Twenty Terrible Secrets

Some secrets are better left unknown. The following is a list of twenty terrible, dangerous secrets. When the keepers of these secrets learn that you know them, they will do anything in their power to snuff their secrets out with you.
You can use the list like a d20 table, or just pick a secret you like.

1. Healing potions are an ancient creation of the fallen Dark God of Injury. Every potion drank removes an injury by transferring it to the Dark God, and little by little, returning Her power such that She may one day return. The Potionmasters’ Guild knows this and they’re not keen on the bad press for their best selling product.

2. A hidden community of clockworks at the bottom of the ocean is assembling a great weapon in secret with the hope of one day claiming the ocean as their own.

3. Flies are always watching, always listening. They eavesdrop on conversations and record the memories in their maggots’ DNA. Collecting information has been their great purpose throughout history. Like maggots feed on flesh, adult flies feed on information. But the flies are driven to be unknown observers. If people knew flies were listening in on them, it would change the content of their conversations making the information impure. The flies cannot allow this. The flies will not allow this.

4. A plague devastates a prince’s people. By the magic of an ancient ritual, the plague will end when the prince chooses to be faithful to his wife. The plague continues.

5. The dwarfs have spent centuries digging fault lines under every major surface city which they will soon be capable of opening to massive destructive effect.

6. A monarch is a changeling who stole the identity of the proper monarch. The nobility know this and allow it because the changeling is far more likeable than the real monarch. But the monarch’s power is based on bloodline, and if the people knew, they would revolt.

7. An oligarch in possesses a wand that, once per month, can turn an intelligent soul into gold. He uses it every chance he can get.

8. A Cardinal of the Cult of the New God is a cambion whose soul is bound for Hell no matter what he does. He is a true believer and generally a good man but will do anything to prevent this secret from coming out.

9. Several villages were recently razed, apparently by wild beastmen. In truth, it was a sect within the military who worship the God of Slaughter.

10. A large fishing company has doubled its profits by catching and selling a hard-to-catch species of delicious shark – after discovering the sharks are easily attracted to children thrown in the water.

11. The Dentistry Guild has discovered a painless technique for dentistry magic, but they suppress it because pain-free treatment is NOT what any of them got into dentistry for.

12. The Spell to End the World is six words long. A cabal of undead sorcerers is dedicated to erasing any vestige of this spell permanently. You accidentally learned one of the words.

13. An athlete who has inspired a generation and spawned a little industry of sportswear gets his strength by eating souls.

14. There is a portal to another world that is far nicer than yours, inhabited by a society much more advanced than yours. They hate the people of your world and don’t want their existence known to your people.

15. The Witch-King who ruled the fallen kingdom Gog was recently reborn as a young halfling girl who retains all of the Witch-King’s memories including ancient magics. She is plotting in secret to regain her kingdom.

16. You learned the identity of an accomplished assassin of the Black Hand. Anonymity is the key to her career, and she knows that you know.

17. There is a song with a catchy tune that has spread in popularity over the past couple of years. It is frequently requested from bards, and stays in the listeners’ heads for weeks. The melody sweetens the listeners’ souls,  making them tastier for demons in the afterlife. Demons wish to keep this knowledge a secret to keep the sweetened souls flowing.

18. There is a horrific, narcissistic dragon who lives in the Shield Mountains of the Northern Reach. Among its many tics and obsessions, it despises and is embarrassed by its birth name, all record of which has almost been scrubbed from the Urth. By accident, you have learned its embarrassing true name.

19. Just as gods are empowered by their followers’ belief and worship, old gods  can fade away when they are forgotten. After centuries of obscurity, the Lucky Lady of Autumn, represented as a fiddling cricket for reasons long since forgotten, wants nothing more than to die. Much to her displeasure, you learned of her existence, prolonging it.

20. The Matriarch of the Cult of the New God had a vision that those who upheld the virtues of the Four Truths of the Cult were blessed in the afterlife by having their souls annihilated rather than returning to the Underworld. Per the vision, this is a blessing as the horrors coming for Urth are so awful that it is better to not exist than to be born into them. The leadership of the Cult is unsure if this is a true vision, but they absolutely will not allow this story to be known by the general populace.

Shadow of the Krampus

Just in time for the holidays, I had the genuine pleasure of running a horror-themed Christmas one-shot, recorded and released in a four-part podcast on the Don’t Split the Podcast Network.

The players were my real life meatspace friends and founders of DSPN, James and Rudy, a very-funny player from the Dames & Dragons podcast, Noel Shiri (who was not only invited because of her thematically appropriate name), and D&D writer and Adventurer’s League community manager Lysa Chen.

We played the great free adventure Shadow of the Krampus (available at the link) by Advanced Dungeons and Parenting blogger Christian Lindke.

For a free adventure… Shadow of the Krampus is freaking huge. Christian wrote an intricate lore about the Solstice King and Krampus that makes the adventure worth reading even if you don’t have a group to run it for (though I suggest finding a group to run it for). There’s a map to run a hexcrawl, a mystery to solve, intense combats, and crazy hooks leading to additional Christmas themed adventures. It’s a 13 page PDF packed tight with content for the crazy price of free.

I’m boycotting Starbucks until they put Krampus on their holiday cups.

For the sake of a compelling narrative arc within the time constraints of a single-session podcast, I had to judiciously edit parts out of the adventure. And because I’m a weird comedian I added some additional whimsical Christmas stuff and, uh, songs. But, honestly if you and your friends are bunch of no-responsibility crumb bums you could probably spend a holiday weekend of gaming just based on this free adventure.

ANYWAY! If you want to listen to the our take on the adventure, here it is: (I’ll add the remaining parts as they are posted)

Shadow of the Krampus – Part One

Shadow of the Krampus – Part Two

Shadow of the Krampus – Part Three (of four!)

And because I’m a big fan of promoting the actual paid material that keeps Shadow of the Demon Lord running, I’d be remiss not to point out that after this recording Schwalb Entertainment released an official winter holiday themed adventure, He Sees You When You’re Sleeping. Hopefully I can convince James and Rudy to play and record that adventure next December…

Review and Recap: The Demon’s Wet Nurse

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of running a Shadow of the Demon Lord one-shot as a reward for Patreon backers of Have Spellbook, Will Travel, the flagship fantasy comedy radio play podcast of the Don’t Split the Podcast Network.

After digging through the catalogue of SotDL published adventures for a Novice-level adventure suitable for a one-shot, I settled on The Demon’s Wet Nurse by Stan!

Stan! wins my accolade both for writing a great adventure and for his bold self-identification.

It’s tough picking out an adventure for a one-shot! I always want something a little unusual that the players will remember. I want combat to be a side-dish, not necessarily the focus, of the adventure. I want an interesting mystery to solve, but for there to be enough things to do and ways to approach it that the players don’t feel railroaded. And I want it all in a package that I can read and understand in a short amount of time while still not feeling too stumped when the players start asking questions.

I’m asking a lot, and The Demon’s Wet Nurse delivers!

Here’s the link to The Demon’s Wet Nurse if you want to just go buy the thing and read it instead of reading my *SPOILER* recap of our game below.

This session turned out to be a great test of the Demon Lord system because I was running a game for one person who was familiar with SotDL itself, four who were experienced D&D players, and one who liked games but had never really played a tabletop RPG before. Despite this, we spent a very minimal amount of time looking up rules or stumbling over how to do things. Even combat flowed quite smoothly. It’s really a testament to the ease of use of this system! I’m plotting a campaign for my nerdier real life coworkers who are interested in D&D, and I’m definitely planning on running Shadow of the Demon Lord for them. Even though I’ve played various editions of D&D my whole life, and am truly happy with the direction of 5th Edition, I still think Shadow of the Demon Lord is an easier system for new players to sit down and start playing.

In The Demon’s Wet Nurse players start at a small crossroads town and sit down to enjoy a meal. They quickly discover that this town is suffering from some kind of plague which appears to be food-borne, but not before they’ve had a chance to eat some of the town’s food themselves. The adventure includes a fun little sickness mechanic where players roll every four-hours of in-character time to see how their sickness progresses. By luck of the dice (and also because one character was a hunger-free clockwork and another was a disease-immune goblin) the players actually didn’t experience much sickness, but they were shown the worst possible effects of the sickness in NPCs in town. When they visited the town’s infirmary, the players were inquisitive enough to investigate the excrement and vomit of sick patients and discover unnatural tiny creatures moving around in them. The adventure describes these creatures as “insects and worms” but I played on what I knew my players personally hated and called them weird spiders.

This image courtesy of searching “poop spider” in Google.

I did not anticipate the players sneaking into the town’s graveyard and digging up a grave of one of the deceased, and had fun improvising the effects of this disease on a corpse. I described a black acidic ichor filled with the weird spiders as having dissolved the abdomen of the dead villager, and starting to burn through the bottom of the cheap wooden coffin. This game is fun.

The players had a lot of places and people in town to visit, all colorfully described in the PDF The first half of the adventure consisted of the players tracking down the source of the plague by methodically talking to townspeople about who they had contact with, what they had eaten, and where their food came from. Maybe some folks enjoy hacking-and-slashing kobolds, but I like a good detective story, and the players were happy to participate.

I may have tipped my hand about the source of the disease when describing where restaurants were getting their food from, “Well there’s a brewer in town, I keep chickens out back, we get our milk and butter from the Golden Meadows dairy.” The players were pretty quick to pick up on my accidental vocal shift between naming food sources that I was making up on the fly and then saying the one food source with a proper name. Ah well, my players are smart guys and didn’t need any help or hints from me to figure things out.

The second half of the adventure consisted of investigating the Golden Meadows dairy and discovering that the place had been taken over by a demonic cult. The climax of the adventure was the players infiltrating the farm, defeating the cultists, and rescuing a baby who the cultists were raising to become a demon. (The disease came from the cows on the dairy who were afflicted by the demonic presence.)

I’m still grappling with the right way to tune difficulty in this system. I wanted to beef up the cultists’ strength because we were playing with six players, so I added a brutish orc warrior and a magic user to the cult, but one player had to leave early before we got to the main combat session, so I ended up pulling my punches a bit in combat to make sure the players could all get to the end of the adventure. Deciding whether to pull punches is tough, because as a GM you don’t want to feel bad about your players dying left and right, but you also know your players are smart enough to know when you’re going easy on them. When I asked players for feedback after the game, gaming hero James said, “Don’t be afraid to kill me.”

In the future, I’d like to trust that I play with smart and good players who will properly react to difficult, life-threatening challenges without me adjusting the difficulty for them. Lessons learned!

Speaking of difficulty, The Demon’s Wet Nurse adventure describes two ways of dealing with the demon-possessed baby (who breathes fire and mind controls you, you should buy this adventure) to complete the game. The simple way is to just kill the baby. There’s also a complicated multi-step procedure for exorcising the demon from the baby, which involves defacing half of the two hundred demonic sigils that are scattered throughout the dairy farm. When I read the adventure I thought, “Well no player is ever going to do all that.” So I was shocked when, encountering the very first demonic sigils on the farm, one of the players took the can of beets that they received as random item at character generation and used it to deface the sigils. They went on to use blood from an infected cow they had slain to cover the majority of the remaining sigils, and they eventually figured out how to exorcise the demon from the baby without me telling them to! I was shocked and so incredibly pleased with them.

Anyway, three key takeaways:

Shadow of the Demon Lord is a great system and I want everyone to play it.

The Demon’s Wet Nurse packs a hell of a great adventure, with great little maps and everything, into an affordable PDF and you should buy it.

– Players are amazing and I love them.

Skelephants

A terrifying monster! And possibly the mascot of a major undead political party?

A skelephant never forgets what it knew in life but forms no new memories in undeath. This constant state of confusion makes it particularly irritable.

Though the skelephant’s boneless trunk has long since rotted away, its memory of its trunk is strong enough to create a ghostly telekinetic force that functions just like the former appendage.

There is a rumor that you can see its past by playing its rib cage like a xylophone. It’s unclear whether this is a fact or a horrible prank.

Regular living elephants, who remember and honor their dead, treat skelephants as horrifying monsters.

SKELEPHANT   Difficulty 50
Size 3 frightening undead animal
Perception 5 (-5), sightless
Defense: 14   Health: 80
Strength: 16 (+6)  Agility: 10 (+0)  Intellect: 6 (-4)  Will: 12 (+2)
Speed: 8
Immune: damage from cold, disease, and poison; gaining insanity; asleep, diseased, fatigue, poisoned

ATTACK OPTIONS
Goring Tusks: (melee) +6 with 1 boon (3d6)
Trample: (melee) +6 with 1 boon (2d6), on a success a target who is smaller than the skelephant is knocked prone.
SPECIAL ACTIONS
Ghostly Trunk: When a creature enters the skelephant’s reach, the skelephant can use a triggered action to make a grab attack (+6 with 2 boons) against that creature with its invisible ghostly trunk. On a success the target is grabbed and takes 1d6 damage. The skelephant cannot use this action again until the grab ends.