a reason. Offering the party avenues for discovering, exploring or exploiting that reason is often the most interesting way to address artificial life-forms if you’re looking to use them as more than just a one-off villain. The creature’s abilities will likely be built around that reason, the creature’s creators will be obsessed with that reason, the creature itself may even wonder about that reason. The adventure featuring an artificial lifeform is often about how society uses people (or animals) to accomplish that purpose in real life—for war, for money, for sex, for biomedical experiments—or, if the motive is simply to create life, about the grave responsibility inherent in bringing life into the world—the creature desires things, but has it been given the means to acquire them or has it been born a broken thing from the start?

If the reasons it’s alive aren’t horrible yet, move on to what it eats.

Another pre-eminent theme in any story involving artificials is a sort of bipolar effect—they are better then human in so many ways….and worse in so many others. As horror villains the easiest way to exploit this is to begin by unsettlingly demonstrate the many ways they’re superior, and then hint at the ways they are inferior, so players can discover them and bring the creature down. As PCs, the most effective way to use this is to simply bring it up a lot “As soon as she takes off her sunglasses, the clerk keeps darting looks over at Cathy’s eyes—they don’t catch the light the way he expects. You can tell he’s a little put off.”

Calm: 0-9
Agility: 0-6
Toughness: 0-6
Perception: 0-7
Appeal: 0-5
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 0-9

Calm Check: 6 (when it becomes clear they’re artificial)
Cards: The Wheel of Fortune (10), Possibly also The Hermit (9), The Lovers (6), Page of Swords (10), Page of Cups (10)

Possible Special Abilities:

Inorganic digestive/respiratory system: Constructs without ordinary lungs, stomachs or other organs will not breathe and will be immune to poison and other ordinary toxins.

Recall and Calculation: Undamaged constructs with cybernetic brains will retain the kinds of information that can be easily preserved in digital format and will be able to perform calculations like a computer.

Mutilated Life: The severed extremities of many forms of artificial life can continue to attack even when separated from the main body. These parts have -1 Agility and -3 Toughness. To keep life interesting, the Host should interpret any attack that could have reasonably severed a limb as having severed a limb until the combat gets too confusing to keep track of.

Other abilities: Artificial Lifeforms can have a variety of other abilities as the Host sees fit. For example, electronic terrors might have an ability like the Frenzied Process spel, biological mutants might be able to Warp Flesh or cause Mutation with a touch (see Supernatural Abilities section later in the library for these).

Possible Weaknesses:

Interpretive Disfunction: If the construct has an artificial mind its Knowledge score will reflect a high degree of recall and calculating ability, but many constructs lack the basic social experience to understand what pieces of observed information mean. They might, for example, not understand the difference between a child dragging a child-shaped doll behind it along the ground and a parent dragging a child along the ground. This is often what makes the creature a horror rather than just an interesting anomaly.

Power source: Artificial beings may not necessarily eat or breathe but they do need to run on something—electricity, photovoltaic cells, chemosynthesis, photosynthesis, nutrient slurry, etc. The power source may be external, internal or (as in the case of rechargeable batteries) both.

Short-circuit: Electronic artificials will generally be built water-tight but will take standard damage each round that liquid reaches their internal systems.

Processing damage: Any time an artificial with an electronic brain goes into negative health, they must make a Calm check vs the Intensity to avoid also losing a point of Calm. “Mental” disorders picked up by these artificials will be strange and repetitive.

Player Character Artificial Life

Problem-type player characters may elect to start the game as an experimental construct. In this case they may elect to trade any number of points of Appeal (they are often socially awkward or physically distorted, though PC artificials will appear basically human at the start) for any number of points to spend on Agility, Toughness or Perception up to the maximums above.

In addition, Artificial PCs conversant in the skills that created them (whether these are biochemical, mechanical, etc) may attempt to improve themselves during Downtime. To do so, the character cannot throw for a Downtime activity. Note many Downtime tables won’t work for certain kinds of artificials anyway.

To improve Agility, Toughness, Perception or Appeal, roll a d100 on the following table. A PC artificial can gain abilities up to the maximums above this way.

1-Disaster! Something disturbing has occurred. Lose 1 point in the characteristic you were attempting to improve and a point of Calm permanently. (Minimum 0.)

2-69 No results yet—try again later.

70-93 You realize this isn’t going to work early on in your modifications, choose an ordinary Downtime activity you can perform and roll there instead.

94-95 You can’t leave this half-done but you’re missing something important—lose one point of Cash and gain one point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve. If your Cash is already zero you can’t make this modification until you get more Cash and are at -1 to the stat you were attempting to improve. If you do get more Cash the improvement is automatic at the next Downtime.

96-98 Gain a point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve and make a Cash check vs a 4 or else lose a point of Cash. If your Cash is already zero and you lose Cash you can’t make this modification until you get more Cash, but if you do, it’s automatic at the next Downtime.

99-00 Gain a point in the characteristic you’re attempting to improve.
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