Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dark Inheritance hex map

I have drawn up a hex map (in Hexographer) of the environs of Tideborn Village and Castle Tideborn from my Dark Inheritance mini-campaign idea. The big black hex is Tideborn's six-mile hex; each small hex on this map is a 1-mile hex. This shows the general regions and points of interest. Interacting with these hexes, investing gold in them, and clearing out monsters (and bandits!) will grant the players various resources, including increased domain revenue.

At the campaign's start, domain revenue is 4gp per peasant family - appropriate for a ruined backwater threatened by various monsters and beset by banditry. Unseating the bandits from the copper mine, clearing out and rebuilding the lighthouse, and uprooting the abominable fishmen from the reef - all will increase domain income and reduce threats.

Apart from the Tideborn village and Castle Tideborn described in earlier posts, this map has five regions, each of which will receive its own encounter tables: the Hills, the Woods, the Swamp, Farmlands and Road, and the Sea. The farmlands and road are relatively safe, at least at daytime - but even then suffer from banditry. The swamps are a war-zone between Neutral lizardmen and Chaotic toadmen and holds other unpleasant surprises, including bog zombies and giant toads. The hills are bandit country at day and haunt of wild beasts at night. The woods are the most dangerous land area here, haunted by undead and evil fey, not to mention giant spiders. The sea is cruel and home to all manner of pelagic nightmares.

The Abbey of St. Lena is haunted, but is the rumored resting place of the fabled Dagger of St. Lena; even the bandits avoid going there in fear of the horrors left therein. This is a shaded Sinkhole of Chaos - cleansing it may allow the establishment of a new Abbey, under Law - or even a re-consecrated Pinnacle of Law.

The Copper Mines are inactive, as their new residents and masters - the Broken Skull Gang bandits - abhor honest work such as mining. Unseating the bandits, whether by force or by "diplomacy" (that is, a more veiled show of force), will allow the PCs to reopen the mines. The renovation will cost some gold, but an operating mine will increase the domain income by 3gp per family per month.

The Lizard Village is Neutral, as it has always been. It predates the village and castle by eons of primitive existence. The Neutral lizardmen are at war with Chaotic toadmen. Siding with the lizardmen will allow the PCs to recruit two powerful lizardman henchmen - a Savage (warrior) and a Shaman.

The Toad Cult is the horror of the swamp - primitive toadmen and degenerate human cultists worshiping the Chaotic toad-god Tsathoggua. They are at war with the lizardmen, and try to convert them to Chaos - no easy task, but a few did join the cult and serve as its shock-troops.

The Lighthouse used to guide fishermen at night; now it is ruined, leading to caverns of various horrors of the sea beneath it. Cleaning the caves and investing gold in rebuilding the Lighthouse will increase domain income by 1gp per family per month.

Finally, the Reef is home to the worst of the fishmen and cephalopod cults, who raid the coast and wreck fishing boats. Cleansing it will greatly increase fishing yields, adding 1gp per family per month to domain income.

Note that Chaotic or even, in some cases, Neutral PCs might choose to ally themselves with the Toad Cult (against the lizardmen) or even the Bandits... Parlaying with them won't be easy, but players being players - who knows...

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Swamp Lizardmen of the Elysian Empire

As it should be obvious from my blog's title, I love lizards! And other reptiles as well.

The lizardmen of the Elysian Empire are utterly primitive. They are also thoroughly Neutral. For the most part, they prefer to keep to themselves, eat fish, and mount sporadic raids on ill-defended human settlements and caravans. However, occasionally a particularly bright - in lizardman terms, that is - individual may sometimes seek greater glory and more impressive trophies than those available in the swamp. Enterprising players may recruit such individuals as henchmen. Alternatively, at the Judge's discretion, a player may play such savage beast.

As you probably know, my commercial product for ACKS, Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu, has a civilized lizardman race. However, in more typical ACKS settings, such as the Dark Inheritance mini-campaign, such civilization is far from the grasp of the savage reptilian swamp-dwellers. The following racial template applies to lizardman player characters and adventuring NPCs of standard ACKS worlds.

A lizardman looks like an upright, anthropomorphic Water Monitor, with a long, thick tail, a forked tongue, and a muscle mass befitting a large reptile. Lizardmen are warm-blooded and are technically omnivores but prefer eating fresh fish over vegetables or fruits.

Lizardmen are less active in the winter in cold climates. They retreat to their underground warrens - often with underwater entrances - and hide there. They still fiercely defend the warrens against attacks, but do not raid settlements and do not waylay travelers until the spring. They sleep for many hours a day and eat preserved (usually smoked or dried) food in the winter months. In warmer climates, they are active year-round. However, would-be conquerors who might see "hibernating" lizardmen as easy prey should beware: the shamans still have their spiritual "eyes" open, even when they hide underground and even when they sleep.

Lizardmen can reproduce both sexually and asexually, just like some real-life lizards (for example, certain Whiptail lizards; Komodo Dragons) can. A single female lizardman (lizardwoman?) can start an entire new tribe of her virgin-born daughters and their lineage of daughters. If they come across males, they can mate with them and have sexually-produced offsprings as well (and male offsprings in general). Lizasrdmen are egg-layers; parents guard their eggs until they hatch. The hatchling - a small lizardman - can take care of itself from the moment it hatches. Adults let the young dwell with them in the village, but the young feed themselves on carrion or by fishing in the swamp.

How is this race, and class, related to the 2+1 HD lizardmen from the ACKS monsters chapter, you ask? You see, the swamp lizardman is primordially Neutral. Most lizardmen in the Elysian Empire and around it are Neutral. A Neutral lizardman is typically only 1 HD. A few lizardmen, however, despite their primordial tendency towards neutrality, do come to the worship of the Chaotic deity Bokrug. Such cultists gain immense power from their dread god, in return to horrid sacrifices. This power finds its expression in the default 2+1 HD of "monstrous" core-book lizardmen.

Swamp lizardman Racial Template
Swamp lizardman character classes are created using the lizardman racial category and experience points. Requirements, class category values, hit points per level after 9th, and experience point progressions are modified as noted below.

All lizardman classes require a minimum Strength of 9 or better and may not have Intelligence above 9.

Class category Values:
  • Fighting: The build points allocated to the class’s Fighting Value may be increased by 1 or 2 points by the lizardman Value (see below). Use the effective values to find the class’s fighting abilities, up to a maximum of 4 points.
  • Arcane: lizardmen may not have any Arcane value.
Lizardman 0 (XP Cost 350): At lizardman 0, the class will have the following five custom powers:
  • Fangs and Claws: The character gains a claw/claw/bite attack routine. The claws deal 1d3-1 damage each, while the bite deals 1d6-1 damage.
  • Inhumanity: The character is a beastman. He suffers a -2 penalty to the reactions, loyalty, and morale of men. The character gets a +2 bonus to the reactions, loyalty, and morale of lizardmen.
  • Scaly Hide: The character’s base unarmored AC is 3 instead of 0. The character has a base movement rate of only 60'.
  • Primordial Mind: lizardmen were lizardmen, and lived in the same simple way, for eons. Their primitive, antediluvian minds are difficult to sway by sophisticated sorcery. Thus, the lizardman gains a +4 bonus to saving throws vs. mind-affecting magic.
  • Swimming: The character gains a swimming movement rate of 120' per turn. The character may hold his breath for 1 turn.
Lizardman 1 (XP Cost 850): Lizardman 0 + Fighting 1

Lizardman 2 (XP Cost 1,350): Lizardman 0 + Fighting 1 + HP 1

Lizardman 3 (XP Cost 1,850): Lizardman 0 + Fighting 2 + HP 1

Lizardman 4 (XP Cost 2,350): Lizardman 0 + Fighting 2 + HP 2

A lizardman’s claw and/or bite damage will be modified by the character’s STR adjustment and damage bonus. However, lizardmen cannot use their fangs and claws while wielding weapons, using shields, or wearing Armour heavier than chain mail.

Experience Point Progression After 8th Level
Lizardmen increase the amount of experience required to gain each level after 8th by 45,000XP.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Doom that came to Tideborn Castle

I have chosen a name to the castle (and village) of my Dark Inheritance mini-campaign idea: Tideborn. Here I will detail its monstrous history, leading to the present-day horror shadowing this dilapidated fishing village.


Aeons ago, long before even the reptiles ruled the lands, a fish-thing swamp up from the primordial ocean and set its abode in an underwater cave on its rocky shore. This creature, which the oldest civilizations called - in hushed tones - an Aboleth, was old even then. It set its vast mind to study the occult - as his kind are inclined to do - and learn the many esoteric secrets of the universe.

Ages passed. The great reptilian beasts came and died; seas advanced and receded and mountains rose. When Man came to this land, a cliff towered over that sunken cave where the Aboleth dwelt; the sea, thankfully enough for that beast, did not leave these shored. Overlooking a protected harbor, the cliff was an ideal spot for men to set their stronghold at, giving a defensible vantage point over the nearby lands.

Thus, men came and settled the bay, building a fortress on the cliff. They were fishermen; their lords were warriors of the seas. It was then that the Aboleth first called them. Creeping into their dreams like a thief in the night, it sparked in them a thirst for uncanny knowledge and boundless power. Many resisted the call, clinging to their old Neutral gods for protection. Others made the fish-thing into their own god. Another cult, influenced by the first, started worshiping Dagon, the Chaotic lord of fish, to gain bountiful fish from the bay. Chaos festered on this cliff, now called Tideborn Rock. The Earls and aldermen of these folk dug tunnels deep into the rock to connect their dread fort with their god's submerged cavern. There, countless innocents perished in agony, sacrificial victims to the monstrosity and to Dagon.

Then came the Empire. With sword and torch, it unseated the chaotic Earl and laid waste to his horrid castle. Imperial sappers collapsed many of the old caverns. Legionnaires burned the Chaos cultists at the stake. Law now claim this land by steel and flame. On the ruins of the old fortress, the Empire built its own stronghold and installed a Tribune to enforce the Law and guard against Chaos.

It was in the late fourth century of the Empire that Chaos crept back from its smitten caves and sent its tendrils into the then-proud castle. By then, the Tribune became known as a Marquis; the ruler of the day was Marquessa Isabel of Tideborn. Intelligent but thirsty for power, she immersed herself in sorcerous lore. As age started to show its signs, she became obsessed with her waning youth. In her dreams and whispers - sent once again by the dormant Aboleth - she found answers to her fears. She made her excavate the old tunnels beneath her castle and expanded them. She revived the old cult. Her dreams told her the secret of youth: an occult ritual involving her immersion in a bath full of virgins' blood.

Thus, Marquessa Isabel of Tideborn sent out her loyal men - all cultists by that time - to abduct young maidens. First from the town of Tideborn, then from other villages in her shadowed domain. A procession of chained young women entered the castle, never to be seen again. Some prayed to the Conquering Sun for deliverance. For a time, none came. Then, in Imperial Year 409, the Marquessa sent her men to bring her a poor but pious maiden named Lena, daughter of the village's blacksmith. Lena knew her fate and made a vow to the Divine - a vow to give her life for a chance of avenging the thousands of young virgins sacrified by the Marquessa. She hid a dagger under her simple dress and prayed. The men-at-arms who took her were complacent; maidens always came without any struggle. They did not search her, but only led her to the castle.

At midnight, a blood-curling scream came from the castle and the land shook. Not long after, Lena appeared, covered in blood, dragging her broken body to the town's church. She was covered with lacerations and bite-marks and clutched her bloody dagger in her hand. She died of her wounds, in a pool of her own blood, in front of the church altar. Every townsman knew: the Marquessa was slain. Lena's father, enraged with grief, organized the townspeople. They stormed the castle with torches and pitchforks, butchering the remaining men-at-arms. They did not find the Marquessa's body. They did find the horrors of her bloody laboratory. They soon put the dark castle to the torch.

How did that girl, untrained in war, manage to slay the sorcerous Marquessa? The Churches - both Bright and Gray - were quick to proclaim this a miracle and canonize Lena into a Saint. They renovated the old Tideborn church, with painted glass telling Lena's story of martyrdom. The Gray Church established an abbey not far from the town, where they laid St. Lena to rest and trained young women in her spirit of defiant against Chaos and tyrants.

However, the Empire of these days was no longer the shiny beacon of Law it was in its early years. It was weak and decadent; it sent weak men to govern Tideborn March. These nobles renovated only a small part of the ruined Tideborn Castle to serve as their stronghold. Soon enough, bandits came to exploit this weakness and prey on Tideborn March. Beset by several famine years, the Plague, and brigandage, the Town of Tideborn dwindled to a small village still clinging to the shore, surrounded by abandoned dwellings. The bandits then moved, in Imperial Year 424, and took the castle, unseating the Imperial noble. A reign of terror began.

Ivar Ironhand was not a good man. He was a mercenary, living by his sword. His allegiance was to coin, not ideals or particular men. However, neither was he a villain. Sensing an opportunity to become a ruler, he quickly received the blessing of the Duke of Bluewater to take Castle Tideborn. Disorganized bandits were no match for Ironhand's mercenaries. In Imperial Year 431, he conquered the castle after a short siege and became Marquis of Tideborn.

He was a fair, if harsh, ruler. His sons and grandsons were not. As the Empire crumbled around them and the Plague came once more, they reveled and feasted while others died around them. They turned to Chaos for protection from the Plague, reviving the old cults. They were, however, lesser sorcerers than Marquessa Isabel of old. They were weak; a dying Empire tolerates no weakness. And so it came to pass that in Imperial Year 507, the last ruler of House Ironhand died in the hand of his own mercenaries, who, in turn, turned to brigandage and banditry, leaving Castle Tideborn without ruler.

It is now Imperial Year 517. The Empire is dead. You are distant heirs to House Ironhand. Your land calls to you.

Will you cleanse this land from the shadow of Chaos, or become new sorcerer kings?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Cauldrons & Casseroles gamers' cookbook preview - Aboleth Bites!

We at Stellagama Publishing are, as you may know, hard at work on a gamers' cookbook called Cauldrons & Casseroles. As a preview for that book, we present you with one recipe from the book: Aboleth Bites!

Aboleth bites (6 servings)

Kitchen sorcery level: 2

Another delicacy made from your enemy's dead body!


1 kg/ 2 lb haddock, cod, whitebait, or any other white fish fillet meat
2 cups of breadcrumbs
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup of milk
1 litre/ 2 pints of vegetable oil, for deep frying


  1. Cut the fish fillets into 5*10 cm/ 2*4-inch pieces.
  2. Place the breadcrumbs, spices and salt in a bowl and mix well. In another bowl, mix the eggs and milk. Coat the fish pieces with the egg mixture, then roll in the breadcrumbs.
  3. Place the oil in a deep-frying pan, heat over a medium fire until the oil starts to bubble and fry the fish bites until golden brown. Remove the fish bites to a dish covered in kitchen paper and serve with the following dip.

Onion, honey and mustard dip

Kitchen sorcery level: 2


1 onion or 4 shallots, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
1/2 cup of milk
½ cup beer
1 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp salt


  1. Place the butter in a small saucepan and heat over a medium fire until it melts. Add the onion and fry while stirring until the onion is golden in colour.
  2. Add the flour and mix well. Then, very gradually add the milk while stirring constantly, to prevent lumps. Then, pour in the beer and bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Add the honey, mustard and salt, lower the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until the dip is thick enough to cover the back of a spoon.
  4. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or cold.

Mini-campaign idea: Dark Inheritance

I now am itching to run, at some point in the future, a "domain inheritance" game in ACKS. The PCs would be heirs to a haunted coastal castle and a dilapidated hamlet (Market VI, I'd say in ACKS terms). In its shadow there would be several lairs/mini-dungeons in the same 6-mile hex. There would be a "Kilodungeon" including the castle and several levels beneath it, probably culminating in a Lovecraftian monstrosity (Aboleth?) beneath sea level, not to mention nasty neighbors such as bandits. Could be a wonderful campaign. A mini-setting - so much to do in one hex and the neighboring hexes!

This will probably be an old Marquise's keep, now fallen to disrepair and haunted. PCs will end up with a potential high-value stronghold, which will need clearing of horrors - and expensive repairs.

To become full-scale lords, the players will need to conquer the castle from the eldritch horrors.
To gain the whole 6-mile hex the players will need to clear out several mini-dungeons.

My inclination is towards a combination of "Gothic" and Lovecraftian bestiary for that mini-campaign. No goblins, but possibly toad-men or fish-men, and a good amount of undead. And bandits, of course.

Potentially a vampire, but the problem with a vampire is that vampires are villains who tend to dominate a campaign, as in Ravenloft/Curse of Strahd, and I want to keep that role for the Aboleth (?).

My general idea is that in the distant past, the (now ruined) castle was home to a Chaos-worshiping Marquessa inspired by Elizabeth Báthory. After she was slain - by one of her intended victims, no less (now canonized as St. Lena of the Dagger) - her heirs continued the Chaotic tradition, albeit in other ways than bathing in the blood of virgins.

The PCs' ancestor conquered this keep, but eventually these ancestors also succumbed to Chaos worship, seeing the local Aboleth (?) as a "God".
Successful PCs will quickly get knighted by the local ruler who would be glad to have them deal with bandits (and worse) than requiring his limited military forces do so.
Of course, the Marquessa would have risen as a Ghast for the very least, it not a Vampire, in the crypts below. Now she has worshipers among the bandits and villagers, like the Aboleth has.

The idea is to make most permanent magic items unique in this adventure. Some are powerful - for example the Dagger of St. Lena which allows you to backstab undead (possibly even without having this as a class power).
What do you think?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Cepheus Light preview: Chase Rules

As you may know, we at Stellagama Publishing are hard at work on our rules-light version of the Cepheus Engine. It's name - logically enough - is Cepheus Light. The current draft is about one half, in term of word count, of the Cepheus Engine SRD. We strive to provide players and referees with a lightweight, fast-play, yet nuanced and varied, sci-fi rule-set.

Today I will present a preview of one area of rules we are very proud of: the chase rules. They should work very well with the Cepheus Engine SRD as well. This also serves as the conceptual framework for our space combat rules.


The tactical combat rules represent action in small, more limited areas. For vehicles, this means "knife-fighting" ranges and relatively slow speeds. A fast-moving vehicle will easily pass through the entire tactical combat map in less than one combat round. This is unsuitable for chases and dog-fighting. Use these rules instead. 

Chase turns are an abstraction in combat and vary in length depending on circumstances, from mere seconds in high-speed aircraft pursuits to hours in long drawn-out submarine duels. 

There is no initiative throw in chases. Instead, at the start of each turn both participants throw 2D + the relevant vehicle skill + the vehicle's Agility. The pursuer wins on ties. The winner has Advantage and may attack using the regular vehicle attack and damage rules, with the following modifiers based on the vehicle throw's effect: 

Effect 0-2: DM-2 to hit
Effect 3+: DM+0 to hit

The loser of the Advantage throw cannot attack in that turn, unless their vehicle has a turret-mounted weapon. Turret attacks made without Advantage suffer DM-4 to hit. 

It is possible to have multiple parties engaged in a chase. Simply record the different Advantage results in descending order. The vehicles higher on the “ladder” may attack any vehicle below them. This can be used to great effect in a dogfight, below. 

Chases last five turns. At the end of the fifth turn, if the prey has not been stopped, disabled, or destroyed, the prey escapes and the chase ends. 


In a dogfight, two or more highly maneuverable vehicles, usually aircraft, try to outmaneuver and fight each other. A dogfight has no time limit, barring certain fuel considerations. The dogfight will end ends either when one participant is disabled or destroyed, or if one participant disengages. To disengage from a dogfight, a participant must have Advantage and use their action that turn to throw Vehicle Skill 10+, DM +vehicle agility. 

Foot Chases 

Chases on foot use similar rules. Each turn, each side throws Athletics + DEX DM. The pursuer wins on ties. The winner of this opposed throw may attack in melee or ranged combat, at the Referee's discretion, while the loser cannot attack in that turn. Foot chases end in the same way that other chases end.