Monday, September 25, 2023

9 Colors of Fire

1) Red-Orange.

The brilliant embers of a true fire are impossible to mistake.

All other flames are corrupted forms of this ancient and pure flame.

2) Blue.

Cobalt flame, immensely hot.

Smoke from a flame this hot can reveal wayward spirits and bring light to the truth long lost.

3) Azure.

The light of the dead star Gnottis, like ever-shifting azure glass, chill to the touch.

The star is dim and still, a monument to what was, like a glass eye. Gnottis died before Neurim knew life, yet still it clings to life animated by the glass flame. It was carried to Neurim by the servants of the Bodyless Ones known as husks. The azure flame of Gnottis is said to bring life to the inanimate though harvesting the flame is nigh impossible.

4) Burgundy.

The light of love, passion, and death. Lit ever eternal in the Crematori. 

In Sisthea the East the burgundy flame, carried from drowned Sisthea the West, burns eternal in the furnace of the great Crematori, where all Sistheans are burnt upon their death, their ashes feeding the flame. It is said that their passions color the flame. Such a deep and vibrant red could only be forged by love.

5) Magenta.

The light of illusion, a burning fire of falsehood.

It's a figment, really. An impossible sight born of an impossible color. All illusions are the shadows of this magenta flame. The most wily of illusionists can hide the flame, though novices and incompetents often fail to fool anyone with their magic. The flickering of a false flame gives it away.

6) Green.

Pale and sickly, simultaneously the color of half rotten olives and under-ripe limes.

Green flame roams the Eyeless Lands, brought by the ogres and their insipid illness from below. It is the flame of rot and disease, lit deep within the earth in the ancient city of Yersinia, long buried and left to rot and ruin. It is there that disease originates, and it is there that the sick flame burns brightest.

7) Royal Purple.

It is a regal flame, lit with a sense of self importance. It holds itself high.

It is the queen of flames, self appointed of course. Some believe it sapient. Grandiose arrogance allows fire to grow a mind. It thinks itself greater than you. It looks down at you with eyes made of drifting ash and tilts up a chin made of cinders.

8) Brass.

Liquid metal, flickering like fire.

A creation of the dwarves, once used by warriors who specialized in liquid metal weapons and armor. The art is mostly lost to the dwarves, stolen by the dragon-cult Hatavites.

9) Black.

It eats light.

An orcish invention, a flame designed to scorch gods. Few things can harm an idol and fewer still can harm divinity, but the horrid black flame of the orcs can. Enough flame and enough time will result in an undead god, the most powerful and twisted weapon of the orcs.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

How Many Ancestries Is Too Many?

It's a question I have asked myself many times because I don't know. Ask anyone and you'll get a different answer. The human-centrist will argue one, just human. The standard-fantasy gamer will argue for 4, human, dwarf, elf, and halfling. The 5e-gamer will argue that there's no such thing as too many: more choice is always better.

Personally, I think there is a limit to the number of how many you can reasonably have. At a certain point, you have so many options that the average party becomes a glorified circus attraction and the things that are weird and unique cease to be interesting. In 5e, a party can consist of a sapient ooze, one of three seperate varieties of bird person, an interplanar warrior from space, and a turtle. That's not a party of adventurers. That's a zoo.

Neurim has 6: humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, mokhan (sapient rock people), and half-orcs. I have toyed with adding more, namely in the form of curseling ancestries, such as cambion/tieflings and ghouls, with curselings not being available for a first character due to weird rules and narratives. That feels good to me, though at times I wonder if cutting one of the original ancestries for something different would be cool. I like my dwarves and my halflings, which means it would be elves, and considering elves are such an extreme rarity in Neurim, it might make sense.

You'll notice I haven't answered the question. I don't have an answer. I'm not sure there is an answer to be had.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Three Action System for Exploring Dungeons

Today on an ever-growing list of half-baked ideas from Pastel.

A couple of weeks ago I made a post about why I disliked 10-minute turns. Today, I bring you a way that I think helps alleviate some of my worse issues: implementing Pathfinder Second Edition's 3 action economy into exploration.

The idea is simple: During each dungeon turn, a party/player has 3 actions that they can spend performing actions. A simple action, one that takes 2-3 minutes, takes one action, a more complex one two actions, and a long and in-depth one takes all three actions. All actions are declared  before anything happens, and then the GM describes the results of their actions before ticking down time and checking for random encounters. If multiple players, or a player and some number of hirelings/retainers attempt the same action, only one roll is made (if necessary) but is made with some sort of advantage.

For example, a rogue might be exploring a dungeon and come into a new room with a single chest in the middle. They might spend 2 actions checking the room for traps, then 1 action unlocking the chest. That's their 10 minute turn.

It's very simple on its face, though I am not dumb enough to not see the flaws. For one, there is a bit of "mother may I" in determining the length of actions. A player might think an action simple, but the GM might think it complex. These sorts of interactions can feel bad for the player, though I don't imagine it happening on a regular basis. For two, this is going to massively increase the amount of time each turn takes. I cannot answer if that's good or bad, but it most certainly is true.

I am also not 100% sure of whether or not actions should be for each player or an entire party. On one hand it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for everyone to stand around the rogue while they lock pick, but on the other giving 4-6 players each 3 actions is going to be a lot, though I do know that hirelings and retainers likely shouldn't get actions or it all gets obscene very quickly. It needs some ironing out and perhaps someone else will have an idea worth implementing further.

Some other ideas: for using this system with the Underclock, just give the players 3 actions for each time-based roll of the clock (not for rolls from making noise or general tomfoolery). For random encounters, you can roll a d3 to determine during which action monsters appear to see where each character is currently.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Level 0 (And a Bit on Shadow of the Demon Lord)

I don't know if you've heard of Shadow of the Demon Lord, but it's probably my favorite TTRPG right now, though that might be replaced by Shadow of the Weird Wizard when it drops. It's very good, pretty much everything I've wanted out of a TTRPG except for a thriving 3rd party scene. The mechanics are simple but fun, the crunch is generated via player choice and the choices players have are interesting, and enemies are threatening even to high level players to encourage creative problem solving even when combat is engaging. It's simple, but has a lot of depth.

This isn't a review of SotDL, this is a review of a single aspect of SotDL that I love: level 0. The intended start for a SotDL game is as a level 0 commoner, nothing but your ancestry, your starting equipment, and some sort of weird extra item or bonus or curse or something.

It's great. I've recently started running a SotDL campaign and the first session was one of my favorite sessions ever. Tossing the party in and letting them get way in over their heads and come out on top via creative problem solving is 100% what I play TTRPGs for. 

There's often this adage that backstories should be simple (I often limit players to a single paragraph) because the game is the story of them being adventurers, and level 0 hits that perfectly. This is the story of how the party become adventurers. How they went from nobodies to monster hunters and tomb divers.

It was great. I loved it. I think it really solidified my love of SotDL. A singular encapsulation of what makes the system good. Overall, the idea of a session 0 is one I can't recommend enough. The story of how the party becomes adventurers is such an interesting one to tell. It might take a bit of homebrew (DCC is the only other game I know of with something similar), but I can personally attest to how cool the results are.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Why I dislike 10-Minute Turns (And Why I Love the Clock)

If you aren't familiar with Goblin Punch's Underclock, I'd recommend reading that before reading this.

I doubt I'm about to say anything that hasn't been said before, but I think the concept of 10 minute turns for dungeon exploration is silly. I get the point: provide a simple and consistent procedure for dungeon exploration to make resource management and random encounter generation as easy as possible. Does it do that? Yes, sort of. It does it effectively enough, though I think we can do better (chances are, we can always do better). Let me start with my major points against 10 minute turns.

  1. Let's start with the most obvious: 10 minute turns break verisimilitude. By their nature, they are restrictive. Everything must fit into a 10 minute slot or a 0 minute slot, even things for which either slot makes no sense. It also leaves no opportunity for "something you thought would take long took basically no time" or the opposite.
  2. I find 10 minute turns extraordinary tedious. Mark down duration, roll for random encounters, so on and so forth. There's a laundry list of things that must be done after every single turn, which is an issue when taking turns are the most common action players do.
  3. I find turns actively discourage experimentation. If you know that any action can result in wasting 10 minutes, then taking actions becomes a dangerous dance of "will this take 10 minutes". Examining a cool statue becomes risky when it could mean losing a sixth of your torch and a roll for random encounters. Ultimately this problem is born of the restrictive nature of 10 minute turns, but I'm listing it separately because I feel it is an extreme antithesis to the game we play.
  4. Random encounters lose a lot of interest when they are truly random. Random encounters are best as a tool to drive the narrative and build suspense, but when they just appear they lose a lot of interest.

If you read about the Underclock, I'm sure you can see where this is going.

I've finally be given an opportunity to run a new campaign for some friends, and I've been using the Underclock in it, though I simply refer to it as the Clock. Whenever the players do something that takes time, or makes noise, I roll a d6 and subtract it from 20, with 6's exploding. When they do something that takes a VERY long time, or makes a lot of noise while taking time, I'll roll multiple d6's, with 6's exploding. When the Clock strikes below 0, a random encounter appears. That's not all I do, but it's the gist.

The big point of the Clock is that the players can see it. Random encounters are no longer truly random, the players now know when things are going to happen and tension is built. They plan around the Clock, but I think that's a good thing. Adventurers should have a sixth sense for when something is about to go wrong. This fixes problem 4.

It also helps that a full cycle of the Clock is approximately an hour. Things take as much time as they need, as represented by the roll of the d6. If the roll is low, then it didn't take much time. If the roll is high, it took a while. This fixes issue 1. The whole rolling for the Clock thing is easy too. Just some d6's and simple subtraction, and when it goes below 0 an hour has passed and torches will go out and spells will need to be reset. Makes issue 2 a non factor too. And finally, because I control when the clock is rolled, I can choose not to roll it for things that are short and simple. Examing a statue could take 2 minutes. That's not worthy of the Clock, and fixes issue 3.

Basically, I wrote all this to talk about how much I like the Underclock and how much it fixes one of my largest issues with old school play. I'm not saying it's perfect for you, but it is perfect for me, partially because I am a fan of cutting a lot of the fat out of my games. I find such strict time keeping unnecessary for the way I play, so I prefer a system that removes it.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Neurim Lore Primer

This post should act as a reasonable introduction to my fantasy world Neurim. Neurim was designed as a fantasy world that appears very standard on its face, but becomes weirder the closer you look. This post should help make some of that weirdness more obvious. 

The universe that Neurim takes place in is the Concordance. Neurim is a Concord, or world, within that Concordance.

The World.

See map here.

Neurim is a roughly Earth-sized world with a year of exactly 360 days. Most cultures divide these days into 12 months of 30 days each. The current year is 443 AF (after founding) as defined by the Zetterite calendar. 

In the east are the Tiers of the Sevenwoods, the Folleyfaults, and Dunset, charecterized by vast forests and rolling hills. The Sevenwoods are home to the seven major kingdoms of the Zetterite Empire, as well as it's capital of Anastor. The Folleyfaults are barren, hilly, and rocky, home to many ancient ruins and the city of Witches. Dunset is a land trapped in eternal autumn, and is the empire's defensive line against invasion.

To the north is Oth Elana, the land of the Kingdoms of the Omentahl. These lands cold and bitter, and frequented by rain and snow. Immense taiga forests dot the land, as well as the immense Stillwind Rise, a plateau without wind. Further north are the boreal lands, and to the west is the great forest of Songmaiden's Meath, the home of the druids. Further west still are the great wastelands of Azad-Ghul and the Dust Abyss.

Separating the Tiers and Oth Elana is the alpine region of Lost Muine, the once homeland of the dwarves. West of it is the Silkcat Jungle, a massive temperate rainforest. Past it are the lands of Zaruchyat, now called Hayekar by the orcs that drove the human inhabitants away.

East of the Tiers, across the Reaches of our Hands is the Thousand Miles, a track of endless desert. From the Painted Desert in the north, to the Stone Forest, to the Dune Sea and the Tar Marshes. The southern tip of the Thousand Miles is the magic city of Zahallas, and on it's eastern edge are the rotting lands of Asur, home of the first kingdom of humanity Asuria.

South of the Tiers is the great crater known as Svog, home of the Svoggite Church who worship the slumbering god Svoggoth within. Bodies have a habit of winding up within Svog. Further south still is the decaying remnants of the Great Tree of the Elves, and even further south is the Zetterite nation of Sisthea. East from there leads to the great canyon-valleys of the Dromudine.

Crossing the sea to the south leads to the continent of Mgamba, a land of jungles, deserts, and savannahs. A number of nations dot the land, most united in a great union.

There is also the Shattered Continent of Zatrom, which orbits the earth, completing a cycle twice a year. It is a land of harsh terrain and floating stones, connected by a metaphorical sea which allows ships to float and fish to swim. It's most common inhabitants of the Mokhan, a kind of rock person, and the alchemists of Arcologium.

Major Factions and Core Conflict.

The Zetterite Empire, the greatest in the world, is a powerful fuedal state (think 14th century Europe) that controls its subsidiaries by taking their gods, trapped in physical idols, and keeping them in its capital city, only allowing the most powerful to speak outside of the city's walls, known as the Zettar. It is lead by the Godhead, a title passed down from worthy female successor to worthy female successor.

Their primary enemy are the Omentahlic Kingdoms (think 9th century anglo-saxons, celtic tribes, and norse tribes), who are led by an enigmatic religious prophet known as the Word. After losing their gods to the Zetterites in a great war, the Omentahl rebelled by creating new gods that were not bound by idol. and thus harder to steal, known as the Omentahl.

The Omentahl and Zetterites have fought two wars, one 120 years ago, and another 40 years ago.

Smaller Factions.

The Svoggite Grand Church is a hyper-religious society with a positive view on undead and dark magics. 20 years ago they attempted to convert the world by force to their views during the Cadaver Crusade, which hurt the Zetterite Empire immensely, though the crusade was unsuccessful.

Many druids, fearful of Zetterite oppresion, have also banded together under a figure known as the Animus, who wishes to destroy the Zetterite Empire.

The Trading House of Hatavius is a merchant-cult obsessed with gaining money and ascending to dragonhood. 

The orcs of Hayeker, led by a figure known only as the Warchief, have attempted many times to invade the lands to the west and destroy all gods for good, though they have been driven back all times.

In the south, much of Mgamba is united under a single senate, the Electrum Council. The land is a testament to what humans can do with peace.

There is also the ghoul kingdom of Asura, the art and reincarnation obsessed Dromudine, the enigmatic doomsday Star Cult, the demon worshiping Disciples of Mother, as well as the mage society led by the Winedark Council and the Alchemists led by the Five Engines..

Magic and Technology.

Magic in Neurim is pure chaos distilled into words which can be read by the magically gifted. These words are located on quartz gems known as steles, which are copied onto scrolls for ease of daily memorization and use. Magic works by breaking down reality and causing fundamental rules to break.

Alchemy, synonymous with science on Neurim, is a set of complex rules, interactions, experiments, and theories to explain how the universe works. Alchemists can perform all sorts of technological feats, from creating automata to firearms. Alchemy breaks down near magic, and thus alchemists and mages rarely get along.


These are the most common sapient species in Neurim, ranged in order of least rare to rarest. There are more, but these are by far the most common.


Humans are the most common ancestry on Neurim. They are extremely varied, and around what you'd expect, though humans do have the ability to smell magic.


Dwarves are short and stout, often with grand and mighty beards which they take pride in. Dwarves do not reproduce sexually (in fact, they have no sexual organs at all), but are instead constructed by their forefathers. Dwarves have hearts made of rare gems, and are immortal as long as they eat gems or valuable minerals. Dwarves are defined by their cycle, or generation. The current cycle is the 13th. The dwarves are slowly dying off, and many believe the 13th cycle will be the final.


Halflings were a diplomat-species brought to Neurim by aliens known as the Bodyless Ones. Halflings have an appearance resembling whatever species they live nearest, as they have an uncanny ability to adapt to the most common local species. Often, they appear as short humans with elf ears. Halflings are easy to get along with, and are incapable of creating their own societies without the presence of other species.


There are three kinds of elf, lead, bark, and root. Together, they were once trees, but millennia of jealousy and hatred split them. Elves are haughty and self-important, and live lives with as little risk as possible, as their deaths will kill an elf of the other types. Elves that deny this lifestyle are known as half-elves, and are the kind of elves most see outside of elven cities.


Mokhan are intelligent stone humanoids, animated by a magical force that gives them life. They have elonged limbs, are around 7 feet tall, and are stronger than humans. Mokhan often feel a lack of purpose, which they find painful, and try to alleviate it with art or adventure.


Orcs are a virus that infect and warp humans into stronger humanoids with mottled skin, goat-eyes, claws for fingers, a lack of blood, and bones that twist in unnatural ways. Orcs are natural dystheists, believing that all gods must be killed, and have created an endless war machine to do this. Orcs that reject this are known as half-orcs, and are the only kind of peaceful orc you are liable to find in much of Neruim.

Common Threats.

These are some of the common enemy creatures common to Neurim. It isn't inclusive of every option, and only include intelligent beings. Presented in order of most normal to least normal.


Bandits and raiders, to Zetterite and Omentahlic forces, to Svoggite crusaders and Asurian ghoul nobles, aggresive humans are common to all of Neurim.

Goblins and The Dark.

The Dark is an intelligent malevolent force that wishes to destroy all sapient life. To do this, it creates monsters, known as goblins. Goblins are highly varied, but are united by a lack of nose and sharp ears. Goblins are incabaple of doing anything that will not eventually result in the death of sapient humanoids, and while they build societies, it is simply to destroy better. It isn't their fault, they can't do otherwise.


An endless industrial war machine. Orcs use anti-holy magic and turn god corpses into powerful machines to aid in their war. Orc invasions are rare, but smaller orc warbands are a common sight .


Blue scaled lizard humanoids. They live in the deep places of the earth, as the sun causes them to catch fire. Their breath is toxic smoke, and given time they would replace all air on Neurim with it. Kobolds are gifted craftsman, able to create complex machinery out of nothing but stone and waste-copper. They are the sworn enemies of dwarves.

The Fomorian.

Also known as the ogres, the Fomorian are a species of lesser giants cursed with endless disease. They are massive, with bodies covered in a network of wounds, fungal infections, and insects. They live all over Neurim, but are most common near their home in Eluid's Pox.


Husks are necro-mechnical machines made of bone and bismuth and animated by astral fire, like azure glass flame. Husks were workers of the Bodyless Ones, but were left behind after being used for war. They are like malfunctioning machines, confused and dangerous. They come in many shapes.

Ghaal, Ghaal-ar, and Ghaal-ratha.

Beings from another world, the Land of Flesh and Metal, often called demons, are malformed and twisted half-metal monstrosities that relish in death. Ghaal-ar, or true demons, are incapable of coming to Neurim if not summoned, so they turn themselves into evil and corrupting weapons known as Ghaal to convince mortals to open portals to The Land of Flesh and Metal. Ghaal-ratha, or devils, are demons that have constructed societies with strict rules. They can come to Neurim without assistance, but are bound by a strict code.


Two-dimensional psychic beings most commonly found in the vast caverns beneath Neurim known as the Dark World below. They are led by the Abathethi, the voiceless lords. Their plans are unknowable and to them we are but pawns in their great work. 



Friday, August 11, 2023

The Aesthetics of the Unknowable

Cthulhu isn't scary. Sure, the idea of an unknowable elder god who's schemes have defined all of existence and are impossible to understand and the mere attempt to do so is going to end in, at best, death and, at worst, insanity is scary, but Cthulhu is not scary. Cthulhu is a silly looking tentacle man.

It is hard for humans to write about the unknowable. By the very ways we create art, making art of something that is completely abstracted from our reality is difficult. It's hard to make something you can't parse. In reality, the best art of the unknowable we can create are series of unrelated shapes and colors. The second any part of it makes sense is the second it's no longer alien.

As a result, we have a habit of picking things on Earth to use as the basis for our eldritch horrors, most often deep sea animals: especially squid and octopi, as the terrors of the deep sea are the closest thing to a true unknowable horror we have on Earth. Octopi are intelligent, very much so, but the way they think is foreign to us. They're a solid basis for eldritch horror.

Yet, we fail to go for something true alien. We humanize the idea of an eldritch horror. Notice that a certain iconic monster from Dungeons and Dragons is shaped like a person. They have defined arms and legs and heads, just with the addition of tentacles. Is this scary?

We have a habit of this. Mushrooms are alien to us, but mushroom-people are almost always mushrooms with stumpy little legs and little arms with cute little mushroom fingers. It's easier to see them as cute than it is as a weird alien being so wholly different from us that the fact we can communicate at all is a miracle.

What's the point of the unknowable being so...recognizable? Perhaps I am the only one who thinks that unknowable eldritch horrors from a reality out of time should look as weird as they think. Turning them into the planet of hats robs them of being anything more than just another bad guy. And that's not to say there's anything wrong with that. I like my squid people too. I just wish we had our horrible alien eldritch monsters too.

But how do you communicate the idea of something that is not of this world? My best advice: make something impossible. Something that couldn't possible exist, and then turn it into an all knowing scheming mastermind. The Bodyless Ones of Neurim are memetic thought viruses (they exist only as thoughts) that built an interstellar empire. The Abathethi (also of Neurim) only exist in two of our world's dimensions (they appear flat).

The point of all this wasn't to crap on squid people. Again, I like squid people. I just feel that squid people are pigeonholed into the role of "servants of the great old gods" when they're really best used as weird guys that want to eat your brain.