Wednesday, 1 June 2022

My Ability Score Generation Method - One 1 Once

Rolling up a character with the boys (they're impressed by my new method)

Everyone has a pet method for rolling ability scores, '3d6 in order' and '4d6 drop lowest - arrange to taste' are both very well known (I invite you to share your favored method in the comments under this post)Here's one I like to use and haven't encountered before. Therefore it's mine. I call it '3d6 - One 1 Once'.

Each player generates their ability scores in order using 3d6 - totalling them as usual. However, of these 3d6, two dice are the same colour and the third is of a different colour. This third die is your 'lucky die'. Whenever an ability score is rolled for and the lucky die results in a 1, it can be rerolled once - if it results in another 1 it cannot be rerolled again. Only the lucky die can be rerolled in this way. All ability scores are rolled for via this method, when complete, two ability scores may be swapped with one another. 

This method is fun enough, quick and does away with most (but not all) ability scores of 3 and can even turn 13's into 18's. The method results in similar average ability scores as rolling 3d6 alone does.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Searchers of the Unknown - Foreign Planets Edition

Searchers of the Unknown is a great little set of rules by Nicolas Dessaux. I have made(like many before me) my own version of the rules, making a few mechanical alterations/additions and rewriting some sections for clarity. I have tried to keep aesthetics, format and tone similar to the original. The rules fit on one double sided piece of paper and the standout mechanic is that there are no ability scores. Armour Class is the main determiner of what your character can and cannot easily achieve. The rules would work well for a series of connected dungeon-delving one shots.

Get the rules here


Monday, 11 April 2022

Doomed Polar Expeditions to Dread Hyperborea

The emperor has commissioned an expedition to explore the icy north of the continent – to reach the ruined, sorcerous realms of darkest Hyperborea. What exotic provisions are provided? What hazards will they encounter? What happens when the ice freezes the expedition in place?

This post should provide a host of ideas to kickstart your own doomed arctic campaign. The campaign is by definition - doomed, it’s a bleak and uncaring experience. AMC’s The Terror is quintessential Appendix N viewing for this blogpost. While the series features the paranormal, transposing the doomed arctic expedition concept into a low-fantasy world, where magic is supposedly more common, only increases the potential for fantastically misery inducing experiences and phenomena.

Below you will find several tables that can used to generate your own unique polar voyage. Starting with the number and type of ships, the personalities of the ship's officers, the supplies and crew (that sound good but will inevitably backfire), the strange and deadly phenomena of the arctic circle and a list of terrors that will doggedly hunt and destroy your wayward ships and ever diminishing and decreasingly sane crew. Soundtrack 1 or Soundtrack 2.

The Black Ruins of Hyperborea

A mysterious and ruined civilization known for it's black stone architecture. Great polished inky stones that sometimes defy gravity. While this is the ultimate destination of the expedition, reaching the ruined cities of Dread Hyperborea is not the point; failing on the way is. Should the expedition reach that desolate place, they'd be met with even greater and insurmountable struggles than they faced on the journey - demons awaking from millennial slumber, infinitely ancient sorcerer-kings, floating labyrinthine complexes of ever changing cyclopean and flawless stonework, the waking of countless cold-mummified Hyperborean thralls, of swirling neon blackholes and eldritch UFOs.

Ships of the Expedition:

The expedition should be comprised of 1-3 ships, two is most recommended. The ships are likely sturdy, albeit small, ex-military combat ships with complements of 50-75 men each.

If you’d rather roll, your expedition is comprised of d3 ships. Roll for each ship’s type using a d6.

1. Ex-Merchantman, crew 50, well-travelled with ample storage – roll one additional specialist item.   

2. Old Gun-Brig, crew 70, slow with one additional high-ranking officer.

3. Sloop-of-War, crew 100, still possesses a full battery of 20 cannons.   

4. Bomb Ship, crew 60, sturdy and hard to sink, still carries a bombardment gun and rockets.

5. Arctic Schooner, crew 20, fast and designed to withstand the pressure of being trapped in the ice.

6. Fly-Ship, crew 40, old fashioned but with an experienced crew.

(7. Something more exotic like an airship, balloon, strange beast, exotic ship or even a great many canoes)

Roll an extra detail for each ship with a d8. The ship…

1. is coated in crimson paint.

2. has black sails.

3. has a small shrine to minor god.

4. the ship’s crew has a fantastic animal mascot.  

5. has a monstrous figurehead.

6. is rumoured to be haunted.

7. the ship’s mast is covered with priestly sigils and carvings.

8. has a small scientific and alchemical laboratory with specimen jars of strange, preserved creatures.  

Roll for each ship's name using a d4 and a d12 on the table below.


Next, name and generate the personality of each ship's captain and their second in commands. Then determine the order of their seniority. Both these things will be very important should anyone die or become incapable of leadership. All ships are assumed to have a medical officer/surgeon and a cook among many other positions. Larger ships will have a complement of marines. These NPC’s can be fleshed out as they come up in play.

Mundane Resources and Provisions:

A huge, detailed list of gear and provisions is not necessary to prepare. Assume you have 3 years of rations for the expedition’s full complement and if any player requests or searches for a specific item, decide by fiat if that item is or is not available. If unsure, give a x-in-6 chance of that item being aboard.

Fantastic Resources:

Each ship also carries 3 specialist items or crew, roll for them randomly on this d20 table, decide on a case-by-case basis if you reroll the same resource or crew member. These resources take the form of items, crew, additions to the ship or missions the expedition must complete on its voyage. They are all damning and despite best intentions will all actively make the journey more difficult or drag it into complete ruin.  

1. A repaired metal man, a special gift from the emperor. An ancient war-relic of forgotten millennia, now simply working as a tireless stevedore. Let us hope the black stonework of Hyperborea not reawaken his memory of primordial, emotionless violence.

2. A lunatic veteran of a failed expedition, he says he feels of sounder mind now and is surely safe and stable. I've heard at night he sleeps in a lead lined coffin; heard he screams in an unknown language too.

3. Half of our provisions are preserved via a new alchemical method! These strange untested chemicals will doubtlessly ensure our rations keep fresh and uncontaminated. Whoever keeps whispering about side-effects and a 'mutation of the brain' are just fear mongers. 

4. We are accompanied by a cruel witch, aboriginal to these regions. She will surely protect us from the dread weather and malicious spirits that inhabit this polar region

5. The mummified body of a dread Hyperborean. For reasons unknown to us, we are to return it to the black, funerary halls of his eldritch empire. The men joke expectantly about him coming back to life. They also say if he doesn't resurrect and the ship runs low on good rations, they'll try eating him

6. A local folk oracle, one of those cunning-folk from back home whose visions will advise us and help guide us through the ice. The crew are enamoured with him. He couldn't possibly be a messianic sham who gives terrible advice. 

7. A giant, mysterious egg found on a previous expedition. Scientifically, we are meant to find whatever laid it, but it could feed the crew for two weeks. Let us hope it doesn't hatch, or we eat it and the mother find us!

8. A polished Hyperborean stone, recovered from the captain's last expedition to Hyperborea. He uses the floating stone as a mirror in his cabin. Surely it doesn't show him strange dread-visions. The captain’s mind must remain sane for this expedition to be a success! 

9. The ship's fighting-marines have been gifted dire-wolf fur coats by the Emperor himself. The wolves were worshipped by some nameless cult of our empire's tribal enemies - their wolf-god's furs are not inhabited by the beasts' ferociously vengeful, possessive and animalistic spirits. 

10. Astrovox. A modified astrolabe that will supposedly be used to listen to the voices of the outer planets. Their voices are said to better permeate our world in its most northerly region. Let us hope their cosmic messages are kind, induce sanity and that their ire is not drawn against us. 

11. Our ship is fitted with a Borealis Attractor. Some hitherto untested and arcane machine that will call down those alien lights so they we may better study and understand them. One would suppose the lights are just that - light, but is the world not strange and cruel? Great mysteries await.

12. Why are we loading so many barrels of blood onto the ship? Is it a new, ghoulish alternative to lime juice? I'd rather get scurvy if that's the case... and why do we never see the captain’s second above deck during the day? 

13. Our ship is fitted with an experimental Solar Engine. The machine will melt the ice in the path of our ships. It is surely a reliable, safe and stable machine and well worth the 6 months of food and supplies we had to leave behind so we could store the Solar Engine's eminently corrosive fuel. 

14The crow’s nest (which is manned by a dark, unpopular and slightly unhinged man) is fitted with an array of astronomical and nautical gauges along with a sniper's rifle. It's a bespoke heavy-sharpshooter's rifle with quick breech-loading and dense, armour-piercing bullets made of meteoric iron. The gun can shoot at all angles, even down into the rigging and onto the deck, though that would be very dangerous for the crew! Let us hope this malicious fellow remains of sound, loyal and patient mind.

15. Ninety-nine great-turtles, stacked alive. They're very hearty, long-lived and make for excellent long-term supply of meat. They're imported from a single, southerly island and soon there won't be many left. I've heard tales also of some parasitic-come-predatory leech from those parts that gestates within the great-turtles. God-forbid it infect one of the men, it would mean a blood-curdling end for him and hideous, killer creature for the rest of us.

16. Diving Suits for our mission to find evidence of a supposedly lost race of mythical, arctic-ocean dwellers - the Deep Elves. We hope (should we encounter any) that their nature is merciful, their intelligence comprehendible and benevolent (and their architecture euclidean)

17. The Resurrection Pills. Though unpopular with the men, the chief surgeon has been ordered by the naval academy to employ the use of Resurrection Pills. Why waste dead men when we can bring them back? True, the resurrected aren’t good for thinking or talking and after a while they start to act… peculiar but orders are orders. We have brought many hundreds of these pills. Enough for each man aboard to be brought back twice over.

18. A crate of featureless, whalebone masks. They were obtained from a polar culture contacted 50 years prior to this expedition. The tribe had just begun a mask cult and these masks were integral features of this tribe's newly burgeoning religion. Anthropologically, We are to check on them to see how they have developed. Hopefully their faith has grown to promote hospitality and non-violence.

19. A 'gift' for the natives to keep them diplomatic, engaged and pliable. It’s an open secret but in storage we have bushels and bushels of Yellow Zeng – the narcotic. It’s always guarded but I’m sure the captain won’t mind us taking the odd pinch of the stuff. It tastes like a good batch too, not that paranoia inducing cheap stuff.    

20. The Captain's pet indigo-tiger. God forbid we are unable to feed it. 

What terror doggedly pursues the crew?

This is the main threat to the expedition that will hound it mercilessly. It is clever, has mastery over and immunity to the hostile landscape and is almost unkillable. There is only one threat of this magnitude per expedition. Roll a d10  

1. The Bake-kujira, The Bone-Whale. A huge skeletal creature interested in the souls of mortal men. It exudes debilitating protoplasm and chalk-board screams. It is capable of swimming through the frigid wind in pursuit of men to devour.

2. The Flesh-Golem. 12 foot to the shoulder, this charnel beast of a ‘man’ lives an exiled half-life of self-hatred in the polar north. His self-loathing tempered only by his steely desire to visit abject vengeance upon mortal men. It is highly intelligent, cultured and literate. Its fists can pulp a man’s skull in a heartbeat.     

3. The Corpse-Mammoth. A wind-dried mammoth cadaver possessed by necromantic energies. A purposeless, primeval lich-creature created by dark cosmic chance.

4. The Monolith, high up against the white-grey sky a huge featureless black stone drifts across the horizon. It whispers in men’s minds, makes them do things to their compatriots. Anyone that touches the stone has the blood drained from their bodies.

5. The Star-Spawn. A writhing mass of tendrils and eyes that flies and swims on membranous wings. It’s as old as time. It was there when the Hyperborean Empire fell.  

6. The Inupasugjuk. Twelve stories high, the Inupasugjuk is a cannibal giant from beyond the northern ice sheet.

7. The Savage King, a swirling ice mist of fang, tooth, fur, talon and tusk. The Savage King of Wild Hyperborea embodies the primal destructiveness and territoriality of its native fauna. It hates us and our civilised ways.

8. The Polar God. At first, we thought it was just an idol. One of the aboriginal’s carvings, only much larger. We were wrong – it’s alive.

9. The Wendigo. We picked this fellow up off the ice. He was naked, very gaunt and thin and wild but after warming him through and feeding him he spoke in our accent. Says he’s the only survivor of his expedition but he’s not being specific with the details. His eyes glint with preternatural malice. He ate his previous crew. He's a monster now.

10. The Doomed Expedition. Generate a new expedition with a single ship, a captain, special equipment/crew and the things they encountered. Their undoings have become twisted strengths in their forlorn undeath.

The Weird Ways of the Polar North;

Weather and other atmospheric/paranormal or environmental effects to be encountered with a degree of regularity. Roll a d10 every 4 months after the expedition’s first year.

1. Arctic Pollen. Strange neon spores cloud the polar winds drifting in streaks across the grey-white sky and settling on deck, on your clothes, on your face. All we know is that we should burn it out before it starts to grow.

2. Carnivorous Ice. Ice that eats. Nearly indistinguishable from any other ice flow save for the faint streaks of seal blood frozen into it. The flesh and bone-eating ice cracks under its intended prey and quickly refreezes crunching and slicing away as a means of attack and mastication. Carnivorous Ice is not alive as far as we can tell.

3. Razor Lights. Angled shafts of faint light, comparatively bright against the dim polar twilight, litter the seas and stony beaches of the polar north. Beware the lights as they slash through cloth and flesh at the gentlest touch. 

4. Blizzard Watchers. Sometimes during blizzards, we see them. Black specks that move through the snow-grey clouds and hang above our ships. An officer observed them through his looking glass and said they looked like men in flowing black robes and would answer no other questions about what he saw. 

5. Screamers. The first rescue party sent to investigate the cries never returned. We don’t know what they are but after sunset and during the long sunless winter we hear them screaming. These things scream out on the ice, usually they are far from the ship and their shrill cries echo across the frozen waste. But recently, they’ve been getting closer. The men are getting unnerved. 

6. Anti-Sun. During the long night, when the sun sets and doesn’t rise again for months, another alien sun takes its place. An inverted solar eye, of a deeper black set against the darkness of the night, it emanates cold and malice. It wends elliptically across the inky sky sometimes halting to glower above us. 

7. Creeping Snowdrifts. Crawling across the ice fields or up your fur coat towards your face, the snow is trying to asphyxiate you. 

8. Messenger Columns. Huge pillars of solid, translucent ice thrice the height of a man stand isolated against the flat, pebble strewn islands and cracked spines of the ice-field’s bergs. Gazing into the column’s ink-swirled depths reveals shimmering, hallucinatory images of distant lands, of your home. Nerve-shot sailors find it hard or impossible to look away and will be found the following morning frozen into the icy column. 

9. Flesh-Stripping Pseudo-Waves. Great, mindless, moving hills of sea-grey jelly, rimed will polar frost that slowly circle the seas, icefields, tundra and rocky islands of the Hyperborean north swelling and sweeping up unfortunate seals, bears and sailors alike to be devoured in its colossal mass. These rare phenomena emerge from the depths of the ocean to float across its surface or press through cracks in the icefield sweeping the land for things to consume.

10Poltergeist. Whether an effect of the strange magnetism that confuses our compasses or something altogether more supernatural, objects have been being stacked, rearranged and thrown. All men must be wary should rigging be knotted, the anchor dropped or an invisible hand carry a candle to the powder store.  

Vignette Encounters

These things are typically only encountered once per expedition. Roll a d8 for each year of the expedition, reroll results that have already been encountered or use it as an opportunity to revisit them.   

1.  Downed Monolith-Ship. We’d thought them only fanciful stories - of men, sky-pirates taking to the biting wind atop Hyperborea’s floating black masonry. But here they are. Their crashed rock’s rope bindings and wooden platforms lie smashed on the rocky shore. The crew’s skeletons scattering in the wind.   

2.  Night Fliers. Tens of thousands of them, these flying things - like jellyfish filling the entire night sky.

3.  Northbound Souls. Pale bodies move just below the ice and float ever northward. I wouldn’t touch them; they make me feel sick.

4.  Isle of Skulls. Those aren’t stones…

5.  The Abandoned Ship. Roll a new ship, name and one fantastic resource. The ship is completely abandoned, food and beds might still be warm. If the fantastic resource is a crew member, they are the soul survivor and shouldn't be trusted.    

6.  Friendly Aboriginals. Gods be praised. A tiny family of friendly natives. They have too little food to spare to so many of us but they might teach us a thing or two about how to survive.

7. The Shaman, a funny fellow of the native sort – strange, esoteric rituals and behaviours. If the shaman is mistreated by the crew a second terrible thing from the terror table is unleashed on the expedition. If he is treated well the shaman abates whatever is harrying the expedition for several weeks before departing further north.

8. Cannibal Shrine. The captain ordered us trusted crewmen to destroy it. It was built from (and possibly by) our own kin folk and countrymen, we could tell because the skeletons were wearing our nation’s uniform. It’s better the widows back home keep thinking that their men just disappeared.